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The Fruit of the Spirit Is Kindness

June 24, 2012

Sermon:  The Fruit of the Spirit Is Kindness
Text:  Galatians 5:22-23


Today we continue with kindness in our study entitled The Fruit of the Spirit.  Almost everybody agrees that showing kindness to others is a good idea.  Listen to some of these quotes:

–          No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.  Aesop

–          Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  Plato

–          Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are endless.  Mother Teresa

–          Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.  Mark Twain

–          You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

–          Constant kindness can accomplish much.  As the sun makes ice melt, kindness could cause misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.  Albert Schweitzer

–          You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  My Dad

Are you a kind person?  Do you know anyone who is truly a kind person, a person who has no guile and no ulterior motive?  I know many people who speak and behave in kind ways, but I must tell you that many of those same individuals have their edges.  To find a person who is truly kind through-and-through is a noble quest.  That quest will take us right to the heart of the issue of kindness. 

We are all supposed to exemplify this Fruit of the Spirit.  We should all display kindness in our Christian lives.  If we are really honest with ourselves, however, no matter what we do and say, we will find limits to our kindness.

The origin of the word kindness is from the Anglo-Saxon kind or kin, which means family, as in kin, kinship, and kindred.  That Saxon word, or German word, can also mean child, as in the word kindergarten.  Kindness was gentle and caring affection toward a child, a family member, or even an animal.  Unfortunately in our world, people do not always regard and treat children with kindness.  They do not always treat family members with kindness, and they do not always treat animals with affection.  Still, in our vocabulary, kindness has come to mean something like a warm-hearted, considerate way of dealing with others.

We must consider two languages in order to understand the word kindness as Paul uses it.  The Greek word chrestotes is translated as gentleness, or more often as kindness, in the New Testament.   You can see how that translation might become confusing.  Paul’s list begins to sound redundant.  In fact, when I read Paul’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit, the words kindness, gentleness, and goodness start to blur in my own mind.  I imagine the same is true with you.  Could he have just done what the Scout law does and use the word kind by itself instead of using all three?

What is the difference in meaning of these three words?  They seem basically the same when we hear them with our western minds.  If we were limited to English and Greek, they certainly would seem redundant.  Remember that Paul was multilingual.  He spoke at least three languages.  He was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.  English had not been invented yet.

In Acts 22, we read that Paul spoke to a Roman centurion who was surprised that he could speak the Greek language.  He would have expected Paul to speak Hebrew or maybe Aramaic because he was a Jew.  Paul could speak Greek because he was from Tarsus.  That was probably his original language.  When Paul asked to address the crowd in Jerusalem, he gave his testimony in the Aramaic language.

When we understand Paul’s background in three languages, perhaps we find a clue to what kindness really means in Paul’s thought and in the Bible.  The Hebrew word chesed is used in the Old Testament to describe the loving kindness of God, as our hymn said this morning.  Chesed is central to all Jewish theology.  It is central to Jewish ethics.  Many Jewish thinkers view chesed as the primary virtue from which all others originate.   In Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical movement, chesed is actually a name for God.

Kindness is valued by religious views of all ilks.  It is a virtue that is the foundation of what they call tikkun olam, which means the repairing of the world.  Through chesed, through kindness, God repairs a broken world.  So, the importance of kindness as a Fruit of the Spirit becomes much more meaningful when we consider the Hebrew background.

The word appears redundant when we look at it in English or Greek, but we begin to see what this word means when we look at the Hebrew language.   Paul must have had this in mind when he included it in this list.  God’s loving kindness, chesed, is used twenty-three times in the book of Psalms.

Consider these passages:

Psalm 25:6-7:

Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from old.  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your loving kindness, remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

Micah 7:18:

Who is a God like you, a God who delights in mercy, chesed.

Paul identifies the loving kindness of God as the fountainhead of grace, the way that Christians know what grace really is in Ephesians 2:4-7:

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace that you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Jesus Christ in order that in the coming ages, he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:12:

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long suffering.

If kindness is to be a part of our lives as Christians, how can that very special trait be evidenced?  We derive this characteristic, this loving kindness, from God himself.  It is certainly to be evidenced in our speech.  Are your words kind, or do they have a sharpness?  Do you give people a cold shoulder?  Are you arrogant and condescending?  Do you discourage others?  In kindness, there is no gossip.  In kindness, there is no rumor.  In kindness, there is no slander.  In speech, kindness expresses itself in affirmation.  Kindness lives by the Golden Rule:  Treat other people the way you would like to be treated.  I have often said that being a good parent is catching your children doing things right and telling them so.  Kindness is a matter of building up, not tearing down.  We do that with each other in the fellowship of Christ.  We build each other up in affirmation.  Some might call that the milk of human kindness.

Second, if we are to put on kindness like a garment, as Paul suggests in Colossians 3:12, it has to be expressed in our actions.  We hear a good bit about random acts of kindness, sometimes called passing-it-forward.  I read in The Stroller about a man who drove through Starbucks in order buy a cup of coffee.  As he paid his bill, he told the clerk, “I’d like to pay for the order of the person in the car behind me too.”

The driver of the second vehicle was so impressed that she contacted The Stroller and said, “I don’t know who that man was, but I’m going to do the very same thing.  There didn’t happen to be a car behind me when I was in the line, but I’m going to do the very same thing for someone in the future.”  Kindness has a ripple effect.  When one person is kind, kindness tends to pass forward to others.

Jesus talked about kindness, not just in terms of random acts, but in very difficult circumstances.  In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5, he said,

You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

Now, the kindness that considers even a person who is our enemy as a person worthy of our kindness goes beyond our ordinary limits.  God calls on all of us to “strengthen hands which hang down and to strengthen knees that are weak” (Hebrews 12:12).  We are to open our hearts wide, we are to listen to others, we are to give generously, and we are to give the benefit of our knowledge, wisdom, understanding, hope, and encouragement.  God says that we are to be people who are open to giving.  That does not mean that we have to be gullible.  It means that we have to be open to giving kindness to all people.  When we do that, kindness sows seeds that bear good fruit.

Third, we must show kindness out of our devotion to Christ.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  In other words, it is our kindness that leads to God’s kindness toward us.  Of course, God is kind toward us before we are ever kind to anyone else.  It is just another example of how we cannot out-give Him.  In Matthew 25’s Parable of the Last Judgment, Jesus said that we are to give to those who are hungry, to those who are thirsty, to those who are strangers, to those who are naked, to those who are sick, to those who are in prison.  Then he adds, “As much as you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).  Being kind to others is one way we express our devotion to Christ.

Paul makes a connection between the Scripture announced as the text today with Ephesians 4:31.  He says, “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  Perhaps the greatest expression of our kindness is being willing to forgive others.

Howard Thurman was an influential African-American preacher.  In 1923, he graduated from Morehouse College as the valedictorian.  He went to Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and shortly after his ordination pastored a church in Overland, Ohio.  He decided to return to school to pursue a doctorate, which he got from the great Quaker, Rufus Jones, at Haverford College.  He became Dean of the Chapel at Howard University and then at Boston University.  He is the author of twenty-one books.  His most important book was Jesus and the Disinherited, which had a profound influence on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Howard Thurman was a colleague, a fellow student with Martin Luther King, Sr., at Morehouse College.  When the younger Martin Luther King, Jr., went to Boston College, Dr. Thurman became his mentor and served as his spiritual advisor.  Thurman preached a sermon on Romans 12:9-17, 21, which provides you with a biblical definition of kindness.  I want to substitute the first word love with the word kindness.

Kindness must be sincere.  Hate what is evil.  Cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave it to God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I left out the part about heaping burning coals on another’s head, a concept that is difficult for us to understand.

A pastor asked a wife one time if she had tried heaping burning coals on her abusive husband.  She said, “No, but I tried boiling water.”

The phrase “heaping with burning coals” means treating a person with kindness.  It is one interpretation of the French phrase coup de gras – killing with kindness.

Thurman, in preaching a sermon on this passage, talked about how we are to overcome evil with kindness.  He said, “The best example I have is one from my mother.  I was born into a black family of sharecroppers that lived on a farm.  Our home backed up to the home of white sharecroppers.  A fence separated the two backyards.  Soon after we moved in, our white neighbor cleaned out his chicken coop, throwing all of the manure over the fence into our backyard.  My dad and I were furious at this great insult, but my mother said, ‘No, you let me handle this.  I know what to do.’

“She left that pile of chicken manure out there in the July sun, the August sun, and the September sun to rot.  In the fall she used a potato fork to dig up a plot of earth in our backyard, working that chicken manure into the soil.  Then in early spring, she turned the ground all over again and then planted seeds.

“About the first of June, my mother took me by the hand and told me to come with her out to the garden.  We harvested fresh flowers and vegetables and put them in a basket.

“The white sharecroppers who lived in the other house behind us had never spoken to us.  My mother walked around the fence and up on the front porch of the neighbors’ house.  She knocked on the door and said to our neighbor, ‘You were so kind to share your chicken manure with us last summer that I wanted to share our vegetables and flowers with you.’

“Our families became steadfast friends.”

Kindness is not just being nice.  Kindness is not just being sweet.  Kindness goes way beyond that.  If we look at the way the Bible defines kindness, we will see that this unique part of the Fruit of the Spirit is a trait that every Christian is supposed to have.  We are supposed to treat each other with kindness, and we are supposed to treat even those who do us wrong with kindness.  “Be kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Do you know that God has forgiven you?  Have you accepted His kindness toward you, this fountain-head of grace?  If you have never done that, can I invite you to make a decision to accept Christ today?  I extend that invitation on His behalf.  You know what the Lord has laid on your heart.  You respond.

Kirk H. Neely
© June 2012



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