“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
On August 18, 1988, George H.W. Bush received the Republican Party nomination for president of the United States. In His acceptance speech, Bush famously called for America to be a “kinder, gentler” nation. Bush repeated the call at his inauguration speech the following January, and “kinder, gentler” became part of the American lexicon. But predictably, just a few years later the phrase became more of a punchline than a clarion call. And thirty years later, following the recent passing of the nation’s 41st president, it can be argued that America is less kind and less gentle than ever before. Kindness, it would seem, is in short supply.
While a blog post can only scratch the surface of why kindness is in such short supply, I believe that the four reasons that follow are a good starting point. Beyond the reasons I list below, please consider going deeper on this topic by reading Christians in the Age of Outrage, by Ed Stetzer.
- Kindness is in short supply because typecasting people is easier than relating with people.
Because people are messy – and yes, that includes all of us – so too are relationships. But it’s only through forging relationships with people, especially those who don’t think, look, or act like ourselves, that we can truly begin to have empathy and build trust. Typecasting is easy; relationships aren’t. But to move toward kindness and away from typecasting, we must take the uncomfortable step of getting to know people who are different than ourselves.
- Kindness is in short supply because we are inclined to compete rather than collaborate.
While competition has its place, an increasingly disproportionate emphasis on winning has significantly eroded our willingness to collaborate with one another. We have moved from Grantland Rice saying “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” to President Trump saying “We are gonna win, win, win … we’re going to win at everything.” The emphasis on winning is everywhere, and it is constant. A few months ago, as our church was preparing to join with the church across the street to celebrate Reformation Day, a teenage girl asked our pastors if our church competes with the church across the street. We assured her that not only do we not compete with them, we collaborate with them on a variety of things. But her question was an honest question, and I’m glad she asked it. Because whether we realize it or not, people are conditioned to believe that everything revolves around competition these days. For that reason, pastors and church leaders need to be at the forefront of pushing against competition, and for collaboration. Let it begin with us.
- Kindness is in short supply because we are quick to ascribe intent rather than giving benefit of the doubt.
When someone says or does something that you disagree with, are you quick to assume the motive for what was said or done? The tendency to ascribe intent – to assume we know exactly why a person says or acts in a certain manner – is prevalent in our rush-to-judgement culture. As church leaders, we see this all the time, don’t we? A change in worship style is perceived as leadership choosing to marginalize one group of people, rather than trying to more effectively reach another group that is harder to reach. A staff member who expresses concern about a leadership decision is perceived as a complainer rather than someone who cares enough to take the risk of sharing her opinion. A pastor’s exhortation for people to give generously is perceived as manipulation rather than an appeal to step into the fullness of life in Christ. When we ascribe intent, we play the role of judge. But as it relates to what lies within a person’s heart, that role is reserved for God alone.
- Kindness is in short supply because we rely on ourselves rather than the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5 includes kindness as a fruit of the Spirit. This means that try as we might, we cannot truly be kind to others on our own strength. Rather, we need to fully surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to increasingly conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Then – and only then – are we able to exude kindness that flows not from who we are, but what God has done (and is doing) in and through us.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”