Choosing Kindness

Aesop told a story of a lion startled by a mouse. The lion slapped a paw over the mouse and was about to lick it up when the mouse pleaded for her life, promising that someday she would repay the kindness. The lion was amused by the idea of the little mouse ever helping him but decided to be generous and let the mouse go on its way. Sometime later the lion was caught in a hunter’s net and all his strength and fury only resulted in the net drawing about him more tightly. The mouse heard the lion’s roars and came to see what had happened. Quickly she began to chew through the rope securing the lion, and soon the lion was free of the net. The mouse said to the freed lion, “You laughed when I said I would repay you, but now you see that even a lion may be helped by a mouse.” Aesop’s concluding moral, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Solomon observed, “A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth. A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself” (Proverbs 11:16-17). Does kindness truly pay? Yes, there are “gains” and “benefits” that come from being unselfish and kind, even in everyday experiences. Reputation, personal satisfaction, better relationships, and potentially favors received for favors bestowed certainly come from choosing to be kind.

Even so, there are stronger reasons and greater incentives for kindness. Jesus said:

“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. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).

God shows kindness to all (see Acts 14:14-18, Matthew 5:43-48). Kindness to the undeserving is described as an exercise in mercy and a binding example for the children of God. God’s children must be kind to others, even when kindness is an act of mercy.

Someone has said, “Treat everyone with politeness. Even those who are rude to you. Not because they are nice, but because you are.” Paul wrote that he practiced this principle when treated badly. “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (1 Corinthians 4:12b-13a). Like Paul, every Christian should practice blessing, kindness, and congenial manners in all our dealings, and especially with one another! “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Tommy Lee Jones has said, “Kindness and politeness are not over rated at all. They are under used.” And again we are reminded in scripture that kindness and not being rude are characteristics of the love God’s people must practice.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

One everyday way to exercise love is to show kindness by being polite, even if others are not, while one of the most common ways to be unloving is to be unkind by being rude. Good manners, courtesy, calmness, patience and forgiveness are all companions of kindness, and commanded by God. Love is kind… it is not rude.

If it is sometimes hard to practice kindness in what we say and do, we know that we can learn, grow, and improve in our everyday practice of thoughtfulness. This calls for us to “take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of” (Jim Rohn). Blaming others, or blaming circumstances which we cannot control when we behave badly, is the surrender of our ability to change, and denial that we can in fact obey God who has commanded these things. Time and circumstance will not make us better people, but practicing the commands of Jesus will. Remember, God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” This is a commandment, not an inborn personality trait. Treat people as you would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12), not because you like them, and no matter what you expect of them in return.

The Greek philosopher Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” To recognize that others also have their struggles facilitates everyday kindness. In fact everyone really is struggling and needs the blessing of being treated with kindness and its companion virtues, as Paul wrote:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

It may become easy in reviewing such instructions in scripture to slide past the injunctions to be kind, humble, gentle and patient, but these are dynamic instructions! These chosen behaviors need to be so consistently practiced that it is like wearing clothes, something you just do. Not without thought, but certainly without question or hesitation. Kindness or its synonyms, and its companion attitudes, turn up over and over again in the various lists of Christian virtues in the New Testament (see Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Peter 1:5-8).

We know that the Lord has commanded kindness, and that kindness is regularly demonstrated in simple good manners toward others. We should take it for granted that the people we know and strangers we encounter need kindness, and that we need to be kind to them. Kindness, with its associated manners of speech and action, is part of everyday life with the Spirit of God, and a persistent need for growth and fellowship in the body of Christ, the church.