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  • Writer's pictureAdam Smith

Learning Kindness from Jesus

Practicing Christlikeness amid broken people and places

Kindness is a rich word. The word kind is related to the words kin and kinship, but also to nature. Most translations of Genesis chapter 1, for example, continue to use the word kind throughout to speak of things that are alike: “And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:25, KJV)

Thus, kindness is also related to likeness and to equality. To be kind to someone is to acknowledge them as a fellow member of the same race, class, and nature as you are. It is to treat them as kin, as one made after your own kind. 

By following the word itself in this way, immediately we can see why kindness is often so difficult and lacking in our time. If being kind to someone involves a recognition of our shared status (i.e. kindredness), then the opposite of kindness must be to remove someone from the sphere of shared humanity in our own imaginations. History teaches us that this is at the root of nearly every human horror: black people were taken to be slaves because they were categorized as a lesser class of humans by white people. Witches were burned at the stake primarily because they were seen as something other than (or less than) human. The Nazis took such thinking to its most extreme conclusion. Indeed, every mob that has ever risen up against another person or a group of persons has done so because they have labeled that person or group as something other than kin

The lack of kindness we see in our political, religious, and social discourse today shares the same root. We are not kind to one another because we don’t think we are kin to one another. And when we see others as something categorically different than ourselves, it is easy for us to coldly dismiss, hate, and condemn them within categorical terms. In our hearts, we simply say, “that’s just like a (liberal/conservative, man/woman, black/white, Christian/non-Christian, etc.).” We come to think that we’re better than them and so remove any sense of kinship. 

Jesus encountered the same behavior when he saved the life of the women taken in adultery, which we read about in John 8. Confronted by an angry ‘righteous’ mob who wanted to stone the woman, Jesus disarms the mob by removing the woman from the category in which the mob had placed her and then placing her back amongst their own kind: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

This immediately defeats and disassembles the mob who now recognize the woman as someone just like them. Like her, they are all sinners in need of kindness, the same kindness that Jesus gives freely to the woman:

“Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?”

“No man, Lord.”

“Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”—John 8:10-11, KJV

The kindness Jesus shows the woman is typical of the way he treats people throughout the Gospels. Over and again in the Gospels, Jesus meets the needs of people who don’t deserve it in kindness, whether through healings, feedings, or other miracles. Often his act of simply  extending relationship to someone is enough to change their life (like Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10)

The Apostle Paul tells us that kindness is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and that Christians baptized into Christ are called to a new life where there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and no male and female’ for “we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). In Paul’s thought, the Gospel of grace, which reminds us that we all need a Savior, puts us on even footing with the rest of humanity. There can be no racism, classism, or sexism amongst Christians, no categorical hatred or condemnation towards any fellow human being, because at the heart of the Gospel is a recognition of our shared status as those in need of God’s kindness. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to produce and impress this sentiment within our hearts. 

If we want to grow in kindness, we must look to Christ as our example. The kindness of Jesus is perhaps best exemplified through the very act of his incarnation. By becoming man, Jesus placed himself within our kind—took on our own nature—in order to show us what true kindness looks like. He shows us kindness by identifying with us. By becoming our brother, Jesus shows us how to be a brother; how to treat those who were made after our own kind. 

Jesus also shows us how to be kind to those who don’t deserve it. Recall again what Jesus said to the mob: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” The only person standing there who actually was without sin was Jesus himself. He had every right to pick up a stone and throw it at every one of them, but he didn’t. Instead, Jesus subjected himself to the great unkindness of the cross in order to extend kindness to his own accusers (and to us). 

We can be kind to one another because Christ has been kind to us. When we allow the Gospel to work in our hearts, we begin to see other men and women not just as fellow passengers on the journey of life but as members of the same family; all other categories begin to fade away. Though it is easy to derive a debased sense of pleasure from despising other members of this family, there is much greater joy to be found in embracing our kinship with one another, just as Jesus embraced his kinship with us. 

Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.


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