Love is Kind.
What is love? Singer-songwriters—those who have the social contract for reflecting on what our culture understands as love—agree: Love is “what you do to (or for) me.” Artists illuminate the popular conception. Love, they cry, is what we get from our special other. Love is how they make us feel when our relationship is budding. Love is the passion and attraction and pounding heart rate their presence instills within us. Yes, we’ll return the favour, but we’ll only persist if we keep receiving the incoming sensations of ‘what they do to us.’
So when the Apostle Paul follows his “love is patient” tag from I Corinthians 13 with “love is kind” we may feel surprised, maybe even a little disillusioned. Love is…‘kind’? Kindness sounds so anticlimactic, so monotonous and mundane—a bit like the word ‘nice’. It was bad enough Paul began with love is patient, does he now think that love being kind will inspire us to expressions as grand as we imagine love ought to be?
To help us solve this dilemma, let’s explore kindness using the same template with which we investigated patience. With patience we began by pausing and simply acknowledging God’s existence, by recognizing that God is. Let’s do that again. Then we went a step deeper in step two, exploring how God exemplifies patience. So now we can ask the question in reference to kindness: Is God kind?
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious (another word for kind), slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8); “…the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience…God’s kindness leads you toward repentance…” (Romans 2:4); “…[God’s]glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:6).
We are beginning to see the picture. God is kind and there is nothing mundane or monotonous about kindness. It is full and rich, creative and expressive, helping and healing. God speaks kindness, He acts kindness, He exudes kindness. The vast extent of His kindness is expressed in history’s focal moment: Jesus’ sacrificial and redemptive death on the cross. This kindness—completely unmerited by us—absolves us from the guilt of our rebellion against Him. This is the epitome and climax of everything the word kindness entails. Inhale that thought and we find the ‘love is kind’ concept expanding beyond our human conception. Christ enters our world and conquers spiritual death out of kindness for you and me.
Then comes step three. Let’s do as we did with patience. Let’s apply it. Let’s take the concept of kindness revealed to us through God’s Word and let’s do it. Be it. Kindness is no longer the bland, pedestrian image of an old woman feeding pigeons in Central Park; it is the Christ’s-love-motivated ambition to meaningfully touch others’ lives for good. And we are not called to show kindness only to the weak and helpless. We are summoned to be kind to the tiresome, obnoxious and maddening individuals in our lives—our enemies, for want of a better word. Jesus commands it.
“I tell you, love your enemies,” He challenges us. “Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind” (Luke 6:35,36).
Did you catch the overarching rationality of living out kindness? Jesus says it is our God-created identity to be kind. As the Old English root of the word explains, kindness is tied to our identity. It reaches out “with the feeling of relatives for each other; natural, native, innate.” To be kind is to treat others as if they were kindred hearts, beloved members of one’s family. We must begin to think of others with grace and acceptance—perhaps as if they were our younger brothers and sisters.
And what will be the result of kindness?
Kindness works somewhat like forgiveness does—it changes the doer sometimes more than the recipient. Kindness changes us from trivial to sincere, from judging to just, from self-centred to selfless. It molds our character into becoming more Christlike as we practice kindness in our day-to-day lives. How do we learn to be kind? By studying Christ’s life. By reading it, meditating on it, eating, drinking and sleeping it. By submitting to Christ’s Spirit who wants to live out kindness through us we become Christ’s healing hands and feet to those with whom we connect—but only when we are kind.
So as we step into the foray of the day’s appointments, interruptions and interactions with an assortment of people—people we want to learn to love—let’s not forget the simple opportunities for kindness that suggest themselves to us. Patience calls us to slow down and wait; kindness calls us to step up and enter into. We do patience and we do kindness little by little. Each small success enables us to try next time with more skill. This is how the kindergarten of love works. Are we up for today’s lesson?
(Photo Credit: By Christopher Walker from Krakow, Poland (The Old Lady and the Birds) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons