Nature of Kindness
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT CALLED “KINDNESS” (χρηστότης/chrēstotēs) can refer to a kind attitude or to “goodness.” Indeed, it’s the Greek term frequently used to translate טוֹב/ṭôb (“good”).1We don’t translate it “goodness” here, because the very next term (ἀγαθωσύνη/agathōsynē, Heb. טוֹב/ṭôb) almost requires “goodness” for translation, although it too can mean “kindness.” The New Testament uses two other closely related terms for this idea of kindness: the adjective χρηστός/chrēstos, which means “useful,” “serviceable,” “good,” “benevolent,” “favorable,” and the verb χρηστεύομαι/chrēsteuomai, which means “to be good, kind, or benevolent.”
Scripture reminds us that God is good, or kind, and that must be our starting point for understanding both the nature and source of genuine kindness. To put it briefly, it’s godly kindness, not merely the milk of human kindness. It’s nothing less than humane, but it’s certainly way more than that. So Scripture declares the Lord’s kindness and exhorts us to display that same kindness as his image and likeness:
- “Taste and see that the Lord is good (טוֹב/ṭôb, or χρηστός/chrēstos, LXX). Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” (Ps 34:8); compare, “… you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness” (1 Pet 2:3).
- “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good (טוֹב/ṭôb and χρηστός/chrēstos, LXX)! His faithful love endures forever” (Ps 136:1).
- “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
- “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Rom 2:4).
- “Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off” (Rom 11:22).
- “So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).
- “… God our Savior revealed his kindness and love…” (Titus 3:4).
The root of Christian kindness must be God’s own kindness displayed through his image and likeness. Given Paul’s complaint about no one among fallen humanity doing any good/kindness (χρηστότης/chrēstotēs, Rom 3:12), we realize that the solution can be found only in the Spirit’s sanctifying work. This work renews us in the image and likeness of God that we were created to be. Of course, we see it right here in the fruit of the Spirit itself (Gal 5:22). And elsewhere Paul says, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness (χρηστότης/chrēstotēs), humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12).
Genuine godly kindness must be manifested in genuine human kindness. As Paul said, “We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness (χρηστότης/chrēstotēs), by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love” (2 Cor 6:6). Of course, the “we” there is Paul testifying to his own ministry (2 Cor 6:3–13); however, he told the Corinthians, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1; see also 1 Cor 4:16; 2 Thess 3:7, 9). Or even more to the point, Paul opened the chapter with this: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children” (Eph 5:1).
Timothy George asks, “Where was this Christian grace to be seen among the Galatians who were biting, devouring, and consuming one another?”2Galatians, 403. It makes you think of Paul’s complaint about fallen humanity: “All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good (χρηστότης/chrēstotēs), not a single one” (Rom 3:12). To the degree that is true of the congregation where you work and worship, you live ad have your being in a disfunctional society of “believers.”
Kindness vis-a-vis the Charismata
Any exercise of the charismata, which are meant to promote unity and build up the church, must be done in a kind way. And if we take Paul’s complaint seriously (Rom 3:12), we’ll be calling on God for him to produce in us the milk of human kindness—or better, of the fruit of the Spirit’s kindness.
A prayer for kindness…
Father, we thank you for your abundant kindness and pray that by your Spirit you would nurture that fruit in us. Help us to love our enemies and do good to them. Help us to genuinely live as children of the Most High, who is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. We have experienced how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient you have been with us, as you worked to turn us from our sin. So we pray, bear in us and through us that same fruit and evangelistic work.
I ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.3Prayer adapted from Luke 6:35; Rom 2:4
- Meditate on the kindness that others have shown to you.
- Describe some concrete ways you could show kindness to someone in need of that in the coming days.