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I’ll tell you, wasn’t last week’s service great, with the music and the puppets and all? Now, we’re going to do that again. But today, we’re coming back to the series we started a little over a month ago, you know, the one dealing living by the Spirit. And as some of y’all know, to this point, we've considered five different topics. Now they haven’t all be what Paul called “fruits of the Spirit,” because during the first message, we looked into the desires of the flesh and how easy it is to misinterpret and misuse the freedom we have in Christ. And then in the second service, we talked about how Christians are called to love and how doing that is both a decision and an obligation. And then, in the third week, we considered how Christian joy is grounded in faith and how it strengthens those who suffer and how it must be shared among believers. And then, in week four, we focused on Christian peace and how God has called us to live in harmony with ourselves and with God and with one another. And then, in the fifth message, we talked about spiritual patience and how it involves humility and love and faith. Now, in a nutshell, that’s what we’ve covered. And this morning, we’re going to tackle gift number five, kindness. As Paul wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, [and] kindness...”
And as I considered how to introduce this idea, the first thing that came to mind was that wonderful line from the movie, A Street Car Named Desire.
Now if you’ve never seen it, I’m telling you it’s well worth watching. But even if you haven’t, that quote, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” well, it’s kind of crept into our culture.
Of course, in the Tennessee Williams play, the line is anything but cheerful. I mean, in the scene we saw, Blanche DuBois is being driven to a mental hospital after having a total breakdown, taking her last step into insanity and her complete detachment from reality. Still, her words, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers” sort of encapsulates what we’re talking about this morning, you know, how we’re called to show kindness to others, including strangers.
But you know, whether or not it fits into what we value or respect in others, Paul says the fifth fruit of the Holy Spirit is kindness. And so whether or not we like it or know how to do it or think it’s important, kindness is exactly what we’ve been called to show. But here’s some good news. Even though kind people aren’t necessarily the ones we want to see in front of the parade, I think we have a perfect example of what this kindness business is all about, and it’s right here in the Bible, and it’s been shown by the one who loved us before he laid the foundation of the universe.
You see, as both these passages illustrate, God’s kindness was shown by his willingness to treat us better than we deserve and by his desire to save us through Jesus Christ and by his decision to offer us the Holy Spirit so that we can have hope. You see, God can be our example, because kindness is just part of his nature. Of course there’s an obvious problem with trying to use God as an example. I mean, last time I looked, none of us are God. Man, we’re not even close. And when you’re talking about using God as an example of kindness, it gets even worse. I mean, just listen to what Paul said about our ability to be kind, and right here he was quoting the fourteenth Psalm: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” [Romans 3:10b-12] You see, according to Paul, regardless of who serves as an example, we can’t really show Godlike kindness even if we wanted to. In other words, this would be impossible for us to do without some kind of help. But of course, that’s where the Holy Spirit steps in. You see, this ability to be kind is a fruit of the Spirit. I’ll tell you, God does the heavy lifting for us. And why would he do that? That’s easy, because God is kind. Dah. And he offers an example we can follow. That’s one.
And I think that’s something we need to remember as we apply it to our own lives. You see, it’s really not good enough be kind only to people we like, you know, people like us. And it’s not good enough to be helpful only to folks who are helpful to us. And it’s not good enough to treat with respect and dignity and honor only men and women we think deserve it, because remember, God treated us better than we deserve. No, according to Luke, Jesus said, “If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light." [Matthew 11:28-30] And I’ll tell you, the Greek word that was translated in this passage “is easy to bear,” well, it the verbal form of the word that Paul used when he wrote about kindness. Following God’s example, we need to decide that we’re going to be kind to everybody. And that’s the second thing Bible can teach us about kindness.
And when we show kindness, I’m telling you, we’re going to see people change too. I mean, not only will they change toward us, they’re also going to change in how they see the faith we share. And I’ll tell you why that’s so important, particularly now. According to research, although almost as many people believe in God as they did in the past, fewer and fewer people are coming into churches to learn about him. As a matter of fact, a whole lot more folks are shuffling from one church to another than are coming in from the outside. And I’ll tell you, I believe a big part of that is how a lot of folks have come to see the church. If you listen to them, the church is just one big old club, where people spend more time talking about one another and judging those on the outside than in showing much love for either God or neighbor. And I’ve got to tell you, to a certain extent, I can see their point. But I’ll tell you something else, I believe a little bit of intentional kindness can change that. And for that reason, I’m not sure we can focus most of our attention on insiders any more. And we may not be able to structure everything just so we feel comfortable. I’m telling you, that may not work in the modern world. Instead, maybe we’ve reached a point where our kindness, our compassion, our attention needs to include both those on the inside and the outside. In other words, maybe we need to spend some of our time and our attention showing folks who may have gotten the wrong idea about our faith by the actions of the church, maybe through our intentional kindness to them we’ll begin to see them open up to the one who couldn’t love them more than he does right now. And I believe that’ll happen, because the Bible shows us that kindness can bring change. And I think that’s our third lesson.