Many years ago whilst I was a student I heard the testimony of a middle-aged woman who spoke of her journey from witchcraft, drugs and alcohol, to faith in Jesus Christ. This ex-witch, whose name I can no longer remember, spoke of her first few years as a Christian and the many times she had ended up drunk in the small village where she lived – a village where everyone knew everybody else’s business. Her testimony was interesting yet it was the point she mentioned next that spoke to me the loudest and it was about kindness. This middle-aged ex-witch went on to say that it had been the kindness of men and women who continually picked her up when she was drunk and gave her a bed for the night without judging her or writing her off that got her through those early years. These acts of kindness, she said, continually reminded her of the grace, mercy and love of God.
Another story of kindness is as follows and is about the late-night exploits of a Christian sociologist called Tony.
As a sociologist lecturer Tony Campolo would often work late and then have a coffee in a local café as a wind-down before heading home. The café was often frequented by prostitutes who’d come in from the cold every so often to sit with other street-walkers and warm themselves. Tony could not help overhearing their conversations and one evening heard a girl say that it was going to be her birthday the next day. The next evening Tony brought in a cake and presented it to the group where the young woman was sitting. She flushed up and started crying before picking up the cake and running out. Tony was a little concerned at her reaction to his gesture but one of the young woman’s friends told him not to worry because her friend was just so overwhelmed by someone bothering to give her a cake.
The kindness and love of God.
In both of the above stories we see acts of kindness and love in the lifting up of a struggling person and the giving of a gift to a young woman whose trade meant she was so often used and abused by others. In both stories we see people who are giving out of themselves and in this we capture a glimpse of the love and kindness of God.
In Jesus’ ministry we see the One who noticed all people and looked down on none. In both His words and His actions we see God-stooping-low, whether in meeting a Samaritan woman at a well in the middle of the day, or entering the home of a notorious tax collector with the offer of fellowship. In all that Jesus said and did we see the kindness and love of God – the giving out of self for another. In all that Jesus did He continually showed love, kindness and respect to all people.
“There is one crucial idea on which hospitality is based. The giving of hospitality is the demonstration of the belief that all people are afforded basic respect and dignity. Even an enemy was at peace when accepting the hospitality of the nomad. The nomad understood that we all share the image of God and that living in harmony with all men and their surroundings was their objective. When the nomad achieved that balance, that harmony with the created order, that is, when he and we, can experience God as we were meant to.”
J. Benner and M Calpino in, ‘Genesis, Zen and Quantum Physics.” Pages 246-7.
Rooted in His kindness.
In the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) we have instructions to local churches with Paul writing, “You will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Tim 3:15)
Paul speaks of the church as the household of God and the root of this household – the very reason the household exists, lives, breathes and has strength and power – can be summed up in the following words from Titus 3:4-5…
“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,”
God’s kindness and love is manifest because of His grace and mercy and is not due to anything of value within ourselves. In His mercy we do not receive what we do deserve, with the word ‘mercy’ (eleos) carrying the strong flavour of compassion.
The mercy of God results in (for those who embrace it) a cancellation of debt and washing away of sin through the compassion, kindness and love of God seen in Jesus Christ. Through God’s compassion and mercy I do not receive what I do deserve and in mercy and grace I not only have sin cancelled but am brought into a new position, a new standing with God as a son or daughter. An ancient king once touched upon this as he described what it felt like to be brought out of the struggle of life and into safety, with the following words…
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
For us this safety and security is ultimately found in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pictures of kindness.
One of the first places where we read the word ‘kindness’ in scripture is at a time when Lot and his family were being rescued from the destruction that was going to fall on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot speaks to the angelic beings with him at this time and says, “Your servant has found favour in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life.” (Gen 19:19). From this we see that God’s grace and mercy is still available to us, even in the place of judgement as a thief on a cross found out many centuries later…
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and come to knowledge of the truth and His sorrow and pain brought about by those who would not turn to Him is clearly seen in how Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) knowing how many would reject the offer of life.
“God’s sorrow lies in our refusal to approach him when we have sinned or failed. A ‘slip’ for an alcoholic is a terrifying experience. The obsession of the mind and body with booze returns with the wild fury of a sudden storm in springtime. When a person sobers up he or she is devastated. When I relapsed I had two options: yield once again to guilt, fear or depression, or rush into the arms of my heavenly Father – choose to live as a victim of my disease; or choose to trust in God’s immutable love.”
B. Manning in, ‘Abba’s Child’ p 20
Even though judgement comes upon our world in varying degrees, God still reaches out in kindness and love to all who turn to Him. If we do not turn to Him then although we are loved we are not able to receive His love as is the case of a young man in prison who has loving parents. The young man in prison is loved by his parents but is unable to fully benefit from their love due to his own actions.
Many religious people in Jesus’ day were unable to benefit from the love and kindness of God because they were spiritually blind to the truth found in Jesus Christ and one incident that reveals this blindness in the face of God’s love and kindness is found in Acts (4:9f) where Peter is called to account for healing a crippled man.
God had worked through Peter to heal and raise a man who had been crippled for forty years and the religious rulers did not like what was going on. They were aware that the man had been healed but did not like it because Peter attributed the healing to the work of the risen Lord Jesus Christ – to the kindness and love of God evidenced in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
An anchor to our faith: understanding the kindness and love of God.
In kindness and love God stoops low in Christ (Phil 2:5-11) with the purpose of raising us up through His work of amazing grace.
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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.”
Think about it! God’s kindness is seen in the giving of His one and only son (John 3:16) who was birthed into humanity and spent His first few days as a baby in a borrowed manger. In this incredible story of grace and mercy we see how kindness stoops low to help others and yet God did not stop there. In a life that clearly revealed what a relationship between man and God could be like, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and told stories of love, grace and mercy to all who would listen. He then gave his life at Calvary, standing in the place of the sinner so that the sinner – you and I - could stand in the place of forgiveness and reconciliation.
At times we may not always know what is going on in our lives, but there is something we always need to remember: God loves us with an everlasting loving-kindness and is with us through the work of Jesus and presence of the Holy Spirit. Even though we may not always understand what is going on we see through scripture, history and personal experience, that God can be trusted.
“Christians do not say, “I do not understand you at all, but I trust you anyway.” Rather we say, “I do not understand you in this situation, but I understand why I trust you anyway. Therefore I can trust that you understand even though I don’t.”
Prof Os Guinness in, ‘God in the Dark’ page 154.
Cared for and protected.
In Psalm 17:8 we find David saying, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” with the latter part of this verse being a metaphor relating to care and protection and therefore being clearly linked to the covenant.
In Hebrew thought the ‘apple of your eye’ can also be referred to as ‘little man’ in that when you stand close to someone you can see your reflection in the pupil of their eye. In loving-kindness God has drawn close to us with the offer of friendship and life. He seeks to protect us as those who are in the apple of His eye so be encouraged; you are of great importance and value to Him.
Many years ago a young trainee nurse learned a lesson that she has never forgotten; it was a lesson about the importance of knowing someone’s name.
“During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. "Absolutely," the professor said. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello." I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”
JoAnn C. Jones in ‘Guideposts’ Jan 1996.
If you were the king or queen of a nation of ten individuals then you would almost undoubtedly know all the names of your subjects, as would be the case if you were king or queen of a nation of fifty individuals. However if that number went up to a thousand then in all likelihood you would not know about everyone; yet God does. God is the creator of the heavens and earth and despite the vastness of this world He knows us all by name; you are known and you are loved.
Pictures of kindness…
Throughout scripture we continually find acts of kindness and love whether in words spoken to Hagar, a runaway slave (Gen 16:7-11), Naaman, a powerful army leader (Luke 4:25-27) or a struggling and humbled Peter (John 21:15-17). Yet what might this kindness and love look like today in a modern setting?
The answer to this question is seen in the many people who are turning to Christ from incredibly diverse and sometimes difficult backgrounds. One story that speaks of receiving the kindness and love of God is as follows and comes from a friend of mine – an Arab – who shares his faith with others. This is what he wrote earlier this year…
“When I was at Marble Arch (London), using a book table to distribute the Word of God and witness to Muslims about Jesus, a Sudanese lady came to the table and took a copy of my evangelistic book (Questions in the Faith). The woman did not talk much with me but when she went away, I felt in my heart that I should talk more to this lady about Jesus. I thought the chance was gone. After fifteen minutes had gone by she returned and said that a few days ago, she found the same copy of my book on the floor in Edgware Road, and had read it at home. She marked the lines in different pages and said, “Now I have a second copy of the same book from your table and I have many questions to ask. Can you answer my questions please?” While I answered she started to cry and said, “I saw Jesus twice in my dreams but I did not know that it was Jesus. Now I know.”
I asked an ex-Muslim lady to join me and we went with Dena to MacDonald’s, where I had space to talk more. I shared about a better life and an eternal life in Jesus. I showed Dena the way to accept Jesus as her own saviour. I told her, “If you agree, I can pray and you can say after me (If you can say every word, to God, from your heart) the prayer I pray. I started by praying
“Jesus, I do not know if you are a prophet or higher than a prophet. Reveal yourself to me. Shine your light in my heart, if you are God, and appeared in the flesh and died to save a sinner like me. Please reveal yourself to me and open my heart and mind to your to know you.” When she repeated those words she broke into tears and cried deeply asking Jesus to forgive her sins and accept her as a child in his kingdom. After we finished praying she said, “I felt like a very heavy load on my shoulders had been lifted and somebody took it away, Praise God!”
"I gave Dena a complete Bible in Arabic and some spiritual books to help her grow. Now some other ladies from the Muslim background disciple her to grow in her new faith.”
Loving the sinner and hating the sin.
God reaches out to us in grace, love and mercy, yet this does not mean He accepts what we do. For example, He challenged Cain (Gen 4:6-7) and challenged Israel on many occasions (Isaiah 1:18) concerning sin as well as being the One who will challenge us today (an act of kindness in itself) to break free from our wrong-thinking. An example of how this challenge to wrong thinking can release us into freedom is found in a story from Dr Paul Brand’s book, ‘Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.’
In his book Dr Brand writes about an incident that occurred early in his career. At that time he was working with his father-in-law in a practice just outside London and one day a woman came in whose complaints fitted the description of gastritis. Paul told the woman that it was not a serious condition and that with medication and care she would be fine. Yet the woman was petrified and no matter how many times he told her she’d be fine she remained petrified and continued to quiz him on every point of her diagnosis. At this point Paul could have just told her to just get on with life, but he didn’t – instead he sought to help her in another way.
Paul agreed to send her for a barium meal and extensive x-rays in order to placate her fears. When she next visited his surgery he told her that all the tests confirmed the initial diagnosis and yet she still struggled saying that she had been sure she had cancer but now felt she could trust him. And then she told him a story from her life.
Her mother had been ill and the family doctor called round and told her that she was going to be Ok and on her feet in no time at all. Dr Brand’s patient – the woman’s daughter – had been really encouraged by his kind words to her mother. Yet when they were in the hallway out of her mother’s hearing the doctor turned and said, ‘I’m afraid your mother will not last more than a day or two and went on to say that he had lied to her because what she doesn’t know about wouldn’t worry her too much. Her mother died that very night in her sleep.
The daughter was now a middle-aged patient herself and had gone to the same family doctor who had said, “What you have is gastritis” – and smiled at her with the same smile he had shown her mother. No wonder she had been so scared when decided to go to another surgery and arrived on Dr Brand’s doorstep. He could have just told her to believe him and get on with life but instead he should great kindness and love in putting her through tests in order to challenge her wrong thinking and bring her to a place of emotional release and freedom.
God is not politically correct and will judge our lives as and when He sees fit, yet His purpose in doing so is because He wants to uplift us and restore life. Remember that God points out that all have strayed and fallen short (Rom 3:23) and yet, in incredible grace, is the One who paid the price for our sin (John 3:16).
God’s purpose in reaching out to us is to restore harmony to His world and part of that restoration will come as He challenges all that is wrong, whilst at the same time offering to help us put things right so that the prodigal can come back into the home as a loved son or daughter. As Jesus pointed out He came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight of the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19).
In scripture kindness could be thought of as a meal with three ingredients: “strength”, “steadfastness” and “love.” All three ingredients come together so to speak, in the giving out of self for another, seeking to empower and uplift the downtrodden through being personally involved in all that goes on and loving what many regard as the unlovely. So how kind are we to those around us?
“Doing justice in the world is our calling; loving one another is our responsibility; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, stopping war, the glorification of violence and senseless killing, is our responsibility. Protecting the weak, aiding the needy, creating communities of love, justice and compassion, is our responsibility. Challenging the loveless powers with God’s truth is our calling. Calling the world to repentance, love and justice is our responsibility. While we are waiting on God to fulfil the promise, God is waiting on us to begin to live as if we believed the promise.”
Allan Boesak in, ‘The Fire Within.’ p165.
Kindness - Lifting up those around us.
Jesse Jackson the American civil rights activist who once worked with Martin Luther King said on one occasion.
“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up” with his words summing up one of the biblical pictures behind the word kindness, this being bending the neck – bending down to help another. This person, the one who ‘bends the neck,’ takes a genuine interest in those around them, reaching out to their level, so to speak, with no other motive than kindness and is the sort of kindness that God speaks of in Hosea where we read…
“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”
The writer, Hosea, had a troubled life with a wife whom he had brought out of prostitution. They had two sons but she finally leaves Hosea and it is then that God tells him to go and purchase back his adulterous wife, despite being the wronged party. In Hosea’s actions we capture something of the amazing kindness and love that God has for wayward Israel and see His willingness to reach out to those who should have known better. On many occasions we can read of Israel trusting in her own ability and strength yet as Jeremiah once wrote, we are called to focus our attention on the love and kindness of God…
“This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24.
God’s concern and willingness to reach out to others in kindness and love (ultimately seen in Jesus) is also captured in the words of the prophet Isaiah where we read…
“I looked, but there was no-one to help, I was appalled that no-one gave support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground." I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us — yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.”
Through the kindness and love of God our sins are wiped out (Acts 3:19). The record of our wrong-doing is removed because the debt has been completely paid by another. In kindness and love God has also adopted us into His household – the household of the “I will never leave you nor forsake you” One (Deut 31:6; Heb 13:5).
Reciprocal giving of self: kindness on display.
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
In the above verses we see what can be termed as a divine exchange where, in the first verse the kingdom of heaven (the rule and reign of agape love) is spoken of as an incredibly valuable treasure. A man finds this treasure and then sells everything he has in order to secure it.
In the second verse there is a big difference in that it is now the Kingdom of heaven that is now spoken of as a man (merchant) who finds a pearl of great value and then sells everything in order to purchase it. The kingdom of heaven speaks of the rule and reign of God’s perfect love and in the selling of everything we see a portrayal of His great love. God gives the very best He has (His son) so that you and I could be brought out of the slave-market of life and placed into the home of a loving father. God loves us with an everlasting love.
In our western culture love is often perceived as little more than an abstract thought or emotion – how a person feels towards others, for example, and is a term that can be used very loosely such as in, “I love chocolate” and so forth. Yet in the Hebrew language love (ahava) is a decision and an action – a genuine giving of the very best of self for another. This giving is more than just helping someone. It is making a connection that will develop and sustain true love – sharing the gift of life with those around us. This shows us why the main Greek word for love is ‘agape,’ speaking of a unconditional, selfless and sacrificial love and in Jesus we see this love – a thinking, acting and emotional love that seeks to reach out to us all.
For example, in loving kindness Jesus reached out and healed blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) who’d been rebuked by a crowd for making too much noise. Elsewhere, in loving kindness Jesus didn’t just say to a leper, “you are clean” but touched a man who had probably not felt the touch of another person for years (Matthew 8:2). And in loving-kindness Jesus drew a deaf man away from the hubbub of the crowd and looked up to heaven saying ‘Ephphatha’ (be opened), using a word that it would be easy for the deaf man to lip-read as healing came into his life. In an act of loving-kindness Jesus went out of His way to engage with a Samaritan woman during the hottest part of the day (John 4:6-9) and also took time to encourage an incarcerated John to look beyond his prison walls and see that the Messiah really has come (Matthew 11:5).
Kindness and the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit.
God does not leave us on our own (John 14), and His Spirit is with us in all things. The Holy Spirit is the One who leads us into all truth (John 16:13) and is the Spirit of life and holiness (Rom 8:2; 1:4), who helps us in our weakness (Rom 8:26). In Him we find true righteousness, peace and joy (Rom 14:17) and in His grace and loving-kindness we can display His fruit (Gal 5:22f) and operate in His gifting (1 Cor12-14). The Holy Spirit (literally the special breath of God) is the Spirit of freedom (2 Cor 3:17), purity, understanding and kindness (2 Cor 6:6). He is the Spirit of wisdom (Eph 1:17), and is with us right now as an incredible gift that has been freely given.
“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
In the above verse the word ‘give’ that Paul uses is ‘epichoregein’ and is a word full of meaning. For example, our English word ‘epic’ is taken from the first part of epichoregein and speaks of that which is truly amazing, such as an amazing film, a real epic.
The second part of epichoregein is ‘choregein’ from the word ‘choregeia’ and in Paul’s day this word spoke of over-flowing grace and blessing, and was later used to speak of a husband giving himself and all that he had to his wife. The word ‘Choregeia’ was thought to have originally come about through a particular practice in Athens, a city that was well- known for putting on plays. Men and women from the city would take various parts in these plays and a choir would sometimes be used to act corporately as one person. The provision of food, costumes and accommodation for the choir was often by someone who had been successful in their business that year and done as an act of thanks, gratitude and kindness.
This then is the heart of ‘epichoregein,’ a word that speaks of an incredibly generous gift, a deep and powerful giving out of self for the benefit of others and this is why Paul uses this word to speak of the gifting of the Holy Spirit. In and through Him we are able to live out what we find to be true in scripture through the power and presence of another. Through Him we can do good.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
It is through the presence of the Spirit that we are to engage with the world, and, as the following words by Prof Oz Guinness state, be much more than just a presence. If we just want to be a presence (in the sense of present but doing nothing) then we are not going to experience much of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are not going to experience His kindness and will not be able to share His loving-kindness.
“Faithful presence is not enough. It is merely the beginning. Jesus was not merely present in the world, but far, far more. He was intensely active, he taught extensively, he healed countless people from all sorts of sickness and disease, he delivered from the domination of evil spirits, he drove out moneychangers from the temple, he raised people from the dead, he confronted hypocrisy, and he set his face toward Jerusalem and his active choice to die. Like him then, we must not only be present but active, and so dedicated to the world yet so dead to the world to which we are dedicated, that in some small way we too may strike a critical tension with the world that will be the source of the culture-sharing power that only the church can exhibit.”
Os Guinness in, ‘Renaissance’ page 87
Jesus was filled with the Spirit and engaged with all people around Him at every level. We are to do likewise, sometimes in what seems little more than random acts of kindness yet which have, at their heart, the kindness and love of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We have always been loved, yet it is only through accepting Jesus Christ that we were able to really benefit from His kindness and love. Now, through the presence of the Holy Spirit we are to share this love and as one anonymous writer once said, “Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” So let’s remember how kind God is towards us and make the genuine effort to be kind to those around us for in doing so there is great blessing.