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“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). These words of Jesus are part of the Sermon on the Mount, where He explains what it is to live according to the kingdom of God. In His teaching, Jesus challenges His audience by describing the high standards of the life that pleases God. One danger with this passage is that someone may be tempted to think that these words of Christ are just good advice on how to be nice, rather than a way to show how impossible it is to fulfill our moral obligation to our fellow man and to our Creator.

In our modern culture, people generally agree that they should be kind to one another. But what does that mean? Many believe that minding their own business and letting others think and do what they please describe what it means to be kind. But Jesus says to love your enemies, not just to be nice to people.

According to the Bible, kindness is rooted in love, not simply in being tolerant. The Old Testament uses the word hesed, which means “loving-kindness,” to describe the way God loves His people. As we consider the way in which God defines kindness, we need to ask ourselves sincerely: Can we love others with the same commitment and care that God shows to a people who constantly betray Him? Are we capable of working for the well-being of others even when they reject us?

The Apostle Paul affirms in Titus 3:3 that because we are fallen and in rebellion against God, we naturally hate and envy others. If this is the reality of our hearts, then kindness is difficult to grasp because its real meaning is to love people as God loves them.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ words naturally lead people to despair as they consider the darkness of their own souls. Who among us can love those who hate us? Who can lend without expecting payment? Who can do good to those we naturally envy? However, Jesus also explains to His audience the source of a transformed heart that is able to be kind. The secret is in the words, “He is kind to those who are ungrateful and evil.” This shows that we need to change the way we see people. Instead of looking at others with contempt, we should look at others with the same compassion that God has shown to us, His enemies (Rom. 5:10–11).

Kindness is the will to do good that springs from the pain of staring at our own misery while at the same time looking up to Christ’s kindness to us.

Kindness is more than just giving up our seat on the subway to an elderly person, or giving some change to the homeless, or trying to be patient with our spouse. Kindness is the will to do good that springs from the pain of staring at our own misery while at the same time looking up to Christ’s kindness to us. True kindness springs forth from understanding the way in which we have been treated by God in Christ. We have not only been forgiven, but we have been made children of God and heirs of the Most High. Kindness is to see our own brokenness in the brokenness of others, and to see their need for compassion as our own need.

A clear example of what true kindness looks like can be seen in that moment when the prodigal son comes back to his father hoping to compensate his father for his debt (Luke 15:11–32). The father looks at his son and embraces him with kindness. He not only forgives all the pain and shame his son has brought upon him and his family, but the father truly rejoices in doing good to his son as he gives him a beautiful ring and new robe. Kindness implies that we are happy that God loves others as we are loved. Kindness’ true meaning can only be grasped when we interpret reality through the lens of the gospel.

Kindness can also be represented in the story of a man from my church. He came one day and told me about how he had been really angry with someone. He explained to me what had happened between him and that person, and about all the damage that had been done to him by that person. But at the end of the talk, the man said: “I really want to hate this person for all the wrong he’s done to me, but God ruins my desire to hate him. Every time I think about vengeance, it also comes to my mind that God probably loves this person as He loves me. And then my rage changes into prayer for him. I want to be kind to him even when it really hurts me.”

This man understood in a painful way that being genuinely kind can only come from having experienced hesed, the loving-kindness of God in Jesus Christ our Savior.

This article is part of the Virtues and Vices collection.