I was just a Southern country redneck in my early twenties when the company I worked for sent me up to New York City for some training. I spent much of my early life on a little family farm and didn’t even live on paved road until my late teens. I had never stayed in an actual “hotel” or seen a building that had nearly as many floors as my hometown had streets, and at that point, driving on a highway that had four lanes still felt like an accomplishment. To say the least, I was a bit intimidated.
Unfamiliar Territory ~
A naive country boy heading to the Big Apple with no prior exposure to “yankees” in their natural habitat could be problematic, so my buddies pooled their knowledge and gave me advance warning about what to expect. “Yankees,” they said, “dress funny; they don’t eat grits; they don’t know how to say ordinary words like “ya’ll” and they make words like “school” into two syllables. Forget finding biscuits ‘n gravy for breakfast, and don’t try to understand them, because they talk faster than normal people can listen. Oh, and they’ll put you in jail if you cross the street in the wrong place.”
All in all, I figured I’d be more likely to be run over by a taxicab than to encounter anything that looked like kindness, so I was totally unprepared for the spontaneous comment offered by an attractive young woman.
I was sitting at a table by myself in a small restaurant, trying not to make eye contact with anyone when she walked by my table. She paused briefly, put her hand on my shoulder and cocked her head to one side as she scrutinized me. Then she said, “Has anyone ever told you that from a certain angle, you look a little bit like Elvis Presley?”
I was stunned, of course, by the unexpected friendly gesture. “Ahh,” I thought, “Yankee kindness.” Before I could formulate a response she turned on her heel, and as she walked away, said over her shoulder, “Elvis Presley makes me sick.” I decided that yankee kindness was like getting a tetanus shot–the soothing alcohol on your skin just means the needle’s coming next. Sometimes the value of kindness is recognized most clearly by its absence.
And speaking of which, it seems like kindness has vacated the land these days, and that void needs to be refilled. You might think the Apostle Paul had been watching the rude, hateful, belligerent, and disruptive behavior on display during the Bret Kavanaugh hearings this week when he wrote,
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32 (NKJV)
More than a Call to Be “Nice” ~
That admonition from God is more than just a suggestion that we should all try to be “nicer.” It’s a call to engage in a behavioral revolution indicative of the transformation that a personal encounter with Jesus Christ makes possible. Those who experience genuine faith in Christ are challenged to accept a view of themselves so radically different that God describes it as putting on a “new man.” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NKJV)
The command to be “kind” is not a directive that supports avoiding significant and relevant truth or dodging difficult issues. Kindness does not amount to offering acceptance or tacit approval of behavior that is morally, socially, legally, or ethically unacceptable. It is not a call to ignore evil in order to avoid making the perpetrators feel bad. The underlying root for the word translated “kind” or “kindness” in the New Testament carries the connotation of behavior that is useful and whose objective is to accomplish results that are good.
Kindness is an effort to make hard things as easy as possible and to facilitate any “good” that can be achieved. Kindness does not engage in twisting or ignoring the truth in order to sound appealing, and it is not defined by a timid demeanor nor the diminished volume and tone of our voice. Engaging in disingenuous congeniality, approval seeking, or flattery may mimic kindness, but will never accomplish the objectives God intended. Kindness is behavior governed by a heart that wants to achieve resolution to conflict, not just an avoidance of it. Kindness as God designed it seeks to develop thoughtful, useful, helpful responses that result in the cooling of tempers and the reduction of strife.
Kindness doesn’t always feel good, and things that feel good are not always kind. God said that “the wounds of a friend are more faithful,” and thus more kind, “than the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). David alluded to that when he wrote about a man who may have sounded kind on the surface, but it was a deceptive counterfeit designed to hide the cruelty in his heart.
The words of his mouth, David said, were smoother than butter, But war was in his heart; His words were softer than oil, Yet they were drawn swords. Psalm 55:21 (NKJV)
Strength, not Weakness ~
In this upside down culture, kindness is not always granted the value that God places on it. It’s frequently misconstrued as weakness, or even cowardice, but kindness as God defines it is one of the greatest strengths we’ll ever encounter. It’s hard to think about kindness when we’re faced with rudeness, insensitivity, hatefulness, arrogance, or worse. Our impulsive tendency is to retaliate and to treat others as we’ve been treated. That’s a normal response, but Jesus didn’t call us to be normal, and He didn’t send us to change the world by duplicating its methods.
Kindness is desperately needed in our country today, but it is not achieved by taking a course in applied psychology or joining a kindness group on Facebook. Kindness is listed among the characteristics of the “fruit” of the Spirit of God, and as such it is not achieved by human effort alone. Kindness has the power to transform the angry, rude, selfish atmosphere that defines our culture, and sometimes even our churches. But it is a divine attribute and like all those qualities of His nature that God offers flawed human beings, it’s only achieved by surrendering our natural impulses to the One whose love and kindness toward us led Him to die in our place. When we yield to the One who chooses the unlikely, inspires the imperfect, and empowers the unnatural, we may discover again that He can use us to achieve the impossible.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “Those who experience genuine #faith in #Christ are challenged to accept a view of themselves so radically different that God describes it as putting on a #“NewMan” (Eph. 4:22-24 NKJV).” @GallaghersPen quote. (Click here to Tweet)
- “Kindness does not amount to offering acceptance or tacit approval of behavior that is morally, socially, legally, or ethically unacceptable.” @GallaghersPen quote. (Click here to Tweet)
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- “When we yield to the One who chooses the unlikely, inspires the imperfect, and empowers the unnatural, we may discover again that He can use us to achieve the impossible.” @GallaghersPen quote. (Click here to Tweet)
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