07 Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness - Bible Study | WednesdayintheWord.com

Kindness as a fruit of the Spirit is not good deeds. Rooted in understanding God’s kindness, it’s intentionally acting to benefit others.

Key Points

  • Kindness is an active choice to bring good to others despite their faults or actions towards us.
  • Biblical kindness is grounded in understanding God’s kindness toward us.
  • God’s kindness is both a present reality and a future hope.

Next: Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

Previous: Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

Series: Fruit of the Spirit

Kindness as a Fruit of the Spirit

In this series, we are searching for an understanding of what Paul had in mind when he wrote the list of the fruit of the Spirit. We are exploring Scripture to see what Scripture says about these concepts and, therefore, what Paul was thinking when he wrote the list. 

I have been arguing the items on this list are not feelings. Rather, they are lifestyle changes that result from a profound shift in worldview because the Spirit of God teaches us truth. 

For those of you just joining us, I will remind you of the context of Galatians, where we find this list. The Judaizers claim that faith in Jesus is a good starting point, but Gentile believers must also keep the law. Paul spends most of the letter arguing they are wrong. Faith in Jesus is sufficient for salvation. 

In Galatians 5, Paul argues that law-keeping does not make us holy because it changes nothing about who we are inside. We may strive to keep laws we used to break, but inside we are still sinners. 

Conversely, Paul argues that true moral transformation results from the Spirit of God. Christ’s death on the cross reconciles us to God. Therefore, God gives us His Spirit who changes us from the inside out. As the Spirit teaches us truth, that changes our worldview. The results are the items on this list of the fruit of the Spirit. In this series, we’re on a quest to figure out what those are. 

Kindness is an action

Today we are talking about kindness. The word kindness is a simple but very profound idea. In the New Testament, we see kindness used in two main ways. First, kindness describes working to accomplish a good result for someone. Kindness is not the way I feel towards someone else. It is the way I act toward them. Kindness actively works for their good. 

When we looked at peace and longsuffering, we talked about withholding a response. We might decide not to strike back or retaliate. This word ‘kindness’ is more active. We are actively working for someone else’s benefit. 

The second context where we see this word kindness describes doing good for someone in spite of their faults. We act kindly despite the way they may have treated us. We see most clearly when the Bible talks about God’s kindness toward us.

Titus 3:1-7

1Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:10-7

Paul reminds believers we were once foolish ourselves. No matter how spiritually mature we are now, once we were disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, being hateful and hating each other. Everyone starts this way.

But as an act of kindness, God saved us. God did not treat us the way we deserved. Instead, He acted kindly toward us. By all rights. He could reject and condemn us, but He did not. He reached out in kindness. What did His kindness lead Him to do? He gave us His Spirit to transform us.

What made it possible for God to act in kindness? Jesus Christ died on the cross so that we could be reconciled to God. This action of saving us when we didn’t deserve saving is a picture of the kindness of God.

Present reality, future hope

God’s kindness is both a present reality and a future hope. We see the kindness of God now in the fact that we have been justified, washed and renewed. We also see His kindness now in that He sustains our lives. He kindly gives us food, shelter, community, health and purpose. He showers that kindness on both those who love Him and those who reject Him.

But His kindness is leading toward our future hope. His purpose is to rescue us from this world, free us completely from sin and grant us a place in the kingdom of heaven. God’s kindness starts where we are now and extends into eternity. 

Ephesians 2:4-10

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:4-10

Part of God’s purpose in redeeming a people for Himself is so that He might shower us with His kindness in His kingdom (Ephesians 2:7). 

Romans 11:17-22

17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. -Romans 11:17-22

Paul pictures God’s people as an olive tree. The owner breaks off some of the natural branches and grafts in branches from a wild tree. The natural branches represent Jews who rejected Jesus and the wild branches are the Gentiles who accepted him.

This breaking and grafting shows both the severity of God’s judgment and His kindness. He judges those who turn away from Him in unbelief, but He shows great kindness toward those who persevere in faith.

God is kind, but He is not a pushover. All of humanity has a very serious problem with sin. One day God will judge sin, and His judgment will be just and fair. Some of us will get what we all deserve. But by His grace, some of us will get mercy that we do not deserve. That forgiveness is a wonderful act of the kindness of God. 

Luke 6:35

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. – Luke 6:35

The Spirit teaches us to treat each others as God has treated us. God is kind to ungrateful people who hate Him. God sends rain on both those who love Him and those who hate Him. To be like Him, we learn to seek the good of others, even those who mock, scoff or reject us. 

Learning to be like God is a big theme in the Bible, but the bottom line is whether we believe a few foundational truths.

Luke 7:39-47

At one point, Jesus was dining in the home of a Pharisee. Suddenly, a repentant prostitute entered. She anointed his feet with oil and wiped them with her tears. The Pharisee complained about this action and Jesus responded:

39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”

And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”  44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  – Luke 7:39-47

The more we understand our situation before God, the more we love Him, and the more we show that love to others. The Pharisees, for all their piety, were not grateful to God. They didn’t need forgiveness. They thought they had earned God’s favor through law-keeping.

But the harlot was very aware of her sins. She understood the value of the forgiveness she has received, and responded with love and gratitude. Of course, the Pharisee needed forgiveness too, but he didn’t know it.

Kindness results from understanding God’s kindness.

When we come to understand the value of God’s kindness toward us, then we learn to show that same kindness toward others. The change comes about from understanding.

Once I understand how much I have been forgiven, how dare I ask God condemn other sinners like me? Once I realize little I deserved mercy, how can I excuse treating someone else harshly?

1Thessalonians 5:15

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. – 1Thessalonians 5:15

Paul captures both the negative and positive aspect to 1Thessalonians 5:15. Kindness involves refraining from one kind of action and taking a different kind of action. Kindness is more than not striking back. Kindness takes that next step of actively doing good for someone. 

Kindness can be costly

Suppose the kids in the neighborhood know that Sally’s mom always gives them cookies when they come over to play. Or suppose a family shovels the snow off the driveway of the widow next door. Those are acts of kindness. We all tend to be kind and generous to people who treat us well. Most people want to be nice to nice people.

It’s relatively easy to be kind when kindness is rewarding. Sally’s mom may feel good about giving the kids cookies. It makes her feel happy. It makes her feel proud of herself.

The family that shoveled the snow off the widow’s driveway feels satisfied with themselves. They gave their kids a valuable life lesson and something to be proud of.

But the Bible calls us to be kind when there is no obvious reward. God reaches out to sinners who reject Him. God’s kindness is a costly kindness. It required His son to die on a cross.

Kindness is obviously costly when we’re talking about loving enemies or those who hate us. But kindness also costs us in small ways. Kindness can be inconvenient and emotionally draining. Kindness can take so much time that we don’t get to do something else we would enjoy doing. Or maybe we do something kind and no one notices. Or they act as if that’s what we should have done because they deserve it. Or worse, maybe they accept our kindness and then mock us for being so nice. 

Kindness as a fruit of the Spirit is willing to pay the price for being kind.

Kindness is willing to respond graciously, even when it’s tough and we don’t want to do it. Because kindness as a fruit of the Spirit is grounded on the fact that God has been kind to us.

Part of the reason we find kindness difficult is we minimize God’s kindness. The more I understand how graciously God acted toward me, the more I understand the value of kindness as I’m dealing with others. 

Embracing the truth of the gospel transforms the way we think, speak, and act. But this transformation is not immediate. The Spirit just doesn’t zap kindness into us. We learn to be kind over time as the Spirit works on us. The implications of the gospel become foundational principles for the way we live.

In the midst of life’s difficulties, we recognize the promises of God matter. God has promised to rescue us from sin because of the cross. Heaven is real and Jesus has explained how to get in. We know that is true, and that changes how we try to respond in any situation. Daily life presents us with thousands of situations where we have to wrestle with whether God’s kindness means something to us and what kind of people we want to be. 

Every day you must decide how to act when someone hurts your feelings or when your spouse leaves the dishes in the sink again. You must decide whether to cooperate or compete with your coworkers. You decide how to respond to an unfair boss, an annoying neighbor, or the frustrating person driving too slowly in the care in front of you.

It may not seem like it, but all of those situations force you to confront the question: What do I believe to be true? Who is Jesus and what did he do for me? What will God say to me on judgment day? Do I really understand the kindness of God? Or is that an answer I checked off on a theological test? 

Kindness is rooted in understanding God’s kindness

Suppose you fall into debt and your brother gives you a thousand dollars. That action changes how you treat your brother. The next time he needs a favor, you remember his kindness and help him if you can. His past kindness influences your relationship with him. All of us understand that we should treat kindly those who treated us kindly.

Just like your brother’s kindness changes your relationship to him, the more you understand God’s kindness to you, the more you value kindness and the more you see it as the right response. Just like you want to show kindness to your brother because he was kind to you, you want to show the kindness that God has showed you to others.

The Bible usually doesn’t tell us: ‘Be good. Play nice and get along with others.’ The Bible tells us to remember what is true. Remember you are a sinner in need of grace. Remember what Jesus did for you on the cross. Remember the promises that God has given you. When you understand how kind God has been to you, then you understand why kindness makes so much sense.

In Galatians 5, Paul argues that the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh are at odds with each other. What makes the difference is what we think is true. Ultimately, self righteousness is a lie.

If I’m self righteous, I don’t value the kindness of God, because I think I earned it through law-keeping. Or I think I earned it because I’m a basically good person. In that worldview, I am not the object of God’s gracious kindness. Rather, He and I have entered into a legal contract. I kept the law. Now He has to respond with kindness.

Self-righteousness is attractive in part because I can use others as a lever to raise myself up. If your failures make me look better, why would I ever treat you with kindness? I have a vested interest in making you look bad because it makes me look better. 

I could even disguise my contempt as kindness. I could persuade you that it’s really kind of me to point out your flaws. Because if I don’t point them out, how are you going to get better? I could see myself as doing you a favor by judging you and telling you how to keep the law like I keep the law.

All of that is a lie. It’s based on this lie of not recognizing who I am before God 

Ephesians 4:31-32

31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Paul pairs being kind with being tenderhearted and forgiving. Instead of judging the flaws of other people, we recognize we have the same flaws. We see other sinners as people like us. We have compassion for others because we know we are sinners, too. We would like others to find the same solution that we found.

Why aren’t Christians more kind?

Part of the reason I wanted to emphasize that legalism and kindness are at odds with each other is this last point I want to make. Christians today in America don’t have a strong reputation for being kind. That raises the question how can kindness be a fruit of the Spirit and Christians seem to have so little of it?

Part of what the world charges Christians with is unjustified. Today, the very act of believing someone else is wrong is considered an act of hostility. When I was a kid, tolerance meant that while I might disagree with what you have to say, I would vigorously defend your right to say it. Tolerance meant letting you express yourself even when I disagree with you.

But today tolerance means all ideas are equally true and right. Claiming that someone is wrong is seen as hateful, intolerant and oppressive by definition. If you understand kindness to mean that we must approve of everything everyone says and does so that no one ever feels offended or uncomfortable, then Christians are unkind and they always will be. By that definition, Jesus was unkind. He was constantly correcting and rebuking people, even his disciples. 

Kindness is not refraining from making other people feel uncomfortable.

To the extent that your culture define kindness as not offending anyone, then Christians must be unkind. We are called to tell the truth. When we tell the truth, we will be perceived as judgmental and unkind. But we dare not let the world define good and evil in a way that is out of touch with reality. We are called to stand up for what is true but speak in love with kindness.

But part of the complaint against Christians is justified. As I said before, self-righteousness and kindness do not go together. Either I see myself as a wretched sinner in need of God’s kindness or I don’t. How I treat other people depends on how I see myself. If I see myself as a sinner like you, I will treat you kindly. If I see myself is better or superior, because I have my act together before God, then I am not going to treat you well.

Biblical kindness results from the Spirit of God making it clear to me that I have a very serious problem with sin. But God has graciously and kindly solved my problem with sin. God’s kindness changes my perspective on my place before God and my place among my neighbors. We may speak out against lies and stand up for what is truth, but we do it from this position of seeking the good of others, whether it costs us or not.

It may be that the criticisms leveled against Christians are justified because we’re legalists. We may think that we’re better than those pagans out there. God is pleased with us because we’re following the rules. Because we approach others from that place of superiority, we are not being kind. If that’s the case ,then we need a hard dose of reality.

It may be that the criticisms leveled against Christians are justified because we’re not teaching the gospel clearly enough. It’s easy to get caught up in an emotional worship experience without any substance. It’s easy to minimize sin, guilt and the cross, and to overemphasize God’s love. It’s easy to seek entertaining stories and a multimedia movie experience from the pulpit rather than gospel truth. If that’s the case, we need to return to a hard dose of the gospel. 

Finally, it could be that God is not finished with us yet. The Spirit doesn’t zap us into perfection. He changes us over a lifetime of wrestling with truth, trials and hardships. We may have failed to act kindly because we are still wretched sinners struggling with sin. If that’s the case, then we want to be quick to repent and apologize 

Bottom line, kindness as a fruit of the Spirit is working to accomplish a good result for someone else despite their flaws and regardless of whether they deserve it or appreciate it because we understand the kindness of God.

Copyright © 2024 · Krisan Marotta, WednesdayintheWord

Photo by Bill Williams on Unsplash

Season 24, episode 07

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