The Spirit's Fruit: Kindness
A vivid lesson on kindness found throughout Old Testament scripture is how frequently kindness is expected as a matter of reciprocity.
Abimelech expected kindness from Abraham in return for having shown kindness to Abraham: “God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned” (Genesis 21:22-23).
Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, expected kindness from the spies whom she had shown great kindness, hiding and protecting them in the roof. “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father's house, and give me a sure sign” (Joshua 2:12).
Upon ascending his throne, King David was eager to express kindness to any descendent of Saul because Saul’s son, Jonathan, had shown David great kindness. Learning of Mephibosheth, David said to him: “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always” (2 Samuel 9:7).
What do these scenes of reciprocating kindness have to do with kindness being a fruit of the Spirit? The Spirit of God creates kindness in the lives of all his redeemed children so the children may show others the kindness which God has shown to them.
This was beautifully displayed in the life of Stephen, an early deacon (Acts 7:60).
On the occasion of his grim death, being stoned by a violent and angry mob in Jerusalem, Stephen cried out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” This was not the kindness of a worldling (Mt. 5:46). This was the kindness of a Christian, filled with the Spirit. Stephen desired his murderers to be forgiven by the judge of all men, the risen Christ. Stephen’s kindness required faith in Christ and grace from Christ. It was the fruit of the Spirit.
How did such a kindness ever take root in Stephen’s life? He had become a recipient of it himself at the Cross: “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (Luke 23:33-34a). Stephen had become an heir of the very kindness he was now eager to give away so freely.
When the children of God show the kindness of the true and living God, the God of all kindness is made known, is glorified, and is enjoyed. What did the world learn from Stephen’s kindness? They learned Stephen was not in the grip of cruelty and animus like they were: “Look how these Christians so desperately want us to be forgiven!” That is what they learned from Stephen. Whether they came to worship the Lord or not, they learned the God whom Stephen worshipped was full of kindness toward his enemies.
Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer because kindness is first of God.
This is exactly what Jonathan urged upon David: “If I am still alive, show me the kindness of the Lord, that I may not die” (1 Samuel 20:14). Jonathan expected David to be an instrument of Yahweh’s own kindness, meaning he expected David both knew of Yahweh’s kindness and was himself a recipient of it. The Christian will always give out of that which is their greatest treasure.
What we have been saying then is that kindness is a fruit of the indwelling Spirit because all the redeemed will reciprocate God’s redeeming kindness. But – and this is key – it is not God whom we reciprocate. God needs nothing from us. It is our neighbor who receives our reciprocating kindness. As Martin Luther said: “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” Therefore, we pray for those who persecute us. We never avenge ourselves. We feed our enemies and give them something to drink. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, you turn to him the other also. If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, you let him have your cloak as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. You give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. All such kindness is the fruit of the risen and enthroned Christ, by whose Spirit and power we are now subdued to imitate.
John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.