Kathy is not usually confrontational. And I used to think she was nice.
But one conversation with Kathy last week confirms it. Now I know better.
Kathy is not nice.
Not Necessarily Nice
Too many Christians choose between standing for truth and demonstrating grace, and the result is self-righteous meanness disguised as truth or indifferent tolerance disguised as grace…The church today desperately needs the humility that rejects mean-spirited religion and exemplifies kindness while upholding biblical truth.
But it’s not that.
It’s a firm core of truth and soft edges of grace. Kind of like a Koosh ball. Remember those?
My brother would dangle it by its stretchy rubber strings. Sometimes, I’d fumble around with the filaments until my fingers found where they connected.
Flexible met firm at the core. Kind of like kindness.
Firm Core, Soft Edges
In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme of the other, soft centers or hard edges…Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges.
Kindness enables us to negotiate in a time when negotiating is dying and friendly discussions are yielding to rancor.
Whereas aggression has a firm center and hard edges, niceness has soft edges and a spongy center. Niceness may be pleasant but it lacks conviction. It has no soul.
Kindness is strong yet humble. Kindness is honesty and looks like truth with love. David believed this, writing, “Let a righteous man strike me-that is a kindness.”
Useful And Profitable
Kindness in Greek is chrestotes. It means useful and profitable. It’s more than sentiment. It’s a quality of being helpful and beneficial, of seeking to improve and bless others. It’s much more “Let me carry that for you,” and “Need a shoulder rub?” than “What a tough load,” and “I’m sorry you’re stressed.” Kindness is more like Let me watch your kids than I’m thinking of you while John travels this week.
Not that tender-hearts and sympathy aren’t good and healing. They are. But they’re not kindness. They’re not chrestotes. When Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden,” he appealed with kindness. His yoke, he said, was easy- chrestos, kind- and his load was light.
It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And the promotion of his own kindness is the very grounds of our salvation. The very reason God made us alive with Christ, Paul wrote, was so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Who was overflowingly full of grace and truth.
This is kindness.
“Barry,” he said, “if the lives God intersects with mine don’t have the opportunity to receive me, how will they ever know the love God has for them? I’ve got to live my life so strangers, friends, aching, lonely, family-they receive me,” he said. “And through me they see God’s inexhaustible love.”
Clearly, Corey’s father was a very kind man. He is quick to clarify, though, that living to be receivable is not the same as living to be received. Being received is out of our control. But we can make ourselves receivable.
This is living kindly. This is aiming to remove, or at least reduce, the obstacles those around us have to faith. This is pre-eminent in my parenting prayers: Lord, help me live so that the boys see you for who you are. Help me not to be a stumbling block to their seeking you. The Apostle Paul lived to be receivable. We endure all things so we cause no obstacle to the gospel of Christ.
The way of kindness, explains Corey is often self-effacing, Koosh-strand flexibility, receivable kindness, does not get hung up on looking perfect. People are far more receivable, Corey writes, when they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Even so, living a humble, receivable life is no guarantee we will be received. In fact, Jesus promises that his own will be rejected and hated. “Whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). There’s union with Christ even then.
Conversing With Kindness
Sometimes in our zeal for a firm center, we default to lectures from the sidelines rather than initiating gracious conversation with those whose standards are different from our own. When we respond this way, our edges calcify, and grace is lost in a fight for truth (p. 54).
This builds walls not bridges. Bony-hard edges don’t make for a good hug.
But soft centers with soft edges aren’t biblically kind either. In Jesus’ way of kindness, we can be confident in our beliefs and be comfortable listening to those with differing views.
The point isn’t to be respected or even to become friends. It’s also not to avoid awkwardness or to avoid making someone feel uncomfortable. Sometimes discomfort is just what the doctor ordered to set things right.
The point of kindness, says Corey, is to represent Jesus. When we are genuine and winsome, we are able to point them to their greatest good, which is found only in the gospel (p. 54). Love is patient and kind and true love, John Piper asserts, is doing whatever you have to do to help people see and treasure the glory of God as their supreme joy.
Which means that conversations borne of kindness are not simply for shooting the breeze. Instead, with patience and humility, we do aim to convince.
But that after listening and learning what we didn’t understand.
Kindness does not mean we assent to cultural norms or that we give people a pass to feed their own moral appetites under the guise of individual choice or because, “God loves us anyway.” God’s kind of kindness is far different from niceness or tolerance because it leads us to see his holiness and purity and from there, to see our own depravity (p. 66).
In short, God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. As imitators of God, ours should too.
Humility, Not Dichotomy
Kindness is not anything goes. And it’s also not talk ‘atcha and fly. Kindness is way harder than both of those– way more supernatural. It is our job to keep a firm core, which strangely accentuates soft edges. External flexibility, writes Corey, does not have to equate to internal weakness.
But kindness that bends to accept as valid everyone else’s viewpoint is not kindness. We can be kind and assured of truth. We can be kind and encourage one another toward righteousness.
Kindness pairs well with humility. Paul puts the two together in Colossians 2, Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility.
Like kindness, humility is often confused.
Jon Bloom explains how,
[H]umble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.
Which brings me back to Kathy. Kathy who was kind enough to me to hold out the truth in love to help me grow up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Hard Core Kindness
Kathy is a gentlewoman through and through. In the decade I’ve known her, her words have never wounded. They only ever nurture. Kathy is ever calm, never loud, always and forever gracious. I only ever enjoyed brushing against her Kooshy soft edges when we walk and talk.
Kathy listened. She was, as she always is, soft on the edges and truly present when we walked and I talked last week.
Oh, was I angry! He knew that Friday is Gabe’s party. We wrote it on our calendars a month ago. Then last night he told me he’s got a golf outing with his friends all day. Which means he’ll miss most of the party. The whole family’s coming at four and he won’t get home until six or seven o’clock. It just burns me.
When came up for air and sweet Kathy caught me by surprise.
Abbi, can I give you a challenge?
Gulp. Oh, dear. Of course. Firm core incoming.
When you get home tonight, why don’t you tell Jim to go golfing as planned and to have fun with the guys? Tell him you’ll be just fine without him. And the days he goes to golf, give him a big kiss as he heads out and a warm hug when he gets home.
These words were not nice. Implicit in Kathy’s challenge was the truth that I was in the wrong, that I was not acting in love. And her willingness to challenge me-that’s the firm core of kindness.
Nice doesn’t speak truth so boldly. Nice doesn’t call out sinful, selfish attitudes so plainly. Nice doesn’t rebuke and dump much-needed, healing oil on my head.
Centuries ago, Matthew Henry wrote, of this precious oil,
This oil shall be as an excellent oil to a wound, to mollify it and close it up; it shall not break my head, as some reckon it to do, who could as well bear to have their heads broken as to be told of their faults; but, says David, “I am not of that mind; it is my sin that has broken my head, that has broken my bones,” The reproof is an excellent oil, to cure the bruises sin has given me. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart.
Kathy is kind.