By Pastor Glenn Pease
Clovis Chappell, the great Southern preacher, told this story of a Christian man who bought a lovely home in the suburbs in one of the big cities of the South. He had his furniture moved in one day, and the next day he arrived and was out walking over the wide lawn of his new property. His next door neighbor came rapidly across the lawn to meet him. He was glad to see he was eager to be a friend. But his neighbor did not greet him peacefully, but instead, with a voice of anger asked if he had purchased this property. "Yes," he replied. "Well then you have just bought a law suit. That fence is 7 feet over on my land, and I'm going to have every inch of what is mine."
These provoking words encourage a response of anger and defense, but the Christian man said, "There is no need for a law suit. I believe you are perfectly sincere in what you say, and though I bought this land in good faith, I am not going to claim it. I will have that fence moved." The neighbor was wide-eyed in amazement. "Do you really mean it?" "That is exactly what I mean," was the quiet response. The neighbor said, "No you won't. This fence is going to stay right where its at. Any man who is as white as you are can have the land." They became good friends because hostility was met with kindness rather than more hostility. We greatly underestimate the power of kindness because we look upon it as a mild and superficial virtue.
You can study history and discover that almost everybody recognizes the value of kindness. It is a universal virtue, and, therefore, because it is not unique to Christianity we tend to minimize its importance. This is folly, for if the natural man can love on this level, what a poor testimony it is if Christians do not. In Acts 28:2 we read that after Paul and all the other prisoners had survived the shipwreck, and made it safe to the island of Malta, "The islanders showed us unusual kindness." Here was a pagan people showing Paul and the others great kindness which they much needed. Cicero the Roman said, "Nothing is so popular as kindness." Sophocles the Greek said, "Kindness is ever the begetter of kindness." The religions of the world all praise kindness.
Bertrand Russell, the famous atheist philosopher, wrote a book titled Why I Am Not A Christian. In this book he surprised the world by saying that the key to a stable world is Christian love. He wrote, "If you feel this, you have a motive for existence, a guide in action, a reason for courage, and imperative necessity for intellectual honesty." Here is a non-Christian praising the value of Christian love, and the impact it can have on all humanity by means of its kindness. If anybody can see it and have it, then it is too commonplace to be a major significance is the way we sometimes tend to think. The only problem with this logic is it has to ignore the fact that the Bible gives kindness a major role, and the Bible is to be our guide, and not logic, or our feelings that it is too universal to be a major Christian focus. And so the first thing we want to consider is-
THE IMPORTANCE OF KINDNESS.
Paul writes in Eph. 4:31-32, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgives you." Being kind is the opposite of all those negatives, and so it covers all that is involved in being polite, courteous, tolerant, and thoughtful. Peter does not hide this virtue in the closet, but puts it right up there with the key virtues of the Christian life in II Pet. 1:7. He writes, "Add to godliness brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness love." You are playing in the major leagues when you are being kind.
Eros love says I am in the world for my pleasure. Agape love agrees that pleasure is a valid and vital part of life, but its vision goes beyond self-pleasure and seeks to give pleasure to others, and that is why it is kind. Kindness is giving to others the pleasure you desire for yourself. You like to be treated with respect and courtesy, for this enhances your self-esteem. Jean De La Bruyere said, "The most delicate, the most sensible of all pleasures, consists in promoting the pleasure of others."
During World War I Marshal Foch, the French commander, was approached by a noisy Westerner who criticized the French politeness. "There's nothing in it but wind," he sneered. The Marshal replied, "There's nothing but wind in a tire but it makes the ride very smooth and pleasant." Being kind may seem superficial, but the superficial is more important than we realize. Washing your face is superficial, for it only affects one layer of skin, but it is important none the less. Waxing your car is superficial. Painting your house is superficial. Wearing clothes is superficial. There are hundreds of things that we do that are a mere surface things, but they are still important. The surface is not irrelevant just because it is not the ultimate. Being kind may not be the ultimate goal of the Christian life, but it is one of the aids to achieve the goal of being Christ-like.
Dr. Harold Dawley says if we are wise, we will not only check the oil level in our car, but we will check the lubricant level of our lives, and see if we possess an adequate supply of kindness to make life run smoother. If not, we need to add, add, add. Get yourself prepared to live in a world where friction is frequently wearing us down. Agape love meets life's friction with kindness, courtesy, and politeness, for many a rough ride is made easier by these lubricants of love.
Napoleon was one of the world's great generals. Many thought he was the anti-Christ in his day, but there was a reason for why his troops would die for his cause. He made it a point to be kind to every soldier who fought under him. He would find out some personal information from the commander of each unit about each soldier, and then on the day of review he would walk up to one, address him by name, and ask him how is your family in such and such a place. He made them feel like he knew them personally. This kindness expressed publicly made him a great leader. We do not know if he was sincere, or just using good psychology, but it does not matter. Even if a virtue is abused, it is no reason for a Christian to neglect its proper use. There is power in kindness, and the Christian has an obligation to use this power for the kingdom of God.
Lack of kindness is the cause for much of the conflict among Christians. Samuel Coleridge said, "The first duty of a wise advocate is to convince his opponents that he understands their arguments, and sympathizes with their just feelings." I read of Christians all the time who do not show the slightest interest in understanding their opponents views, nor in being sympathetic to their feelings. The result is another area of life where the wise pagan may be superior to the unwise Christian, for he knows the value and the power of kindness.
It is a secular problem that says, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Most of us are not into catching flies, but it works with people too. Kindness can bring peace and reconciliation where all else fails. Criticism tends to compel people to justify their bad behavior, but compliments reinforce the desire to do what is good. This is just good psychology that secular people use as well. The difference is, nobody is commanding them to do it, but the Christian is commanded to be kind to one another. The expression of God's nature demands it. The example of Christ's nature demands it. The experiences of life's nature demand it. It is important for all aspects of life.
It is the positive that balances out the merely passive attribute of patient longsuffering. Longsuffering puts up with people, but kindness puts out for people. It was longsuffering that made the Prodigals father wait and hope, but it was kindness that called for the party to celebrate the son's return. Longsuffering endures the pain, but kindness enhances the pleasure. God does not just endure the folly of man, but He responds in kindness to them. He is active in His expression of love for the least and the lost.
Sometimes Christians feel proud because they tolerate the sinners and endure their presence in the world. We share the same world and put up with them, but we do little on the active side of showing kindness. Jesus, however, demands this as evidence that we are truly children of God. In Luke 6:35 he says, "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." God is actively engaged in being kind to the wicked of the world. He makes His sun to shine and reign to fall on the unjust as well as the just. He does not withhold the blessing of creation and His providence from those who are not in His kingdom.
It is God's conviction that people will be won more through kindness than by judgment. Paul writes in Rom. 2:4, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance." D. L. Moody was one of history's most powerful evangelists, and it was his conviction that the loving kindness of God is what the world most needs to hear. It is because people do not feel loved that they flee from righteousness, and even commit suicide. Moody wrote, "If I could only make men understand the real meaning of the words of the Apostle John-God is love, I would take that single text, and would go up and down the world proclaiming this glorious truth. If you can convince a man that you love him you have won his heart. If you really make people believe that God loves them, how we should find them crowding into the kingdom of heaven! The trouble is that men think that God hates them; and so they are all the time running away from him."
Moody learned from experience that kindness was no minor value, but was the key to evangelism, and one of the reasons we do not win many to Christ is because we are not kind to those outside of Christ. He said, "Many of us think we know something of God's love, but centuries hence we shall admit we have never found out much about it." He said that over 100 years ago, and we can now rightly say that he was a prophet, for we may know even less rather than more about the love of God. What we want to learn in this message is that the kindness involved in the love that Paul speaks of is central to its effectiveness.
We sometimes get so use to hearing the stories of the Bible that we forget how radical they were. The story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well is a good example. It was rare for a Jewish man to talk with his own wife or mother in public, and it was unheard of to talk to a strange woman. To talk to a Samaritan would be beyond the bounds of dignity. Yet here is Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi, talking to a Samaritan woman at a public well. It is no wonder that the disciples marveled that He talked with her. But it was this kindness toward one who would expect to be condemned that makes one of the greatest stories of victory in the New Testament.
She was not only a Samaritan, but also a woman of very questionable morals. There were social rules that guided how you relate to such a person, and the disciples would have followed those social rules and shunned her. Jesus showed her the kindness of one who was worthy of being cared about. He did not scold or condemn, but treated her in a caring way, and she became one of the most effective witnesses for Christ in the New Testament.
Jesus specialized in being kind to people who were supposed to be rejected. Zachaeus, for example, was shown the kindness of coming to his home to eat. That was a scandal to the Pharisees, but to Jesus it was the way to lead him into the kingdom. If you want to have a great impact on someone's life you need to be kind to them. If you read accounts of marvelous conversions of people not likely to be won, it is often the case that kindness plays the major role.
In an Indianapolis prison for women one old woman who had been there for 30 years was known as the terror of the jail. She was a tough wicked person who had broken all of God's commandments. A Christian woman became the warden of that prison, and when she began her duties this miserable wretch was brought to her office in chains. She told the guards to release her. They warned her of the danger, but she insisted. She had compassion on this 70 year old woman whose life had been wasted in sin and folly. She stooped down and lifted her with her arms around her. The old woman was overwhelmed by this act of . kindness, and she began to weep as she said over and over, "Do you think that I could be better? Do you think that I could be better?" Nobody ever dreamed that she could, for they labeled her as the worst there was.
One person showing kindness gave her hope that she could be better, and 6 months later she became a Christian. In a year this terror of the jail was better known as the angel of the jail. Kindness brought her into the kingdom. What all the condemnation of 70 years could not do, kindness did in a short time. This is the pattern for great conversions. You don't find any stories where the hardened sinner was blasted and finally saw the light. It is kindness in spite of their folly that makes a person melt and lose their hard heart. Condemnation only makes them resist and become harder. It is the age old story of the wind and the sun seeking which one had the greatest power to make a man remove his coat. The wind blew and raged around the man, and he only clung to his coat all the tighter. Then the sun sent its warm rays upon the man, and soon he voluntarily removed the coat. The warmth of kindness will get people to respond more than the cold wind of condemnation.
Jesus went through His life being kind, and turning funerals into festivals and water into wine. He did not ask whether all He did would pay off or not. Much of it did not. Nine lepers that He healed did not even come and say thank you. Many whom He fed and healed did not follow Him. He was kind because love is kind. It is the nature of love to be kind, just as it is the nature of the sun to shine. Love does not calculate and say, "If I do thus and so will I gain this or that?" That is eros love that says I will love only if I get pleasure by doing so. Agape loves because love is needed regardless of the response it receives.
Part of our problem is that we have stressed certain cliches so often that we have lost balance. We say we are to do all things with eternity's values in view, and so we tend to say that just being kind will not change anything for eternity, and so why bother? Being kind seems so temporal and insignificant that we feel justified in neglecting it for bigger fish in the sea of Christian values. This is a major mistake, and it is based on a unrealistic view of life. Christians who go through life waiting for some spectacular chance to show love and do something great will be living in a fantasy world. It is the Christian who sees that everyday we are presented with opportunities to be kind who will really be living with eternity's values in view.
The one thing that every Christian has in common is not their gifts, for these vary widely, but it is in their ability to be kind. Beth Robertson wrote,
When I think of the charming people I know,
It's surprising how often I find
The chief of their qualities that makes them so
Is just that they are kind.
The most common Greek word for kindness in the New Testament is chrestos. The word for Christ is christos. There is only the one letter difference between them. To be kind and to be Christ-like are very close to being the same thing. Andrew Blackwood Jr. wrote that God speaks to this world through the human voice that is kind. Frederick Faber said, "Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning." What we need to see is that it is just because everybody can see the value of kindness that makes it a universal language. People cannot understand many things that Christians believe, but everyone can understand kindness.
You do not need any special training of skill to be kind, or to be touched by receiving kindness. It is just because it is so universal that it is so important. There is nothing else quite like it, for all of us have the capacity to give and receive it. This means all of us have a great potential power with us at all times. We cannot understand everybody's language, but we can be kind. We cannot agree with everyone's ideas, but we can be kind. We cannot follow everyone's behavior, but we can be kind. There are endless numbers of things that I cannot do to touch people for Christ, but the one thing that I can do in relation to every human being who crosses my path in life is to be kind.
Emerson spoke truth when he said, "You can never do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." Someone else said that you need to be a bit too kind to be kind enough. Gypsy Smith was one of the great evangelists of America, England, and Australia. He tells of how a total stranger's kindness affected his life. In his autobiography he tells of how he traveled with his gypsy family and how he felt rejected by those outside the family. He only felt loved by his father.
One day as a young boy he stood gazing at a chapel when an old man shuffled up to him and took his hands and said, "The Lord bless you my boy. The Lord keep you, my boy." Those are hardly immortal words to be carved in stone. They are not the words of an eloquent speaker. They are nothing more than the words of an old laymen given to encourage. But listen to the testimony Gypsy Smith. "The dear old man passed on, and I watched him turn the corner. I never saw him again. But when I reach the glory-land, I will find that grand old saint, and thank him for his shake of the hand and his "God bless you." He made me feel that somebody outside the tent really cared for a gypsy boy's soul. His kindness did me more good than a thousand sermons. It was an inspiration ;that has never left me. Many a young convert has been lost to the church of God, who would have been preserved and kept for it and made useful in it by some such kindness as that which fell to my lot that day."
The great need of the world is not for more gifted people, but for more people who use the gift of kindness. We can make a difference in this world of friction if we will add to it the lubricant of kindness.