REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 64: PaNDEMICAL Kindness.
“Why are Christians so mean to one another so often?” wrote a US College president. He was reflecting primarily on his experience as a leader. He wrote, “I feel the brunt of just this kind of meanness within the Christian community, a mean-spirited suspicion and judgement that mirrors the broader culture.” [Reported by Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart IVP 2002 pages23-25].How sad and so different to the life of Jesus. The chorus provides us with a corrective to this alien way of thinking and behaving: Jesus hands were kind hands, doing good to all. It went on: Healing pain and sickness, blessing children small; and my hands should serve Him, ready at His call. Jesus’ hands were kind hands, doing good to all. [Margaret Cropper, CSSM Choruses 698, SU].
Unsurprisingly, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, standing in direct contrast to meanness in all its covert and easily recognisable ugly manifestations. Sandwiched between patience [that characteristic which helps us hold our tongue from uttering unsolicited, hasty words and unkind counsel] and goodness [the practical hands and thoughtful words which flow out of a kind heart], we have the assurance that God the Holy Spirit desires to transform our meanness into a habitual kindness; a kindness that will not allow the ugly weeds of hatred, discord, dissensions, factions and envy to see the light of day or given oxygen to grow, spread, discourage and destroy [Gal 5:19-21]. The Holy Spirit will help us do we are commanded and not to do what we are forbidden to do [Eph 4:32, 1 Thess 5:15].
The fruits of the Spirit [Gal 5:22-23] must be pursued with much intention and seriousness. We see this in Gal 5:25-26, “Let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking each other.” This is matched with similar strong warnings and exhortations in 5:16,18, 21 and our pre-emptive sowing to the Spirit rather than to our old nature [these exhortations are given to believers let us remember] put so clearly in 6:7-10.
Kindness flows to us in the grace of God to us in Christ [Rom 2:4, Titus 3:4-7] so that it might flow through us to others. Indeed, kindness to others becomes a defining mark of our faith. No kindness, no grace. No kindness shown is a sure indication that at best, we have fallen asleep and forgotten how kind God has been to us, and at worst that we have become so neglectful and unproductive that our salvation needs to be questioned and then rejuvenated [2 Peter 1:3-11 sets this out very clearly]. To continue and grow as an effective Christian I must work out ways, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to root out meanness, by replacing all its manifestations with kindness.
The fruits of kindness will be seen in many ways. Their taste will be very sweet and prized by all who see and experience the fruit, with its refreshing taste and nourishment. Here are two examples that Scripture sets before us. An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up [Prov 12:25]. Here is a ministry waiting to be revived. Instead of scrolling through our mobiles when in company why not speak kindly to others? After reviving those who have passed out in surprise, you may well be the means of cheering up another weighed down and fearful [why else would they be hiding behind their phone?]. You might even start a pandemic of friendship on the bus, around your dinner table or lunch room! William Thackeray said never lose a chance of saying a kind word. But words are not always enough, so Proverbs reminds us that he who is kind lends to the poor [19:17]. Proverbs 14:31 reminds us that whoever is kind to the needy honours God. Someone wisely noted: Kindness is a language that the dumb can speak and the deaf can hear.
Other choice fruits grow around kindness. Colossians 3:12-14 is one such garden. We are exhorted to clothe yourself [this is our responsibility] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Successful gardeners not only plant a seed but do all they can to see it grow and then mature. What God the Holy Spirit plants we are to nurture, both in ourselves and in the lives of others [hence the congregational ‘garden’ context of these verses and the following, 3:15-17]. Our responsibility within the training garden of the local congregation, is to be clothed in kindness. Kindness is to define us and flow from us. The line from the hymn, “Come down O love Divine” reminds us to ask God to enable us to be what He has called us to be: Let holy charity mine outward vesture be, and lowliness become mine inner clothing. Kindness is a manifestation of self-giving love. The pandemic has brought us many opportunities of growing and showing kindnesses to others which will bring cheer and comfort. It is a time for us to grasp the opportunity to ‘do a Jesus’ to others.
Dallas Willard went on to suggest that the way to get as many people into heaven as you can is to get heaven into as many people as you can: that is, to follow the path of genuine spiritual transformation or full-throttle discipleship of Jesus Christ. Kindness is a universal language which, when fuelled by the Holy Spirit and shown amongst and through us, is very attractive. The pandemic may turn out to be a kindness if it helps us to be kinder to others.
Peter Brain 23rd February, 2021