The Kindness Command

There it is, right there shortly after Paul warns the Ephesus church to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit, putting away all bitterness, wrath, and anger. The command cannot be missed: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32)

Christians live in a harshly biting world today. Treated often with malfeasance, we face an ever-present temptation to respond in like manner with terseness, sarcasm, impatience, and even anger. Paul warns against this kind of reaction with the straightforward command to be kind. It cuts against the grain of culture and is contrary to our ever-active human nature. But with the indwelling Holy Spirit as our enabler, the 21st-century believer has set before him the exact standard that the first-century saint was given: be kind!

How do you know if you are kind? Well, one of the accompanying traits listed in the Ephesians passage will give you a clue: tenderhearted. How is that going with you just now? Do you weep over the suffering of others? Can you be moved with compassion for the hurting? Or, is it easy for you to dismiss others’ misfortunes summarily with, “they made their bed and they’re going to have to lie in it?”

But wait, Paul did not end there. He concluded his discussion with “forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Off the charts, you say. Impossible!  And, yes, it is impossible to be kind to those who have wronged you; maybe even harder to think of forgiving them. Until you read and reread the context of this command and are brought to your spiritual senses, acknowledging that apart from the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, you could never keep that command. Then, right between the spiritual eyes, Paul hits you with “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” You, sinner of sinners. Chief of sinners, as Paul confessed. Your heart hits the floor in humility and repentance! God has forgiven me, vilest offender that I was. His grace has been freely bestowed upon this sinner, so that I can sing, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Not only that, Paul teaches in Romans 2:4 that it was the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering that led the believer to repentance! How could I not show kindness therefore to others, having been the recipient of such by His grace and from His hand!

God’s kindness has been the subject of prophets and preachers through the ages. The Old Testament, often portrayed as an account of a stern God who often exercises judgment apart from mercy, is replete with affirmations of His kindness: “I will abundantly pardon”; and, “With the Lord there is plenteous redemption”; and, “Can a woman forget her sucking child?” She may, but “I will never forget you.” God again assures us in the Old Testament that, though “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed…my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed.” God, in His merciful kindness invites all, yea, “everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.”

And, His provision for His creation is an undeniable and universal testimony to His kindness. In Psalm 104 we read that “He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild asses quench their thirst. By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. He watereth the hills from His chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Thy works. He causeth grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth.” So, He in His kindness takes care of His creatures with gracious and good provisions for both water and food. His kindness is without measure!

Ought not ours to be likewise! We who have received of His goodness. How can we not respond with unreserved kindness?

A first-century sage said, “You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.”

William McKinley was President of the United States from 1897 to 1901. During one of his campaigns, a reporter from an opposition news outlet followed the presidential candidate constantly, persistently badgering McKinley about something and misrepresenting his views on just about every subject. At one point during the campaign, the weather became bitter cold, but the reporter continued to follow McKinley even though he was not prepared for the extreme cold, as evidenced in his lack of warm clothing.  One bitter night, the president-to-be was riding in his closed carriage, and the young reporter sat shivering on the driver’s seat outside. McKinley stopped the carriage and invited the reporter to put on his coat and ride with him inside the warm carriage. The young man, astonished, protested that McKinley knew he opposed his positions and platform, and that he had no intention of making any changes in his opposition during the campaign. McKinley knew that, but he wasn’t out to seek revenge. And, in the remaining days of the campaign, the reporter continued to oppose McKinley. But never again did he write anything unfair or unfounded about the future president.

In the mid-90’s, Pastor Collins Glenn and I joined an evangelist on a blitz to a third-world nation that had suffered under communism for more than four decades. Communists were still in power, but for a time there was limited travel back and forth. Arriving in the capital, we got a taxi and rode maybe three hours due west to get out of the gaze of any of communist agents. We were able to meet with believers, hold some services, and share our testimonies. It was so humbling to meet with these precious people who had known nothing but the rigors of communism all of their lives, for the most part. I will never forget eating a dinner one Sunday afternoon in the humble, rural hut-home of a family. A small card table was set in the middle of the hut, where Pastor Glenn and I were served a dinner consisting of chicken and a side dish. I remember thinking as I ate that the chicken was probably their finest meal, and that they probably could eat such a meal only rarely. It was, by American standards, a very scrawny chicken. But it was served in love and with a Christian hospitality and kindness that would put our American churches, some of them at least, to shame. It is a memory I shall gratefully and humbly take to the grave.

Kindness.  “Be ye kind….”

The desire of a man is his kindness; and a poor man is better than a liar.” (Provs. 19:22)

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