There are certain words in the Bible that travel together. Glory and grace are such a pair and can often be seen in close proximity to each other. Paul uses the grace, mercy, and peace triplets in introducing his letters. Mercy and truth sometimes meet together and righteousness and peace have been seen kissing each other (see Psalm 85:10).
I like to call words like this “companions” to each other. Noticing these patterns can help amplify the meaning and significance of each individual word. They can give a sense of balance to each characteristic that the word describes.
I have a good friend that is kind. She describes herself as kind and I can definitely see that about her. I am thankful for the kindness she has shown to me. Because her kindness is such a beautiful characteristic, I have been thinking a lot about how to have more of it my life.
Here is a definition of kindness from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
Good will; benevolence; that temper or disposition which delights in contributing to the happiness of others, which is exercised cheerfully in gratifying their wishes, supplying their wants or alleviating their distresses; benignity [goodness] of nature. Kindness ever accompanies love.
The Bible speaks of “the kindness and love of God our Saviour” (Titus 3:4), and God’s “exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). God is kind and shows His kindness with the companions of love and grace. In fact, one of the companions of kindness forms a compound word—lovingkindness—that appears 21 times in the Psalms alone.
“Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee” (Psalm 143:8).
“Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee” (Psalm 63:3).
Those of us who know God can certainly see His lovingkindness and have experienced it countless times. But I want to shift the focus to human kindness and its companions.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31, 32, emphasis added).
There is a command here to be “kind one to another,” which is an important aspect of relating to other people. How do we know if our kindness is genuine and fulfills the command? We can see if it is accompanied by two of its companions: tenderheartedness and forgiveness.
True kindness will be motivated by a tender heart, a heart that is open to the value and worth of other people. A heart that recognizes that pain and grief are common to everyone in this life and that kindness can give a little relief to the other person. A tender heart knows that kindness is often taken for granted or rejected outright by other people. Our Lord uses His own kindness to unthankful people as an example to us:
“But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35, emphasis added).
A hard heart makes true kindness difficult if not impossible. That is why the text tells us to put away things like bitterness, wrath, anger, and clamor; things that take tenderness out of the heart. When tenderness departs, being “nice” may take over for true kindness. But that niceness is often accompanied by sarcasm and cynicism that rise out of a hard heart.
Keeping the heart tender will require forgiveness. Let’s face it, genuine kindness is really tested by those that do us wrong. And it is not just kindness toward that person, it is our level of kindness in general. When bitterness and unforgiveness creep into our hearts, it spreads to other relationships. We seek allies against our offenders, making it easy for evil speaking and gossip enter in. Can true kindness really co-exist with an unforgiving spirit?
We can wait for other people to “deserve” our kindness or wait for them to apologize so we can forgive them. But that gives others an unhealthy power over us and the internal state of our hearts. The admonition to “keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” belongs to me alone and not others.
This is not to suggest that we should take abuse—including verbal and emotional—from others and that we shouldn’t set healthy boundaries in our relationships. Some of the boundaries may need to be conversational boundaries in order to put away the clamor and evil speaking referred to in the Bible text we are looking at. In some cases, we may need the space of physical boundaries in order to return to true kindness.
When I am kind to someone that is unkind, it is not an endorsement of their bad behavior. It simply means that I am trying to be obedient to my Lord and not make the condition of my heart dependent on the behavior of others.
It is clear to me that kindness is a characteristic to be sought after and cultivated. And I can look at two of her companions to see how authentic and healthy my kindness really is. Am I tenderhearted regardless of the actions of others? Or do I sense hardness, sarcasm, and a critical spirit getting in? Am I willing to forgive—over and over like our Lord has forgiven me—or am I becoming bitter and grudging?
Kindness is beautiful. And so are her companions.
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