No More Mr. Nice: Pastoral Reflections on Kindness
My family didn’t make much of birthdays. In fact, with the exception of the year we went to Pietro’s Pizza to play video games, none stand out. But on October 4, 1996, my wife made reservations at a steak house for my birthday. When we arrived at our table, a handful of friends yelled, “Surprise!” That was a good day. They spent time and money celebrating God’s gift of another year to me.
What did my wife and friends demonstrate that night? Kindness. It’s a simple virtue, one that’s easily overlooked. However, the presence of kindness is preeminent evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in a believer’s heart.
THE OVERLOOKED VIRTUE
I used to think vanilla was simply the absence of chocolate. Therefore, I couldn’t understand why anyone would actually prefer vanilla ice cream. Vanilla, I thought, is simply what’s left when you remove all flavors.
It’s easy to think of kindness along similar lines, as merely the absence of vice. Given this understanding, a kind person is not rude, not overbearing, not mean. But there’s so much more to kindness than the absence of meanness.
Kindness is the presence of compassion and generosity toward others. The kind person is helpful, useful, and lovingly working for the well being of others. If goodness is the light of God shining within the human heart, then kindness is the light of God shining from the human heart. Kindness exists for the benefit of others.
To put it bluntly, a person sitting at home simply remembering my birthday isn’t being kind. Kindness has feet and hands. Kindness gets in the car, goes to the restaurant, and waits. Kindness pulls out a credit card and cheerfully pays the price of enjoying an evening with a friend. Goodness is. Kindness works. Kindness isn’t being Mr. Nice; it’s making a difference.
OUR KIND GOD
Because kindness is a fruit of the Spirit of God, it should come as no surprise to learn kindness is an attribute of God.
In Romans 1, Paul paints a startling portrait of humanity’s darkness. Wickedness explodes in the heart untouched by saving grace: “They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Rom. 1:29b–31). Like a skilled attorney building his case, Paul leaves no room for doubt: our condemnation is deserved. In Romans 3:23, he summarizes his argument, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Our only hope to escape his judgment is to embrace his kindness, kindness we all once spurned. But God can melt the coldest heart. His kindness ran toward us when we walked away from him in unbelief. As Paul states in Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” While we were set in our rebellious ways, God’s kindness appeared in a manger in Bethlehem (Titus 3:7). When we were flooded with anger and racism, God’s kindness grafted Gentiles into his family tree (Rom. 11:22). And though we continually fall short of his glory, in Christ God promised his kindness as an eternal gift (Eph. 2:7). Though we deserve his wrath, we’re the beneficiaries of his kindness.
We should expect those filled with God’s Spirit to be kind as well.
WHEN KINDNESS ERUPTS
Being feted by friends at a birthday party was a real (albeit small) act of kindness. It pales in comparison to the day a high-school friend told me I was going to hell.
We’d gone to a play together. I expected casual conversation. Instead, she said she was a Christian. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but over the course of the evening I discovered it means the world. She affirmed it all. There really is a God. He’s made himself known in Christ. The Bible is his Word. To know Christ as Lord and Savior is to have everlasting life. She believed everything, the whole kit and caboodle.
My back began to bow as I not-so-gently pushed back: “Do you think I’m going to hell?” I asked her.
I’ll never forget her response, “Yes, Aaron, if that’s what you believe and how you live your life, then yes, I think you are going to hell.” She could have been polite. She could have played Ms. Nice, changed the conversation, and let the tension in the room run its course. Instead, she did the hardest and kindest thing a Christian can ever do. She challenged me with the truth of the gospel.
This is what happens when kindness erupts in the hearts of God’s children. We challenge and comfort others with the truth of Christ. Kindness, Paul explains, led him to share the gospel in the midst of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, [and] hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4b–5). Kindness (along with humility, meekness, and patience) empowers you to forgive a brother or sister (Col. 3:12–13). Kindness helps you put “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander . . . along with all malice” to death before they tear up local churches (Eph. 4:30–32).
Kindness is the virtue that leads us to act toward others the way Christ Jesus acted toward us—with love, care, compassion, and concern.
“TREASURES OF INESTIMABLE PRICE”
I know I’m being kind to the church I serve when I sit in my study and prepare for next Sunday’s message. The primary way I practically serve the body of Christ is by preaching. I long for the people of God to be spiritually well fed. This takes hours of hard work—hours I kindly and joyfully give.
And yet there is more to pastoral ministry. The old Suffolk preacher, Charles Bridges, noted: “The ministry is not . . . a work of contemplation, but of active, anxious, devoted employment. The spirit, business, and delight of doing good must therefore form an essential part of preparation for the work.” He went on to call the daily opportunities to visit the sick, share the gospel with kids, and engage one’s neighbors “treasures of inestimable price.” Bridges was right.
A kind pastor does more than preach, he enters into the lives of those entrusted to his care. He does so without favoritism and guile. He engages with members of the body: the old and the young, the rich and the poor, those who look like him and those who don’t, the confident and the doubting. In short, as Bridges would put it, he is actively, anxiously, and devotedly employed for the good of his flock. He does so much more than preach the Word of God.
Pray all your elders are like this. I want to grow in this area. I know on the Day of Judgment God will weigh more than the orthodoxy of my preaching. He will assess the kindness of my pastoring.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Are you marked by kindness? Are compassion and generosity toward others present in your life? What would it look like for you to grow in kindness?
- Get to work in your sphere of influence. Trying to change the world is a good thing. By all means, read books about evangelizing the nations, fighting racism, and engaging in orphan care. But let’s not forget our backyard. Kindness, properly understood, will cause you to reach out to your workmates, your neighbors, and your friends. Show them kindness, and you model something of the Savior.
- Create some margin. Between work, family, and screen time many of us have lost the capacity to act in kindness toward our neighbors. Those everyday opportunities to serve, what Bridges called “treasures of inestimable price,” go sadly unnoticed. A little margin in a busy life will go a long way. Consider reading Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy.
- Make your church ground zero for acts of kindness. Let your kindness be evident in practical acts of service toward brothers and sisters. Kindness will show itself in everything from a word of encouragement to a brother in despair to a grocery store gift card for a needy family. Stay a few minutes after the service to catch up. Open your home to a small group. Write a letter of encouragement to a deacon. These are practical acts of kindness that will bless the body of Christ. Surprising a friend on his or her birthday wouldn’t be a bad idea either!
- Remember the kindness of God. If you’re anything like me, you’re tempted to take pride in your kindness. Self-righteousness stalks all of us. The key is to see kindness as the extraordinary gift of our God who demonstrated his own kindness on a cross. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Our kindness to others is always rooted in our God who is kind enough to save us.
Kindness may be one of the most overlooked pieces of the fruit of the Spirit. But it shouldn’t be, for it takes us to the very heart of the gospel.
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Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1959), 65. Italics added.