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One summer I was in Santa Cruz, Calif., and had the opportunity to learn how to surf. Santa Cruz is one of the world’s greatest surfing locations. But growing up in East Tennessee, I had experienced only the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, not the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. At the beach, my teacher handed me a full-body wetsuit and said, “Put this on.” I was confused. It was July. The weather was actually kind of hot. The sun was blazing, and there was not a cloud in the sky. Why would I need a wetsuit? The teacher explained that though the air is warm, the water off Santa Cruz is particularly cold because ocean currents bring water down from the frigid Arctic. He told me that without the wetsuit, I probably wouldn’t last very long out in the water.
He was right. While the weather was sunny and hot, the water was bitterly cold. The wetsuit, however, kept my body warm and helped me as I tried to stay out in the water while trying to surf.
The wetsuit did not actually make me a surfer. Technically, it would be possible for someone, even in the cold waters of Santa Cruz, to surf without one. But the wetsuit did make it easier. It did make it more likely that I’d be able to surf. I believe this is an apt metaphor for the role of patience and kindness in our Christian witness. When we are clothed properly, it is easier to do what we are called to do. Gymnasts don’t wear firefighting gear, and firefighters don’t wear leotards. When we are clothed with patience and kindness (Col. 3:12), it is easier to witness to the truth and transformative work of Christ.
Kindness and Patience in The Bible
What is biblical patience? James 5:7–11 describes it in terms of the farmer who plants the seed and waits for the fruit. It is like the prophet who proclaims the Word of God and endures suffering while waiting for God’s timing. The farmer remains emotionally calm in the midst of delay. The prophet is even-tempered in the face of provocation. How can they do this? Because they know the truth. The farmer knows that in its time, the produce will emerge. The prophet knows that in God’s time, the Word will produce its effect. Patience is related to one’s true insight and knowledge. Patience is an enacted understanding of God’s providence.
What is biblical kindness? It is not a syrupy and saccharine sweetness or niceness toward all people. Having a cheery and bubbly personality is not biblical kindness. It is not simply seeking someone’s approval (Gal. 1:10); in fact, at times it may be like a blow to the head (Ps. 141:5). The word for “kindness” in the New Testament carries the connotation of “usefulness.” Real kindness is providing something beneficial or endeavoring to do real good for someone.
When we put on patience and kindness like this, it is easier to witness to the truth and the transformative work of Christ. If we want to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31), we would do well to remember that the first two words Paul uses to define love in 1 Corinthians 13 are “patient and kind” (v. 4). We should “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Paul also instructs Timothy that
the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of truth. (2 Tim. 2:24–25)
In fact, when we remember that we were led into our repentance by the kindness of God (Rom. 2:4), it should spur us on to demonstrate that same patience and kindness.
Kindness and Patience Today
This attitude has been needed by the church in all ages, but perhaps it is particularly necessary today. We live in an age marked by meanness. We participate in voyeuristic meanness by watching “judges” mercilessly rip into performers on televised talent competitions. We bemoan the trolls of social media—until they target someone with whom we disagree. We share viral videos and memes that belittle or demean others. If any of this attitude of meanness resonates with you, take this as an opportunity to repent. For a number of reasons, it seems that patience and kindness, even as a common grace, are in short supply. This gives us all the more reason to practice patience and kindness as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
The book of Proverbs tells us that if we pursue kindness, we will find life (Prov. 21:21). What if our day-to-day actions were characterized by patience and kindness? What if we asked, “How are you?” and meant it? What if we tipped our servers generously? What if we didn’t drive as if we were angry at the world? What if we actually loved our neighbors? It seems like that could stand out to a watching world. It seems like people might notice that. But even that wouldn’t be enough.
Just as the wetsuit did not make me a surfer, our patience and kindness will not on their own win people to Christ. God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Salvation is an expression of God’s perfect loving kindness. We will never love well enough. Our patience and kindness are good but insufficient. People must still hear the gospel preached. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).