What Is Kindness?

posted in: Love Is - 1 Cor 13 | 2

This blog post is from a series dedicated to 1 Cor 13 and Christian behavior. To begin the series from the beginning, please go to the page titled, Love – An Introduction.

What is the Meaning?

Kind in Webster’s dictionary (from my 1991 copy) has two meanings.

1. of a sympathetic, forbearing, or pleasant nature
2. arising from sympathy or forbearance

When I read this for the first time, I wanted to be certain that I understood what the word “forbearance” meant. So I looked that up as well:

1. to refrain from : abstain
2. to be patient

Restraining From What?

Remember what we discussed in the “Love Is Patient” posts in this series? I suggested that patience is when we endure trials, pains and hardships (etc.) in an attempt to prevent other people’s behavior from pushing our buttons. We don’t want our own actions to be determined by our emotional reactions triggered by other people’s actions.

When we are kind, when we exercise forbearance, we are abstaining from doing what pleases ourselves or satisfies our personal needs in order to act sympathetically towards other people. The definitions I quoted above suggest that the person exercising kindness is within his or her ethical, legal or moral rights to withhold his generosity, but chooses to suspend his own rights for the sake of others.

When we read the following verses in Matthew, we see a picture being painted of a man who exercised kindness:

Mathew 18:23-33
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything. The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back. But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

The king who wanted to settle his accounts was kind to the servant who owed him ten thousand talents (here is an interesting article explaining that ten thousand talents was worth 160,000 years wages). It was within his right to call in his debt – which at the time meant being sold, yourself and your family, into slavery if the debt could not be paid. Instead of exacting such a harsh punishment, the king acted kindly towards the servant, cancelling his debt completely.

What was the king restraining from?

Try looking at it this way. What if you lent someone money to buy a house? I know that this is not even close to 160,000 years of wages, but it’s still a lot of money. What would your reaction be if that person never pays you back? You are within your legal right to collect what is owed to you. In the parable I quoted above, the king showed kindness by canceling the bad debt. I’m not suggesting that Biblical love demands that we all cancel all financial debt like the king did, but this is a good example of one kind of kindness.

Jesus as an Example of Kindness – My Definition of Kindness

Jesus was using that parable to show how things work in the spiritual world. He was demonstrating that when we fail to forgive others in our lives, when God has forgiven us of so much, then we end up cutting ourselves off from that forgiveness. When we step back from the parable and look at what it means, we see that the most kindness any of us will ever receive is God’s grace through the sacrifice of His only Son.

This leads me to tell you what my definition of Biblical kindness is, based on my reading and research.

Biblical Kindness
“Giving something (a blessing) that is not deserved and cannot be repaid.”

None of us are saved for being good enough or for the works we have done. None of us deserve what has been given freely to us all.

Without God’s grace through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ, we are all sinners with a debt owed to God that is so massive that none of us could ever repay it. But Christ did die and the debt was paid, halleluiah! Now all those who confess their sins, repent and ask for forgiveness are washed clean by the blood of the lamb. I can think of no better example of kindness than this.

Pay It Forward?

Not long ago there was a fad here in the states that people were calling, “Pay it Forward.” When I first heard about it, my original thought was, “Been there, done that.” Indeed, as Christians that should be a daily attitude, not a passing fad. We have been given the greatest gift of kindness of all, and it is our responsibility to spread similar kindness everywhere we go.

Kindness Is Not Soft

In subsequent posts, I will write more about different ways and contexts when kindness can and should be exercised. In this post, I felt it was more important to clarify what kindness really is. I feel that too many people associate kindness with softness and wimps. I don’t see it that way. I believe true kindness takes a lot of strength. It took the king in the parable a lot of guts to forgive such a large debt, and yes, it took great strength on the part of our Heavenly Father and His Son to pay the price for all of our sins. This is not softness, it’s the epitome of strength.

I guess the reason so many people associate kindness with weakness is because of the fact that it is difficult to discern true kindness from cowardly acts of avoidance. Some people only appear kind on the surface, but in truth are running away from a potential problem. The wimp who is afraid to face the man who owes him money is not showing kindness when he cancels the debt. That’s just weakness.

Ha! That reminds me of what they used to say is the definition of a gentleman: someone who could beat you up but doesn’t.

That’s what true kindness is! When you could collect the debt but decide to cancel it instead, out of sympathy for the person who owes you the money, that is what kindness is.

Kindness Comes In Different Forms

It would be irresponsible for me to end this post without clarifying that it is not always a kind deed to forgive debt. In some cases, debt forgiveness is actually a very unkind thing to do. So really, not all acts of kindness deal with money. I believe Jesus used stories about money in his parables because money can be measured and most other things cannot be. Not like that anyway. So it’s far easier to paint a picture of kindness in the context of money and debt than it is with the more subtle aspects of life.

So please do not use this post as an invitation to now go out and cancel all of the debt that is owed to you. That would be wrong for two reasons. The first reason is because, as I said already, sometimes canceling debt is a cruel, very unkind thing to do. The second reason is because there is a danger of only doing kindness through money, building false confidence in that, and thinking that you have become kind enough because of all the money you gave up. No, kindness doesn’t work that way. Most of the kindness we exercise each day is NOT of a financial nature. I’ll write more about that in some of the next posts from this series. For now just understand that being kind is not as simple as just giving all your money away.

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