Ephesians 4:31-5:1 says this:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
The first half of this passage very helpfully lays out the opposites of what kindness looks like. Bitterness. Wrath. Slander. We might also add words like being heartless, cruel, or uncompassionate. These words give a picture of what Scripture calls the old man—who we were before Christ intervened in our lives and saved us. We were once living for ourselves, but—like it says in Titus 3—God, in His own kindness towards us, intervened in our lives and extended to us His grace. So now, because we belong to Jesus, we too are called to follow His example and clothe ourselves in His kindness.
Now there are a few words that “kindness” is strongly linked to. Two of the closest links are probably “compassion” and “gentleness”. “Humility” and “patience” are also pieces of what it means to be kind. We read an exhortation in Colossians 3 for us to, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience…”
But probably the strongest descriptor for kindness is the term “tenderhearted.” Like we just read together in Ephesians, God calls us to be “kind to one another, tender hearted…”
Now what does this mean?
Well, if you think of something that is “tender” you know it is something that is easily touched, sensitive, even vulnerable. Think of a wound, for example. If you have had surgery or a bad cut and are waiting for it to heal over completely, you are careful to not touch the wound because it is very tender. You easily feel pain there. You only have to touch it a little bit to feel it, to feel the pain. It’s not hard and calloused, it’s tender.
So it is when we say that a person is very tender or that they have a tender heart—they are not calloused inside. They aren’t cold or indifferent. Instead, they are easily moved by the pain of others, they are easily touched, easily affected. So to be tenderhearted—or to be kind—means to have a heart that is broken, tenderised by the grace of the cross…a heart that reaches out to others with the same grace and compassion it has received from God.
This links back to what we were saying earlier about kindness not being niceness. As John Piper says, “Christian kindness is not merely an external change of manners; it is an internal change of heart . . . Christian kindness is tenderhearted. If the heart is hard on the inside and the manners are meek and polite and helpful on the outside, it is not Christian kindness.”
Kindness of the Heart
True kindness is not external. It springs from deep within a heart made tender by the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, Jesus shows us that kindness is grace and love in action and kindness is being tenderhearted.
But, point three, Jesus also shows us that kindness can be severe. Kindness can sometimes be hard to receive.
Sometimes biblical kindness looks like saying bold words for the sake of someone’s good. Sometimes it looks like confronting someone in love. Sometimes it looks like disagreeing with someone.
There is not only a tenderness to kindness but, at the very same time, there is a boldness to it.
Just think for a moment about some of these statements from Jesus:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Matthew 5:29-30]
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 14:26-27]
Wow. Kindness? When you hear these statements do you hear Jesus’ kindness?
Well, it is there. Sometimes it is a kindness to speak the hard truth even though it is really uncomfortable. Kindness can sound brutal even though it always comes from a heart of great love.
In Psalm 141:5, for example, the Bible says that the rebuke of a righteous man is a kindness. And this is true of the Spirit’s work of conviction in our lives, too. Romans 2:4 speaks of God’s kindness being what leads us to repentance. And if you think about this, the path to repentance often feels like a very severe process as God reveals our sin and shows us the depths of our need for His forgiveness and change in our lives. But even though it often feels rubbish, even extremely painful, when God convicts us and disciplines us, the Bible calls this path to repentance God’s kindness.
He speaks hard truth to us for our freedom.
Kindness At the Cross
And we see the severe-ness of this kindness portrayed at the cross. The cross is offensive to us because it shows us that we deserve God’s wrath and can’t earn God’s forgiveness. But don’t you see that without the offense of the cross there is no grace extended to us?
The cross is as severe as it gets. And it is also as kind as it gets—the cross is where God’s loving kindness is lavished on us as the severity of His love and justice meet.
So do not confuse the tender-hearted nature of kindness with weakness. Man, if you think Jesus’ kindness makes Him weak, you don’t know Him. It is the strength and boldness of kindness coupled with its tenderness that makes biblical kindness astounding and supernatural.
So, we see that kindness is much stronger than we imagined. It is so much deeper, fuller, wider than what this world calls kindness. The kindness of God is truly amazing. How do we grow in it? We desire to be like this, but we know we are nowhere near. So how do we grow in this kindness? How do we get a character of kindness that reflects Jesus’ character?
Well, the fact that kindness is listed as a part of the Spirit’s work in us gives us a big hint… Growth in kindness happens through the power of the Holy Spirit. How do we change? How do we grow in kindness? By the power of God’s Spirit.
Editor’s note: This is part two in a series on kindness. You can read part one here.