Friday, February 04, 2011

The "Kindness Circle"

The African-American museum
at Central State University
I'm prepping for Sunday's message, which is out of 1Thessalonians 5:1-11. I'm reading through this letter and coming across verses, though I've read before, seem new to me. Like 1 Thessalonians 5:15:

"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else."

How kind am I? How kind have I been? In general, I think the further I go back in my life the less kind I have been. I've always been kind to Linda, for the most part. When I've been unkind I've always asked her to forgive me. And she's that way towards me, too. We always confess, forgive, and move on. And we love being kind to one another.

The further back I go in my life my "kindness circle" shrinks. Smaller is the group of people I am kind to. Sadly, I used to privately and sometimes publicly make fun of other people. To mock them. To stand above them and judge them. I have spoken negatively about people I don't even really know. Surely these are examples of unkindness.

Unkindness pays back wrong for wrong. You get wronged; you pay it back on the other person. Tit-for-tat; an eye for an eye. Unkindness breeds unkindness, which breeds more unkindness, and so on ad infinitum. Unkindness is spiritual cancer. Unkindness is... antichrist-like.

Paul is here addressing Thessalonian Jesus-followers. N.T. Wright comments: "Each Christian, and each Christian group or family, has the responsibility to look out for the needs of the others, to give comfort, warning, strengthening and example whenever necessary. It isn't enough to avoid trouble and hope for the best. One must actively go after ("pursue") what will be good for other Christians, and indeed for everybody." (Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, 132)

The kindness circle extends to all who claim the name of Jesus for themselves. If this were followed churches everywhere would be revitalized. But the real concern here is: me. A few months ago I was asked, in an interview, "What is the #1 problem you see in your community?" I amswered: "It's me." I was serious! If I change our community will be better and stronger. The old hymn does not sing "Change their hearts, O God..." Nor does it sing "It's them, it's them, it's them O Lord, standin' in the need of prayer."

I need to be kinder.

Does the kindness circle extend even to our enemies? Of course, because it includes you and me.
  • You and I were once Christ's enemies. (Romans 5:10)
  • God's kindness to us led us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
  • Christ is being formed in us. (Galatians 4:19)
  • As fruit-bearing people attached to Jesus the Vine we produce kindness. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Christ included us in his kindness circle, and we were his enemies. Enough said?

The kindness circle extends not only to one's enemies, but also to those in your own home. If we don't show kindness to those in our own home our marketplace-kindness is fraudulent. The person who is unkind to their family members while opening doors for strangers is a fake. That's how I view it. Linda and I have talked about this. I don't want to treat others with kindness and not be so towards her. That would be so hypocritically weird.

Abide in the Vine, now.

Let the Spirit produce the fruit of kindness within.

Walk in kindness towards all. That's how wide and deep and long and high God's kindness circle extends.