January 28, 2022

What Kindness Is (and Isn’t)

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy towards all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour 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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

(Titus 3:1–7)

These verses are a glad proclamation of the gospel. They say that, to those of us who are in Christ, once we were one way—led astray, slaves, hated by others and hating one another—and now we are changed: saved, washed, renewed, made right with God, given the sure hope of eternal life with the Lord.

And these verses make it clear that the change that has happened to us is not anything to do with us . . . verse 5 says that this change was not because of our own works. So what changed us? What brought us from being foolish and disobedient to being clean, forgiven, renewed?

The answer is in verse 4: the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared. Look back at verse 4 with me: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. . . .” Nothing of our doing; all God’s kindness. This is the glory of the gospel. While we were bent on hating God and hating one another, God intervened at great cost to Himself to make a way for all who turn to Him in faith and repentance to be forgiven—and not only forgiven but made heirs of God, adopted into His family. Verse 7: “so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Us being saved has nothing to do with our own doing. It has nothing to do with our character, but everything to do with the character of God. Verse 4 says it is because of God’s loving kindness that Jesus shed His blood on our behalf. We have all disrespected God. We have all rejected God. We have all hated God, sinned against Him, hidden from Him. And what is His response? Kindness.

And it is extravagant kindness. On the cross Jesus suffered on our behalf, bearing the full weight of God’s own wrath against our sin. And then our God goes beyond that and—as verses 5–7 say—He has washed us, He has declared us innocent in His sight, He has given us new life in Jesus, and He has renewed us by the power of the Holy Spirit “whom he poured out on us richly” . . . not just giving us His own Spirit but pouring that Spirit out on us richly.

This is the God we worship. This is the God we love. This is the God that we have the sure hope of spending eternity with.

And this description of our Lord in Titus 3 is our framework for what kindness is.

A Biblical Framework

So what is true biblical kindness? Firstly, we must form our definition of kindness based on God’s character. We just spent time pondering Titus 3 together because I wanted to lay the foundation for what kindness is, and we see what kindness is by looking at Jesus, by looking at the cross.

I think many of us have fallen into viewing kindness the way the world views it—simply an external action: like giving a pound to a homeless man or offering your seat to somebody on the bus.

But true, biblical kindness is far more robust than the definition the world gives for kindness. So instead of considering kindness from our own perspective, let’s seek to have our perspectives formed by the Word of God. Scripture often exhorts us to look to Jesus, to consider Jesus. So let’s do that together now.

What is kindness, and what isn’t it?

1. Jesus shows us that kindness is grace and love in action

If you remember back with me to Titus 3, we read that “God our Saviour” came to us and “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…”

And in Romans 5:8 we read that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The loving, gracious kindness of God is shown in that He gives to us what we don’t deserve. The works done by us—being hateful, foolish, disobedient—don’t deserve God’s kindness shown to us in Jesus. But He doesn’t give us what we deserve. In fact, He not only forgives our sin but also gives to us grace—unmerited favour. And that is how God shows us kindness . . . by reaching out to undeserving sinners like us.

In fact, true, biblical kindness is almost always undeserved.

I think we often just slip into thinking of kindness as just another word for ‘niceness’. When we think of kind people we know, we usually think of people who are genuinely just nice people . . . people who pay us compliments or people who make us soup when we are sick. And these nice things are lovely. But the trouble is that our view of ‘niceness-kindness’ is usually wrapped up in our selfish desire to consume people rather than serve people.

It can be very subtle, but when we replace true, biblical kindness with our version of niceness, we remove the grace of kindness.

We become nice only to people we like. Or we are nice to people we don’t really like so that they “learn to appreciate us.” We do nice things so that we are paid back with gratitude and approval. We turn the biblical command to be kind to one another into an opportunity for pride instead of humility.

And ’niceness-kindness’ not only separates the grace out of kindness but it also takes away the love of kindness. I think we often separate kindness from love, and we view kindness as the easier option. When it’s hard to love someone, we think we can merely be kind to them. I’m guilty of this, too . . . when someone really annoys us or hurts us, we often respond with this “easier option.” We think we are being kind like Christ if we are nice to them and smile at them despite the fact that we are raging at them on the inside. We think we don’t have to sacrificially love that person if we are at least kind or pleasant towards them on the outside.

But kindness, true kindness like the kindness Jesus shows us, is actually so closely linked to love that it is pretty much impossible to separate them. We talk about love and kindness separately so we can get a grasp for what they are, and it is true that they are separate aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. But when love and kindness are lived out biblically, they always go together.

You see this in God’s character. When the Bible talks about the Lord’s character, it often describes Him as a God of loving kindness. You can’t separate His love and kindness…those attributes always go together.  He is never outwardly kind while on the inside coldly indifferent to us. Kindness and love are God’s very heartbeat for His people.

And likewise, a Christian can’t separate kindness from love. Kindness is sacrificial loving. Loving is showing sacrificial kindness. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient, love is kind.”

So, Jesus shows us that kindness is not just mere external niceness. Niceness is something that can characterise anyone regardless if they are washed by Jesus’ blood and filled with the Holy Spirit. You can be a genuinely nice person without following Jesus. But you cannot bear the Spirit’s fruit of kindness without following Jesus. Because that kindness is directly opposed to the old self and must be walked out by the power of the Holy Spirit.

True kindness is not dependent on how people react or on how we feel. Instead, Jesus shows us that kindness is grace in action. True kindness is sacrificial love. It’s a reaching out, a moving towards, and extending of grace towards the undeserving. So while you can be nice with the wrong motive, biblical kindness is acted out for Jesus’ sake and so that the glory of God—not us—is magnified.

This is part one of a series on kindness. Watch for part two next week.

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