Kindness as a Christ-like Quality and Fruit of the Spirit

“Kindness binds relationships, mends rifts, and turns enemies into friends”

Kindness versus niceness

What is the true nature and quality of kindness? And is it possible to be kind towards all – even those who cause us ill-will or harm?

Kindness today is often reduced to the notion of being nice and courteous towards others, especially those we find agreeable or like-minded. But true kindness does not discriminate according to God’s standard of righteousness, love, and goodness. God revels himself as both just and kind towards all. 

“The Lord is just in all his ways and kind in all his doings (deeds and acts)” 

Psalm 145:17 (RSV translation)

God does not withhold his goodness from any of his creatures. He provides sun and rain, land and shelter, food and drink, and everything we need to live and sustain ourselves on the earth.  He does not overlook our malice and wrong deeds, but he is slow to anger and he disciplines those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:6). And since we are made in his image and likeness, we are commanded to imitate God and to act kindly towards all – even our enemies and those who are ungrateful and selfish.

“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” 

Luke 6:35 (RSV)

To be kind as God is kind requires more than human effort and good will. It requires the strength and wisdom which God provides for those who put their trust in him. That is why the New Testament describes kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is a gift and working of the Holy Spirit who purifies our minds and hearts and who trains and disciplines us in renouncing sin and breaking with bad habits, wrong attitudes, and sinful patterns of speech (i.e. gossip, slander, verbal abuse, unrighteous anger, etc.) .

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (ESV)

Now the works of the flesh are evident … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 

Galatians 5:19-21, 22-23 (ESV)

Christian Character and the Virtues

The Christian virtues are essential for growth in full maturity, godliness, and Christ-like character. They cannot be achieved by natural strength alone. They rely upon the grace and power of the Holy Spirit who lives and works in and through us. They require our faith and active cooperation with God’s instruction (his word of wisdom), discipline, and training.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence… For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  – 2 Peter 1:3,5-8 (ESV)

For a fuller description on Christian Character and the Virtues, see the following related articles:

http://www.swordofthespirit.net/bulwark/characterandvirtues-topic.htm

The Greek New Testament word for “kindness” is chrēstotēs. It means “goodness of heart, tender concern, uprightness.” It is kindness of heart and kindness of act. 

Aristotle described kindness in his work on Rhetoric, Book II – Chapter 7: “Kindness — under the influence of which a man is said to “be kind” — may be defined as helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.”

Distinguishing kindness from its opposite vices

The virtue of kindness can be distinguished by observing its opposites. Scripture gives us a few examples:

… the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing; correcting one’s opponents with gentleness… (2 Timothy 2.24; cf. Galatians 6.1).

Parents are urged not to “provoke their children to anger” by unkindness and cruelty (Ephesians  6.4, Colossians 3.21).

It often happens that people can be kind to strangers and casual relationships, but assume it is ok to not show kindness to one’s family, relatives, co-workers, fellow members in church or community.

Familiarity and everyday contact do not give one the right to act unkindly or to behave rudely. There can be no excuse for insensitivity and harshness, whatever the relationship. We must “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6.10).

A kind person does not ignore or gloss over wrongdoing. When correction is needed, it must be done with gentleness. Kindness also does not mean “being nice” to everyone, whoever they are and whatever they do. It does not mean “going along” with others in every way. A kind person will correct others, if need be, and his very kindness will be shown by his care and concern for the well-being of his fellow “for whom Christ died” (Romans 14.15).

Authentic kindness has the power to make other people’s lives more bearable, less miserable, to repair damaged self-esteem in a person, and even to produce joy and happiness in others. Kindness is more than a sentiment, a smile, a hug, and a good deed granted for the moment. Kindness is a key attribute and settled disposition and permanent feature of God’s character and nature. It is not an exclusive, arbitrary, or a clever tool to win favours and get others to please you and do what you will.

C.S. Lewis on Love and Kindness

By Love, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy. And not happy in this way, or in that; just happy. What most of us mean by God is not so much a Father in Heaven, as a grandfather in heaven—a senile old benevolence who, as they say, liked to see the young people enjoying themselves, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, that a good time was had by all.

But if God is Love, then He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God. Because He is what He is, His Love must be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already so deeply loves us, He must labor to make us more lovable.

When Christianity says that God Loves man, it means that God really actively Loves man. Not that he has some disinterested and impartial concern for our welfare, but that in hard to swallow and unbelievable surprising truth, we are the actual objects of His great Love. You asked for a Loving God, and you have one. The great Spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is in fact present. Not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy; not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate; not the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests; but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made worlds, persistent as an artist’s love for his work, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, and as jealous and inexorable and exacting as the love between a man and a woman.

Love demands the perfecting of the beloved (the growth, betterment, healing, improvement, uprightness, and goodness of the beloved). Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them; but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than even hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Love forgives constantly but condones least. Love is pleased with little, but demands all.

– abridged and adapted from The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis, pp. 35-44, 58

Examples of exemplary kindness: 

Joseph was the favoured son of Jacob, but was rejected and sold into slavery by his envious brothers. Despite the ill-treatment he experienced at the hands of his brothers and then by his taskmasters in Egypt, he responded with genuine servant-hearted love, compassionate kindness, and untiring help for those in need, especially his fellow ill-treated prisoners (Genesis 39:20-23), and later for providing grain and saving the lives of many peoples during a severe 7-year famine. He saved his own brothers from famine and brought healing and reconciliation through his compassionate forgiveness and care for them and their families (Genesis 45 – 47). 

David showed unfailing respect and kind-hearted loyalty towards Saul, the anointed king of Israel, even after Saul persecuted him and sought to kill David out of envy (1 Samuel 24, 26). 

Saul said to David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands.For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.

1 Samuel 24:17-19

David honoured both Saul and Jonathan after they perished by the sword when the Philistines fought against Israel (2 Samuel 1).

David also showed great kindness to Mephibosheth who was the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul. David adopted him as an honoured member of his household. 

David said, “Is there still any one left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” … Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” … And David said to him, “Do not fear; for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father; and you shall eat at my table always.”… So Mephibosheth ate at David’s] table, like one of the king’s sons.

2 Samuel 9

Abraham Lincoln, who was President of the United States during the Civil War of 1861-1865, showed remarkable magnanimity towards foe and friend alike. During the war He was like a father to many young soldiers who visited or stayed at the White House, and he personally consoled hundreds of widows who lost sons and husbands in the civil conflict. He prayed for God’s mercy, reconciliation and healing for both sides of the conflict. In his address to the nation one month before his untimely assassination, he spoke the following words:

Fondly do we hope – fervently do we pray – that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

As the war drew to an end, he showed merciful kindness, rather than severe punishment, to the vanquished by sending them back to their homes with horse and tools to farm and rebuild. When critics chided him for his kindly disposition and considerate care, he replied. “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Mother Theresa and her Missionaries of Charity have devoted their entire lives to prayer and the care of abandoned peoples around the world, including invalids left to die alone, unwanted babies and children, and people with contagious diseases. They treat all – regardless of race, religion, or country – with equal dignity, tender-hearted love, and compassionate care. 


Virtue of Kindness versus Niceness and Rudeness

Niceness / Pseudo-KindnessLovingkindness /  KindheartedRude / Inconsiderate
Uses kindness as an exclusive, arbitrary, or clever tool to win favors and get others to please you and do what you will.Even the cruelest person can act kindly at times, especially if it serves his purpose.Being nice on occasion – when in the mood, or not inconvenient, etc. We imitate God who “is just in all his ways and kind in all his doings” (Psalm 145:17) and who is “kind to the ungrateful and selfish” (Luke 6.35).Kindness in thought, speech, and action flows from Christian love for all, even one’s enemies.Pursues the good of others for their sake, especially when need arises. Ready to help, even if inconvenient.Rude, arrogant, self-seeking, inconsiderate, condescendingImpatient, unkind, irritable, insensitive, disrespectfulContentious, argumentative, divisive, angryHarsh, abrasive, cruel  
Uses flattery to win praise for oneself.Does charitable service, or gives money to charitable causes to win favor and recognition from others. Kindness is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving – especially when it would be so easy to be angry.Being sensitive of others, and showing interest in their concerns and needs. Mean-spirited, slanderous, mocking, showing contempt, ill-will   
Does a kind deed once in a while, but is mostly self-centered, preoccupied with self-concerns and interests, and is insensitive, or disinterested of others around them.Kindness prefers considerateness to anger, and leaps over barriers of inconvenience.Does not overlook wrongdoing, but corrects with gentlenessUses slander, gossip, or negative humor to put other people down or make others think less of them 

© 2020 Don Schwager

See related articles by Don Schwager in Living Bulwark archives.

Top image credit: Jesus on the cross between the two thieves, illustration by James Tissot 

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