REDISCOVERING THE ANCIENT PATH—Week of May 16, 2021
Express Kindness to Others: 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9
We are in Week 15 of our examination of Benedict of Nursia’s rules for Christian formation. This week we’ll look at Rule 4.29: Express Kindness to Others. In response to the rancor and turmoil our country has faced in recent years, there has been a rising tide of the mantra “Be Kind.” There are songs about it. There are children’s books about it. Ellen Degeneres even has a “Be Kind” themed subscription box. You can order all kinds of wall decorations on Etsy or Amazon all promulgating the “Be Kind” message. I’m not saying that the sentiment behind these things is wrong, but is it really what Benedict was talking about? It really doesn’t sound much different from what my grandmother used to tell me as a boy, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
The problem with these expressions of kindness is that they are based in behavior modification. It is merely an exercise in self-control, and the truth is that such behavior modification is a falsity that cannot be sustained. It fails to address the inner turmoil that underlies the rude behavior. Behavior modification, though it may produce the desired results, fails to address the deeper issues of the heart.
Benedict’s view of kindness, and the kindness expressed in the cited passages of Scripture, was much different than that espoused by the world’s trite soundbites. This type of kindness was more akin to the Greek word for peace that served as a greeting in so many of the New Testament epistles. Peace (eirene in the Greek) was the traditional greeting of the Jewish people. It developed from a root word that conveyed the idea of joining together again that which had been separated and divided. In Scripture, it was never used in just a negative state; it always conveyed the positive as well. In other words, when Christians used this greeting, they were not merely praying that the recipient would have the absence of trouble; they were also praying they would have the presence of everything that was good. They were conveying the idea that the Church was to be a beacon of fellowship that transcended race, nationality, social status, or circumstances. Rooted in the transforming power of the gospel, the Church was to bring back together what had been divided, and it was to do so by being the living embodiment of love in action.
This type of kindness can only be achieved in the love of God, as it goes against everything this culture teaches. In our carnal selves, we love a good revenge story. Like the grandson in The Princess Bride, we want to see the bad guy get his comeuppance. But the kindness to which we’ve been called longs for something wholly other. Rather than seeking justice, God’s kindness seeks reconciliation. This kindness looks to those who did it wrong with compassion and forgiveness. More than that, this kindness willingly sacrifices its rights, its desires, even itself so that its enemies can have everything good that they don’t deserve. And all this is done for the sake of a restored relationship those enemies don’t want.
This is the kindness that has been shown to us in Jesus Christ. And unlike some trite slogan or subscription box, this is the type of kindness that turns the world upside down. This is the kindness that transformed my life. Why would I ever want to deny that opportunity to someone else?
- Take a moment to google “Be Kind.” How many different hits do you get? What do these websites or items have in common? What’s good about them? What’s missing?
- Consider the interplay between the world’s view of kindness and justice. Does one trump the other? Why or why not?
- In contrast, consider the interplay between kindness and justice in Scripture. What’s different? Why are we called to a different standard?