The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

“Being kind to others is one of the most noticeable characteristics of a genuinely loving person,” says Christopher Wright (Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, 83). Kindness is tender and compassionate. It is others-oriented and motivated to work for the good of another. Kindness is a characteristic of love because it is characteristic of God. It should be an evident fruit of the redeemed because it is the nature of redemption.

Kindness is a characteristic of active generosity towards another. Patience and kindness often go together in the Scriptures. We see them listed in relational order here, but we see it also in other places. So, in 1 Corinthians 13:4 we see love described first as “patient” and then as “kind.” Paul describes his gospel ministry as one of “patience” and “kindness” in 2 Corinthians 6:6; such characteristics define all God’s “chosen ones” in Colossians 3:12. And in Romans 2:4 the dual characteristics of God’s kindness and patience are meant to lead us to repentance. The two features go together, and they complement one another as compatible opposites. Patience is love that endures the offenses of another; kindness is the active pursuit of their good. “Being kind,” says Wright, “means being willing to do something, or to take some action, that helps somebody else even if it might be inconvenient to myself” (83-84). In this way it is an active giving.

According to Wright, the Bible often links kindness with generosity. So we give of ourselves, of our time, of our resources. Wright argues that the Hebrew word “hesed,” often translated as “loving faithfulness,” can be just as easily translated as kindness – in fact some older translations have used the double word phrase”lovingkindness.” God’s “hesed,” then, is his kindness towards us. God is our example here in that He displays kindness through generosity. In Isaiah 63:7 we read:

I will recount the steadfast love [or kindness] of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

We see this also in Acts 14:17:

Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.

We see it most clearly, however, in the giving of His only Son for sinners. So, Paul writes to Titus saying:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5)

The gospel displays the kindness of God and serves as the grounds for our demonstrations of this fruit.

If redemption is itself the kindness of God – His generous giving for us at His own inconvenience – then those who are redeemed ought to display this same character. In fact, Paul can argue that Christians are to clothe themselves in kindness towards one another precisely because this is How God has acted towards them. He says to the Ephesians:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:32)

The generosity of God’s sacrifice is worked out in our lives as we display God’s kindness towards others. This is fruit of the Spirit is driven by the gospel in the heart of those who have been changed by it.

There are lots of ways this kindness can display itself. We take to heart Paul’s words to consider the interests of others as more significant than our own (Phil. 2:3-4) and we work to meet their needs, even at the cost of our own comfort. We recall James’ words that love for our brothers meets practical needs, it doesn’t simply wish them well but provides for them (James 2:15-16; see also 1 John 3:17). Tim Keller gives some helpful clarification on kindness when he describes it as follows:

Kindness, which is an ability to serve others practically in a way which makes me vulnerable, which comes from having a deep inner security. Its opposite is envy, which leaves me unable to rejoice in another’s joy. And its fake alternative is manipulative good deeds, doing good for others so I can congratulate myself and feel I am “good enough” for others or for God. (Galatians For Everyone, 155)

Kindness really is about the other. Any attempts to make my kindness about myself distort it. For God’s demonstration of kindness was self-sacrifice, was humility to the point of death (Phil. 2:6-8). As a Fruit of the Spirit, kindness mimics the grace of God in the gospel of our redemption.

The Fruit is the natural product of the Spirit of God in me. If redemption is at its nature kindness, then as a “redeemed” person I will be kind. But the cultivation of this fruit takes work. In fact kindness must become habituated into my lifestyle. This can only happen as I commit to make people my priority. Busyness will always make kindness an interruption or intrusion. But prioritizing people knows no such things as interruptions, only further opportunities to minister. Jesus is our example here. His mission was people, and yet from our perspective He was constantly being interrupted. Wright notes several of these interruptions:

Think of the woman with bleeding, interrupting him on the way to an urgent medical emergency; think of the parents bringing their children when his disciples were wanting to get on with their private lessons; think of blind Bartimaeus who kept shouting over the crowd until Jesus stopped; think of the Syro-Phonecian woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer; think of the woman who anointed his feet at a meal, and scandalized the host. Even in Jesus’ excruciating agony on the cross, he was thinking of the needs of his mother. And after his resurrection, he knew that hungry fishermen needed a good breakfast after a night at sea. (92)

Jesus was never too busy to be kind. The cultivation of this fruit in our own lives means perhaps taking some things off our plate in order that we might make time for people. It means prioritizing people over projects. It means making others my ministry. It means leaving some things undone.

Friends, God has been kind to us. He is kind to us every day. He is most evidently kind to us in the giving of His Son for sinners. As those who are empowered by His Spirit we ought to display such kindness towards others. Cultivate this fruit in your own life, and the let the production of the Spirit blossom more gloriously.

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