A surprising definition of gentleness – Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness, Part 1

This week we welcome guest blogger, Daymarr Jackson. In addition to being Faith Church’s youth leader, Daymarr is a Chaplain candidate in the PA Army National Guard, and a MDiv student at Evangelical Seminary. Daymarr and his wife, Danielys, have two children. This week he continues our series on the Fruit of the Spirit.

How do you think people who are not believers in Jesus Christ perceive the church? What one word would they use to describe how they perceive the church?

Arrogant, hypocritical, judgmental?

All of these words are so far away from gentle. It’s funny because Christ himself, as he describes the very nature of his heart, says, “I am gentle, and lowly in heart.” If that is the posture of Christ’s heart, should not our posture be the same?

I want to start in Galatians 5:19-24, as we’ve been reading, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; as I’ve warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul next say, “But…” because there’s something that he wants us to recognize. That is that the way of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, is contrary to these things. People who walk in Spirit don’t walk in the ways that he has just listed. So he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and its desires.”

I’m not naturally a gentle person. You may not know me very well, but the way that I grew up, gentleness was not something that was really embraced or that was taught to me, or a character that was truly valued. I was always told things like, “Be tough, man up, stop crying.” I had a coach that told me one time, “Are you hurt? Or are you injured? Because if you’re just hurt, you can keep playing.” Also, I was always told to be rough, to be tough, to be hard. So my perception of gentleness would be that gentleness would be weakness, that to be gentle would mean that you’re weak.

But I’ve learned that gentleness is an attribute of the strong.  Those who are able to practice gentleness are actually exercising strength. I found this definition: “Gentleness is the sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior founded on strength and prompted by love.” I love that it’s founded on strength and prompted by love.

What does Scripture have to say about gentleness? We’ll take a look at that in the next post.

What I learned about gentleness when I got bit in the hand – Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness, Preview

A couple weeks ago I was at my son and daughter-in-law’s house playing tug-of-war with their huge German Shepherd, Kash.  He grips one end of his toy stuffed-animal, while I hold the other end, usually tugging side to side.  Kash is way better at the game than me.  If he wants to hold tight, there is very little chance of me pulling it away from him.  In fact, it is much more likely that the toy will break.  We have played this game since he was a little puppy, so much so that soon after I first walk in the door, he will scoop up a toy and bring it over to me, pushing it up against my leg.  He is saying, “Tug of war, please!”  The problem is that some of his toys are not very large.  That means I don’t often have much toy to hold onto, and my hand is almost up against his mouth.  Do you see where this is going?

As we are tugging back and forth, if Kash feels the toy slowly sliding from his locked jaw, he will readjust to get a better grip.  His is usually a very sudden, very fast adjustment, in which he opens his mouth, and locks down on the toy.  It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that when he makes that quick adjusting chomp, he has a few times nipped my hand with his teeth.  He’s not trying to bite me, of course, he’s just playing. But he has drawn blood a couple times, usually just small nicks.  No big deal.  Until two weeks ago.

At one point, after we had been pulling his toy back and forth, he chomped, and his very sharp tooth went deep into the base of my forefinger.  I knew it was bad when I couldn’t get my hand out right away because my hand was stuck on his tooth.  It didn’t take long to get free, and my hand started bleeding profusely.  Thankfully, it was a clean bite and easy to treat.  But before you think negatively of Kash, there is another side to this story. 

From nearly the first day they got Kash, when he was just a puppy, our daughter-in-law has taught him a certain word.  Actually, they have trained Kash to know many words like “sit,” “stay,” “crate,” and “drop.”  But this other word struck me as unique.  The word is “gentle.”  For example, our daughter-in-law will hold a potato chip in her hand, and she will say to Kash, “Gentle…gentle…gentle.”  He has learned to very slowly move his mouth toward the chip and ever so slightly grasp it with his teeth and receive it from her.  It is impressive to watch a big, powerful creature demonstrate such controlled gentleness, especially when you know he badly wants to eat that chip, and he could take a very aggressive bite if he wanted.

How about you? Are you gentle? What does it mean to be gentle?  Should we be gentle in every situation? Isn’t it possible that we can be too gentle, and thus weak, allowing ourselves to be trampled on? In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  We’ve learned about growing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and now this coming week we’ll study what it means to grow gentleness. 

Join us on this coming week, as guest blogger Daymarr Jackson (Faith Church’s youth leader) will be teaching about gentleness, continuing our sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit.

Photo by Sofia Guaico on Unsplash

Some practical steps to increase your goodness – Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness, Part 5

As we have learned with the other qualities in the Fruit of the Spirit, we can grow goodness by walking in step with the Spirit, by spending time with him, by asking him repeatedly, “Spirit, infuse me with your goodness.”  This is what Jesus was teaching when he talked about abiding in him, remaining in him.  We actively spend time with him. 

When Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil,” he was teaching us about abiding or depending on him, on the Spirit.  When we pray “Lead us not into temptation,” it is another way of saying, “Lord, I want your goodness to flow from my life, and I know that I need you to help me with that.  Fill me with your goodness.” 

We can observe other Christians who are good, who have a generous spirit to benefit others, which leads them to generous actions of goodness toward others.  We can and should learn from them to be good. Who do you know that is living a life of active goodness? Invite them to mentor you.

What about people who aren’t Christians, but who are good and do good things?  Notice that I am not saying that it is impossible for those who do not believe in or follow Jesus to do good.  Plenty of people all over the world who believe differently do good things on a regular basis.  So what is the difference between we who believe in and follow Jesus and those who do not believe in and follow Jesus when it comes to goodness?  I believe there is a significant difference.  Christians are people who are filled with the goodness of God, and empowered by God to be good, and do good.  

What is so striking, then, is when people who call themselves Christians do things that are not good.  For example, consider the abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Church.  There have been so many similar awful situations in churches of all kinds.  In their book A Church Called Tov, Scot McKnight, a bible and theology scholar, and his daughter Laura Barringer, write about their families’ experience living through an abuse of power at a megachurch.  What they suggest is that we who say that we are lovers of Jesus are called to create cultures of goodness in our church communities.  Tov is the Old Testament Hebrew word for goodness. 

The point is that we first strive for goodness in our own church family, and then allow God’s goodness to flow outward to our wider community.  Goodness leads us to treat one another the way God treats us, with his goodness, his generosity of love.  Goodness invites us to reflect on our behavior toward the people in our lives.  Are we good to them?  If not, we initiate confession and repentance to God and to the people whom we have hurt.  We change.  We move from bad behavior to good behavior. 

Christians, we should be known for our goodness, for our lives of generous action of care and love to benefit others.

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The complexity of defining goodness – Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness, Part 4

This week we are studying the quality of goodness, which is listed in the Fruit of the Spirit. What we’re going to find is that defining goodness is not as simple as it might seem.

We learned in the previous post that numerous Psalms declare that God is good. In today’s post we jump over to the New Testament, where Jesus’ disciple Peter, who later became the leader of the Christians, writes in 1 Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

When studying the word “goodness” what we find is that our English bible translations use our English word “goodness” for multiple original language words.  For example, that in 1 Peter 2:1-3, the New International Version translates Peter as writing, “the Lord is good,” but the word Peter uses is actually the word we studied last week, “kindness.”  

So what is the precise goodness Paul is talking about in Galatians 5:22-23?  As we have seen in the Psalms, goodness is found in God.  God is good.  As we have learned from Jesus, God wants his goodness to be so rooted in our lives, that his goodness flows out of us just as naturally as goodness flowed out of Jesus. So what is this goodness?

The people who study language tell us that the word Paul used when he wrote this list of qualities called the Fruit of the Spirit, the word which in many English Bibles is translated “goodness” is defined as “the ACT of generous giving, with the implication of its relationship to goodness—‘to be generous, generosity’.”[1]

Generosity?  Or really, as the definition indicates, “generosity that is related to goodness.”  In other words, we are talking about a life that is generous in the way that a person uses their time, their money, their abilities.  They are a giving person.  For the good of the world and others around them.

In fact, some of your Bibles translate the word here as “generous.” Consider the expression “she is so good to us.”  When someone says that, what do they mean?  They mean that the person is generous.  Generous with their time, their money, their gifts and abilities.  They use their lives sacrificially to benefit others.  They have a heart for the good of others.  Every quality in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit is best understood as applicable in relationship to others.  So when it comes to goodness, we practice generous giving to benefit others.

Why, then, do many English Bibles translate this word as “goodness”?  Is Paul saying we should grow generosity in our lives or is he saying we should show goodness?  Which one is it, Paul? To answer that, remember that many words have multiple meanings, often meanings that are related. The scholars who study language tell us that the word Paul uses in Galatians 5:22-23 can also mean “positive moral qualities of the most general nature.”

That’s what we normally think of when we think of goodness: positive moral qualities. Goodness, or positive moral qualities, is who God is, and what God wants to grow in our lives, so that his goodness flows out of us. Goodness is not just an idea.  It is action, and we show our active goodness in how we treat others.  When goodness flows from our lives, we are actively good to other people, we are generous to them. 

Goodness encompasses much of what we already learned about in the fruit of the Spirit, and the qualities we will talk about in the rest of the list.  Goodness includes love, patience, kindness, gentleness.  We must have self-control to demonstrate goodness.  How are you doing showing goodness to the people in your life?

[1] Ibid, 569.

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The first and most important step to growing goodness in our lives – Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness, Part 3

During my first few years as senior pastor, I remember a thought I had nearly every Sunday when I was studying for and writing the sermon each week.  I thought, “the people don’t need to hear this…they already know it…look at them…look how good they are.  What could this sermon possibly say that they need to hear?”  Twelve years later I don’t think that anymore.  Why?  Because I now know how bad my congregation is?  No.  First of all, I know I need to hear the sermon each week.  I’m not perfect.  And second of all, none of us are perfect.  I have learned that our lives are more complicated than what we often convey. Just about everyone in my congregation has a family struggle or a personal struggle. Just about everyone has a broken relationship, a difficulty at work, a crisis. We never outgrow needing to hear the Word of God.

When it comes to growing the Fruit of the Spirit of goodness in our lives, we not only prune or cut away the bad actions (as we learned in the previous posts here and here), but we also strive to increase good actions.  What are good acts?  Or maybe that is the wrong question.  People can look good on the outside, even doing good things, but it is possible that they are not good? Yes, it is possible to put on a good face, a good front, but for that outer goodness not to be flowing from a much more important inner goodness.  Have you ever known anyone like that?  A person who appears good, but it turns out there is another side to their life?  Are you like that?

All of us probably have at least a touch of this reality in our lives, such that we are not inwardly as good as we want to be.  We believe we could do better.  We suspect God wants us to do better.  That’s normal.  We are not perfect. Our heart motives and actions rarely, if ever, fully align with God’s heart. But some people are highly deceptive, claiming to be good, doing some good things, but inwardly not so good.

Jesus once taught about this.  Matthew 12:33-35,

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”

How do we become good?  Jesus says to become truly good, we must change from within.  What is truly inside us will come out.  We can fake it, but not forever.  The real us will come out.  Therefore, Jesus says, we want inner goodness to be the real us.  So how do we get that goodness inside us?

Jesus’ powerful analogy of the Vine and Branches in John 15:1-10 helps us understand how we grow the life of God, including goodness, deep within our lives:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. … This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

We cannot become good on our own.  We need to abide in Jesus, depending on the the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.  The Spirit can transform our inner being so that God’s goodness flows out of us.

“God is good.  All the time.  All the time, God is good.”  It’s a call and response phrase some Christians use.  What I tend to hear more often is Christians saying, “God is good,” when they are going through a difficult time.  God is truly good, no matter how difficult our situation may be.  The situations of this life cannot change God. He is and always will be good.  Goodness is his character.  It is who he is.

Scripture declares unequivocally that God is good. For example, consider these psalms:

Psalm 31:19, “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.”

Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 86:5, “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.”

Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

God is so good! Spend some time now rereading these verses from the Psalms, basking in the truth of God’s goodness. Abide in his goodness.

But how does a person abide in the goodness of God? How do we do what Jesus teaches us to do in the Vine and the Branches. In the final two posts this week I’ll give some practical actions you can apply to your life, helping you abide in Jesus, and thus grow his fruit in your life.

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What to do when Christians disagree about what is good and what is bad – Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness, Part 2

What is good…and what is bad?

In Christian circles there are plenty of disagreements about what are good actions and bad actions.  Many times on the blog I’ve talked about many of these disagreements.  What clothing styles can people wear to worship services?  What beverages can people drink?  What films, music, TV, books, magazines, can people experience?  What political party and its ideas should we support?  

The most recent examples of Christian disagreement in American culture are abortion and guns.  During the Covid-19 pandemic many people expressed sharp disagreement about mitigation procedures, such as wearing masks, in church. There are so many disagreements in our age, and Christians can boldly declare that, “My view and choice is good and any other way is bad,” as if their perspective is not an opinion, but a fact.  In any local church family like mine or yours there are differences of opinion.

Would it surprise you to learn that Christians have had differences of opinion about what is good and what is bad, including all the way back to Paul’s day 2000 years ago?  Paul wrote about it, and I’ve written about it previous (such as here and here). For now, let me summarize.  In places like 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 and in Romans 14 & 15, Paul provides what I believe is his clearest teaching about what to do when the people in a church disagree about what is good and what is bad.  Why did Paul bring up disagreements in the church? Because there seems to have been a thorny issue in his culture, and Christians could not agree about how to handle this issue.

In the culture of the Greco-Roman Empire of the first century, excess meat from sacrifices in pagan worship services was sold in markets in many cities and towns. Some Christians said it was sinful to purchase and eat it because it had been involved in idol worship.  Some said it was okay, that it was just meat.  In the same church family, Paul reveals, there were people who disagreed about eating meat sacrificed to idols. How did Paul help the people solve their disagreement?

Simply put, he said, “Love one another.”  When Christians disagree, let your love for one another guide you.  If you feel free to eat the meat, be willing to express your love by abstaining from eating if your eating will harm your brother and sister.  If you do not feel free to eat, be willing to express your love by not being judgmental of your brothers and sister who do eat the meat.  In other words, being good means being loving when you disagree.

We can apply this principle to many situations in the church.  Goodness means loving first.  It means loving God first.  There is a famous quote from an ancient Christian theologian who said, “Love God and do what you want.”  If you are filled with love of God, you will live in such a way that you are pleasing to him.  As his life more and more becomes your life, your life will be good because you are living out your love for him.  The outflow of your heart will be seen in your actions and your decisions, particularly as you love those with whom you disagree.

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You good? – Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness, Part 1

“You good?” Have you ever said that to someone?

Maybe a person appears to be coughing or choking, and as they struggle to maintain composure, we say, “You good?”  After they regain composure, they respond, “It’s all good.” 

Or maybe a person has a particularly emotional reaction to a situation, a reaction that we think is inappropriate or overboard, and we say to them, with a bit of sarcasm, “You good?”  What we really mean when we say that is, “You just had a big reaction to that situation, and we’re not sure you’re totally okay.”  We can use the phrase, “You good?” almost in a mocking way. Those phrases are a contemporary slangy way of talking about being okay. 

“Good” is a word we use in many situations, and it has a variety of definitions.  If we are loaning someone money, might ask them if they are truly capable of paying back the loan, and they will say with urgency and emotion, “Seriously, I promise you, I am good for it.”  Good?  What they mean is that they intend to keep their promise.  They are making a commitment that they will pay the money back.  We should trust them.  Maybe they have the money in another account, or maybe they will work to pay off the loan.  Either way, they are good for it.

Often we use the word “good” when we say that a person is good at something.  They are a good soccer player.  They are a good piano player, a good artist, a good cook, a good book, a good businessman.  Or we eat a meal that is delicious and satisfying, and we say, “That was soooooo good!”  We use the adjective “good” in this way for so many things.  What we mean is that the thing we are referring to is of a high quality.  It is good

This week we are talking about goodness. But we are not talking about any of the aspects of the word that I have described so far.  What is goodness?

In Galatians 5:22-23 we read the list of qualities called the Fruit of the Spirit.  We have been studying each quality in this list, one quality per week.  Last week we studied kindness, and I mentioned that kindness, goodness and gentleness are very similar.  Next week we’ll study gentleness, and for those of you who are reading the list in your Bible, you might be wondering, “What about faithfulness?  Are we skipping that?”  No, we are not skipping faithfulness.  We’ll get to it in a few weeks.  Because kindness, goodness and gentleness are so similar, we’re studying them one right after the other.  So this week, we turn our attention to goodness.  What is unique about goodness? 

Goodness refers to behavior.  The opposite of good is bad.  So if we want to learn what good behavior looks like, we can first take a look at what it is not.  Good behavior is not bad behavior.  Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 describes bad behavior.  He calls bad behavior, “the acts of the sinful nature.”  Scan through his list of bad behaviors, and familiarize yourself with it.  People who are growing goodness in their lives will stop doing the actions Paul lists. 

Paul did not intend to write a comprehensive list of sinful actions.  He was just illustrating what is actually a rather short list when you think about how many bad things he could have included.  So why did he pick those specific acts? Maybe Paul heard about some wrong actions that were happening in the Christian communities there in the region of Galatia.  I suspect he also included actions in his list that were prevalent in the Greco-Roman Empire, actions that were not in line with God’s heart. The principle is clear: if you are growing goodness, you will prune badness out of your life.  Pruning is an action of removing something.  We use the word pruning mostly in the realm of caring fruit trees.  We want those trees to produce good fruit.  The analogy, as we will see carries over to disciples of Jesus.

What wrong actions do you need to cut out of your life?  Do you have someone in your life who can speak honestly to you about this pruning?  Ask them. 

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Oh my goodness! – Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness, Preview

“Oh my goodness!!!” 

How many of you say that phrase?  Usually we say “oh my goodness” when we feel surprised, disappointed or disgusted.  Why, then, do we not just say “I am surprised,” or “I am disgusted”?  Certainly there are times when we do say, “I am surprise” or “I am disgusted,” but my guess is that there are many more instances when we say, “Oh my goodness!”  We’ve trained ourselves, by habit, so that the words come flying out of our mouths pretty much without thinking about them.  Let’s slow down and think about those words.

I wonder how that combination of words came together.  There are, of course, other versions of the phrase “oh my goodness.”  We sometimes say, “Oh my gosh,” or “Oh geez,” or others.  Perhaps “oh my goodness” was created as a way to avoid what some people consider to be taking the Lord’s name in vain, “Oh my God.”  It could be that the first time “Oh my God” was used, it was done by a person who was praying.  Maybe they were so shocked by a situation, they didn’t know what to do except pray, “Oh my God…help!  I need you!”  If so, theirs was a very faithful response to a situation, was it not?  But as is so often the case with religion, some people likely felt offended, accusing “Oh my God”-speakers as taking the name of the Lord in vain, which is one of the 10 Commandments.  Historically, to keep that commandment, Jews were extremely cautious about the use of God’s name.  Even in contemporary Judaism, some will not print the English word, “God”.  They will instead print, “G-d,” as a way of conveying respect to God.

We Christians have not gone that far, but we have squabbled about what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain, which is a concern about not using God’s name flippantly or as a curse or oath. Instead some Christians claim that to honor God, to honor the real relationship we have with him, we shouldn’t use his name or any form of his name in a way that would denigrate that relationship.  At the same time, we also don’t meander into legalism.  We don’t create rules that God didn’t create.  So many just say, “Oh my goodness!”

What does goodness have to do with a phrase expressing surprise?  My guess is that “goodness” was selected as a sanitary replacement word for “God.”  In other words, the people were trying to avoid saying God’s name in vain. They were likely not trying to create a phrase that would help us grow goodness in our lives.  Of course, avoiding saying God’s name in vain is a good thing.  But goodness goes well beyond just following rules, especially man-made rules.  We can follow rules and have very little goodness in our hearts.  The much more important question is this: How can we grow goodness in our lives?

In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  We’ve learned about growing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and now this week we’ll study what it means to grow goodness. We get started in the next post.

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How to be kind even when you don’t want to be – Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness, Part 5

Kindness can get a bad rap.  Some people who are extraordinarily kind can come across as fake.  We tend to think that there is no way people can be that kind.  We want people to be real.  “I’m just keepin’ it real,” we say, as if it is always good to express ourselves however we want, including with unkindness.  In fact, authenticity in our culture is often assumed to mean that we will so fully express ourselves that we have permission to be negative or hurtful.  When you hurt or feel threatened, our cultural norm says you are authentic when you let it out however you feel.  Shout, curse, manipulate, intimidate.  Do what feels right.  If it is inside us, just let it out, our culture says. 

The problem is that what feels right in those moments is often contrary to kindness.  Kindness sometimes doesn’t feel natural.  How can you be kind when you don’t want to be kind?  How can you wrestle your very negative emotions and thoughts into submission so that what comes out of your mouth and your actions is consistent with kindness? 

For some of us, we have allowed ourselves to get stuck in a rut of expressing ourselves negatively, and we have done so for years.  For some of us, therefore, kindness can seem like an impossibility.  Sometimes the negativity comes out almost, or perhaps totally, without us thinking about it.  It can feel like we have no choice in the matter.  We wonder, doubting, “Can I be kind and still express honestly the pain I am feeling?” 

When it comes to kindness, as with every quality in the Fruit of the Spirit, notice how they are related to that final quality in the list, self-control.  We’re going to talk about self-control more when we get to the end of the list in a few weeks.  For now, know this: we are not robots.  God has created humanity with free will, so that we can have more or less control over our lives.  We can live in such a way that we are controlled by our habits, emotions, and the world around us. But walking in step with the Spirit means that we will practice, we will exercise, we will train our bodies, our minds, our emotions, so that we have more control, so that more kindness flows from our lives. 

When kindness flows from our lives, it brings healing.  Consider the wisdom of the Proverbs: in Proverbs: 12:25, “an anxious heart weighs a person down, but a kind word cheers him up;” 14:21, “The one who despises his neighbor sins, blessed is the one who is kind to the needy;” 14:31, “The one who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy, hears God.”  Kindness really can transform us and the world around us.  We Christians, then, are people who grow kindness. 

Growing kindness means cultivating a relationship with the Spirit. We are not alone in the work of becoming kind.  We have the Spirit living inside us, and we can grow our relationship with the Spirit so that he helps us express ourselves with kindness. The Spirit can help us choose kindness specially in those moments when we don’t feel kind, when we don’t want to be kind, including those seemingly automatic reactions that we think we’ll never get under control. 

I have appreciated the work of The Kindness 101 Team on CBS News.  Check it out, as they feature stories of people that are practicing kindness.  Talk with people who demonstrate kindness.  Ask them about it. Are there ways they think, talk and act that you can learn from? 

Kindness can heal, kindness can disarm an intense conversation, kindness can bring warring factions together.  Kindness is like a superpower, some people have observed.  It does not mean you aren’t honest about your pain.  But, it is a way to express pain and struggle that then enables it to be heard, understood and healed. 

In what ways do you need to work on kindness? 

First of all, do you need to confess to God and to people that you have been unkind?  Do you need to work toward healing a relationship that you have broken because of your unkindness? If so, do so.

Second, do you need to work toward growing kindness in your life?  Do you need to set an alarm on your phone to go off regularly and pause and pray for help to get rid of anger, hatred, rage and to replace it with kindness?  Do you need to ask someone to check in on how you are doing with this on a regular basis?  Who in your life do you see as someone who is kind?  Spend time with them!  Learn from them.  What are there patterns and habits?  Read through the gospels and watch The Chosen.  Observe how Jesus interacted with people who were frustrating or different from him. 

Then be kind like he was kind.

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What to do when kindness doesn’t work – Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness, Part 4

This week we are studying kindness, so let’s go back to our definition of kindness. Kindness is “to provide something beneficial for someone as an act of kindness.”[1]

My college, Lancaster Bible College, has an annual mission conference.  During the years Michelle and I were students, the mid 1990s, one feature of the mission conference was a session where students would drive all over Lancaster county and city practicing Random Acts of Kindness.  “Random” is perhaps a bad word choice, as it carries the idea of thoughtlessness.  Instead, students were trying to be thoughtful and intentional, hoping that an act of kindness would lead to honoring Jesus and demonstrating his love in the community.  We put coins in parking meters.  Cleaned restaurant bathrooms.  Swept sidewalks.  We’d then give out cards explaining that the acts of kindness were being done because of Jesus’ love and to demonstrate his love.

Notice the flow of thought in that, a flow of thought that is rooted in biblical teaching.  Our kindness reflects God’s kindness.  In Isaiah 54:8 God says to Israel, “with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.”  Similarly in Isaiah 63:7, the prophet says, “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.”  The prophet wasn’t simply declaring that God is kind.  The prophet was remembering how God demonstrated kindness to Israel over and over and over through the centuries.  He rescued them, kept his promises to them, forgave them, and provided for them.  When Israel was a jerk to God, God was kind to Israel.

God shows us what kindness looks like.  Then he says, “Go and do likewise.”  We are kind because he first was kind.  And, we are benefiting from knowing and living in the kindness he gives. Furthermore, God is love, and we read in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 that “Love is kind.”  We’ve seen in previous weeks in our study of the Fruit of the Spirit how there is a correlation between some of the qualities in the Fruit of the Spirit.  Love is patient, love is kind.  The Fruit of the Spirit is best understood, I believe, as flowing from God’s nature to us, and therefore flowing from us to other people.  We are kind to others because God was kind to us. 

In our interactions with people, then, we Christians should be known for our kindness.  Do those who know you best know you as kind?  Or is your appearance of kindness just a veneer you put on for the outside world?  Is it just politeness? Kindness includes polite, for sure, but it also goes beyond politeness.  We can be polite to the outside world, but not show kindness to the people closest to us.  Consider, for example, the following questions and scenarios. Are we showing kindness to those who are difficult for us?  Kindness when we are confronted.  Kindness when we are upset.  Kindness when we are hurt.  Kindness when we disagree.  Kindness when all we feel like is being unkind.  Controlled by kindness rather than controlled by meanness. Kindness in our tone.  Kindness in our word choice. 

If you are reading all those descriptions of kindness, you might wonder if being kind the way God wants us to be kind is impossible.  On our own it is.  That is why these things are fruit of the Spirit.  We need his help.  We need to be connected to the Spirit, praying, reading the stories in the Bible of who he is and the way he interacted with others. 

When we dig into Scripture, we see that Christians are people who do everything with kindness, even when we are concerned that kindness will be ineffective. 

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul writes about his perspective on ministry, and he talks about how important it is to pursue kindness, even when it hurts.  In 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, he writes, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Do you see what Paul is saying?  The way of Jesus is the way of kindness at all times, and that means your practice of kindness might not lead to worldly success.  If you study the stories of Paul’s ministry in the historical account in the book of Acts, or if you read his letters, you’ll observe that Paul tried to practice kindness in all circumstances.  I can’t say for sure how well he did with that. There are at least a few stories where he seems to have failed in being kind. But Paul clearly attempted to demonstrate kindness, and it cost him.  Kindness can be costly. Kindness might hurt the one being kind. But it is still the best way of life, by far.

Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash

[1] Ibid, 749.