The Most Neglected Fruit of the Spirit

About a year ago, I wrote an article about the lost art of being kind to others. Since then, it seems that kindness has become even more rare. There is a large (and apparently growing) branch of Christianity that has decided that being considerate of other people is too “woke” for them to be bothered by trying to live it out.

Is “mean-spirited-ness” a real word? Probably not, but it ought to be, because that seems to be the guiding principle that so many are living by these days. Far too many of our political leaders are engaged in vilifying others to score cheap points with their “base.” It has become all about winning and gaining political power, to the extent that showing concern for others – demonstrating kindness and compassion – is now considered “weak” or “unmasculine” or somehow wrong.

Jesus told us – very plainly – that it was how we demonstrated love to one another, that would be the hallmark to tell the world that we were His disciples (John 13:35). The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, let us be kind to everyone, especially those in the household of faith.” And earlier in that same letter, when the apostle was listing the nine qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit, he listed “kindness” as one of those things. Don’t take my word for it; you can look it up – Galatians 5:22-23.

This call to kindness isn’t limited to the New Testament. Hundreds of years before Jesus lived, the prophet Micah said, “Practice justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Thinking about Paul’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit helps me realize this is not necessarily a new problem. The nine characteristics that he mentions – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – have never been easy. Yet many church-goers today seem perfectly content to simply ignore these qualities of true Christian maturity and behavior, while they’re engaged in the very kind of legalism and judgmental attitudes that Jesus so often condemned.

Kindness means being willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of others. One of the most famous stories that Jesus ever told was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. To really “get” that story, you have to understand how much the good, religious people of Jesus’ day HATED the Samaritans. The Samaritans were the bad guys. They were the ones who robbed and cheated others. They were the villains. Yet when Jesus was asked to explain what does love for neighbors really look like, it was not the religious leaders in the story who showed kindness to the wounded traveler – it was the Samaritan.

In other words, Jesus was saying, look around you. Who needs to see some kindness? Then He commands, “Go and do that.” It seems to me that He went out of His way to tell us that we should be kind to others, and not merely to those we already know or love, and especially not only to those who are able to pay us back. He told us specifically to invite to dinner those who COULDN’T pay us back. He calls us to set an example of kindness and grace to everyone.

The problem with showing kindness is that, by its very nature, it doesn’t call attention to itself; it’s more concerned with serving others than in tooting its own horn. And in our self-promoting, selfie-obsessed culture, most of us simply don’t think of how to serve others. We’re too busy, or they’re too different. Maybe they don’t look like us; maybe they don’t talk like us. Maybe they have made some mistakes or are living a lifestyle that we don’t agree with. But they are still neighbors, created in the image of God, and still in need of kindness.

Caring about others – putting the needs of others first – is a learned behavior, and contrary to human nature. It’s an act of discipleship that follows in the self-sacrificing steps of our Lord. Maybe that’s why it’s so rare. But it’s how we show kindness to the helpless, to the weak, to the marginalized, and the disenfranchised, that really counts. Jesus is still looking for disciples who will walk as He walked, and live as He lived. That includes showing kindness to all. Especially those who don’t deserve it.

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