We are going to consider in this message verse 4 of I Corinthians 13. The second statement here about love is that it is kind: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”
In verses 4-8, where the apostle describes the behavior of love, or the practice of love, he gives us fifteen different virtues or descriptions of what love does. The first two belong together. We know that they belong together for two reasons. These are two positive ones that he states up front, before he says things that charity is not (it does not envy, it does not vaunt itself, and so on). He begins with these two positive statements: charity suffereth long and charity is kind. Then we also know that they belong together because he does not use the noun “charity” to introduce the second phrase; he simply says “charity suffereth long and is kind.” Suffering long is patience. And kindness and patience are two sides of the one coin.
This is not the only place in the apostle’s writings where we find these two virtues placed alongside one another. In II Corinthians 6, where Paul is defending his ministry, he says that his ministry was approved of by God, among those to whom he ministered (v. 6) “by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering [that is, by patience], by kindness.” By long-suffering and kindness. In Galatians 5, where the apostle lists the fruits of the Spirit, these are together again. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness [kindness]….” He puts them together. And if you turn to Romans 12, you see something similar. They are there. He does not name specifically patience and kindness, but he says this at the end of chapter 12, in the context of being mistreated: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” And then this: “Be not overcome of evil,” in other words, endure it, be patient with it. “But overcome evil with good,” that is, overcome it with kindness. Be patient and then kind.
In long-suffering or patience, we exercise self restraint when we are tested or irritated by another. That is, we restrain ourselves. Now kindness is the positive. It is the active. In kindness, we not only restrain ourselves, hold back from saying something, hold back from confronting or getting irritated in an outward way (a hold-back from anger), but we show love in kindness, and we show grace in kindness towards those who test us.
Kindness goes beyond patience to activity. In my preparation of this sermon, I found that one of the Bible dictionaries defined kindness this way, very simply: “Gentleness in behavior.” That is kindness. It is active. It is something that we do. That comes out in the root idea of the word itself. The word for kindness here (“love is kind”) has literally the idea of being useful or helpful. When you are useful or helpful, then you put yourself forward in service. You put yourself into the service of others. That is really what kindness is. The biblical idea of love is that it is willful (agape, love). It is something that you will or desire or you choose to do. Kindness is to put yourself willfully into the service of someone else.
Kindness has the idea of being gentle. The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. Matthew 11:30, the most tender gospel call, “come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” The word that Jesus uses there to describe His yoke is from the same root as this word kindness. “My yoke is easy.” He means it will be kind to you. It will not be heavy, it will not be harsh, it will not hurt or injure you. It will benefit you. “My yoke is easy [kind].”
When we think of kindness, or think of someone who is kind, we think of beauty, because this is what makes one beautiful in character. A child has a toy; another child wants the toy. And the little child (does not even speak yet) just hands it to the other. And we say, “Now, that was beautiful.” So, of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:26 we read that the law of kindness is in her lips, that is, her words are governed by this principle: kindness. Indeed, this is the character of the words of the Savior described for us prophetically in Psalm 45:2, speaking of the groom of the church (Jesus Christ). It says, “Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips.” Kindness. Gentleness in action. Willfully placing yourself in the service of another.
We can think of the expression (or the duty) of kindness in three dimensions, three ways in which we all live in responsibility and obligation before God. In our thoughts, in our desires, and in our action.
Kindness in thoughts. This has to do with the attitude of your heart. A kind person, a kind heart, is a gentle, good-natured, soft heart towards others. The person who is kind has pity that yearns for another who is in distress. That is kindness.
Then there is kindness not only in thinking and attitude, but also kindness in desire and will. Kindness desires the well-being of another. So this pity turns into mercy that is activity and wants the well-being of the other. So Philippians 2 says we not only esteem others better than ourselves and put their needs before our own, but we also give ourselves in service to them with the mind of Jesus Christ, who sacrificially came and took our sin on Himself. Willing and then doing—the acts of kindness spring in word and deed from the thinking and the will. If we do not think kindly, if we do not seek the well-being of another, our behavior will be unkind.
I want to think with you in this message specifically how this comes to expression in our behavior, how to be kind, as it were. What does it mean for you and for me in our lives, in the little details of our lives, to be kind? It is good for us to think about this and to think about it from a biblical point of view and to consider some of the things that the Bible puts forth or says to us about kindness and how that comes to expression. How do we be kind? It is important that we develop in these areas and that we think about these things and that we teach our children about these things—to be kind. Love is kind.
There is kindness, first of all, in simple greetings. II Corinthians 13:12: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Now, kissing may not be the way that we greet one another today, but this is what the apostle is talking about here: greeting. He is telling the church at Corinth, this is what you need to do, this is how you need to greet one another. There may be familiarity, but greet one another with a holy kiss. We can put this into practice in our homes, and we can certainly put it into practice in the church. Greet one another. That is kindness. That is a simple way of showing kindness. Paul, in the sixteenth verse of the epistle that he wrote to the Romans, lists off one after the other, by name, different people to whom he sends greetings and salutations. This is kindness. It is verbal.
In the second place, kindness is expressed in a number of ways. A smile, a kind face. Do we not look for a smile from another across the room sometimes to know that we have a place in the heart of the other? That is what a smile tells you. A person with a dour face and a hanging head and slumped shoulders who will not greet you—there is no kindness in that. Proverbs 15:13 speaks of a cheerful countenance. Indeed, Numbers 6 speaks of God’s own countenance shining on us. That is a kind face of God towards us. Non-verbal. Other non-verbal ways that we show kindness: giving attention, listening. Here is a kind husband, here is a kind father: he listens to his wife, he gives an ear to his children. Let us not think that something as insignificant as a non-verbal expression is not important, is not an expression of love. Love is kind. Greet, listen, smile.
But, of course, it goes beyond that. It goes beyond to our words and conversation. In our words and conversation, we in kindness will praise another, we will speak well of another, we will show interest in another, we will encourage another. Proverbs 10:11 says that the mouth of the righteous is a well of life. That means that it is life giving to the others. Proverbs 31 again: “In her tongue is the law of kindness.” And in contrast, in Ephesians 4:32: “be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” In contrast to that, I say, are the words of the apostle that immediately precede: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying and be ye kind.” Words that are good to the use of edifying. In Colossians 4:6, Paul exhorts the saints in Colosse to “speak with grace seasoned with salt.” Seasoned words.
Still another way that we show kindness is in our manners. There is something different about manners when compared with non-verbal communications. Manners are quite deliberate. They may be non-verbal, but manners have to do with the way that we treat others, respect for authority, or deference toward the elderly. We show to others by our manners that we honor their presence, that they are important to us. We are not going to treat them as though they are not there or they are unimportant. We acknowledge, we give deference. Certainly we teach this to our children: be kind.
But then there is kindness also in actions. And I said that is what kindness is. It is gentleness in action. We reach out to those in need, we give, we visit, we help, we call, we text, we are not selfish when it comes to the needs of others. Certainly Jesus in His ministry emphasizes this. Let me give you a few examples. Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount): “If any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also…whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain…give to him that asketh thee and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.” This is kindness: to give to those that ask, to give even beyond what they ask. Gentleness in action. Then you think of the parable that Jesus told that we call the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan finds this man beaten on the road, after others have passed him by, and then we read this in Luke 10:33 (and there is a whole series of verbs here to emphasize the activity of this good Samaritan): “he had compassion on him, he bound up his wounds, he poured in oil, he set him on his own beast, he brought him to an inn, he took care of him, he took out two pence, he gave them to host, he said to him, whatever else you need, get in touch with me.” This is kindness in action.
Or, think of something very simple that Jesus speaks of—a cup of cold water in my name. What does that tell us? You do not have to go to Haiti or somewhere else that is affected by a storm or an earthquake in order to be kind. Kindness is your behavior towards one another in your daily life. We say to our children: share. This is the expression of kindness in your daily interactions: a cup of cold water in My name.
We especially show kindness in our reactions—when we disagree, when we are wronged, when another tests us, when we find another irritating. Jesus says then, This is the way the law of kindness will govern your behavior—turn the other cheek, do not respond in like manner, love your enemies, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Our reactions. Love is kind.
There is one more thing that we must say about kindness, and it is this. It does not always appear pleasant. What do I mean by that? Sometimes in kindness, we have to deal with sin. The Bible talks about this in Psalm 141:5: “Let him that is righteous smite me, it shall a kindness be.” Proverbs 27:5, 6 talk about the faithful wounds of a friend. Now, of course, they are governed by kindness, are they not? But sometimes they hurt. Then, you think of the way you have to deal with our children and their sin. Of course, in kindness to them, we must discipline them, we must deal with their sinful conduct, we must seek their repentance, we must seek reconciliation and forgiveness as we deal with our children. That is kind. It is unkind to leave them in their sin. This is kindness.
And there is a kindness in what Jesus talks about in Matthew 18 as well, when He says, “If your brother offends you, then go, deal with it with him.” Yes, there is an unkindness in the spread of it: “Did you hear what he did to me?” Here is kindness: Go to him. Love is kind.
The pattern, of course, is the gentleness and the tenderness (kindness) of God towards us in Jesus Christ. This word, kindness, describes the heart of God towards His elect. You think of the beautiful Psalm 23 that speaks of the care of the good Shepherd who, in His tenderness, makes us to lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, restores our souls, is with us in the valley of the shadow of death, feeds us in the presence of our enemies, and with goodness and mercy, leads us to our home everlasting. Titus 3:4 describes the incarnation, Jesus’ coming into the world, this way: “The kindness and love of God, our Savior, appeared.”
That is the pattern, is it not? Think of the kindness and tenderness of Jesus Himself in His earthly ministry. He did not hobnob with the rich and the famous, but He looked to the disadvantaged—the publicans and the sinners. He spoke to a Samaritan woman despised by the Jews—she was shocked. He spoke to the woman caught in adultery: “Go thy way, sin no more; neither do I condemn thee.” There is the tenderness with which He received the children whom the disciples thought would be of no profit to Him. “Go away,” they said. Think of Him also taking Jairus’ daughter’s hand (12 years old), and speaking to her (a little girl), “Arise.” Or, think of Him when He was injured by His own—Peter. And He says to Peter, “I have prayed for thee.” And then the tender restoration: “Peter, lovest thou me?”
Now, I describe that for us—the tenderness of God, the tenderness of our Savior—not just to put that before us as something to admire from a distance, but to encourage us to think of what God’s Word says about this with regard to our experience. II Corinthians 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Peter 2:3: “You have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Do you not know the tenderness of the good Shepherd? Every believer says, “He has been so kind to me.” What mercy, what love, what tenderness, what thoughts, what will, what action…for me!!
You have tasted that the Lord is gracious, so Ephesians 4 says, “but be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven me. Love is kind. You see, that experience is what transforms us, that experience is the possibility. When we describe the tenderness and the kindness of God, we are not just describing an abstraction, but we are describing what we know, what transforms us, what changes us as recipients of the love of God in Christ shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Love is kind.
May the Spirit of God produce that in us. Amen.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. It is a convicting Word, it is a necessary Word. But it is also a Word that helps us to see the blessing of living under the gospel in our relationships in our homes, and in this way enjoying the peace and the harmony that there is in the love of Jesus Christ. Bless Thy Word to our hearts, to our homes. When we are at home, may this be a conversation with our children: Love is kind. Also may we set before them the great example of the Savior and His love for us. We pray it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.