Readers who are in my age range will probably remember Glen Campbell’s 1970 hit “Try a Little Kindness.” It was a good challenge for people then, and it is still good advice for us today – perhaps especially today!
Kindness is listed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22 and 23 as one of the nine fruit of the Spirit. Most versions translate the fifth fruit as kindness, but it is obvious that several of the other qualities listed overlap: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We all know what kindness is when we see it, but how can we define the quality? In The Message Eugene Peterson renders the word “a sense of compassion in the heart.” But it’s more than that, isn’t it? In a 2017 Psychology Today article author Karyn Hall (Ph.D) suggests “Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”
Some synonyms include compassion, gentleness, benevolence, thoughtfulness, mercy, consideration, and helpfulness. Perhaps the root of kindness is “a sense of compassion in the heart,” but kindness is expressed by both words and actions. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at someone or attentively listening to someone.
Kindness is not always automatic, but must be something we choose to practice. For many it becomes a habit that is automatic. We express kindness to our family members, friends, neighbors, and to those we don’t even know. Showing kindness is not contingent upon someone showing us kindness.
“What goes around comes around” is often true, but we do not show kindness with the expectation of something in return. Nevertheless, Jesus’ Golden Rule in Luke 6:31 applies to our expressions of kindness: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The great example of kindness is seen in God’s actions toward us as well as demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Philip Keller notes “throughout the Scriptures the great theme of God’s unrelenting kindness is great toward us.” One of the reasons we are called to be kind to others is to respond with gratitude for God’s kindness shown to us.
It’s obvious that expressing kindness is important to God when it comes to his children. I like the title of Karyn Hall’s brief article in Psychology Today: The Importance of Kindness. She echoes God’s words in Jeremiah 9:24, “let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.
It goes without saying that being unkind should never characterize those who are followers of Jesus. I agree with Karyn Hall’s assessment, “While kindness has a connotation of meaning someone is naive or weak, that is not the case. Being kind often requires courage and strength.”
Christopher Wright reminds us that when we are shown kindness we sometimes say to the person “thank you, you’re very kind.” At other times people will say, “that was a very kind thing you did.” Wright summarizes, “Kind deeds are done by people who are themselves kind by nature and character” (Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, p. 84).
We are called not just to do kind things but to be kind people. And listen again to or check out for the first time Glen Campbell’s song “Try a Little Kindness.”
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