Kindness is underrated. We equate it with being nice or pleasant, as though it’s mainly about smiling, getting along, and not ruffling feathers. It seems a rather mundane virtue.
But the Bible presents a very different, and compelling, portrait of kindness.
Kindness Is Supernatural
When Paul laid out his case to the church in Corinth that he was a true apostle, he did so by detailing the trials he endured for the sake of the gospel, the inner spiritual life God granted him despite this suffering, and the God-produced spiritual fruit in his life (2 Corinthians 6:1–13). Surprisingly, kindness made his list of spiritual fruit. “You want proof I’m an apostle?” he said, in effect. “Okay, here it is: I’m kind.”
True kindness is Spirit-produced (Galatians 5:22). It’s a supernaturally generous orientation of our hearts toward other people, even when they don’t deserve it and don’t love us in return. God himself is kind in this way. His kindness is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2:4), which implies they haven’t yet turned to him, and are still his enemies.
We imitate God’s kindness, therefore, by loving our enemies. Jesus said, “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 evil” (Luke 6:35). Our kindness reflects the heart of our Father. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Kindness may not be pleasant. In fact, it may feel more like a blow to the head. “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. That wasn’t pleasant, but it was kind, because Jesus was exposing their sin. A kind physician cuts deep to get your cancer.
Kindness Is Powerful
In her memoir about the journey from being a committed lesbian to a committed Christian, Rosaria Butterfield says that, as a non-Christian, her impression of evangelical Christians was that they were poor thinkers, judgmental, scornful, and afraid of diversity. After publishing a critique of an evangelical Christian group in her local newspaper, she received an enormous volume of polarized responses. Placing an empty box in each corner of her desk, she sorted hate mail into one and fan mail into the other.
Then she received a two-page response from a local pastor. “It was a kind and inquiring letter,” she says. It had a warmth and civility to it, in addition to its probing questions. She couldn’t figure out which box to put the letter in, so it sat on her desk for seven days. “It was the kindest letter of opposition that I had ever received.” Its tone demonstrated that the writer wasn’t against her.
Eventually, she contacted the pastor and became friends with him and his wife. “They talked with me in a way that didn’t make me feel erased.” Their friendship was an important part of her journey to faith.
Are We Kind?
The biblical witness and Butterfield’s testimony should make us wonder how we’re doing. Are we generously inclined toward those around us, or do we think and speak harshly to, or about, them?
For some of us, watching sports, or talent shows (like The Voice), provides an opportunity for airing harsh opinions on physical appearance, ineptitude, or lack of talent. Our verbal slashes too easily become part of the entertainment itself.
For some of us, the daily commute becomes a crucible of kindness. Am I generously inclined toward other drivers, including the guy who just cut me off and the other one who’s tailgating me?
Some of us have to admit that we too often twist the verbal knife of cruel sarcasm, saying what we don’t mean in order to drive home more deeply what we do.
Kindness is no small thing. It yields marvelous fruit both in our lives and the lives of those around us. “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor” (Proverbs 21:21).
We open ourselves to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit when we ask him to produce in us kind hearts that overflow through kind lips.