TRY A LITTLE KINDNESS

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 peopleAnd listen again to or check out for the first time Glen Campbell’s song “Try a Little Kindness.”

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PRODUCING FRUIT

For the past couple of weeks I have been slowly working my way through a new book by Christopher Wright entitled Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. I’m not necessarily recommending it, but reading it has challenged me once again to give some thought to just how the fruit of the Spirit is produced in our lives.

To refresh your memory if needed, the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23. He contrasts the nine qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with an undesirable list of “the acts of the flesh.”

While reading Wright’s book I watched a short video online by a pastor who suggested that telling believers the fruit of the Spirit is “character traits we should try to work on” is wrong. He emphasized “the fruit of the Spirit are [sic] the result of walking by the Spirit.”

In his introduction about the fruit of the Sprit, Wright declares “these are the qualities that God himself will produce in a person’s everyday, ordinary human life because the life of God himself is at work within them.” Later in the book, however, when discussing patience, Wright asserts “It is fruit, but at the same time we need to work at it. There is effort and struggle involved.” Those two statements seemed almost contradictory to me.

I then went to a commentary on Galatians by one of my favorite writers, John Stott, and read his observation that the fruit of the Spirit is “the natural produce that appears in the lives of Spirit-led Christians.” I then checked another commentator I like, and writing about love as fruit of the Spirit he noted it requires “deliberate effort” to never seek anything but the best for someone. These two statements also seemed somewhat contradictory.

How is the fruit of the Spirit produced in a believer’s life? Is it automatic? Does the Holy Spirit just make it happen? Or do we have a part to play? Do we have to put forth effort and work at it? We don’t completely understand how the Spirit produces His fruit in us, but it seems obvious we have a part to play.

I think the reality is, that in order to produce this “cluster of nine Christian graces” in our lives, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit whom the Lord has given to live in us. Citing two phrases from the larger context of Galatians 5:16-26, Stott clarifies: “there is clearly a distinction between ‘being led by the Spirit’ and ‘walking by the Spirit’, for the former expression is passive and the latter is active. It is the Spirit who does the leading, but we who do the walking.”

We have a part in producing the fruit and the Holy Spirit has a part. The Spirit will not do it without our cooperation and we cannot do it without His help. I’d like to see more of this fruit produced in my life. How about you?

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IT MUST BE IMPORTANT!

If something is repeated multiple times in a short space, I think we can assume it is important to the one who is saying or writing it. It may turn out that it is not important to us, but that doesn’t mean it is not important to the writer or speaker. When I teach college classes I let the students know what I think is important (and will be on the test) by saying certain things over and over again.

For no particular reason, I recently sat down and read through the three chapters of the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus. Their relationship was like a father and son and Paul was writing to encourage and instruct Titus in his ministry and teaching. As I read what Paul wrote, I noted for the first time in my reading of the letter that he told Titus to teach the same thing five times in 21 verses. Being astute as I am, I concluded it must be important.

Here are the references:

In Titus 1:8, concerning qualifications for elders: they must be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:2, he should teach older men: they are to be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:5, he should teach older women: they are to be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:6, he should encourage young men: to be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:12, the grace of God teaches all of us: to live self-controlled.

Would you agree that in Paul’s mind teaching, challenging, encouraging, and expecting Christians to be self-controlled is important? In Galatians 5:23 Paul lists self-control as part of the fruit of the Spirit in a believer’s life. The Greek words translated self-control are different in Galatians and Titus, but the meaning is basically the same.

What is self-control or what does it mean to be self-controlled? I think we all have a sense of what it means to have and express this quality. Both patience and gentleness are certainly related to it. Alternative translations of the Titus references include live wisely, be sensible, and be sober-minded. I don’t think it means we cannot be intense or passionate; it relates to how we handle, express, and live out our intensity and passion.

I’m willing to admit (would confess be a better word?) that at the age of 65, after being a Christian so long, and after all the years I’ve had the privilege of being a pastor, self-control is a quality I need to give attention. And in giving it some thought, I’m most convicted about my eating habits and my short fuse or easily being irritated.

To be self-controlled is important. The lack of self-control can be ugly, dangerous, and destructive in so many ways. Having self-control, however, is healthy, helpful, and attractive. Going back to Galatians 5:22 and 23 and the fruit of the Spirit, let me suggest that we ask the Holy Spirit to help us and that we cooperate with Him to cultivate this important quality. What do you think?

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DO YOU HAVE THIS QUALITY?

An observation I read last week by Lance Witt really got my attention: “One of the most underrated and underestimated qualities of a spiritual leader is the quality of gentleness.” I certainly agree that gentleness is underrated and underestimated when it comes to spiritual leaders, but more than that, gentleness is a quality that is neglected by many Christians whether they are leaders or not.

The New Testament includes several calls for all followers of Jesus to cultivate and practice gentleness.

Colossians 3:12, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Note the company gentleness keeps in this exhortation to Christians.

Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Note the reminder that follows the instruction perhaps telling us both why we should and how we can be gentle.

Ephesians 4:2, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Note the specific example for being humble, gentle, and patient: making allowance for other’s faults. That same emphasis is made in Galatians 6:1, “. . . if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the
spirit should restore that person gently.”

In tune with Witt’s observation, in a list of qualifications for church leaders in I Timothy 3:3 the Apostle Paul says a leader “is to be not violent but gentle.” Towards the end of the letter in 6:11 he calls Timothy a man of God and tells him to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith love, endurance and gentleness. And again in II Timothy 2:25, “Opponents must be gently instructed.”

I think part of the reason we don’t stress more the Bible’s call to be gentle is a misperception of the quality. Some wrongly think of gentleness as weakness and unbecoming. It might be helpful for us to be reminded that the Bible tells us Jesus was gentle.  In Matthew 11:29 Jesus Himself declares: “I am gentle and humble in heart.” And in II Corinthians 10:1 the Apostle Paul refers to “the humility and gentleness of Christ.”

In classical Greek gentleness is associated with being friendly and mild. When used of animals it means they are tame and with people it suggests they are considerate and benevolent.  Being gentle is the opposite of being harsh or overly stern or expressing unbridled anger. Gentleness is in contrast to demanding one’s rights or insisting upon one’s way. But it is more than just not being harsh, quick tempered, and rude. Positively gentleness is about being patient, magnanimous, and kind.

I don’t know about you, but I’m convicted. Too often I’m grumpy and irritable–not as gentle as I want and need to be. I want to more gracious; I want to be more like Jesus. How do I do that? Galatians 5:22 and 23 includes gentleness as a part of the fruit of the Spirit. I guess I need to open myself more, submit more, and cooperate more with Him.

What do you think?

Reply with comments below and share these thoughts with others on social media. (Also feel free to email me.)

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