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Have we lost the virtue of kindness? When I compare my memory of years past with what I observe today, it seems that kindness has largely gone missing: missing from the media, missing from our neighborhoods, and, most concerning, missing from the lives of many who profess to follow Christ. I don’t think I’m alone in this assessment. But to say that kindness is lost today assumes a certain definition of the word.

What is kindness? The most essential thing we learn about it from Scripture is that God is kind. To understand kindness, then, is to understand something about the character of God.

We see God’s character on display throughout the Bible, but Jesus speaks of it directly in His lesson about loving our enemies (Luke 6:35). He says that we are to love them, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Why? Because in so doing, we “will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Jesus uses several expressions to describe how we are to treat our enemies, but when He compares this to how God treats His enemies, He summarizes God’s action simply as being kind. In other words, rather than saying that God also loves, does good to, and lends freely to His enemies, Jesus abbreviates it all with the simple expression “God is kind.” Thus, kindness, as defined here by God’s example, includes loving, doing good to, and lending freely to others, particularly our enemies.

Kindness may at times look weak, but it is strong. It may look idle or passive, but it is patient. It may look pointless, but it leads to repentance.

What we see here and elsewhere in Scripture is that kindness is a broad concept that can involve multiple virtues, such as love, patience, and generosity (see Rom. 2:4; 1 Cor. 13:1). What distinguishes kindness as a virtue in its own right, however, is that it is the demonstration of these virtues especially to those who have been unkind to us or from whom we should expect to receive nothing in return.

This definition identifies true kindness as something more than what we often mean by the term. Jesus talks about this in the verses just prior, where He says that even sinners love, do good to, and lend to those who do the same to them (Luke 6:32–34; see also Matt. 5:46–47). In other words, sinners can be very nice. They often are. But they can’t be truly kind. They can’t love their enemies as God and His children can. True kindness is attainable only by God’s people, and only because the Father’s own kindness, shown preeminently in the gospel of His Son, has led them to repentance and granted them His Spirit that bears such fruit (see Rom. 2:4; Gal. 5:22).

Why does kindness seem lost these days? Have we simply forgotten the command to “be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32)? I suspect that there is more to it. I suspect that some of us have failed to maintain Jesus’ distinction between true kindness and mere niceness. Thus, we’ve kept up being nice to our friends, thinking that we are still obeying the command, but we’ve left off loving our enemies. We’ve separated ourselves from the ungrateful and the evil and invested only in those from whom we can expect a return. We’ve lost courage and retreated to greeting only our brothers (Matt. 5:47). Our saltiness is gone, and true kindness remains missing.

Alternatively, I suspect that some of us have gotten the notion that kindness isn’t a virtue at all but a weakness. We wouldn’t say it that way, of course, but rather than asking God to make us kinder, we more readily pray for greater boldness and resolve. These are commendable qualities, of course, provided that they are in service to the truth, but they become imbalanced and ineffective without kindness. Kindness may at times look weak, but it is strong. It may look idle or passive, but it is patient. It may look pointless, but it leads to repentance.

How can we recover kindness? We must first admit our inability to produce it ourselves and humbly ask the Holy Spirit to make us kind. Kindness must begin with the church, for only the sons of the Most High can truly be kind. And if it must begin with the church, then it must begin with you and me. Only then can we hope to see kindness in our streets and on our screens. For it is through our obedience to Him that God has willed to change the world.



Keep Reading Lost Virtues

From the October 2022 Issue
Oct 2022 Issue