Kindness is not a spectacular thing, yet it is a beautiful thing. Today, Sinclair Ferguson describes the remarkable impact on someone’s life that some simple, Christlike kindness can leave.
If you were listening last week, you’ll perhaps remember that we were thinking about what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit—in fact, the ninefold fruit of the Spirit. And if you were with us all last week, you’ll probably know Galatians 5:22–23 by heart by now. But just in case they’re not quite in your memory banks, I’m going to quote the words again. Here they are: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.”
Kindness is our theme today. It follows patience. I think you can see how these three graces—patience, kindness, and goodness—form the second of three trilogies in Paul’s list. You can’t be kind unless you’re patient, can you? In some circumstances, simply being patient with a difficult person is being kind to them.
Kindness is a beautiful thing. I think there’s some evidence that it is related to the old word cynn, or kin, meaning your relatives, people in your family. It means treating people as family. Kindness often translates one of the greatest words in the Hebrew Bible, hesed, what one of the Old Testament scholars translated as leal love, loyalty love. It’s just as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4.
I think we should notice something here again that’s both important and encouraging. Kindness isn’t something spectacular, is it? This isn’t about being on the big stage and being fawned on by adoring fans as though you were some kind of celebrity, but this is what really matters. This is what the Holy Spirit most delights to produce in us—not kudos, but kindness. Actually, it’s what the little Old Testament book of Ruth is all about, how Ruth showed kindness to her bereaved mother-in-law, Naomi, and how Boaz showed kindness to Ruth, and how Boaz felt that Ruth had shown kindness to him, and all because of the kindness of the God who is kind to His people. The Spirit wants to inject that into our spiritual DNA so that it’s embedded in all we are, in everything we do, and all the words we say. Kindness is a simple thing, but it’s a beautiful grace.
I think I’ve noticed over the years in all the different personalities of the outstanding Christians I’ve known that, for all their differences in temperament, there’s always this common feature: they’re kind and they show kindness. But I wonder if it’s ever dawned on you how much, humanly speaking, the Christian church owes to one man’s kindness long ago.
When Augustine’s wanderings and searchings eventually led him to Milan, he encountered the figure of Ambrose, the bishop, one of the great preachers of his day. He was tremendously impressed by his eloquence. He says he hung on his diction with rapt attention, but he was pretty bored by what he said. What he loved was only the charm in his language, and as a result of that, he was relatively indifferent to what he said. But then as he got to know him, things changed. Listen to what he says towards the end of book five of his Confessions: “I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your church, but as a human being who was kind to me.” Isn’t that something? The milk of human kindness in Ambrose—not his great preaching—was what God first used to bring to faith in Christ a man whose Christian life, witness, and writings have shaped the history of the Western world for 1700 years. So, who knows what your kindness today to someone might mean?