LIFE ON THE VINE:
What is the kindest thing someone has done for you lately? Have you tried to do something kind for someone? What is it? What do usually think about when we think about kindness? Opening the door for others. Being nice to the cashier at the store. Leaving a generous tip for the waiter. Sending a card of thanks. What do you think of when you think of kindness?
All of these are good things. Typically, kindness is equated with being polite or nice. Some years ago a movement started that called people to practice random acts of kindness. In other words, be nice and be polite. I am not sure if the goal was to make people feel better about themselves or to make the world a better place. Either way, both are good things. Now think of the fruit of the spirit, among which is kindness, and ask yourself, is kindness just being nice and polite, or is there even more to it?
Kindness in scripture is more often equated with love. The word for kindness in Hebrew and Greek is interchangeable with mercy, goodness, loyalty, faithfulness, but most of all steadfast love. Kindness is the visible action of love directed toward others. God is praised for being kind for showing his steadfast love in so many ways. There is an example in the Bible of a mortal like you and me putting the kindness of God into practice. Read from 2 Samuel 9.
Theres more in this story than politeness. Here is kindness with long lasting implications that spanned generations. What does this tell us about the character of God and the kindness of God? It shows that kindness is the fruit of the spirit that holds us together. It is love directed toward others for their sake and not just our own. Talk about life on the vine kindness is like a ground covering vine or ivy that binds the earth so that it doesnt erode away. It is the raw material of the social fiber.
Knowing what the kindness of God is, we can understand why it is hard to cultivate kindness in our culture. Our culture is hostile to kindness because ...
Knowing the disease is the first step to taking the cure. Isnt it wonderful when medical science affirms that something very simple might be a solution to some of the worst problems we know? Recently studies showed that blueberries have a greater effect at reducing the development of cancer than any other fruit. You can prevent cancer by eating blueberries! It is that simple.
- Our culture tolerates rude, angry, unkind, and violent behavior. No one really likes this, but they have become so commonplace that we have just accepted it. Talk shows and sports thrive on a culture of conflict in which it is more important to be tough and take no guff from anybody. We mentioned random acts of kindness recall that this is a take off on the phrase random acts of violence. Maybe we crave something as refreshing as nice and polite because we have suffered enough from the RAV.
- Even in church it is possible to accept and tolerate crude and unkind behavior. One of the reasons we find it difficult to debate and discuss serious and controversial matters is because there has been too many occasions of attacking the person rather than the argument. One of my delights in Restoration History was being in class with a man who had lived ministry in the 20th century. When the class began discussing one well known debating minister, this man chuckled and told us how he had seen that minister debate many times. He described how he would turn red, sweat, call his opponents names and ridicule them. Nobody bought the mans argument, said our wise classmate, but it was a sight to see him get mad. We all appreciated our classmates humor but his wisdom also reminded us that many people and many churches are hurt by such behavior.
- But this sort of behavior is a symptom of the deeper problem. The rude behavior we see is the product of radical independence and self-sufficiency. Why is there road rage? Because people act and drive as if they are the only ones who matter. Why do people get rude at restaurants? Because they hold their satisfaction in higher esteem than the person who waits on them. Our culture promotes radical independence and self-sufficiency.
- Technology has enabled us to be radically independent. Remember when phones operated on a party line? Now you and every member of your family can have your own mobile phone. Against the experience of the public concert or radio broadcast is the iPod or MP3 player which allows you to have your own personal concert with every song you can ever imagine. [Have you seen the MP3 commercial of people going about their lives stoically while their reflections enjoy their own private party?]
- But technology is not the cause; it is just the enabler. For many generations now we have praised the self-made man and the pioneer spirit. We have acclaimed the rugged individual who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. We learned from Shakespeare that we should neither a borrower or a lender be, but to thine ownself be true. Many people in our culture assume that the old maxim God helps those who help themselves is really in the Bible.
- I love to watch when two fiercely strong-willed and independent individuals fight over who will pick up the check at a restaurant. They will even trick one another out of paying and bribe waiters and waitresses. A few even threaten the friendship if the other pays the bill. Why? Why would someone risk a friendship over an act of kindness? Well even those of us who arent quite in that league still understand the awkward feeling of obligation and dependence. We would rather be the giver than the recipient because receiving erodes our feeling of self-sufficiency.
Likewise, cultivating kindness will overcome so many of the problems we suffer from as a culture. It is that simple. If David could demonstrate the kindness of God then I believe we can too with the help of the Holy Spirit. I believe there are some ways we can begin to cultivate true kindness the kindness of God ...
- Start by listening to others. If kindness is love directed to others for their sake, then we need to start paying attention to others. Genuine kindness doesnt simply give someone something they dont really need just so the giver feels better about himself or herself. For kindness to really blossom among us we need to listen carefully to one another. Just giving our time and attention to others for their sake is kindness.
- Intentionally cultivate connections with others. Kindness is not a virtue that can be developed in isolation. Kindness is all about the quality of our relationships with one another. In our fragmented, self-sufficient culture we will need to intentionally create connections. This is why we have started a Connections Ministry. This is why we have Care Groups and LIFE Groups. They are intentional, deliberate means of forming connections. (I myself have been skeptical of the role and need for such groups and ministries. Back at Winslow we didnt have to create groups and ministries to form connections. Then I realized that Winslow was a small group. Such ministries are just an intentional way of doing what is natural in a smaller church.)
- Imitate Gods loving kindness. This is what David did. This is what Paul urges us to do (Eph. 4:31-32) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Notice the description of kindness].
The Kind Ones:
It is said that in the ancient world the early Christians were sometimes called the Kind Ones rather than Christians. This is due in part to the fact that there is just one letter of difference in the word for Christ (christos) and the word for kindness (chrēstos). People were confused about the name.
I would think that it is also due to the fact that the early church demonstrated the kind of life that would make them live up to both names. My hope is that the people of our age will also be confused as to whether we are Christians or the Kind Ones. Let us strive to live up to both names.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 13 November 2005
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