My husband and I live in the Napa Valley region of northern California, renowned for its vineyards. Every year we revel in watching the vineyards recover from pruning with new growth that will later adorn the Fall with lavish color. Concerns always run high among vintners as to how the vines will produce “this year.” Vintners work diligently to give every advantage possible to the production of quality grapes. At harvest time we see the evidence of their work as lush clusters of grapes hang in abundance from the vines.
Observing this yearly cycle of grape growing has enhanced reading about vineyards in the Scriptures (Isa. 5:1-2; Mat. 21:33-44). In these passages it is clear that the owner of the vineyard spared no efforts in selecting fertile land, preparing the soil, and planting a choice vine in the expectation that he would have a rich harvest of grapes. These texts portrayed God’s relationship to Israel. God withheld no blessing that would help them represent him to the world. They were a privileged people for a privileged purpose. Ours is that same honor and responsibility. The evidence of our connection to the Holy Spirit is that our lives will produce the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This week we are focusing on the fruit of kindness. This virtue has captured the hearts and minds of people since ancient times:
- Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience. Paul the Apostle
- Forget injuries; never forget kindness. Confucius
- Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. Plato
- Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith. The Prophet Mohammed
- Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. Mark Twain
- Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. Mother Teresa
- This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. The Dalai Lama
Those quoted represent a wide diversity in belief systems, yet kindness is a core value to all of them.
Can we then assume that an act of kindness would appear the same regardless of who performed the deed? If four people were to offer a cup of cold water to a thirsty person, could one identify with certainly which individual was, for example, Adventist, atheist, Catholic or Wiccan? Probably not and it really does not matter. Kindness is one of those beautiful trace elements in all of us, which, as understood by Christians, points directly back to our Creator. Those who do not believe in God may explain away the desire to be kind as simply human instinct. But the Christian knows that it is a divine instinct that moves our hearts in directions of need. Because of our connection with God, each act of kindness embodies an element of worship. Our kind acts, be they ever so small, are still a way we give the world back to its Creator, one act at a time.
Several years ago the country music singer, Glen Campbell, recorded a song titled Try a Little Kindness. In the song he described a “brother standing by the road with a heavy load” and a “sister falling by the way.” The song appealed to people to “try a little kindness” and lend a helping hand to individuals in need. The popularity of the song seemed to indicate its message resonated with shared convictions in people.
But here is the dilemma—kindness can be risky in today’s world. How many parents would encourage their teenagers to pick up that lonely “brother standing by the road” or encourage young children to take candy offered by the “kind” stranger? Because of the dangers inherent in our world, are we less obligated to reach out to help others? Are we naive to assume that there are still “angels unaware” in our midst (Heb. 13:2)? God is honored not only by our care for others, but also by our care for ourselves. The Spirit who gifts us with kindness also gifts us with spiritual discernment to know how to respond to the needs of others (1 Cor. 2:12-14). We must live with the fact that we will often long to do more for people than we are able. A sweet solace is to remember that praying for others is one of the kindest things we can do for them.
Another dilemma with extending kindness occurs when we must choose between two (or more) equally compelling needs. We may long to respond to all the invitations for our help, yet we are acutely aware of the limitations in our time and resources. Christ also had to work within limits during his ministry. If he was healing in Capernaum, he could not be healing in Jericho. The Gospels do not portray Jesus racing around Palestine on horseback to get to each town in order to heal every disease and calm every fear. Jesus is portrayed as traveling by foot throughout the land, meeting the needs at hand wherever he happened to be.
The most eloquent passage in all scripture about kindness occurs in the parable of the Final Judgment. Christ is portrayed (Mat. 25:34-36, RSV) as separating all the nations of the world into two groups—those who were kind because it was the natural inclination of their heart and those whose self-absorption had blinded them to human need. Christ warmly welcomes the first group into the kingdom with the words, “Come O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for
I was hungry and you gave me food.
I was thirsty and you gave me drink.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
I was naked and you clothed me.
I was sick and you visited me.
I was in prison and you came to me.
Christ makes it very clear that he and his disciples identify with every human need expressed. People unable to follow that example exclude themselves from heaven—because they simply do not show kindness.
Christ presented the decisions made in the judgment as “turning upon one point” — what people had done or not done for the poor and suffering (Desire of Ages, 637).
“Our standing before God depends not upon the amount of light we have received, but upon the use we make of what we have. Thus even the heathen who choose the right as far as they can distinguish it are in a more favorable condition than are those who have had great light and profess to serve God, but who disregard the light, and by their daily life contradict their profession” (DA, 239).
“Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness….Their works are evident that the Holy spirit has touched their hearts and they are recognized as the children of God” (DA, 638).
Doctrine has a critical place in helping us explore and ponder spiritual truths, but unless it compels us to be more kind it might as well remain on the printed page in a closed book. God calls to us through the needs of the vulnerable to make our religion an imitation of the kindness of God. Praise be to God.