[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]s our two children were growing up and got involved in the characteristic sibling altercations, my response to such frays was often a stern admonition to the offending party: “Brandon, be nice to your sister!” or “Candace, be nice to your brother!” I eventually became dissatisfied with my response for several reasons. Among them, I realized that as a Christian parent, I should want more for my children than their just being “nice” to each other. I should desire and encourage them to be kind to each other. I think there’s a significant difference and in an attempt to persuade you of that, I’d like to ask you to consider the following question: Is God nice? If you’re like me, the suggestion that “nice” is an appropriate description for the Lord of creation just doesn’t seem right. “Nice” is too anemic a word to ascribe to the living God.
Biblical kindness is much stronger and more powerful than niceness. When I think of being nice, I think of being agreeable and polite, conforming to social conventions so as not to create waves. Niceness connotes superficiality, a syrupy sweetness whose aim is to fit in and not hurt anyone’s feelings. What’s more, trying to be nice is often driven by a self-centered craving that people like or think well of me. I want to be nice so that people will think I’m….well, “nice.” Kindness, on the other hand, is an attitude of concern for another’s well-being that expresses itself in action. As James Spiegel explains in his book, How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad: Living a Life of Christian Virtue: “Kindness is a general term that refers to a cluster of more specific moral skills, each of which essentially involves a special thoughtfulness displayed toward someone.” The Christian virtue of kindness, then, is closely connected to that of love as we see in Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Paul uses the same word in his letter to the Colossians in which he instructs believers to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
Similarly, he commands Christians to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). This is in contrast to the myriad of relational sins listed in verse 31 by which we grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30) who has united us to Christ and each other (Eph. 4:3). Holding grudges, badmouthing, gossiping, and being angry with each other are expressions of self-exaltation and the polar opposites of biblical kindness. This is why the apostle Paul prefaces his description of the works of the flesh with a warning to believers about “biting and devouring one another” (Gal. 5:15). Selfishness makes us cannibals. Kindness makes us cooks who are eager to feed others with nourishing fare. When we are not walking in dependence upon and obedience to the Spirit, we regard other people as means to the ends of the fulfillment of our desires, obstacles to be overcome so we can get what we want, or people to be ignored if we don’t see how they can serve us. The Spirit of Christ, however, moves us to look upon others, regardless of who they are, as fitting objects of kindness.
[blockquote align=”right”]Christian kindness, like all of the virtues, is motivated by our love for the God whose redemption we enjoy.[/blockquote]Christian kindness, like all of the virtues, is motivated by our love for the God whose redemption we enjoy. When, as members of the body of Christ, we are kind toward each other, we reflect God whose kindness toward us manifested itself in his provision of His Son to rescue us from the power and penalty of our sin. That the Lord does not immediately exercise his judgment against his rebellious image-bearers is a kindness designed to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). And his plan for the rest of eternity is to showcase his grace in kindness toward his redeemed people (Eph. 2:7). As Clinton Arnold notes in his commentary on Galatians, “Believers imitate God and Christ whenever they are generous to others, but especially in extending benevolence to those who are not loving in return.” God-glorifying kindness is not restricted to the members of our inner circle or those from whom we expect repayment.
Kindness is costly in that it requires that I intentionally broaden the scope of my concern beyond my own personal interests and expend a portion of my resources, whether time, money, attention, etc., on someone else. At times the cost will be great. But thinking only in terms of dramatic displays of kindness can blind us to the apparently more mundane opportunities to practice this virtue that surround us daily. I was the recipient of such an act just last week when on my way to a class with an armful of books in one hand and an empty water bottle in the other, I stopped at a water fountain to refill. The fountain was low enough that I thought I could easily depress the button with my knee while holding the bottle at the fountain. It wasn’t as facile a feat as I had imagined. Fortunately, a student whom I did not know, stopped and asked, “Do you need some help with that?” and held the button for me long enough to fill my bottle. That young man’s simple act of kindness blessed my day.
Let us all be on the lookout for opportunities to image our Father who does not command his children to be “nice” but kind.
[framed_box]Dr. Keith Plummer is an Associate Professor in the School of Bible and Ministry. He has been teaching at PBU since 2010. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.