HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Kindness χρηστότης (chréstotés) conveys the meaning of moral goodness, integrity, usefulness, and benignity. In the King James Version, this word is translated “gentleness,” which links it to the meaning of a gentleman or a gentlewoman, someone who behaved properly, with moral integrity and kindness.
Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not judgement. The Holy Spirit enables us to have moral integrity with kindness and not get trapped in self-righteousness judgement.
The Kindness We Crave
To be clear, I’m not talking about the “nice” that avoids conflict at all costs. Or the “nice” that is all sweetness and light externally but bitter and cold internally. Or the “say you’re sorry” forced-to-be “nice.”
I mean the “nice,” which, precisely defined, is kindness. Genuine compassion and respect for the humanity of others that moves us to act and speak in ways that build them up and care for them well.
Every person needs that kind of nice. We might not recognize the need if our “kindness quotient” is regularly being met as we receive love from people in our lives. But if you’ve ever been in a place where you know no one or—even worse—where you’re seen by those around you as an enemy, you know how strong that craving for kindness can be. We become almost desperate for a helpful word, a compassionate smile, a gentle touch.
Why? Kindness communicates, I see you. I see your pain. And I believe that you are worthy of love. It’s an acknowledgement of our common humanity and the universal struggle that comes with living in a post-Fall world, where hard things wreak havoc in our lives all the time. It’s a gift we give to others and a gift we’re meant to receive from others as well.
The Kindness of God
Kindness is not just something we’re supposed to show others, though. I 2006 when I was ordained in ministry my desire was to become the nicest person in the world. I have since become the meanest I’ve ever been to myself.
Though I’ve been trying to be the best I ever could from childhood days, yet I failed because I thought I’d never made it. I pushed myself constantly in every area but was only seeing all the ways I didn’t measure up. There was no room for kindness, because (I assumed) kindness to myself would not bring perfection; it would only make me lazy, undisciplined, and careless. Then I realized there was something lacking in my life even though I was reading the Bible and going to church, I was not measuring up to the standards required of me. I needed something more and then I experienced the kindness of God.
I’ve always thought God was kind, of course. He had, after all, placed so many wonderful people in my life—people who regularly showed me kindness and love beyond anything I deserved.
But what I really believed was that he was always disappointed with me because I never measured up. I was always short to the set standards for me.
I drive and pray and talk to God as loud as I can for Him to speak is a tone that I will experience His kindness. I was going about this the wrong way because I was only seeing myself in the picture. The day that would change my life was one I wasn’t expecting, but it finally came and I experienced that deep kindness.
And His deep and unexpected kindness began to slowly change the way I treated myself. So I was able to see life in a different sense and I was able to to move one into greater light.
Somewhere along the way, I had lost sight of my own humanity, viewing myself instead as something that could be perfectly controlled until it was more like a machine than a person. But through God’s kindness, I began to see myself as someone—even someone valuable who was worthy of compassion. Worthy of the Grace of God and for His kindness I was lacking.
That change had another surprising result: it made being kind to others, not something I needed to try to do perfectly, but something I could trust God to help me do. His work in me—not my own striving—increased my capacity to care for others better and show the kindness of God to them.
Of course, the truth we all know is that even though we’re made in the image of an incredibly kind God, we can be incredibly mean—especially to those we love the most. How does that happen? How do we lose the capacity to see someone else’s humanity and care about their pain?
There are three main malfunctions in my life:
1. Tiredness. Being physically or emotionally tired means I’m less likely to put in the extra energy kindness requires.
2. Busyness. Running from one thing to the next leaves me no margin to see—much less help—those around me.
3. Pride. Thinking I know best keeps me from listening to others or God, and my heart grows cold.
The antidotes to numbers one and two are practical: making sleep a priority and saying yes to fewer things so that I have more margin in my life. I was so deprived of sleep and never know it until I wasn’t able to do anything for myself and others. Maybe I was losing it and needed help. My doctor after listening to my complaints recommended a sleep study and today I sleep better. I wasn’t getting enough air and that caused a serious problem. Now with the aid of a small machine, I am doing better with my sleep and I am kinder to others. I feel more rested after a few hours of sleep and because someone (my doctor) listened to me.
But the only antidote to the state of my own selfish heart is continuing to regularly sit with God and both experience his great kindness toward me and gain deeper insight into his great love for those around me. Three practices, in particular, help me become kinder.
1. Time in God’s Word. When, for example, I’m tempted to stereotype or judge someone in traffic who happened to cut in front me, verses about the value of others make me check my assumptions and give them the benefit of the doubt.
2. Confession. Admitting to God my blindness over my sense of privilege makes me more patient with and a better listener to others who are in a different place in their own physical or spiritual journey.
3. Obedience to God’s rules. Every time I choose to remember a coworker’s pain, for example, and respond to them with kindness instead of impatience when they’ve exasperated me, I root myself more deeply in the values of the kingdom of God, which makes obedience a little easier the next time.
Continuing in Kindness
So even though I’m not the nicest person in the world yet, it’s okay. I firmly believe no act of kindness is ever wasted. Those acts change me and communicate Christ’s love to others—a truth God continually reminds me of. Because every time I go to God expecting anger or disappointment or judgment or impatience, what I receive—every time—is kindness. Kindness from the God “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). And that act of kindness is still changing everything. Brethren had it not been for the cross where would w have been today. Hallelujah