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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 14: Clarity about the Fruit: Kindness

Unless you’re heartless, you undoubtedly enjoy watching videos that showcase acts of kindness. I watched one this week in which a newly employed high schooler bought a friend a pair of much needed new shoes that he had wanted but could not afford. After the young man opens the box, he bursts into tears over the kindness his classmate has shown him.

Often I hear of churches planning outreach events that involve random acts of kindness—paying it forward to people who are not believers in order to share a tangible witness to the gospel. Restaurant bills are paid unexpectedly. Help is given to rake leaves or clean a yard. Groceries show up at a door. There is a good feeling in doing such acts and they do have an impact on those who receive them.

But let me suggest that kindness as a fruit of the Spirit goes much deeper than this. Kindness is not just the act in itself, but the identity of the person who acts. The Spirit transforms you so you can be useful and humane—being like Jesus—in a world that generally judges broken people with indifference, frustration or helplessness. And since everyone is broken, unkindness tends to run rampant in all communities.

Consider the character of kindness in Jesus from these vignettes of his life:

  • He was accosted by a rich young ruler who was pretty self-assured that he had kept the Law perfectly, but still was wondering what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told the man to sell all he had and come follow him. That was an amazing offer, since accepting would have allowed the young man to bring hope and life to others in the days ahead. But instead, he went away sad (Matthew 19:16-30).
  • The second snapshot is Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in a synagogue. It was a Sabbath and present where those who considered what Jesus was about to do a sacrilege. He asked the disapproving audience, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4 ESV) Then he healed the man.
  • The final story is Jesus encountering the demonized man in the region of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20). Crazy, naked, shrieking and mangling himself with stones, the man lived in a cemetery—a place of perpetual ritual uncleanliness—until Jesus shows up. Then, in his crazed state, he runs at Jesus and asks him to leave him alone. Jesus instead frees him and leaves him in his right mind and at peace.

These stories are all about Jesus’ kindness. But what you should take away from them is that they teach us about what being kind means.

  1. Kindness is not shying away from speaking truth, but holding up a mirror to the life of others when their view of themselves is blinding them to damaging beliefs. Speaking the truth in love is kindness, even if no one cries for joy when we act this way. Even if they walk away, they deserve to know the truth.
  2. Kindness does not hold back in the face of opposition. You may think you are kind, but the revelation of whether you are keeping in step with the Spirit will be when you are offering kindness to the wrong person or under the wrong circumstances. When the crowd is jeering but you are still set on doing the right and kind thing—that is when you know you have been transformed.
  3. Kindness pushes in instead of pulling back. The demonized man was scary and those demons that possessed him did not want Jesus to disrupt their control over him. But the trapped man was worth too much to Jesus for him to abandon him. The kindness of Jesus would not allow him to just give up and go away.

A friend of mine told of watching a loud drunk man being tossed out of a bar. The barkeeper not only tossed him, he kicked him in the head for good measure. The drunk was knocked cold. As the crowd outside the bar milled uncertainly around, a young woman ran into a store, emerging with a wet towel. She placed the man’s head on her lap and began to minister to his wounds, calling out to others to call 911. My friend’s response was to wish he had done it himself.

You might recognize the parallel to the parable of the Good Samaritan in this story.

This character of kindness is what keeping in step with the Spirit is all about.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith