During his 1988 acceptance speech of the Republican Party’s nomination for president, George H.W. Bush called for a kinder, gentler nation.
Almost 30 years later, we’ve apparently ignored his speech. Kindness seems in short supply.
No matter where we turn—the news media, politics, social media, the entertainment industry, and even professional sports—it seems kindness is scarce. The world has never been a nice place (aside from the Garden of Eden), but today it feels less nice than ever before, at least in my lifetime. Judgments are made about people we know precious little about. We’re convinced we know what’s in a person’s heart simply by how they’re portrayed by an agenda-driven media. Truth is, we usually don’t have a clue what’s in their heart. We don’t know their story, and many times don’t care to know their story. In the absence of knowing each other, cruel words and harsh judgment rule the day.
Living in an unkind world is distressing. But what distresses me even more, is when I observe a lack of kindness among Christians. . . myself included. The greatest commandment in the Bible, according to Jesus, is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And love your neighbor in the same manner as you love yourself.”
Jesus inextricably links love for Him to love for people. Loving people doesn’t imply I always agree with them about their behavior or their worldview. But it does mean I can be kind, always. I can show kindness to those who have a different worldview than I do. According to the greatest commandment, if I love Jesus, it will positively influence how I interact with people.
How we treat people is one of the most reliable indicators of our spiritual maturity or lack thereof. Going to church is important. Studying the bible so we can understand who God is and what He requires is essential. Getting to know Him better through prayer is crucial. Talking to others about our faith journey is nonnegotiable. But all of these activities don’t make up for a lack of kindness.
The bible describes kindness as part of the “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, it’s a character trait the Holy Spirit consistently works to develop in us. The more mature we become in our relationship with Jesus, the more kindness grows. The Greek word translated kindness in Galatians chapter five means: “Sweetness of disposition; goodness in action; being compassionate and considerate”
How we treat people is not the only measurement of our relationship with Jesus, but it’s an incredibly important one. Some people seem to have been born kind. I wasn’t one of them. So, when I decided to follow Jesus at age 16, kindness was an area of extreme deficit. I had to grow in kindness with His help (and still have a long way to go).
I understand Christians are at all different points in their relationship with God. He is knocking off rough edges, shaping and molding their character, etc. But if you’ve been a Christian for many years, and you default to making harsh judgments about people you know little about, if you gossip about others, talk down to family members, and are hypercritical of those who see life differently than you, it’s time for a gut-check. Are you growing in Christ, or stuck in immaturity? You don’t have to agree with someone to love them. But you do have to be kind, considerate, and maintain a sweet disposition, even when you disagree with them.
Love is manifested in multiple ways, but one indelible way is kindness. When you’re tempted to gossip. . . choose kindness. When you’re tempted to zing someone you disagree with. . . choose kindness. When you think you know what’s in another person’s head or heart and feel compelled to tell them so—or God forbid tell other people what you think about that person. . . choose kindness.
Kindness doesn’t turn a blind eye to the truth. Jesus, the kindest person of all time, came to earth full of grace and truth. Grace without truth is foolish and dangerous. Truth without grace is cruel and arrogant. Is it possible kindness is a mixture of grace and truth?
Kindness doesn’t mean allowing people to verbally or physically abuse you. You can be kind without letting mean-spirited people step all over you. You can kindly tell them to stop, and if they don’t, kindly dismiss yourself from their presence.
Let’s work on being kind this week. With our family, our friends, our work peers, and also with people whose worldview we don’t share, to people who drive poorly (Jesus help me!) Even to people who don’t show kindness to us.
Presidential nominee George H. W. Bush called for a kinder nation thirty years ago. Today I’m calling all Christians, myself included, to grow in this most important character quality.
I’m rooting and praying for you!