Kindness

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 27, 2018

Matthew 5:38-45 Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

An Invitation to the King’s Table
In the ancient Middle East, power went to the strongest, and royal dynasties were precarious at best. When a new ruler ascended to the throne, the first order of business was to remove all members of the previous regime to make sure there were no rivals for power.

And so, when word trickled back that King Saul and his son, the Crown Prince Jonathan, had been killed by the Philistines in the battle of Jezreel, the panic in the king’s household was immediate and complete. You see it was clear that the balance of power in Israel now favored David, a man whom Saul had hunted and terrorized for the last several years. There was no reason to expect that the royal house and everyone in it was slated for anything other than destruction.

Thus, when word came that Saul and his son were dead, the house of Saul ran for its life. And in the panic, the Crown Prince’s five-year-old son—a boy named Mephibosheth—was dropped by his nurse. Both his ankles were broken, but there was no time to set them properly. And though he was carried to safety, the bones knit badly. And Mephibosheth grew up in exile, lame in both feet.

Now, imagine what that must have been like: Mephibosheth was the only living heir of the once powerful house of Saul, and nobody knew it. He was forced to live in a lowly village on the other side of the Jordan with a group of former servants who were certain that if anybody ever figured out who the little crippled boy was they’d all be dead. A sort of ancient Witness Protection Program.

And imagine the stories he would have heard growing up. Stories of lavish privilege now denied him. Stories of power and authority he would no longer inherit. Stories of how it all went terribly wrong.

And imagine who the villain in all those stories must have been. Imagine how David must have been portrayed to him—if it hadn’t been for David, his father and grandfather would not have been killed by the Philistines; if it hadn’t been for David, they would not have been forced to flee in the night and his legs would not have been broken; if it hadn’t been for David, they wouldn’t have to hide out in this backwater little town.

Imagine what that must have been like: from the age of five onward Mephibosheth was trained to live in fear and hate—and the reason for his fear, and the object of his hate, was King David.

And then, one day, years later, strangers came and summoned him to appear before the King. There could be only one explanation for this summons—he’d been found out! David was searching the land from top to bottom, determined to wipe out any rivals for his throne. David had suffered much at the hand of Saul, there was no way he was going to let any of Saul’s descendants live.

Imagine yourself in that situation—imagine the fear, the bitterness, the sense of helplessness.

When Mephibosheth was brought before the king he fell to his knees. He called himself a “dead dog”, he cowered in terror, he was ready to die.

But King David surprised him King David called him by name. King David told him: “Don’t be afraid.” King David invited him to take a place at the royal table.

Eugene Peterson writes:

What Mephibosheth didn’t know when he was brought into David’s court, and could never have imagined in his wildest dreams, is that he was there to be loved. A few days earlier David had asked if there were any descendants of Saul around whom he could love in his friend Jonathan’s name. There had been wars to fight and borders to establish in securing his authority as king; now he was ready to do the work of king. He began with love. (Leap Over a Wall, 173)

Mephibosheth was not brought back out of a desire for retribution, but out of a desire to show love. David brought Mephibosheth back because love is kind.

You can read about Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9, and you’ll see that kindness is precisely what is at play here. David says it in verse 1:

Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness, for Jonathan’s sake?

And he repeats it in verse 7:

I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.

Mephibosheth has no reason to expect anything good from David—he has all sorts of reasons to expect bad—and yet, the cripple finds a seat at the King’s table because the King wants to show kindness.

What is Kindness?
We are in the midst of a series of sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23. This great list of characteristics that the Apostle Paul says will be evident in the lives of those who are living in the grace of Jesus and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We’re talking about how we can cultivate this fruit, and see it ripen in our lives.

And today we are talking about the fifth fruit on that list: kindness.

And I wanted to tell you the story of David and Mephibosheth because I think it gives us a great picture of what kindness looks like. Here’s this king, David, who is totally in control. He is free to do whatever he wants to do with Mephibosheth—he can ignore him, he can be kind to him, or he can have him executed. Mephibosheth has nothing to offer to the king. If anything, he’s dangerous to David, because his continued existence always poses the threat that dissatisfied Saul loyalists will rally around his name. And yet, David chooses kindness. He chooses to do good to Mephibosheth, even though he has no reason to expect anything in return.

In the Old Testament, the word that often gets translated as kindness is one of the Bible’s best words. It’s the Hebrew word chesed, and it’s a word that’s often used to describe the way that God loves us. It’s a word that describes God’s unconditional love: His faithful love, His loyal-love, His loving-kindness. At the end of Psalm 23, when we read that God’s “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” one of the words is chesed. In Psalm 136, when the refrain “His love endures forever” is used again and again, the word for love is chesed.

In the New Testament, the word that gets translated as kindness is an equally good word. It’s cherostote, a word that comes from charis, which is the Greek word for “grace.” So kindness is a gracious love. It’s a love that is given freely and generously. Cherostote is the word used in the Fruit of the Spirit passage as well as in 1 Corinthians 13 when we are told that love is kind.

So, let’s attempt a definition of kindness. Kindness is doing good to others, even if they don’t do good to you. Kindness is love given with no expectations. It’s love without strings. Kindness is loving other people the way God loves us. It’s an unconditional, gracious, and lasting love

Is Kindness Weakness?
Now, I need to admit that we do not live in a world that always promotes kindness.

In fact, I think we often look at kindness as a sort of weakness. It’s just not very “manly” to be kind. If you’re nice, you’re soft. Sometimes you’ll run into people who are afraid to show love because they’re afraid to look weak. Dads who won’t hug their children. Women who feel the need to be severe in order to succeed in the business world.

In our competitive culture, being kind is often seen as being a loser. Imagine what would happen to the game of football if all the players decided to be kind—instead of tackling each other they’d be helping the other team into the endzone.

Or, consider a more serious example. The German philosopher Nietszche hated Christianity precisely because it encourages kindness. He felt that kindness was actually draining the strength of his people. He felt that far too much energy was being spent trying to care for lepers, supporting the handicapped, reaching out to the oppressed. He believed that if the world could be rid of Christianity then the strongest members of humanity could get on with the business of being strong and the weak would die out. He believed that with belief in Christ out of the way, a race of supermen would be produced. It was this philosophy that led directly to Adolph Hitler and the horrors of the Third Reich.

My point is: that thought is out there—whether you’re trying to be macho or trying to create a super race—the thought is out there that kindness is weakness.

But I offer to you today that it actually takes great power to be kind. It takes great power to do good to other people even when you have no expectation that they will do good back. It takes great fortitude to wash the wounds of the leper or to feed the homeless. It takes great strength to care for a severely disabled child. It takes power to invite the grandson of your enemy to take a place at your table.

And that power is the power of love.

Loving unconditionally takes great strength because you spend yourself with no expectation that you will be paid back. Kindness is not weakness. Kindness is power, the power to give and love and do good simply for the sake of doing good. Because it is the right thing to do.

Hard Sayings
I think this helps us to understand some of the hardest things the Bible tells us to do. Turn with me, if you would, in your Bibles to Matthew 5:38-46. These are some of the most famous things Jesus ever said, and yet they are probably some of the hardest to live out. Matthew 5:38-46. Here’s what Jesus says:

38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

These are hard sayings. Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Pray for those who persecute you? The way it used to be said—“Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”—that sounds more like it. Enemies are, by definition, people who try to hurt you. The thing to do with them, as everybody knows, is to hurt back. An eye for an eye, that seems like the way to go.

But, of course, Jesus sees things differently. He’s talking about being kind. He’s talking about doing good to others even if they don’t do good to you.

Loving like this is hard. It takes strength.

But it is one of the characteristics that will be evident in our lives as we allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in us.

So using this passage from Matthew 5 as a guide, I’d like to give four steps that we can all take to help us practice kindness. Here is how we can cultivate kindness in our lives.

Do Not Engage
First, End the Cycle. Kindness begins by acting differently.

Verses 38 and 39:

38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Jesus starts with conventional wisdom. “You have heard it said.” In other words, this is how most people think. This is the natural order of things. “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”

Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament here, this is part of the Mosaic law code. It’s known by the Latin phrase Lex Talionis, or “law of the talon.” It’s a principle of justice, a rule of proportionality. Essentially, this law was given to make sure people didn’t go overboard in the punishment of crime. If a man knocks another man’s teeth out, for example, it would be inappropriate to institute the death penalty.

But Jesus see this law, which is meant to temper our instincts for revenge, being used as an excuse for treating one another badly. The basic principle for those who live by the rule of Lex Talionis is: treat others as they treat you. If someone insults me, I insult them in return. If someone strikes me, I strike back. If someone cheats me in a business deal, I go out of my way to cheat them. And if someone is kind to me, then—and only then—will I be kind to them as well.

Jesus is not impressed by this. Treat others the way they treat you is not a very inspiring way to live. You see that in verse 46:

46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

Jesus basically shrugs His shoulders and says: If you only treat people in accordance with the way they treat you…big whoop! ANYBODY can do THAT!

Instead, Jesus gives us the Golden Rule. Not, “treat others the way they treat you” but “treat others the way you want to be treated.” (Matt. 7:12)
• Do you like to be struck on your cheek? Of course you don’t. So don’t strike someone else on the cheek, even if they strike you first.
• Do you like to be gossiped about? Nobody does. So don’t gossip about others, even if you believe they are running their mouths about you.
Don’t make your love for others dependent upon their love for you. Be bigger than that. Be stronger than that.

Kindness begins by breaking the cycle of conventional wisdom. Kindness starts when we refuse to engage in the eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth pattern of treating one another.

Something Extra
Second, and this gets even harder: Go the extra mile. Give something extra, from the heart. Verses 40-42:

40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

The scenarios Jesus paints here are unkind. I picture Roman soldiers forcing helpless Israelites to give up their shirts. Slave masters forcing their servants to run pointless errands. It’s oppressive.

But Jesus says: “Go the extra mile.” Don’t just do what is demanded, do more. This is really the heart of kindness. If you do what is required, then you are doing your duty. But if you do something extra, more than expected, then you are being kind.

And while—hopefully--we’ll never live in an oppressive society where we can be randomly selected for persecution; you can see how what Jesus is saying might work in your relationships. The wife who takes the time to wash her husband’s car. The husband who surprises his wife by painting the bathroom while she’s gone for a weekend (in the color she wanted!). The mom who drops a piece of candy into her child’s lunch. The employee who meets her boss’s unreasonable demands with a smile on her face. And so on.

As you think about the people that you encounter on a regular basis, ask yourself how you can do something extra for them. Be creative in finding something unexpected and beyond the norm that you can do in kindness this week.

Love the Unlovable
Third, be kind in spite of people. Be kind, even when the other person doesn’t deserve it. Verses 43-44:

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

This is a hard saying. In the context of Jesus’ day this invokes images of Israelites being forced to pay unreasonable taxes or being hung on crosses. Jesus is advocating non-violence in the face of extreme persecution.

But in the context of interpersonal relationships Jesus is “talking about the kind of love that consists more in how we treat people than how we feel about them.” (Bast, What Love is Like, 37) Jesus is not saying that we have to have warm and fuzzy feelings in our hearts for our enemies, He’s not saying that we have to somehow feel great about people who are hurtful and mean and unfair; but He is saying that we have to be good to them. We have to be kind.

Former Words of Hope President David Bast writes:

The natural human instinct is to offer payment in kind; hatred for hatred, love for love, kindness for kindness, injury for injury. “You scratch my back,” we say, “and I’ll scratch yours. Treat me right and I’ll be your friend, but cross me and I’ll make you regret it.” That is the natural human way. It makes sense to us.

Jesus’ way is the way of love. It says to repay evil with good and to be kind even when you are dealing with enemies who are unkind. (Bast, 37)

So, even when you and your spouse are in the midst of an argument, you can think kindly of them when you are at the store and bring home their favorite food. Even when things are tense between you and your parents, you can say kind things about them to your friends. Even when your neighbor is always crabbing about your car being parked on the street, you can help him out by raking his leaves.

We don’t have to always like them, but we can be kind. And who knows? Maybe as we practice being kind those warm feelings will develop (or return).

Learn from the Master
Fourth, learn from the master. It helps to remember that Jesus asks for nothing from us that He does not do Himself. Verse 45:

45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Jesus says that when we love with kindness we are loving like our Father in heaven. God knows what it means to be kind to His enemies. He knows what it means to love without conditions.

In a parallel passage, in Luke, Jesus says that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (6:35) God makes a regular habit of doing good to people even when they don’t do good in return. He is kind even when His kindness is not appreciated.

And, of course, we see this best in the life and mission of Jesus Himself. The most powerful Being in the Universe, and out of love he used his power as servant-power. Out of love, He gave Himself in kindness. He washed dirty feet, He wept with the weeping, He kept company with the rejected, and—of course—in the greatest act of kindness the world has ever seen He took the place of guilty sinners by dying on the cross.

When we were undeserving, when we were helpless, when we were far away from God, God’s grace came running toward us in Christ Jesus. It sought us out; it found us when we were far astray. And just as the kindness of King David brought Mephibosheth to a position at the king’s very table, so the kindness of God does more than just get us to Heaven by the skins of our teeth. We are accepted in the beloved; we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ; we are a people of God’s own choosing, and all because of God’s amazing kindness and grace toward us. That is what kindness looks like.

The Jesus Questions
Finally, let me give a mental exercise that might help you practice kindness. This exercise comes from John Stott, who I talked about the first week of this series. John Stott was a great English pastor who was one of the most influential evangelicals of the last century. He’s also the author of the daily prayer that many of you have placed strategically in your homes or offices so that that you can pray for the fruit of the Spirit to ripen in your life.

Anyway, John Stott had a sermon on two particular verses from Colossians 3. The verses are 3:17:

17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.

And 3:23:

23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.

These verses obviously have a lot in common. They both talk about “whatever you do.” And they both talk about doing whatever you do with Jesus in mind. But Stott points out an intriguing difference.

The first verse, verse 17, talks about doing whatever you do in the name of Jesus. To do something in the name of someone else means to act as you believe that person would act. You try to imagine what Jesus would do in your particular situation, and then do what He would do. To act in the name of Jesus means to act as through Jesus were acting in and through you. If I were Jesus, what would I do for that other person? What would Jesus do in this situation? How would Jesus act?

The second verse, verse 23, talks about doing whatever you do as though you were working for the Lord. In other words, if the person in front of me right now was Jesus, how would I treat Him? Doing things as though you are working for the Lord means imagining that Jesus is the ultimate recipient of every action you take. Every word you speak is ultimately a word spoken to Jesus. Every dollar you spend is ultimately spent for Jesus. Every minute of work you put in is actually work for Jesus. So, as you move through your day, as you interact with people, ask yourself: if this were Jesus that I was dealing with, how would I act?

I think we can agree: if I were Jesus, I would treat people kindly. I’d show compassion and mercy and patience and I’d be generous and helpful and so on.

And, if that were Jesus in front of me, I would want to be super kind. I’d want Him to know how much I love Him and care about Him and value Him and appreciate Him.

So, the helpful exercise that John Stott gives is what I’m going to call “the Jesus Questions.” Stott said we should go through each day with these two questions in our minds:

• What would I do for people if I were Jesus?
• What would I do for people if they were Jesus?

Can you imagine the difference it would make if we asked ourselves these questions every day? Can you imagine how much kinder we would be if we asked ourselves these questions and lived out the answers?

I’ll admit, I rarely get this right. But it is something to shoot for.

With everyone I meet, I need to meet them in the name of Jesus. I need to talk with them as though Jesus were talking through me.

And, with everyone I meet, I need to deal with them as though I were working for Jesus. I need to treat them as though they are Jesus, standing before me.

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness. Ask yourself the Jesus questions, and be kind.