“Love is kind…” –1 Corinthians 13:4b
KINDNESS HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE A LIFE
He just got out of prison. It was France, October 1815.
A rough and ragged man finds himself out on the street. Years of hard labor and abuse set lines in his face and tension in his jaw. Despite a towering build and stone-like features, he steps out into the open with timid, faltering steps.
He doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. Any family he once knew had been cut off from him long ago. He doesn’t know what will await him, but, at least, he’d try to… oh, he didn’t know what. He would simply try. How different life was now! Over the years his chain had become a part of him, and now he could go anywhere. An emptiness set in when he realized he really didn’t have anywhere to go.
Initially, he had been put into prison for stealing bread to feed his widowed sister and her children. Repeated attempts to escape only lengthened his time under the whip and harsh commands, for a total of nineteen years. If it wasn’t for his incredible physical strength, the prison guards may have already pulverized him into sandy grit. A hardened body mirrored also the heart that had turned into stone within him.
After walking the road for a while, he arrives in a small town looking for food and shelter for the night. He carries with him the papers of a former convict, having to show them whenever anyone asked. One by one, each house turns him away with harsh threats, from people with cold eyes and arms wrapped tightly around loved ones. He dies further inside at the thought of approaching each new door.
At one point, he tries to squeeze into a small hut. The next moment, he backs away startled, as the hair-raised occupant of the house, barking, chases him down the street. He cries out in despair, as he is not even a dog.
Afterwards, a passerby tells him to go knock on the door of Bishop Myriel, also called “Bienvenu,” which means “welcome” in French. Perhaps, he’ll help him.
Upon knocking, the bishop, unflinchingly, welcomes the man into his home, to the dismay of those with him. He sets a table for him and treats him with the utmost courtesy, as he would anyone else. The bishop doesn’t even seem to care about the man’s past. Astonished, the ex-convict can only receive his hospitality without being able to fully process what it means. The bishop even let’s him stay for the evening. While in the house, the ex-convict takes time to notice the bishop’s silverware.
In the night, while everyone lay sleeping, the man steals the silver from the bishop’s bedroom and leaves the house on quiet footsteps.
The police later catch him and bring him back to the bishop’s house. On this charge of theft, he’ll be put into prison for life. Defeated, despairing, with a life sentence about to fall on him, the man braces for his fate. Yesterday, the bishop had treated him like an honored guest. He was stunned then, blind and deaf to the magnitude of the bishop’s kindness.
Now, he had ruined his chances forever.
Knock, knock, knock!
“Come in.” The bishop appears glad the man came back, and tells him he forgot to take the silver candlesticks, along with the other silverware.
The police, puzzled, inquire a little further, making sure this wasn’t a matter of theft. The bishop assures them it wasn’t, but these items are gifts, causing the policemen to release him the next moment. The now freed man stares dumbfounded at the bishop, not understanding and trembling at this strange reversal of fortune.
The bishop looks at the man, engraving the following words upon his heart:
“Don’t forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man… Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” (Les Miserables, Victor Hugo)
The man leaves the house, dazed and stumbling down the road. It only takes a little longer, a little further down the road on his journey, when the stone finally crumbles and a man, completely broken, cries out to God.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? –Romans 2:4
KINDNESS AS A SUPERPOWER
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. –Proverbs 25:15
“You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.” – Publilius Syrus
Les Miserables is the story about how one man’s kindness changed another man’s life.
The above is my version of Jean Valjean’s conversion. [Les Miserables is one of my favorite novels! I own a worn, underlined, abridged copy. And, this part of the story gets me every time.]
After Jean Valjean surrenders his life to God, he, in turn, positively affects many other lives. It’s a story about the power of redemption, grace and love, during a dark time in France’s history, where many lived lives of misery. Hence, the title, wretched, or the wretched ones. It’s a lesson on how kindness and love can break open the most wretched and hard heart, like nothing else can.
Similarly, we’re coming to a dark period in human history, where kindness will be in short supply. We, too, will come across many who are les miserables. Paul makes clear how things will be in the future. How much darkness do we already see in our society?
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. –2 Timothy 3:1-5
In the midst of an increasingly abusive and treacherous world, what kind of people will we be?
Will we match road rage for road rage?
Will we fight fire with fire? Friend, fighting fire with fire only creates bigger bonfires that grow out of control!
Instead, God tells us to come in the opposite spirit. He assures us, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:21
Your kindness will cause people to wonder in an increasingly hurried, rude and stressed out world.
Your kindness will be a warm welcome as hearts in general grow colder and more rejecting.
Your kindness will be a soothing balm to many hearts as abusive language and behavior become the norm.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world… –Philippians 2:14-15
WHAT IS KINDNESS
I confess I had a few blank moments starting this blog post. For the longest time, I considered myself a nice person, but not necessarily a kind one. I care deeply about people, things and causes, but I don’t always act on my concern or care. For kindness to be kindness, it has to be expressed.
In my childhood bathroom, we had a little picture on the wall with the quote, “The smallest good deed is better than the grandest intention.” (quote by John Burroughs) The little boy in the picture held three flowers behind his back with one hand and held out one flower to the person in front of him with the other.
Which would bless your day more, the kindness you knew about and experienced, or the good intention you had no idea was in someone’s heart for you? What an illustration of the importance of practicing kindness, even in the small things!
If patience requires us to be “long in spirit” (or have “a long fuse”) in dealing with annoyances or the irritating habits of others, kindness seems to be the love in action part. Without patience, we won’t want to express our love. And, without kindness, our patient love for others and good intentions won’t have expression. Both realities swing open the gates of love!
WORD STUDY: LOOKING DEEPER INTO BIBLICAL KINDNESS
Our Bible study can go deeper by researching keywords in their original language. (I’ve done that below.) Unfortunately, most people don’t do word studies. If you only looked up the keyword in Hebrew or Greek and carefully studied its meaning, you’d be ahead of the curve. But, even then, many Bible students stop at the first word they see and call it good. The proverbial rabbit hole can go deeper as you look further into the origin of a particular word.
Moreover, both Hebrew and the Greek have word families, stemming from root words, which carry the foundational meaning for all the words that come from it.
For example, let’s go through the process of going deeper with the Greek word for “kind.”
First, the word for “kind” in 1 Corinthians 4 is a Greek verb, chrēsteuetai, which is only found once in this particular verse. It includes the various meanings: to show oneself mild and useful, to act benevolently. (Strong’s #5541) But, let’s also make special note that this Greek word is a VERB. Kind isn’t an adjective describing love here, though “kind” does describe love to a certain extent. It’s saying we demonstrate love when we put into action the meaning of this particular Greek word.
Second, the previous word stems from another Greek adjective, chréstos, meaning to furnish what is suitable, useful, virtuous, good, and mild or pleasant (as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp and bitter). (Strong’s #5543) Being kind has the idea of both being useful and good at the same time.
Third, the previous word originates from another Greek verb, chraomai, meaning to receive a loan, borrow, to use and to make use of a thing. (Strong’s #5530)
Consider this verse in light of the above word meaning: Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done. –Proverbs 19:17 (Bold mine)
The kindness found in this verse involves giving to the poor. God, who sees it as lending to Him, will reward you in turn.
This word meaning also gives greater conviction to the well-known verse:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. –Luke 6:38
When you “lend to God” by being kind to others, He’ll give you back more than you could’ve expected.
Fourth, going back further, the previous word stems from another Greek noun, cheir, meaning “by the help or agency of any one.” This Greek word is primarily translated “hand.” (Strong’s #5495)
In conclusion, when combining the various meanings within the history or origin of this word “kind,” we can see meanings like unto our saying, “Will you please be so kind as to lend me a hand?”
In other words, being kind is not only a matter of the heart, but also of the hand.
[Note: I found a lot of this information on my Blue Letter Bible app, which is a great tool for looking at words in the original Hebrew and Greek. Using the wide range of Bible study tools available to go deeper would be an excellent use of one’s time. Yes, I’m a Bible nerd and proud of it!]
KINDNESS IN ACTION
In essence, as discovered in our Greek word study, kindness involves doing what is good and useful. It offers a helping hand when needed. In other words, kindness is practical. For people to experience and receive the benefit of our kindness, we can’t just think good thoughts about them, we must express our love in words, attitudes and actions. Of course, kindness flourishes best in a garden of loving acts.
For instance, the other day I went to drop off some paper for shredding with a friend who lives in a retirement community. I noticed an elderly woman struggling with two big paper bags of paper. She had to walk a ways to get from the parking lot into the building to the room where they collected the paper. I jumped to action and asked if I could help her with her bags. Carrying her bags as I walked with her, we chatted for the few minutes it took to get to the room. Then, she turned to me, smiling, and said, “Thank you so much! You’ve done your good deed for the day.”
Indeed! I was the “Paper Bag Hero” for the day. It so was not a big deal, took only a few minutes of my time, and I helped an old woman in need.
KINDNESS FOR A WATCHING WORLD
Given these points, we could all demonstrate kindness in one way or another! In what ways will you be kind this next week to a stranger, a neighbor, a friend or a family member?
The kindness you express can go far in melting a hard heart, drawing someone closer to Jesus, giving a person hope, or encouraging them to make it through a difficult day. Going back to the story we started off with, an act of kindness even has the power to positively change someone’s life for eternity.
I’m convinced people in today’s world hunger and thirst for kindness! For instance, it always takes me by surprise when someone is unusually patient and kind, especially in a trying situation with difficult people. When somebody acts contrary to human nature, we’re witnessing the power of the Spirit operating in a person’s life. We know it’s otherworldly. And, those who are watching know it, too!
WATER MOVES HARDER THAN ROCK
The saying “water moves harder than rock” reminds me of how gentle persistence over time can effect change more than applying force. Let’s face it, sometimes, it takes time for kindness to break through as it continually washes over a person’s heart.
In the same way, searching God’s Word and meditating on this topic of kindness has already brought slow and steady change into my life. As a result, God has carved new avenues of revelation into my heart with the washing of the water of the word. (Ephesians 5:26)
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a warrior in the Spirit. I believe in using spiritual force, such as tearing down strongholds, taking authority over demonic activity and breaking lies off of people and situations. Yes, spiritual warfare is real and it’s needed! Sometimes, as the people of God, we don’t place enough emphasis on spiritual warfare.
But, when it comes to my interactions with people, God’s truth motivates me to apply kindness as a superpower! Since kindness tends to work its way softly and silently into someone’s heart, one may not always notice its influence and effect until afterwards. In my own life, I can recall times where the kindness of others has influenced me. You probably can, too.
In conclusion, let’s not underestimate the power of kindness, but let’s commit powerful acts of intentional kindness wherever we go.
Kindness can do things nothing else can. It can open the prison bars of someone’s heart.
“Kind words, kind looks, kind acts, and warm handshakes-these are means of grace when men in trouble are fighting unseen battles.” -John Hall
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS
- As you see various needs pop up this next week, practice intentional acts of kindness.
- What did you think about Jean Valjean’s conversion at the beginning of the blog post? Do you think kindness has the power to radically change a person’s life? Why or why not? How has kindness changed your life during key moments and seasons?
- I like to bring in other categories of knowledge to better understand the ways of God, which is why I connect songs, history, contemporary culture, movies, art, books, etc. into these blog posts. If you’re up for it, I’d encourage you to read an ABRIDGED version of Les Miserables. (Just looking at the non-abridged version may scare you, as it does me. It’s thick.) Don’t just watch a movie about the book, but actually read the book. Read the story of a life transformed by kindness!
- Victor Hugo wrote the character of the bishop to express true religion. What did you learn from this character and his actions? How can you incorporate more of his Biblical lifestyle into your daily life? How does his nickname “Bienvenu,” meaning “welcome” in French, powerfully describe his character and attitude towards people?
- The passage in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 talks about the dark days ahead, where kindness will shine even brighter. How can simple kindness open doors of friendship and witness in the future? What will prepare you to show kindness in the face of increasing rudeness, abusive behavior and evil? Implement those actions, plans and strategies in your life, so kindness will be an established way of life for both your heart and your hands.
- Do you believe coming in the opposite spirit can defuse a bad situation? Why or why not? Have you ever had that happen in your life? Take time to reflect on that situation and thank God for it. In the same way, do you truly believe that good can overcome evil? Do your actions or the way you handle certain situations echo or contradict this Biblical principle? If you find you don’t really believe it, what can you do to change your mindset on this issue? What verses or passages can you meditate upon to more clearly see the power of kindness and goodness in a dark world?
- What do you think about how we took the word “kind” and stemmed it back to a word that primarily translates as “hand?” How does that personally speak to you? In your own words, describe the connection between “kind” and “hand.”
- Get the Blue Letter Bible App or some other Bible study tool on your phone or laptop and start using it. If you don’t know how it works, find out. Do your own keyword study in the original Hebrew and Greek? I assure you, just like anything else, the more you practice this skill, the easier it will become. Plus, you’ll find all kinds of treasure, since you actually took the time and effort to dig for it! (Read Proverbs 2) That’s the best reward of all! “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
- Sometimes, the hardest place to be kind is in our own homes or living spaces. (Ouch! I’m speaking to myself here.) In what ways can you practice kindness towards those you live with on a regular basis? Do a chore that wasn’t assigned or asked of you? Do someone else’s dishes if they’re in a hurry at a particular time? Make someone a cup of coffee? The options are endless.
- Did something stand out to you in this blog post? What was it? Why do you think it stood out to you? What may God be speaking to you about this subject of “kindness?”
- Who is the kindest person you know? In what ways has this person influenced your life?