The Two Sides of Kindness

Kindness is not a topic that you are likely read too many posts about. It seems just sort of—well, bland. “Yeah, yeah, practice random acts of kindness, blah, blah, blah.” But for Christians it is a rather important virtue to both possess and continually cultivate. It is part of what could be called the Christian uniform of love (Col. 3:12-14), which identifies the Christian wearer as being part of God’s people, the church. Indeed, kindness is listed as one of the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23). However, while Christian kindness is very similar to kindness as the world may perceive it, it also has some differences.

Christian kindness is modeled after God’s own kindness—”You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 45 / 19:2 / 20:7 / 1 Peter 1:16). And as God’s kindness is demonstrated in the blessings He gives to both the evil and the good, so Christian kindness will show itself in blessings and benefits toward others in word, deed, and attitude. And as disciples of Jesus, we must do more than just believe that it is important, we must practice it regularly. We are not afforded the luxury of saying, “Yes, I know I should be more kind, but it’s just not me.” It isn’t an option we may choose or refuse. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only, who deceive themselves (James 1:22).

Having said this, however, I must also point out that Christian kindness isn’t always bunnies and flowers—the typical perception of the world. Like God’s own kindness, Christian kindness must be more than merely “random”; it really should be quite deliberate and purposeful. “Random kindness” tends to be both self-serving (“I can feel good about myself, and maybe someone saw me and will think well of me.”—like many “philanthropists”) and enabling, but Christian kindness, like the Christian love from which it springs, has another’s best interests at heart. Where I’m going with this train of thought is this: true kindness also has a hard edge. It knows when “No” is the appropriate response to a request, and it knows when to speak up, even if it might be misperceived as being unkind. And it is this last matter that I’d like to especially address in this post.

As Christians we are sometimes fearful that what we say even in a perfectly correct and appropriate sharing of God’s own words will hurt someone’s feelings—and that would be unkind—and being unkind wouldn’t be Christian—so we don’t say anything. I have personally witnessed a number of Christians being “shut down” by an accusation from a lost person that what they were saying was not very kind, not very Christian. Their easily bruised feelings are held up like a shield or “King’s X” to “save them” from hard spiritual realities of their lostness, or their error, or their perversion, or their condemnation, or their eternal destination if they don’t repent.

Now, I’m not saying or even implying that some of these harsh realities aren’t shocking, terrifying, and even offensive (Matt. 11:6; Gal. 5:11; and 1 Pet 2:8). Of course, nobody likes to hear that they are wrong or that they could be condemned to Hell. But is it really kindness to allow someone to continue  doing something, unwarned, that will end in their eternal condemnation? To put it another way: At what point does “kindness” turn into neglect and the self-interested fear of displeasing people? I would respectfully submit to you that the greater kindness, the Christian kindness, a courageous kindness, is to humbly and sincerely “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

The same kindly intended Gospel lessons that Paul taught in synagogues from Damascus to Corinth brought some to Christ and some to offense in every town he visited—the same fire that hardened the steel melted the wax. In another situation, Paul realized he was risking offense, when he strongly warned the Galatians about the dangers of false teaching: “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”(Gal. 4:16).  Perhaps he made some enemies, but he also rescued others from the false teaching that would have condemned them (Gal. 5:4).

Parents are very familiar with this principle. What should we do, were we to find a toddler walking around with a loaded gun, or a container of drain cleaner? Surely, we’d try to take it away immediately. When a child is wandering into a street (busy or not), we would probably yell at them, and certainly stop them and pick them up. But what if the child began kicking, screaming, and crying, as they are wont to do—their tender feelings hurt because they can’t have something they think is OK, harmless, and fun? Kindness would still demand that we keep the dangerous things away and keep them out of the street, right?

So it is, when folks are lost, standing in danger of losing their souls. Now we can’t exactly take sins out of the hands of the lost, but the principle remains the same. Christian kindness demands that we warn them: that we call the sin a sin, that we tell them just what the Lord Himself has stated is the consequence of their behavior. Of course, we might inadvertently hurt their feelings—but we might also save their lives; because, by the way, these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Let me give you an example. The apostle Peter ran the risk of hurting feelings, when he preached the first Gospel sermon and said, (Acts 2:36) “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.” And he did hurt their feelings: Acts 2:37 “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” It was the piercing of the heart that moved them to repentance and obedience. Sometimes the only Christian thing to do is risk hurting someone’s feelings.

Please do not misunderstand. It would never be Christian to deliberately and gratuitously hurt someone’s feelings. This is not what Peter, Paul, and other early Christians intended to do. Such a thing would be the exact opposite of Christian kindness. But Christian kindness will sometimes require the courageous taking of a risk of speaking the truth in love.

So, be kind, but also be courageous.

About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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