Many years ago when 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 found herself drunk in the small village where she lived – a village everyone knew everybody else’s business. Yet it was the point that she mentioned next that spoke to me the loudest. At times her Christian witness was anything but good yet, as she clearly pointed out, it was the Christian men and women who would pick her up and give her a bed for the night without judging her or writing her off that eventually helped her completely let go of her previous lifestyle. In her mind it was their kindness and love and really confirmed to her the faith she had entered into through Christ.
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 as they warmed up. Tony could not help overhearing their conversation 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 the young woman was simply overwhelmed with the fact that someone had brought her a birthday cake.
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 used to being used by others. In both stories we see people who are giving out of themselves and in this we see something of the wonder 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, a giving out of self for another.
“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
In the New Testament we have a group of letters known as the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). The letters contain instructions to the church with Paul saying, “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 was manifest because of His mercy and therefore not due to anything of value within ourselves. In 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 (for those who embrace it) in 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 describes 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.”
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 destruction that was going to fall on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot speaks to the angelic beings with him and saying, “Your servant has found favour in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life.” (Gen 19:19).
Even though judgement comes upon our world in varying degrees, God is still willing to reach out in kindness and love to all who turn to Him. If we do not turn then we are loved but not able to receive that love as is the case of a young man in prison who is still loved by his parents but unable to benefit fully from that love due to his actions.
In the N.T it is in the book of Acts that we find the first written mention of the word ‘kindness’ (Acts 4:9) this relating to an act of healing. The healing of a cripple occurred through the life of a reinstated disciple called Peter who’d previously struggled and failed badly.
God had worked through Peter to heal and raise up a crippled man and Peter was later called to account by religious rulers who did not like what was going on. In the context we note that it whilst filled with the Spirit that Peter points out he is being called to account for an act of kindness. In this act of kindness we see the continuing work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in ordinary everyday people like you and I and in this there is great hope.
In kindness and love God stoops low in Christ with the purpose of raising us up through a work of amazing grace in a son who was birthed into humanity through a woman He was infinitely older than and into a borrowed manger. We do not always understand what is going on or why certain things happen or don’t happen at times, but we do know He cares for us.
“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.
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 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 reconciliation, friendship and life.
If you were the king or queen of a nation of ten individuals then you would almost undoubtedly know all their names, as would probably be the case if you were king or queen of a nation of fifty individuals. God is the creator of the heavens and earth and despite the vastness of this world He knows us all by name and He reaches out through the kindness and love of Jesus Christ.
“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, ‘Guideposts’, January 1996
Throughout scripture we continually find acts of kindness and love whether in words spoken to Hagar, a runaway slave, Naaman, a powerful army leader or a struggling and humbled Peter. Yet what does this kindness and love look like today?
We can see the answer to this question in the many ways that people are coming to Christ from incredibly diverse backgrounds today. One story is as follows and comes from a friend of mine – an Arab – who share 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). Dena 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 she 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.”
In Christ alone we find forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. Yet there are those who, on hearing this, immediately cry out, “What right have you got to judge my life and tell me that I need forgiveness?”
You have no right to judge my life!
Sometimes it is easy to build up resilience to the concept of judgement because the world is full of people making snap-judgements, with many being directed at our lives. For example there can be judgements made concerning how we look, where we live, what we wear and what we should be doing in order to become successful or to be noticed. On the other side of the coin we have those who think that no one should make any judgements concerning the way we live, it being a case of live and let live.
In many respects I do not have the right to judge someone’s life but then I am not the one who said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and the One who said these words is not a tyrant or a legalistic bigot who simply looks down on everyone. The One who said these words is our Creator who holds the blueprint concerning how life should be lived. The purpose of His judgment in history and on our lives is to call us to account and restore us to our rightful position as His sons and daughters. Therefore God’s judgement is about the restoration of harmony in His world; the removal of all that corrupts pulls down, distorts and oppresses. God could have wiped the canvas clean, so to speak, yet instead gets involved at a deeply personal level – His Son walked amongst us and, even though He was the only One over whom death had no hold – He gave His life so that we could live. As Paul writes, “ For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
If as the Bible states, God holds the right blueprint as to what life is all about and how it should be lived, then surely He is going to be the best person to help me understand myself and life? His judgement therefore is the wise judgement of a loving Father who gives every opportunity for people to turn to Him.
As a Christian I accept everyone and believe that everyone should be afforded respect, yet that does not mean that I have to accept what they do. For example if I find a young person depending on alcohol in order to gain the confidence to go out of the house each day I’m not going to say, “If that’s the way you want to live your life carry on.” Instead I am going to challenge that particular practice because I care about the person. Scripture calls this loving the sinner and hating the sin. Sin is missing the mark, a destroying of one’s own life and failure to be all that one should be as a man or woman made in God’s image.
“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
God reaches out to us in grace, love and mercy, yet this does not mean He accepts what we do. He challenged Cain (Gen 4:6-7) and challenged Israel on many occasions (come now) and wants to help us break free from wrong-thinking. An example of how this can bring freedom and release is seen in the following true 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. He was working with his father-in-law in a practice just outside London when a woman came in whose complaints exactly described gastritis. He 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. Dr Brand could have just told her to just get on with life, but he didn’t – instead he persevered with the woman.
The situation got so bad that Dr Brand 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 said that all the tests confirmed, yet again, the initial diagnosis and yet she still struggled saying that she was sure she had cancer but now felt that 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.
God is not politically correct and will judge our lives, yet His purpose is always to restore life. God points out that all have strayed and that there is a price to pay yet He also, in loving kindness, comes to pay that price Himself. His purpose is to restore harmony to His world through challenging and dealing with what is wrong and bringing, so to speak, the prodigal 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 Jesus we do not see someone who gives a runaway homeless thief a fiver and then walks on. Instead He is more like someone who would challenge their lifestyle, pay the price for their wrong-doing, give them a fiver and invite them into His own home. Surely this is what kindness and love is all about?
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.
“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.
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.
Those words, “Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up” sum up one of the biblical pictures behind the word kindness, this being bending the neck – bending down to help another. This sort of person takes a genuine interest in those around them, reaching out to their level, so to speak with no other motive than kindness. In Hosea we find this kindness being spoken of in this way…
“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 above words are in a book which clearly reveals Gods willingness to restore those who have strayed or deliberately walked away. The writer, Hosea, had a troubled life with a wife whom he had brought out of prostitution. They have two sons but she then leaves him and it is then that God tells Hosea to go and purchase back his adulterous wife, despite he 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. Israel often trusted in her own ability and strength yet as Jeremiah writes…
“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.”
God’s concerning and willingness to reach out to people in kindness and love (ultimately seen in Jesus) is also captured in the words of 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.” Isa 63:5-7.
Through the kindness and love of God our sins are wiped out (Acts 3:19); the record is removed because the debt has been completely paid by another.
"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.” Matt 13:44-46
In the above verses we see what can be termed as a divine exchange. In the first verse the kingdom of heaven (the rule and reign of agape love) is spoken of as an incredibly valuable treasure which a man found and then sold everything in order to secure it. In the second verse we have the Kingdom of heaven now spoken of as a man (merchant) who found a pearl of great value and then sold everything in order to purchase it. We were purchased with the very best that God has to give (His Son) and as is the case in a strong marriage relationship there is to be a mutual giving from both sides of the covenant.
In our western culture love is often little more than an abstract thought of emotions – how a person feels towards others. It is also 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 explains why the main Greek word for love is ‘agape,’ speaking of a unconditional, selfless and sacrificial love. In Jesus we see this love – a thinking, acting and emotional love that sought to reach out to all.
In loving kindness Jesus reached out to blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) who’d been rebuked by a crowd for making too much noise, and healed Him. 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 acts of loving-kindness Jesus goes out of His way to engage with a Samaritan woman during the hottest part of the day (John 4:6-9) and encourages an incarcerated John to look beyond his prison walls and see that the Messiah really has come (Matthew 11:5).
The gift of the Holy Spirit
God does not leave us on our own, and His Spirit is with us in all things. He is the Spirit 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 He is with us right now through the work of Jesus, encouraging us to exercise His kindness and love in word and action.
“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
The word ‘give’ that Paul uses in the above verse is ‘epichoregein’ and it is full of meaning. For example, our English word ‘epic’ is taken from the first part of the epichoregein to speak of that which is truly amazing, such as an amazing film.
The second part of the word is ‘choregein’ from the word ‘choregeia.’ 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 is originally thought to have come about through a particular practice in Athens which at one time was well known for putting on plays. Men and women from the city would take various parts and a choir would sometimes be used to act corporately as one person. The provision of food, costumes and accommodation where necessary was often made by someone who had been successful in their business that year and would therefore give a generous gift. This then is the heart of ‘epichoregein’ it speaking of an incredibly generous gift, a deep and powerful giving out of self and this is why Paul uses this word to speak of the gifting of the Holy Spirit.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Desmond Tutu.
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. 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.
“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."
Prof Os Guinness in, ‘Renaissance’ page 87
God saved us because of His kindness and love and when we stop making snap-judgements about our lives and the lives of others and realise this we become more open to the leading 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, in the presence of the Holy Spirit we are to share this love and in doing so are then more able to receive all that God wants to give us.
We are called to be kind to those around us, whoever they might be, and as one anonymous writer once said, “Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” We may not always know what is going on in our lives, or why certain things happen, but we do know something. We know that God is kind and generous towards us and we know that we are loved.
Let us make sure that we never look down on those around us and yet continually ‘bend the neck’ so to speak as we move in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and share the love and kindness of God which enriches our lives in so many ways.