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Category: Relationships / Topics: Attitudes Character, Integrity Inspiration Relationships Values

The Virtue of Kindness

by Stu Johnson

Posted: November 15, 2017

How is kindness faring today?…

Number 3 in the Thursday Morning Guys series


Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the sessions, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic last week (November 9) was kindness, with this note to help get the discussion started:

The alarming decrease in kindness shown to one's fellow man prompted this topic: The cardinal virtue of kindness.

Let's face it. With rare exceptions, the cold, cruel world is not getting warmer and more pleasant. If anything, it's dead-set in the opposite direction.

Yet, in no uncertain terms, Paul instructs us, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as Christ God forgave you." Eph. 4:32 (NIV) "Get rid all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice." Eph. 4:31 (NIV). Such actions "grieve the Spirit of God." Eph. 4:30.

In fact, in addition to being a cardinal virtue, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit -- one that is rendered as being useful or good for someone without expecting anything in return, i.e., benevolence.

Because we are beset on all sides by bitterness, slander, and rage, let's turn our attention to how we can counteract it with kindness.

The negative tone with which the discussion-starter opened brought several responses indicating strong affirmation that kindness, indeed, is alive and well.  At least two of the men who suffer mobility issues told of the increasing kindness extended to them because of those limitations.

There are, however, circumstances that limit kindness. Media coverage can increase fear because of heightened perception of danger (certain crimes may be no worse or even less than they have been historically, but appear to be growing because our threshold of attention has been lowered through 24-hour news and social media). We now hear more warnings about the dangers of being a Good Samaritan.

Seeing parents escort their children to school, a trend that has grown largely out of fear, even in the safest of neighborhoods, is a sad commentary on changes since most of us were in school. Back in those days it was not uncommon to go to school and roam the neighborhood by ourselves –just “be home in time for supper!”

Other factors that may diminish kindness, or the sense that it is reduced, include urban friction, buying into stereotypes, and a coarsening of culture and communication. Regional differences may produce varying levels of the expression of kindness, as may geography and demographics (urban vs suburban vs rural, type of neighborhood, ethnic/cultural mix, etc.)
Despite the fears and perceptions that may reduce kindness, it would be premature to write an epitaph. As discussion continued, examples began to flow (paraphrased here):

Examples of Kindness

  • People respond—often heroically—in the midst of tragic circumstances (the Las Vegas shooting was a recent example that came up in last week’s discussion, covered in the article “Help, Lord, the World is Upside Down.”)
  • Standing in a grocery store checkout line, a woman at the head of the line was removing items because the total exceeded the cash she had. Another woman in line gave the clerk her credit card to make the payment, allowing the customer to walk out with all of her groceries.
  • The wife of one of the guys found $100 in the pocket of a coat at a Goodwill store. It would have been easy to keep it, but she turned it in to the manager.
  • One of the men reported his experience making sales calls with a colleague in an area of Chicago where panhandlers were common.  The colleague did not give money, but suggested he was facing some of the same things they were (which was true). In more than one case, the panhandler reached in his own pocket to offer money. Even though not accepted, it showed a sense of empathy between the two men—when most people either steer clear or drop some coins or a couple of dollars but avoid eye contact.
  • Another reported encountering a panhandler with some reluctance, then decided to give a bill larger than he would normally consider, telling the man that he felt God directing him to provide the money, suggesting that it was now the recipient’s responsibility to use it wisely.  That led to the observation that there can be a cost to kindness—you will get beat occasionally—but our responsibility is to respond to God’s leading and leave the results in his hands. (There are situations where cultural sensitivity should make us wary—the example was given of the use of children in many parts of the world to beg as part of a ring, the modern-day equivalent of the situation portrayed in “Oliver Twist.”)
  • Some acts of kindness—whether as agents or recipients—can be evidence of the work of angels in our midst.  Sounds crazy, I know, but I’ve heard several credible stories over the years. “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Hebrews 13:2 NLT) 
  • Some churches leave their doors open to allow people to use the sanctuary for meditation and prayer.  There are instances where this has provided an open door to abuse—theft or vandalism—but some of these churches believe it can lead to a “divine appointment” that surpasses the risk.
  • It was suggested that through the gloom of most television news, there are examples of uplifting stories.  CBS Sunday Morning does it regularly, with reporters like Bill Geist; PBS News Hour often includes such stories, and occasionally owe can find them on network newscasts. We should applaud such examples when they occur and encourage more by submitting comments to them.

What examples can you add?

Principles of Kindness

A few ideas coming out of the Thursday morning discussion:

  • One of the guys quoted respected teacher Dallas Willard, who said whenever an opportunity comes up, make the righteous choice. [I could not locate that precise quote, but I did run across a good collection of Willard definitions put together by Bill Gaultiere on the Soul Shepherding blog).
  • Like a lot of things in the Christian life, kindness involves a positive attitude and purposeful action, but don’t act blindly, as wisdom is required.
  • “Kindness still lives, but civility not so much.” Can anything be done to use kindness to encourage civility in a culture that seems to have grown to celebrate coarseness and “attitude” (in the sense of making yourself stand out)?

What principles can you add from what you have learned, observed, and applied to your life?

Guidance from Scripture (God’s Word, the Holy Bible)

The discussion-starter mentioned the “fruit of the Spirit.”  Kindness is but one of nine attributes mentioned.  The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Galatia, which had fallen subject to false teaching. It is helpful to see the full context, contrasting dark and light:

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:17-25 NLT)

Other Scriptures

  • Paul provides a similar contrast in the verses referred to in the discussion-starter: “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32 NLT)
  • Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor. (Proverbs 21:21 ESV)
  • He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV– some translations refer to mercy rather than kindness, but notice how the two are used together in the following verses.
  • Then this message came to Zechariah from the Lord:  “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.  (Zechariah 7:8-10 NLT)
  • Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (Colossians 3:12-13 NLT)

About the Scripture references: NLT = New Living Translation,  ESV = English Standard Version,  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.

 


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: November 15, 2017

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