I once sat and listened to a new headteacher in a county Secondary school speak of her commitment to kindness as being central to the ethos she wanted for her new school community. The school wasn’t a church school, so her choice of words was meant in general terms. At the point of the new headteacher taking questions on her presentation, a local vicar raised his hand. He asked, with a smile, the following question: “Were you aware that, according to scripture, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit?” Some of us gathered cringed inwardly. His question was earnestly meant, and even though it may have had a mixed reception, he had a point. What does kindness mean in our cultural context today? How can it enhance our mission?
Kindness might come easily to you. That’s great if it is true. Maybe you are one of those people who is blessed with a kind countenance and cheery disposition. Perhaps you are always ready with an encouraging word or a forgiving gesture. Or it could be that we find being kind one of the hardest things to do. The busyness of the day overtakes us; we get pre-occupied and distracted. Then perhaps we forget to say “excuse me” or don’t let someone turn before us at a junction. There are small kindnesses that can be the happy punctuation of our day. The kindness that Paul speaks about is greater than just being a nice bloke or having a cheerful way of being. It, like all the fruits of the Spirit, has a richness to it that can bring colour and life to our lives and also to the life of our churches. Let’s have a look at the word and it’s use.
“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30
The word Jesus uses for ‘easy’ in this quotation from the Bible, is the same root as Paul’s ‘kindness’ in Galatians 5:22. It is also the same root as when Luke reports Jesus talking of the sweet quality of the old wine. There is something here about freshness, sweetness, gentleness and ease. Are they characteristics we associate with kindness? Or do we see kindness more as a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement? If I’m kind, then others are more likely to be kind in return. If I show kindness, then I might see it more. That seems more cynical than sweet. More futile than fresh. More self-serving than Spirit-filled.
Paul encourages us to show kindness to one another. To show gentleness, consideration and respect to those we live and work with. Not to bolster our own well-being, but as a response to what God has done for us, through his Spirit. It might take an effort. It might be the last thing we want to be or to do. It might take some sacrifice or other. Let us start with ourselves. We cannot force others to be kind to us. We cannot control kindness in the wider world. But we can ask God to show us how to be kind. We can then even practise it in our lives. How could we show somebody kindness today? Why don’t you see if you can be kinder to the people around you this week?
And what about our mission as a church? Paul’s image of a body is helpful here. If we are kind to our bodies in our diet, exercise and lifestyle, then it is more likely to stay fit, healthy and strong. What a brilliant mission we would have, if the world saw how kind we were to each other!