The Fruit of the spirit: Kindness

It’s a package deal!

I don’t know how you spent New Year last year but we had a great time in Ghent. A nice hotel and a lot of things to go and see. However we went on a package and all the food and activities came as part of it. We could have tried to make up our own package but apart from the cost it would all have taken time I did not have. The fact is it was offered as a package and you were sensible if you took all the various bits as part of that package. It made sense. Kindness is like that. It does not really stand on its own.
 
packagebig As Paul sees it kindness comes as part of that package that he refers to as the fruit of the spirit. But before we really look at this let’s look at the background against which Paul was writing.
It is very tempting and appealing to think that in the first century church everything was all sweetness and light and folk never fell out. The fact is that the book of Acts and the New Testament letters are set against a background of fierce and strongly held argument. The reason that we find it so easy to form our nice sanitized view is because like a lot of history it was written by the winners.
 
Now I am not saying this critically. At the end of the day the early church fathers had to decide what would be included in what we now call the Bible and they included the literature that supported their position and I find no problem in believing that in the midst of this rather untidy hotchpotch the Holy Spirit was guiding them.
 
The reason I am saying that is because if you are going to grasp what Galatians is all about and in particular the passage dealing with the fruit of the spirit you have to understand the background against which it is written. The fact is there was a huge argument blazing in the church in the first century and it is encapsulated in the letter by Paul to the Galatians.
 

The Background of Paul's letter to Galatia

You could fairly ask who the Galatians were. Galatia is part of modern Turkey and it was a predominantly Gentile i.e. non Jewish area. We have no record of Paul visiting but clearly for many the gospel had been received and a church or churches established. What happened next provoked Paul to say in 3v1: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” If Alan Scotland wrote to us with that sort of rebuke I rather think we would sit up and take notice.
 
You see the great debate in the early church was between those Christians who believed that many Jewish traditions and practices could and indeed should be maintained, a view the Apostle Peter clearly had sympathy with and the view of those who sided with Paul that Jewish practice and tradition had little or no place in the church of Jesus. Now it is very easy for us two thousand years later to be complacent about this argument. Can I remind you that about half the people in this room have good reasons to be thankful to Paul that he won the argument that circumcision was not a requirement of coming into the church. There are more effective ways of losing weight.
 
More importantly that great Christian academic F.F.Bruce summed it up by suggesting that had Peter won the argument the church would simply have been a Jewish sect, whilst the supremacy of Paul’s argument allowed the church to develop in to the multicultural and international body it is today.
So let’s have a look at the basic structure of the book:
 
  • 1 v 1 – 5 Intro
  • 1v 6 10 Only one gospel
  • 1v 11- 17 Call to apostleship
  • 1 v 18 – 24 Contacts in Jerusalem- Essentially Paul is defending his position and his apostleship
  • 2v1 -21 Defending the gospel; no return to the law
  • 3 v1 – 4 v 7 The law: what was its purpose?
  • 4v 8 – 20 Fears for the church
  • 4v 21- 31 Two Covenants- Paul is seeking to showing the inadequacy of the Jewish law and traditions
  • 5v1-15 Christian Liberty
  • 5v16 -24 Walking in the Spirit. -Because of all that has gone before this is now possible! Paul is deliberately presenting this as a contrast to the legalistic life that the Judaisers wished to bring into the church.
  • 6 v 1 – 18 Pastoral matters and conclusions.
 
So let’s now concentrate on Galatians 5 v 16 – 24 and in particular that section of the fruit of the spirit “Kindness.”
 
16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.[1]
 

The power of the Natural Man

You see Paul is dealing, as were the Judaisers from a different position with the age old issue that we all know and experience -that we all have a tendency to move towards evil.
 
Let me give you an extreme example. I suspect you have not heard of Karl Brandt. At university he had been a great follower of Albert Schweitzer, a very prominent Christian thinker at the time. As a young doctor in the late 1920’s serving an impoverished mining district of Bohemia he was popular and committed to the welfare of his patients.
 
In 1947 he was executed as a war criminal. As the senior medical officer in the German Nazi government he had been responsible for the wide spread extermination of the physically and mentally handicapped and mentally ill. He had authorized some quite appalling experiments on Jewish and Gypsy prisoners and Russian prisoners of war.
 

Now what had brought about this change? Paul gives us the clue in v 17:

 
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish
 
If you had asked Karl Brandt as a young man do you want to be remembered as a mass murderer I do not think he would had said yes. You see in what he did for apparently good reasons he allowed the inbuilt bias to evil that we all have to gradually take the upper hand. Left to our own devices and the works of the flesh take the upper hand.
 
Let me give you one more example of this principle at work. When I lived in the midlands a colleague of mine introduced me to crown bowls and had I kept contact with him I think I could have been quite good at it. Len had a party trick and some members of the club believed he had been known to use this trick to win competitions. Crown bowls have a small dent on one side to make the bowl not travel in a straight line but in a slight curve. Len showed me once how by the careful application of chewing gum you could make the bowl travel straighter or even bend further. Of course it was always removed before the umpire or the opposition arrived!
 
Remember Paul talks about this tension that we all experience earlier in Chapter 5 when he says:
 
 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish
 
Now earlier in the letter in 3v23 Paul explains that the Law of Moses as given had the effect of “keeping people under guard”. If you like it laid down a line over which we should not cross. However this in effect produced a situation where you had to live your life in a sense looking over your shoulder all the time.
 
The law was there to keep you from doing wrong but if you stopped looking over your shoulder to see what you had done or not done the bias took over and like the bowl without the chewing gum on the side you start to go away from the straight path. In effect that’s what happened to Karl Brandt he stopped looking over his shoulder and gradually he descended into some pretty nasty stuff.
 
What Paul was saying time and time again to the Galatians was that constantly looking over your shoulder to see what you had done or not done was not a good way to live. It puts you under persistent pressure and ultimately you cannot succeed. Using Paul’s words trying to keep the Jewish law and all that went with it was simply “a yoke of bondage”. This was a real slap on the face to the Judaisers those who were trying to introduce Jewish practices onto the Galatian church
 

Walking in the Spirit- The package deal

So let’s remind ourselves of Paul’s answer? He gives in 5v18: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Or as the Amplified Bible puts it “Walk and live habitually in the Holy Spirit – responsive to and guided and controlled by the Spirit”
What is the alternative? Well Paul names them as “the works of the flesh” or as the NIV probably more accurately translates “the acts of the sinful nature” and he lists them as:
“adultery,
 fornication,
 uncleanness,
lewdness,
idolatry,
sorcery,
hatred,
contentions,
jealousies,
outbursts of wrath,
selfish ambitions,
dissensions,
heresies,
envy,
murders,
drunkenness,
revelries, and the like”
 
Here however we have a distinction, because he talks about the acts or the works of our sinful nature. I think if we are honest defining the features of our sinful nature by individual acts makes sense. I am not sure of the value of a tick list approach to this but some of those on the list I identify with very strongly, some slightly and some not at all.
 
If you are now feeling bored and wishing I would finish you can spend the rest of the morning which they might be that I identify very strongly with!
 
Now remember I said there was a distinction. Well here it is. Paul talks of works or acts or even doings as one translation puts it of our sinful nature. The results of that inbuilt bias we all have is a plural. On the other hand he talks of the fruit of the spirit and here we are back to the package we started with. I was asked to talk this morning about kindness and I will get around to it, but really it is quite difficult because Paul does not see any aspect of the fruit of the spirit separately. He sees them collectively as fruit not fruits. Linking this back to the rest of the letter he states:
 

“If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.”

 
What he is setting out is a whole way of life in contrast to the lifestyle on offer from those who were so keen to bring Jewish practice and tradition into the church and by the use of the word fruit and not fruits he in effect is saying as you allow yourself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit as you seek to develop your relationship with your God these are the characteristics you will start to show in your life and it will be as natural as the fact that my apple tree produces apples each year and my plum tree plums.
 
 It is not a tick list of things to do or even a self service menu where you can have a bit of a bit of gentleness, and a bit of longsuffering and I will mix it with a bit of kindness. It is a total package that as the believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit will begin to be seen in his or her life.
 

Kind-ness

However as I have been asked to speak about kindness let me spend a little while doing that but please bear in mind kindness is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is part of that total package that God wishes to develop in the life of the believer.
 
As I came to think about this word kindness I found that it is one of those words that is rather misunderstood. You hear the word used fairly flippantly. For example he is a kind man or a little act of human kindness. It is certainly used a lot. I found there are187, 000 entries on Google for kindness. I even found an American web site selling a kindness doll.
If you are of a sensitive nature look away now:
 
 
 kindness
 
Now I have a real problem with that doll apart from the fact that it would probably give my granddaughter nightmares. It gives you a nice warm feeling and is supposed to remind children to be kind, but that is not how Paul sees kindness. He clearly sees it as part of the fruit of the Spirit, not an individual fruit to be cultivated. It also completely denies the fact that kindness is an action word and not necessarily one that makes us feel comfortable.
 
Let me read a short extract from 2 Samuel Chapter 2. Just listen for the action words.
 
Saul is dead and buried4 and David is about to be anointed as King: “Then the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, “The men of Jabesh Gilead were the ones who buried Saul.” 5So David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh Gilead, and said to them, “You are blessed of the Lord, for you have shown this kindness to your lord, to Saul, and have buried him. 6“And now may the Lord show kindness and truth to you. I also will repay you this kindness, because you have done this thing.”
 
So please get the idea that kindness does not stand on itself. It is always associated with an action.
Let me give you two more examples and tweeze this out further:
 
1.      Listen to the prostitute Rahab speaking to the Israeli spies before that attack on Jericho:
“Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house…
 
2.      David after the slaughter of the House of Saul:
1Now David said, “Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
 
You see in both of these quotes we are not talking about some soppy idea but something very concrete. Let’s examine this further:
 
1.     By her act of kindness Rahab probably put her life in danger. People who shelter spies tend not to be popular with the rulers.
 
2.     The act of kindness she was asking for was for her and her family to be saved from the slaughter that took place when Jericho fell. Just imagine what that means. In the bloodletting that normally took place after a siege the two spies had to make sure that her house was protected. Not an easy task and one that potentially put their lives at risk.
 
3.     David’s position as king was now secure. Why now create a source of possible opposition within his own circle. At the very least an inconvenience and possibly a source of future danger.
 
You see you cannot talk about kindness without action that often can be costly to you.
I came across two quotes that I like.
 
One is from the author Mark Twain who wrote
 

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. “

 
The second quote is from an associate and former colleague of mine Margaret Cooling who describes kindness as
 

“love with its sleeves rolled up.”

 
Sometimes it is not an individual act.
 
By 1941 Denmark was occupied by Germany and as the start of actions against the well integrated Jewish population a decree was made by the German governor that all Jews should start to wear an arm band showing the Star of David to allow easy identification. The next day the King and his family appeared wearing the Star of David. The rest of his court followed and soon Copenhagen was alive with individuals wearing the Star of David. The result was most of the Danish Jews survived the war. The same could not be said in other places. I might add that at that time Denmark was a strongly devote Lutheran country.
 
The reason I have used that example that was an act of kindness but think for a minute how many other aspects of the fruit of the spirit were contained there:
  • Love for minority in their midst.  Yes
  • Joy.  Not sure
  • Peace. It was non violent but many Danes testified later to feeling very much at peace with the risky actions.
  • Longsuffering. I don’t suppose German soldiers were exactly polite to Danes wearing the star who were obviously not Jewish
  • Kindness.  Yes it was a kind thing to do.
  • Goodness. Yes it was the right thing to do
  • Faithfulness. Yes to their Jewish neighbors and to what was right.
  • Gentleness. It was completely non violent but not weak.
  • Self-control. It took some to appear publically wearing the star unsure of what might happen next.
Let me start to sum up. Kindness does stand on its own but the more I think about it, it is linked to all the other aspects of the fruit of the spirit. They come together to collectively make this package that Paul called the fruit of the spirit but how do we achieve this. Paul makes it pretty clear to the Galatians that it is not achieved by taking on a set of rules and regulations and perhaps following some tradition. That’s what he calls “the yoke of bondage.”
 
This is where we are inclined to want a sudden shot in the arm. An injection that will suddenly produce the fruit of the spirit of which kindness is an aspect in our lives. Sorry that is not what Paul has on offer. Remember he is trying to ensure that the Galatians do not fall into a life of rules and regulations and observances. What Paul is talking about is beyond rules and regulations. He is talking about how we live our daily lives.
 
The answer lies in two sections:
 
1.      Firstly dealing with our inbuilt bias to evil:

 

Galatians 5v16:

Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh

 
or as the Amplified Bible puts it:
 

“walk and live habitually in the Holy Spirit – responsive to and guided by the Spirit; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh – human nature without God.

 
That is not talking about a sudden shot in the arm, perhaps being prayed for at some great event. That is talking about a life style.
 
2.      Secondly how do we begin to consistently show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives of which kindness is one aspect?
Galatians 5 v 25.
 

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit

 
or as the Amplified Bible helpfully translates this:
 

“If we live by the Holy Spirit let us also walk by the Holy Spirit – If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God let us go forward walking in line our conduct controlled by the Holy Spirit. “

 
and an aspect of that will be kindness and all the other aspects of the Holy Spirit.
 
Early on I outlined that the letter to the Galatians is written against the background of a monumental argument in the early church. Essentially it offered two contrasting lifestyles. One was based on rules and regulations described by one as “the yoke of slavery”. The fact is this has some appeal. It gives a temporary sort of security. The problem with it is no one has ever succeeded in living all the time to these regulations and rules.
 
The lifestyle that Paul offers is based on a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Let me remind you how that is described: “If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God let us go forward walking in line our conduct controlled by the Holy Spirit”. That is the lifestyle I am opting for and guess what it is my expectation and prayer that you will see in me the fruit of the Holy Spirit amongst which will be kindness. That is the package deal I want to be part of.


[1]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.
David Donoghue, 22/07/2008