When I was growing up, my mother always told me to be kind to others. To her, this kindness was not dependent upon how others treated me. In essence, it was simply to be my chosen response to others. It always seemed to me that she wanted me to give others the benefit of the doubt.
As I continued to grow and mature, I also began to realize how difficult and challenging it was at times to be kind. More often than we care to admit, we human beings can be rather territorial and vindictive by nature. We will respond to someone with kindness if we perceive that they are worthy of such a gracious response.
People in the Apostle Paul’s day were no different than most of us today with respect to this struggle to show kindness towards others. Many early followers of Christ faced a considerable amount of hardship from their neighbors, family members and former friends when they declared their allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth.
Some of these faithful believers were ostracized by their families, rejected by those in their community whom they had once considered friends all because they had chosen to follow Jesus. With respect to some of the indignities that they suffered, they would have been within their rights as human beings to respond with anger, vengeance and resentment.
It’s only natural that we should respond to injustice by desiring vindication. How often have we heard our children say, “That’s not fair!” when confronted by a perceived injustice? Are not we adults also quick to cry out to God when we feel that others might be taking advantage of us?
Why would Paul list kindness as a fruit of the Spirit?
I believe that we know the answer to that question. Of course, we are not too excited about the truth that our Lord seeks to teach us by allowing His kindness to work its way into our life and character.
Our Lord and Savior demonstrated kindness towards those who abused, cursed and mistreated Him. I have always found that one of the most amazing miracles of the incarnation was when Jesus was being crucified.
How much kindness and self-control were necessary to restrain Himself from lashing out at those vile and misguided people who hurled insults and words of contempt towards the very One Who had come to show them the love of God?
Can you imagine possessing the power and ability to give those who abuse us exactly what they deserve?
As Jesus hung on the cross, those men who had constantly harassed Him tried to goad Him into proving that He was the Son of God by bringing Himself down from the cross to which they had nailed Him. Wouldn’t it have been easy to have pulled a “Rambo” by jumping to the ground and then begin to display His holy wrath?
The kindness that restrained our Lord and Savior as He hung there will always amaze me. Obviously, this is the kindness about which Paul is speaking to the church in Galatia.
For this “divine kindness” is not simply the result of one’s goodness or sense of justice. Rather, it is a kindness that can only be accomplished through the power and might of the Almighty God.
If one takes the time to look at early church history, one can clearly see that our spiritual ancestors both grasped and applied this truth in their lives.
There are countless stories of believers who showed kindness and mercy towards their persecutors. How could a person look into the eyes of someone consumed with hatred yet speak words of love and kindness?
Obviously, there is no natural way to explain such behavior. In fact, there is not enough goodness in all of humanity to display even one act of kindness in the midst of the darkness in which we live.
This past December in Laos there are two Hmong believers who were arrested and imprisoned for sharing the Gospel with a relative. Most of their relatives had already come to Christ as a result of their witness, with the exception of their father-in-law. As these men shared of God’s love with this man, he accused them of coming to the village to “proclaim and lead more people to Christ,” which was an affront to the government and the laws of their country.
These young men have reportedly been repeatedly beaten and tortured while in prison. Still, they remain faithful to the Lord who saved them and are asking that believers who hear their story pray for the salvation of the man who had them thrown into prison.
Only the work of the Holy Spirit can produce this kind of kindness in a person’s life. (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of Sunday School Discipleship.)