Of all the commandments in the Bible, there are some that your neighbor would prefer you obey more than others. One of those commandments is the charge to “be kind” (Ephesians 4:32a). While we are required to obey all of God’s commands, I want to focus our attention on one that, arguably, can have the greatest impact on those around us. In truth, every command from God’s Law-Word is an expression of love for our neighbor. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The Apostle Paul said, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). Anytime someone obeys God’s Law, they will be blessings others. However, being kind to others is one of the most powerful ways we can immediately display the character of God to others. God is love and one of love’s defining characteristics is kindness.
Some have erroneously set up God’s Law against love, saying you can live by Law or you can live by love. However, Jesus teaches us that we are to live by the Law of Love. Being kind to others is one of the most powerful and poignant expressions of love. In fact, the great chapter on love in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, begins its description of love by saying, “Love is patient and kind.” It is not a stretch to say that these two aspects of love (patience and kindness) are the essential elements and everything else in 1 Corinthians 13 (not being rude, thinking the best, not being irritable) are expansions of what it means to be patient and kind.
What does it mean to be kind? Daniel Webster, in his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, gives us a definition. I prefer Webster’s original dictionary because Daniel Webster was a man who believed that meaning in life (and for words) must be rooted in God’s truth. His definitions are filled with prooftexts from the Bible. His entry for the adjective kind is as follows:
1. Disposed to do good to others, and to make them happy by granting their requests, supplying their wants or assisting them in distress; having tenderness or goodness of nature; benevolent; benignant.
God is kind to the ungrateful, and to the evil. Luke 6:35.
Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted. Ephesians 4:32.
No, we cannot always give others what they want. No, we cannot simply live our lives to make others happy. However, I fear we may often neglect kindness simply because we use the excuse that we “cannot make everyone happy.” However, as we consider kindness, I trust we will see that there is much we can learn from the example of our Lord, and other Christians in the past, about the great call for us to be kind to others.
Being is kind means doing good to others. It can certainly mean giving things to others. In his entry for kindness, Webster cites Acts 28:2. In this passage, the vessel the Apostle Paul was traveling on was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. The native people showed hospitality by kindling a fire and welcoming the travelers. This was deemed by Luke as being shown “unusual kindness.” We may obey the call to be kind by providing for others what they need. The poor and needy in our communities can be shown kindness by providing them with a meal, shelter, or other resources. We do not do these things in order to get back something, but simply to show kindness.
Kindness also goes beyond giving material things. It is a mindset that causes you to be focused on doing good to others simply for the sake of doing good to them. It means you are compassionate with others’ failings, you are eager to understand their struggles and hardships, you are quick to forgive and overlook offenses, you are always seeking for ways to build them up and encourage them. You are not focused only on your own wants, needs, and desires, but on the other person’s. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The man who is genuinely concerned for the interests of his sibling, his classmate, his co-workers, his employees, his wife, his children, his friends, his enemies, will no doubt be remembered by others as a kind man—a man who was more concerned with how others were feeling than with his own well-being.
To understand kindness fully we must understand that GOD IS KIND. Every command God issues to us, in some way or another, is a reflection of his character. Jesus calls us to be kind to others because our Father in heaven is kind to others. Luke 6:35 says, “But love your enemies, and do good [see, kindness is expressed in doing 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.” We may easily note how God is kind to believers, but how is God kind to the ungrateful and the evil? Put simply, he does good to them. He grants so many of their wishes in his mercy and kindness. He gives them life. He sustains them. He enables and empowers them to enjoy the blessings of family, friends, laughter, love, joy, and beauty. The warm embrace of a loved one. The joy of holding a newborn baby. The thrill of being victorious or successful. The satisfaction of a job well done. The enjoyment of a delicious meal. And a million other pleasures and gifts that God gives. These actions on God’s part of doing good, I believe, start with God’s mindset towards these people. God wants to do good to others. He delights in showering people (the righteous and the wicked) with blessings. He finds no joy in having to judge the wicked, though he will certainly do it with perfect righteousness and justice. Bur rather, he finds joy in showing kindness to his creatures.
Just as God is kind to others, even those that hate him, we are to be kind to others. God is not like the god of deism. He did not create the world like a clock, spin it to get it going, and then retreat to the distance to see what would happen. He is intimately involved in this world. He provides food for the lions (Psalm 104:21). He feeds the birds (Matthew 6:26). If he does that, how much more is he involved in providing for your unbelieving neighbor, or your unbelieving co-worker?
I would like you to think of someone in your life that you can show kindness to. If possible, think of an unbeliever. Or think of someone that gets under your skin from time to time. I want you to realize that God is personally interested in being kind to that person. God is already being kind to that person. He personally provides them with things in order to make them happy. Though this person may be rejecting his love, God is kind to them, not simply allowing them, but actually actively providing them with the things they need to be happy: food, shelter, friendships, beauty, love goodness, mercy. No doubt, their happiness will be shallow and incomplete without Christ, but nevertheless, God is kind to them. And God is not kind to this person in order to get something in return. Yes, this person owes God his or her love and obedience, but God is kind to this person simply for the sake of being kind—because God is kind—not in order to get something in return. For what does anyone have that God needs that he should be kind to seek a favor in return? If God can be kind to this person, I trust you can be too. If God can be concerned with this person’s well-being, happiness, feelings, and desires, with no concern for what this person may do for him, then that is the example that we should follow.
Furthermore, we may note that God’s Law explicitly calls us to kindness. Being kind is not a new invention that Jesus introduced in the New Testament. Rather, it is a reflection of the character of God and therefore expressed clearly in his Law to us. Exodus 23:4-5 say, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of the one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.” Of this passage, Charles Ellicott notes, “Here…we have a sort of anticipation of Christianity—active kindness to an enemy being required, even when it costs us some trouble.” It was generally accepted that a man’s enemies did not have any claims on him. Here in God’s Law, however, and magnified further by Jesus words and actions, we see that God lays a claim on us to treat all people with kindness, even our enemies.
Undoubtedly, Jesus is a kind man. During his earthly ministry, he was moved to help others. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd.” His acts of healing and provision were genuine acts of kindness. Yes, Jesus would tell the crowds the truth—if their interest was merely in physical sustainment, he warned them of their spiritual danger. But it was his kindness that led him to help them to begin with. Jesus did not heal and provide food simply as a means to show who he was or to reveal people’s true desires. He healed people and provided food because he felt compassion and chose to respond with kindness. In John 21:25 we read: “Now there were also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Imagine all the small acts of kindness that Jesus did throughout his life.
What is recorded in Scripture is only a fraction of a fraction of the thirty-odd years that Jesus spent on earth. Think of all the unwritten acts of healing, provision, and compassion during his earthly ministry. Think of his patience and kindness towards his disciples and his enemies during those three years. Think further of the three decades prior to the commencement of his earthly ministry. Think of his years as a small boy, showing kindness to his siblings and playmates. Choosing to build others up and looking for ways to reduce other people’s burdens. Think of the kindness he showed as a teenager. Looking for ways to serve his parents and help around the home. Think of the kindness he showed as a young man, going out of his way to help others. Jesus of Nazareth is the embodiment of love. And love is kind.
One of the wonderful things about studying church history is that we get glimpses of the power of Jesus in the lives of others. Occasionally we even see those of whom the world is not worthy— those of whom we can genuinely seek to follow as they have followed Christ. One such man was Eric Liddell. The Olympic champion chose a life of service for Christ in China rather than the riches of sports stardom in Britain. After winning gold in the 1924 Olympics, no one, perhaps not even God, would have faulted Eric Liddell for staying in Britain and preaching Christ among the lost and needy of the British Isles. But to Liddell, China was his home and he wanted to help the Chinese. His life is a remarkable story of faith and courage and strength, but most of all, to me, it is the story of kindness.
After his pregnant wife and two daughters sailed to Canada, Liddell soon found himself in a Japanese internment camp that was set up for allied nationals during World War II. It was amid the squalid and pathetic conditions that the love and kindness of Eric Liddell shone forth so brightly. At one point nearly 2,000 prisoners were contained within an area about the size of three football fields. Liddell’s entire life was characterized by kindness, but it reached its zenith there, when so many others were overcome with self-pity and discouragement. Liddell chose the way of love. He chose to serve others and respond to such evil with kindness, not simply to his fellow inmates, but also to the Japanese guards.
In his book For the Glory, Duncan Hamilton describes Eric Liddell’s actions at the prison camp:
In the beginning, the camp was filthy and unsanitary, the pathways strewn with debris and the living quarters squalid. The claustrophobic conditions brought predictable consequences. There were verbal squabbles, sometimes flaring into physical fights, over the meager portions at mealtimes and also the question of who was in front of whom in line to receive them. There were disagreements, also frequently violent, over privacy and personal habits and hygiene as well as perceived idleness, selfishness, and pilfering.
Liddell was different. He overlooked the imperfections of character that beset even the best of us, doing so with a gentlemanly charm.
With infinite patience, he also gave special attention to the young, who affectionately called him “Uncle Eric”…Skeptical questions are always going to be asked when someone is portrayed without apparent faults and also as the possessor of standards that appear so idealized and far-fetched to the rest of us. Liddell can sound too virtuous and too honorable to be true, as if those who knew him were either misremembering or consciously mythologizing. Not so. The evidence is too overwhelming to be dismissed as easily as that. Amid the myriad moral dilemmas in [the internment camp at] Weihsien, Liddell’s forbearance was remarkable. No one could ever recall a single act of envy, pettiness, hubris, or self-aggrandizement from him. He bad-mouthed nobody. He didn’t bicker. He lived daily by the most unselfish credo, which was to help others practically and emotionally.
Whenever we see men and women who are living Christ-like lives, it is a small opportunity to behold the beauty of Christ again, just as those who saw his kindness and miracles in the first century did. Men and women like Eric Liddell are satisfied with being like their master. They show us—yes, imperfectly—the beauty and character of Christ lived out in the various contexts of human existence, in this case a World War II prison camp. It is in this way that studying church history can show us, in a small way, how Christ would have lived and loved in every era of human existence.
Kindness characterized Eric Liddell. Whenever he won a race—and he won plenty—he always gave his opponents the benefit of the doubt, suggesting a rough schedule, unfamiliar terrain, or a myriad of other factors had hindered his opponent and caused him to be able to beat them. He never gloated, never bragged.
He was kind to his wife. In the brief messages he was permitted to send via the Red Cross, he never pitied himself. He never focused on his plight. Instead, despite his failing health, lack of food, and ever-increasing workload, he put the most positive spin on his time in the prison camp, never for a moment considering his well-being before his wife’s. He was too kind to draw attention to the horrible conditions that would cause his wife to worry more about him than she already was. In his final letter, he opens with, “I have received some of your letters and have news up to January. The hot summer is over, and we are enjoying the cooler autumn already.” Instead of focusing on his own problems and struggles, he thought of his wife and showed kindness to her by being positive and encouraging in his notes about life in the internment camp.
He was kind to his fellow inmates in a thousand little ways. The prison camp was home to a dozen different social classes and Liddell served them all. One prostitute remembered that Eric Liddell was the only man there to have come to her room not “demanding favors.” He went to her room to help her and serve her.
Not least of all, he showed kindness to the Japanese guards, embodying Jesus’ command to love our enemies. Stephen Metcalf was a fellow inmate with Liddell in China. In one of his acts of kindness, Liddell gave Metcalf his worn-out running shoes—a precious commodity considering the fact that many had to wear straps of cloth on their feet instead of shoes. Metcalf later recalled that Liddell gave him two things:
Eric gave me two things. (1) His worn out running shoes. My own shoes had worn out and it was mid-winter. Three weeks later he died of a massive brain tumour. (2) The best thing he gave me was his “Baton of Forgiveness.” He taught me to love my enemies, the Japanese, and to pray for them.
Inspired by Liddell’s example of kindness and teaching on forgiveness, Metcalf answered General MacArthur’s call for missionaries to Japan after the war. Metcalf said, “I received his missionary baton of forgiveness and the torch of the gospel which, with the Sermon on the Mount has been shared with hundreds of Japanese.”
We learn from the example of our Father in heaven, God’s Law, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christians like Eric Liddell, that kindness is truly the blessed way. Being kind causes you to focus on the interests of others and removes the opportunity for self-pity and self-seeking.
The benefits of kindness are myriad. Nevertheless, we do not show kindness in order to “get things,” because this is not why God shows kindness to people. He does not show kindness in order to be “paid back.” Kindness is its own reward. With that being said, research confirms the benefits of kindness. Being kind leads to better health, more happiness, and deeper, more meaningful relationships. This confirms God’s Word, which says in Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
In closing, I hope each one of us can think about some practical ways that we can be kind to people in our lives. Husbands: in what ways can you show kindness to your wife? How can you look for practical ways to ease her burden, practically and emotionally? Wives: in what ways can you show kindness to your husband? Children: be kind to your siblings, especially your younger brothers and sisters. Do not look to take advantage of them but instead look for small, helpful ways that you can make them happy. These small acts of kindness, multiplied over the course of your life will make up your character and flavor all your relationships.
In the workplace: Do not let bitterness, gossip, envy or anything else prevent you from showing kindness and compassion to every single person. This does not mean you cannot speak the truth or never say something that might not sit well with someone, but it does mean that we will make every effort to do it in a most kind and compassionate way. Even Jesus’ harshest condemnations of the religious leaders of his day did not prevent him from showing them kindness—praying for them, teaching them, and even eating with them.
If someone wrongs you, think of ways you can serve them. How can you show kindness in spite of the unkind word that was spoken to you? How can you make his or her life easier? How can you be a blessings to them? The first step in showing kindness to others is in praying for them.
Stephen Metcalf, commenting on how Eric Liddell taught him to pray for his enemies, said, “When you pray, you are God-centred; when you hate, you are self-centred. It is hard to hate the people God loves, praying changes your focus. From this time, I began to pray for Japan. My prayers didn’t appear to change the Japanese but I found my anger and animosity was changing.” If we pray as Jesus taught us to, it is hard to be unkind to the people that God is kind to. God is kind to all, even the unthankful and the unbelievers. We too are required to do the same. “Be ye therefore perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”