The Apostle Paul well understood that maintaining an understanding of the truth of God in Christ, and upholding that truth, was very important (Galatians 1:1-5:16). And yet such an understanding must inform the Christian’s practice, and the practice of the faith reinforces the truth of what God has done in Christ: thus Paul not just encouraged the Galatian Christians in the truth of God in Christ, but also exhorted them toward faithful conduct in Jesus (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul expected Christians to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
The fruit of the Spirit is not plural, but singular; each aspect cannot be understood only on its own merits but must be incorporated with the rest. The fruit of the Spirit could be entirely defined by love; joy, peace, and longsuffering/patience all speak to attitudes which allow Christians to glorify God regardless of their circumstances, and can endure.
The fruit of the Spirit ought to represent attitudes and dispositions manifest in behaviors, as can be seen with “kindness.” The word translated in Galatians 5:22 in most versions as kindness (but as “goodness” in the KJV) is the Greek word chrestotes, defined by Thayer’s as “moral goodness, integrity; benignity, kindness.”
Kindness seems hard to describe but easy to perceive; such says much about what it means to be kind. On a fundamental level kindness is an openness to another, seeking to be well-disposed toward them and to provide benefit in some way. We certainly appreciate the kindness of a stranger if they help us in a moment of need, providing resources we might need or something of that sort. But kindness is not equivalent to benevolence: one could certainly give begrudgingly, or out of perceived necessity. A person can be benevolent but harsh; for that matter, a person might be seen as good, yet not really kind. Kindness demands welcoming and warmth and can be communicated as easily as with a smile as anything else.
In the New Testament Christians are told to not expect such kindness and integrity in the world (Romans 3:12). The Apostle Paul set himself and his associates forward to early Christians as a model of kindness as they preached and labored among them (2 Corinthians 6:6). They expected Christians to put on kindness toward one another and to all (Colossians 3:12).
And yet God remains the model of kindness for the Christian. The concept of Hebrew hesed, so fundamental in the Psalms and an essential characteristic of God, is not able to be well translated into either Greek or English, as the place where covenant loyalty and loving kindness meet: upholding commitment with a feeling of warmth. We should certainly understand at least a hint of hesed behind the description of God’s work in Christ as a display of kindness: God’s kindness appeared in Christ and the salvation secured by His sacrifice according to Titus 3:4, and in Ephesians 2:7 Paul expected Christians to be continually bedazzled by God’s display of the riches of His grace in kindness for the rest of eternity.
God loved; God showed grace and mercy; and thus God is kind. We see the kindness of God in the continual refreshment of the creation and our lives. We can discern God’s kindness as He is present with us in our lives, and strengthens and sustains us through our distress and trial: everything we have and are comes from Him, and our continual sustenance in Him is a gift. We can have complete confidence that God cares, and we have every reason to seek to draw near to Him, for He has done everything He can to demonstrate how kindly disposed He remains toward us (Romans 8:31-39, Hebrews 10:19-23).
As Christians we ought to be kind to one another and to others as God has been kind to us. Yet we should never confuse God’s patience and kindness with laxity and indifference. God has been kind to us in order to give us an opportunity to turn and follow His ways: if we faithfully seek His purposes we will endure in His kindness for eternity, but the kindness of God will be exhausted at some point for those who resist His purposes, and leaving a fearful expectation of judgment remaining (Romans 2:2-11, 11:22). We should not presume on God’s kindness!
If longsuffering/patience is the most coveted character trait yet one of the most poorly displayed, then kindness has become one of the most lost and neglected dispositions of our age. As Western society has grown more individualistic people have become more atomized and alienated from one another. Not a few people have become embittered and hardened by their experiences with their fellow human beings, and remain skeptical and aloof. People are guarded and give off the impression they would rather be left alone. Interaction with fellow human beings is made to seem risky; it is easier to not even acknowledge the existence of those around us.
Such an indifferent world is a cruel world, truly dark in its alienation and despair. If Christians manifest the same kind of anxiety and fear as is consistent in the world, and thus do not prove kindly disposed toward other people, the light of the Gospel is severely diminished. Instead Christians must be the light in the darkness, and the light of God in Christ is well expressed in kindness (Matthew 5:13-16). When we prove kindly disposed toward others, and express kindness to them in disposition and behavior, we provide warmth in the cold, and openness where there is normally closure. To be kindly disposed toward people, especially toward people with whom we maintain disagreement on many matters, is now countercultural and often disarming. People have little need to be part of another cold, lifeless group of people; but who would not want to be part of a group of warm, welcoming, kind, and caring people? Thus Christians ought to be for one another and for the world.
The world has enough people who are closed off to one another in alienation and despair. Let us resolve to open ourselves toward other people and manifest kindness to them. May they see in us the fruit of the kindness God has displayed toward those who are in Christ, and may they come to share in that kindness, and all to the glory of God!
Ethan R. Longhenry