When you think of what it means to be kind, I don’t doubt a very specific person comes to mind. If you’re lucky, maybe a few people come to mind. Regardless of whom you picture, the reason you think of someone instead of something is because kindness is something we experience tangibly. It is the outward expression of an inward gratefulness. You can feel thankful or feel grateful, but you don’t feel kind. You are kind. Walking up to someone and saying, “Hey. I’m feeling pretty kind today,” is not the norm. They will either think you are arrogant and full of yourself or just joking around. People don’t do this.
On a regular basis though, we see different ways people are showing kindness to others. Whether it is the local food pantry supplying meals to families in need, a police officer going above and beyond by caring for a crying baby after a car crash, or most recently in the media, the woman who was left at the altar and invited a large group of homeless people to partake in her now unnecessary reception meal, we see so many glimpses of love and kindness on display. Even if it sometimes seems like people only talk about the evil and the horror in the world.
When we see people doing nice things for others, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
“They are a really nice person.”
“I wish I had the time to serve that way.”
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“Next time I’m at the store I’ll pick up a few extra canned goods for my local food pantry.”
Very rarely do we automatically assume someone showing kindness is a follower of Jesus. Why is that? I think it’s mostly because on some level, we’re all capable of showing kindness to others throughout our lives. For some, it may be a one-time thing, for others, it may be a lifestyle, but people can be kind and not love Jesus.
The moral standards we base our actions on are a result of the standards set forth by God. For believers and unbelievers alike, whether we all freely admit it or not, we have an innate understanding that humans are different from all other creatures. As a Christian, we see this in the truth that we are image-bearers. The only one of God’s creations made in his image, breathing his breath, and possessing souls longing to be reunited with him on the other side of eternity. As unbelievers, it is seen as basic morality resulting in fair treatment of others. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of belief, you know and believe that human life is valued; maybe not across the board, but enough to display some level of kindness in the span of your life.
As I skimmed my concordance for scriptures speaking to kindness I found a few interesting facts. First, kindness is never mentioned as a stand-alone trait in a follower of Christ. There are no New Testament verses that say, “Be kind,” then never speak of anything else. See for yourself.
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In Colossians 3:12-13, Paul tells us, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
In Titus 3:4, we see goodness and loving kindness standing together in the character of Christ as he saved us by grace through faith because of his own mercy. In Ephesians 2:7, we are told that by grace we have been saved so the immeasurable riches of the grace in kindness in Christ Jesus could be on display. Then in Romans 11:22, kindness and severity are held side by side. God’s kindness toward his children is magnified when seen in contrast to the severity with which he handles those who have fallen away.
Granted, these aren’t all the scriptures on kindness in the Bible, but they are all the New Testament scriptures based on the same Greek word, chréstotés, meaning goodness, excellence, uprightness; all except for one. I held back this final scripture because in it rests the root of why kindness is not enough for Christians.
At the end of Romans 1 there is a description of the ways of the unrighteous. How those who know of God’s righteous proclamation, that any who practice such things deserve to die, still give approval to the unrighteous. As Paul continues his letter in chapter 2, we are reminded that it is unacceptable to “presume on the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience” because ultimately, the kindness of God should lead us to repentance.
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Once I read this verse and saw plainly on the page before me, that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance, I realized that all the other verses mentioned above echoed this truth, the second collective certainty of these scriptures. Kindness is only relevant in the discussion because of the cross. Even in Colossians 3 it says we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven. We have the gift of forgiveness because Christ died and paid our ransom in the ultimate act of kindness on the cross.
One of the most incredible realities of the cross is the fact that no one deserved the gift of what happened there. Not only are we undeserving of the cross, we are unworthy to have had the Son of God dwell with us on earth.
When Jesus was born to a virgin in a dirty barn and placed in a feeding trough, he displayed incredible humility. When Jesus stood before countless people preaching and teaching truth to those who needed it desperately, aware his arrest was imminent, he didn’t run away even though he knew the cross was coming. When he stood trial his own people, the ones who knew he was coming and were awaiting his messianic arrival, shouted, “Crucify him!” But because of his great love and mercy, Jesus continued on his path to the cross. He, in an incredible display of loving kindness, sacrificed himself for his bride, the undeserving, guilty, fault-filled people who sent him to the cross. Christ’s kindness was based in humility as he brought himself low as a baby born in a manger, lived as a sojourner traveling and teaching and preaching, and died a criminal’s death, naked on a cross.
But the story doesn’t end with Christ on the cross. The curtain doesn’t close with a really great man, in an act of incredible kindness, sacrificing himself for the sake of the cause. So often we end here and forget that without the rest of the story, this death is meaningless. But after 3 days in the grave, Jesus rose again. He defeated sin. He defeated death. And he walked out of the tomb. In this one act, Christ showed us what is coming after the grave, that there is life for us on the other side of eternity, and that our choice to receive the gift of his death and resurrection will determine how we spend our eternal lives. He sealed eternity in heaven for all who would believe by leaving the grave behind.
This is why kindness is not enough. We can see kindness. We can appreciate kindness. We can demand kindness. But unless Christ crucified produces in us a penitent heart, our efforts toward kindness are futile. Every time we show love or compassion or kindness as followers of Christ, it should be a reflection of the love and compassion and kindness he bestowed upon us as he was nailed to the cross and as he walked out of the tomb. And as we seek to put kindness on display, we should come to the table in humility. Because if Christ hadn’t humbled himself, carried a cross, and died the death we deserve, why would Christians need to reflect kindness anyhow?
Katie H. Howard is a pastor’s wife and stay-at-home mom. She loves Jesus, music, and the written word. She enjoys writing about community, spiritual growth, womanhood, and parenting. Her desire is to see women released from the chains of perfectionism and into the Gospel freedom of serving transparently in everyday life. She lives in Seaford, Virginia with her family. Check out Katie’s blog at katiehhoward.com and catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
Original publication date: October 28, 2015