If you are over 50 and grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, you surely have a memory of standing in Sunday School, or gasp! the whole church in the evening service, to recite Ephesians 4:32 in the KJV: Be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Fifteen years ago my sister and I spent a weekend together at Laity Lodge. We gathered early one morning in the chapel for the “start the day with the Word” session. The leader introduced us to the Lectio Divina process of Bible study. In quietness we sat expectantly with no idea what was coming next. “There are five steps and I will direct you. Now, let’s begin.” As a controller this abstract experience left me unsettled. I had already gone through the trauma of no phone service, no internet, and no TV. Now I was sitting here, longingly staring at the EXIT sign.
And then she read Ephesians 4:32. Yes, the very same one. This time the language was contemporary, but the meaning had not changed. “I am going to read it over and over with instructions for each time.”
“Listen again; but be attentive as the Lord makes one word or phrase jump out.” Just at that moment the early morning sun’s rays came through the window and literally settled on “be kind to one another.” What could that mean? I certainly tried to be nice, but was that God’s lovingkindness? His Hesed?
“Now listen as I read it again” I heard her say. “This time ask the Lord to bring a person or situation to mind which directly pertains to your word or phrase.” The Lord didn’t let me off the hook. He immediately brought a person, and an excruciating situation which still tore at my soul. In her presence I wasn’t kind. I was bitter, unforgiving, and cold. “Oh, Lord, you can’t mean her, can you? I will substitute a dozen difficult people if you will release me from what you are saying.”
Just about that time the leader broke in on my argument with the Lord. “Now I am going to read it once more. Listen for what God is calling you to do.” TO DO? It took several years for the Lord to give it shape. As He presented me ten years later with a totally unexpected “opportunity” to be kind and forgiving, I laughed at the long way He had brought me in those intervening years. He had not forgotten, but was preparing me.
“This is the last step of the process. I will read the verse again and you thank the Lord for what He has taught you in these moments with Him and His Word.” She read those now-precious words once more before releasing us to breakfast. The modern translation was easy to read and hear, but as I walked to the dining hall I was that little girl in my plaid dress and Mary Jane shoes exclaiming, “Be ye kind…”
The kindness of God is part of His character which speaks to His heart toward those who are His own. The Hebrew word Hesed (Chesed) is often translated lovingkindness. It is almost always connected with the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God. It is who He is and who He wants us to be. The Psalmist repeatedly calls on Yahweh to remember His faithfulness and lovingkindness (Psalm 25:6).
He wants us to be men and women of integrity. Micah 6:8 (ESV) tells us what He expects of us: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. But how can we do this? Only with the power of the Holy Spirit.
In His kindness He brought us to repentance, Paul says in Romans 2:4. And in his letter to Titus (3:4-5, ESV) Paul reminded him: when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us. How? Certainly not through any righteousness and good works of our own, but through the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing regeneration and renewal. Such extraordinary kindness!
As He transforms us and conforms us we are challenged by the flesh which doesn’t want to show mercy, forgiveness, or kindness at all times, right? What do we do when a sharp retort, a sarcastic sling, or a harsh response comes quickly and momentarily feels so good?
1. Run, don’t walk to 1 John 1:9 with a heart of repentance and joyful acceptance. Experience the kindness of God whose mercy, grace, and love pour over us.
2. Remind yourself of Scripture’s references to His kindness. A word study using lovingkindness, kindness, and kind on Biblegateway.com will reinforce how He wants us to live.
3. Restore relationships that may have been damaged by the unkind words.
He is a God of redemption. He gives us the hope of living as new creatures in Christ.
In the last few years, recognizing the kindness of God has become a truly enjoyable habit. Those simple inklings, those heart urgings, those necessary reminders—they all deserve a “Thank you Lord, you are so very kind to me!” Why not take the next thirty days and stop every time you recognize a divine kindness and say, “Thank you; I knew that was you!”