As some of you know I often speak at the Clearbrook Lutheran Church. Lutherans like short sermons. They start squirming in their seats after about 17 minutes. Anyway, my mother used to say that, "If you can't say it in 20 minutes, you can't say it." In fact, I'm getting pretty good at saying what I have to say in 20 mins.
The spiritual fruit of kindness is smack dab in the middle of the list of these nine characters of the life that is changed by the Holy Spirit.
If you spend much time on the computer you know that you can download lots of free programs. Usually free programs are limited versions of the more advanced program the company wants you to buy. For most of us the free program is enough. It meets our needs.
This is kind of like how we were created. God is the big computer program. We are the limited computer program. That's all were supposed to live.
Then sin entered the world and man became separated from God. We no longer had the close fellowship with him that he wanted us to have. But even though he was angry and disappointed by our sin he did not take his basic character away from us. Can you imagine what this world be like if he had removed his character from us? This world would be a bad, bad place. It would be a brutal, beastly world and it wouldn't have lasted three generations. Instead of Cain killing Abel it probably would've been Eve killing Adam.
The desire for these things nine characteristics of God and the ability to do these things crosses all time, all races and all faiths. Pagans have willingly died for their loved ones. Kindness, goodness and gentleness are not the hallmarks of Christianity. They are the hallmarks of humanity. People like to point out these characteristics in animals, particularly love and faithfulness…but that those are animal instincts. For us the character of God in us is a deliberate moment by moment choice.
It is a choice because the problem is sin. Sin tarnishes love by taking selfless agape love and plunges it down to the gutter of self gratifying erotic love. Sin tarnishes peace by us wanting peace with others on our terms for our goals and our purposes. Sin tarnishes kindness and goodness by us judging whether someone in need is worthy of our kindness and goodness.
We are called to follow the example of the daily life of Jesus, the Son of Man, because in his human perfectness, he lived out every one of these fruits of the Spirit. The life of Jesus is the life we could have been had it not been for sin.
Let's take a closer look at kindness. Here's what kindness is.
Kindness is meeting people's needs in a Godly way at the perfect time.
Once again, kindness is meeting people's needs...
In a Godly way…
At the perfect time.
Kindness is always a response to a need. It's interesting that we usually don’t speak of kindness in reference to physical needs but in reference to emotional needs. When we say someone is kind it isn't because theyshowed up at the door with a bag of groceries or because they gave someone a ride.
They are kind to because someone was fearful and they calmed their fear. They are kind because someone was frustrated because their fingers couldn't dial the phone and they said, "That’s okay; let me do it for you." They are kind because they saw someone struggling in life and they came alongside and walked with them, at their pace.
True kindness is sacrificial. The person who is kind at heart is giving a bit of themselves to the other person. They are saying to themselves, "I could ignore this, but I really can't." I just realized was I was kind yesterday. I was in Bellingham in the morning and over lunch. I drove past Arby's and said to myself, "I'd like an Arby's sandwich." Then I thought to myself, "I bet Debbie would like a red rose."
Now, I could have ignored that it was about time to bring her another rose and satisfied my need and desire, mostly my desire, for two Arby Jr. sandwiches with horseradish. But in kindness, I decided to sacrifice what I wanted in favor of what someone else needed.
That's because kindness flows from a heart to the hand. Kindness is an attitude. That why it says in Colossians 3:12 that we need to "put on" kindness. We take on kindness and he becomes a part of us.
So not only is true kindness sacrificial, but true kindness is "risky". Kindness can be misinterpreted as someone trying to get on the good side of somebody. Some people see kindness is a weakness and even an injustice when kindness is extended to people who have done wrong. Kindness can be misinterpreted as being manipulative.
No doubt about it. Kindness can have wrong motives. It can be done to impress someone or to win approval. How many people have been taken advantage of someone because what was perceived as kindness was actually a scam?
So if you're going to be kind you're going to have to sacrifice of yourself. You're going to have to risk being misinterpreted.
if for year I could only preach from one Bible verse it would be Jeremiah 9:24. Beginning at verse 23 it says, "This is what the Lord says:
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the Earth,
for in these things I delight," declares the Lord.
If you want to know who God is, this is your verse. People have gone on pilgrimages, they have fasted, they have studied deep into the night in dusty old libraries…all to learn who God is. Yet here it is right here. God says, "If you want to know me, this is what I am: I am kind, just and righteous."
He is kind toward us, we who were sinful and deserving of his punishment. He is kind to the orphans and widows and to the oppressed and to the ill-treated and to the injured and dying. Kindness is the hallmark of God because it's done to we who are struggling and don't deserve any kindness.
God is not only kind…he is just. Sin will not go unpunished. It is paid for either by the person who sins or is paid for by the Christ who took our punishment in the place of us who believe. He is just toward the oppressed, and though they may not see that justice carried out in their life…that justice will be carried out nonetheless.
Not only is he kind and just, but he's righteous. Rightness is his character. He always does what is right. His kindness is done in the right way. His moral law is right and those who follow his law naturally turn away from sin. His judgment will be carried out in a right way.
One of the greatest accounts of kindness in Scripture is in 2 Samuel chapter 9. Let me take you back there.
This is about David. At age 21 the Prophet Samuel anoints him as the future King of Israel. He's the King in waiting and he must wait until Saul is off the throne of Israel.
I recently met a seafarer from India, a young man of 25. I asked him if he was married. He said, “No."
So I asked him if he had plans on getting married. He said, "No, not now. I have to wait until my older brother gets married. Then for my sister to get married. Then I can get married."
"How soon will that be?" I asked.
He said, "Unfortunately, my brother is studying to be a doctor and all of his attention is focused on his studies and his internship. Now I hear that he wants to be a specialist that will require another two years of study and internship. He says he does not have any time to take an interest marriage."
Well, three months later his ship returned. He said to me, "My brother is still studying but I hear now that he has a girlfriend and suddenly he is interested in getting married. My sister has a boyfriend and they are just waiting for him. So, maybe I'll be married in two or three years."
Like the little brother in waiting, David won't challenge for the kingship until Saul is no longer rightfully King. Meanwhile David defeats Goliath. King Saul is pleased. So is King Saul's son Jonathan. Jonathan is almost 30 years older than David, yet Jonathan knows a man of courage, convictions and integrity when he sees one and he begins to mentor David and through that they become friends.
Saul sends David into battle. Time after time he leads his troops to victory. He gains favor with the people and with the officers in Saul's army. Pretty soon, when Saul would come through towns, the people would dance and sing, "Saul his slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands."
And so Saul became angry and jealous and he got into a seesaw tension in his mind. One day he would try to kill David and the next day he would be repent. Then he would try and kill him again. I've often said, "Saul would be a psychoanalyst’s dream come true."
Meanwhile a strange thing was happening within his Saul's household. The friendship deepens between David and the King's son Jonathan. And even though Jonathan was a son of the King, he knew that David would eventually take the throne.
The deep friendship between Jonathan and David created paranoia in the mind of Saul. Saul is now in his 70s and Jonathan in his 50s, David is in his late 20s.
Over the next two years this paranoia grew into anger and hate and after two years. Saul accused Jonathan of siding in with David and he attempted to kill his own son.
Though he loved David stronger than a brother, Jonathan had to place his loyalty to his father and his land ahead of his friendship with David. So at the far edge of the field Jonathan told David, "This is it, it's too risky for me to be with you. I will do you no harm because we have sworn our friendship to each other before the Lord, and that friendship will be between your and my descendants forever."
Then they parted their ways, never see each other again. Now David was on his own. There is no one to secretly deliver King Saul's plans to him.
For the next three years Saul fought against the enemies of Israel, all the while trying to find and kill David. David had his own small army who fought against the enemies of Israel, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of King Saul.
Then word came to David that Saul and Jonathan had both died in battle. Saul had been severely wounded and to shorten the agony he commit suicide. Jonathan went down fighting…and left behind a five-year-old son named Mephibosheth.
David becomes King.
So David became King. But not everybody in the household of Saul was happy with that and the battle between the followers of Saul and the followers of David continued. One day, in the midst of this struggle, the family of Jonathan had to pick up and leave. I can see it now. The family says, "We have to go, come onMephibosheth… Run!"
That means nothing to a five-year-old. If I tell my five-year-old grandson Seth to run from something, or to get out of the street, it means nothing. As a five-year-old everything in life is play.
He doesn't quit playing and go eat. He quits playing with what he was playing with and comes to the table to play with his fork and spoon and macaroni and cheese.
He doesn't quit playing to go to bed. He quit playing with toys, now he plays with putting on his pajamas, then he places his toothbrush and he climbs into bed and say, "Grandpa, I'm hiding, come get me."
Five-year-olds go directly from playing to sleeping, and the instant that they wake up they go from sleeping to playing.
So Mephibosheth’s nanny picked him up and started to run. But he fell and injured both ankles, injured enough so that he was crippled in both feet. The family got away and settled in the dry, desert town just south of the Sea of Galilee called Lo Debar.
And there they stayed, 80 miles north of Jerusalem, a long way from King David. No longer did they enjoy the status of being the family and son of King Saul. Instead they lived in a plane life, living in a borrowed house.
Meanwhile, David is occupied with up with managing the affairs of the nation, fighting its enemies, building a house for the Lord and enjoying his wives.
15 years pass. Apparently any threat from the House of Saul has passed. In reality, they're either dead or that moved away. David often thinks back to his friendship with Jonathan and the vow that they had made.
Not only does he wonder if there are any living descendants of Jonathan, he wonders if there aren't any descendants of his former enemy, " for whom I can show kindness in honor of my friend Jonathan?"
One of his friends said to David, "I know of a man named Ziba. He was a servant in the house of Saul."
David said, "Bring them to me."
He arrived before King David and I'm sure he was pretty scared. After all, he was from the house of Saul and he probably imagined that at a mere blink of an eye he could be a dead man.
But when he arrived David said to him, "Is there anyone still left in the house of Saul to whom I can show God's kindness?"
The servant from Saul's house said, "I know one man. His name is Mephibosheth and he lives four days travel from here in the man's house up in Lo Debar.”
So David sent for him. I would presume that, as a cripple, he was carried to the King's Palace in Jerusalem.
As Mephibosheth bowed before the King, the enemy of his grandfather, the friend of his father, David said to him, "Don't be afraid. Because of your father I will show kindness toward you. Not only will I restore the possessions of my friend your father, but I will give to you the land of your grandfather.
"Those who care for the land now will continue to care for it and you will benefit from the produce of the herds and the land, and you yourself will eat at my table alongside my sons. You will never go hungry again."
If ever a man had reason to ignore a vow it could have been David. He could have let it just pass by. But he didn't. Because of Jonathan, a man who is been dead for 15 years, David's heart was moved by kindness and his hands and his feet and his mind in his mouth searched for someone, anyone, to whom he could express kindness for the sake of his friend Jonathan.
That kindness was extended to the neediness of Mephibosheth in his household. It was done in the Godly way and it was perfectly timed as he brought Jonathan's son and his family.
There was no sense of reluctant obligation.
There was no withholding a benefit in light of what Saul had done.
This was not a public relations ploy to win over anybody who still might be loyal to Saul.
It was from his heart. It did not matter that this man was a cripple and wouldn't be able to go on speaking tours on David's behalf. David gained nothing from doing this.
This is a fantastic account of kindness. But I want you to notice one short phrase in verse three. David asked, "Is there no one still left in the house of Saul to whom I can show God's kindness?" Look at that one short phrase, "show God's kindness."
David wanted to show, not his own kindness, a kindness that would be tainted by ambition or pride, tainted by a motive to consolidate support, tainted by making himself look good and noble and kingly.
David wanted to show God's kindness. Remember when I said that we are called to follow Jesus’ example? David was following the example that he is seen in God.
So he opened up the kingdom to Mephibosheth. He gave back to him what was lost, not just what was lost by him himself and the family became refugees, but what had been lost by his ancestors.
Not only did he give back what was lost, David gave to him a position within his family.
When we adopted our daughter the lawyer was very careful to say to her, "These will be your parents. Do you promise to obey them?” Then he reminded us that she had every right to share equally with her three brothers any inheritance from us, her new parents. Well, that won't be a problem. There won't be much of a difference between our estate divided by three in our estate divided by four.
Not only did David give back what had been lost, and not only did he give him a position within the family, David gave Mephibosheth a place at the King’s table where he and his little son could enjoy the riches of the kingdom.
There's a whole another sermon here about what God gives to us when we become his child, but like I say, that's another sermon. That's another 20 minute sermon. Ha, I cut you checking watches.
Note that this kindness wasn't just from him, somehow, someway, David recognized that he was compelled by God to do this. This kindness is not a natural response to his personal history.
Full circle back to Galatians unbolt
Which brings us back to Galatians 5:22. The nine fruits are not only the fruits of the natural character that God left in us after the fall, but they are propelled above the constraints of our sinful nature by the Holy Spirit.
Certainly this list of nine character traits can be the noble ambition of anyone of any faith. In my work I meet Hindus and Sikhs and Buddhists and Christians. They are good men. One thing I have learned working with international seafarers...there are a lot of good men out there. The love their families enough to leave home for nine months at a time...and back for two or three...just to provide for them and give them a better life.
They try to live these Godly traits every day. But just like us it can be hard to be loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled. They try their best but they must do it in their own strength, guided by their own creeds and rules, and the wisdom of their gurus.
As Christians we are no different. We want to do these things and yet we fail. But we do not need to try our best to live these characteristics. We believe we have the Holy Spirit in us to guide us and instruct us and push us to do these things just as Jesus would have.
Are we perfect? No. Not by a long shot. We run into people that are virtually impossible to love. We have setbacks that destroy our joy and peace. Our patience fails us. We withhold good just to get even. We get distracted and our faithfulness gets tested. We get frustrated and we lose our gentleness. And self-control? Not today.
But rather than look back and say, "I guess kindness runs in short supply for me," we can turn to God and ask his forgiveness and ask the Holy Spirit to work through us one more time, to stir our heart one more time and to extend our hands out one more time to
sacrificially meet someone's need...
In a Godly way…
In God's perfect time.
That is true kindness.