You’ve Got to Try a Little Kindness

(Please read  Ephesians 4:29-5:2 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Imitating God requires getting rid of vice, replacing it with virtue.

“Try a Little Kindness” is a song written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin, first recorded by American country music singer Glen Campbell. It was the title track on Campbell’s 16th album, released in 1970.  The song was hit on three different music charts: it peaked at number two for one week on the country charts.  “Try a Little Kindness” went to number one for one week on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as peaking at number twenty-three on the Billboard Hot 100.

Try A Little Kindness                    By Glen Campbell

If you see your brother standing by the road With a heavy load from the seeds he’s sowed And if you see your sister falling by the way Just stop and say, you’re going the wrong way

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Don’t walk around the down and out Lend a helping hand instead of doubt And the kindness that you show every day Will help someone along their way

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

– – – –

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Songwriters: BOBBY AUSTIN, CURT SAPAUGH

© EMI Music Publishing                 For non-commercial use only.            Data from: LyricFind

Kindness is our Fruit of the Spirit for the month of May.  It is a very difficult subject on which to find a Bible text as it is a virtue that is never discussed on its own.  In the New Testament especially, kindness is always listed with other virtues.

That fact got me to thinking.  It never appears alone.  Perhaps one reason that explains this is that you can’t really demonstrate kindness alone.  It is a virtue that requires at least one other person in order to operate.  Yes, you can be kind to yourself – and you should – but it doesn’t carry quite the same weight, does it?  Kindness is a relational virtue.

Here’s your homework assignment this week: forget about “random acts of kindness.”  Do “intentional acts of kindness!”  Do at least one act of kindness for every day this week.  Do one good deed for a family member, neighbor, stranger, old person, child, church member, and at work or where you shop.  Be sensitive to their situation, aim to meet a need, and do it in the name of Jesus!

  1. Imitating God is our chief goal in life (5:1-2).

We must imitate God because we are His children.  We imitate God in holiness and in living a life of LOVE.  Holiness and love is the core of our life together.  In 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; and 1 Peter 2:21, Paul wrote about following his example as he followed the example of Jesus Christ.  We don’t follow a program, we imitate a person.

Imitating Christ requires we make sacrifices as He did.  Jesus GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR US.  Here’s the thing: nobody took Jesus’ life.  He could have been saved, but He gave His life for us.  He is our example in extreme sacrifice.  This is the same language Paul uses later in chapter five (v. 25) when he urged, HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH AND GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER.

In 5:1-2, Jesus’ death on the cross is described as A FRAGRANT OFFERING AND SACRIFICE.  A FRAGRANT OFFERING is used frequently in the Old Testament to describe burnt offerings that were sacrificed on the altar as an act of obedience to God.  The rising smoke was seen as rising to heaven, a symbol of the sacrifice’s being acceptable and pleasing to God.  The word SACRIFICE speaks to the effect of Jesus’ death; it provided for our salvation.  We are forgiven because He suffered the penalty for our sins.

Paul elaborates throughout Ephesians the two movements necessary to live a life pleasing to God: to step away from sin and to step toward God.  We’ll briefly examine the examples given in our text.  These are not exhaustive lists, but representative of vices and virtues that are particularly expressed in relationships.

  1. Step one: get rid of vice (4:29-31).

UNWHOLESOME TALK in v. 29 could also be translated as “filthy language.”  The word UNWHOLESOME was used in ancient Greek literature to refer to rotten wood, diseased lungs, spoiled fish, withered flowers, and overripe fruit.  Jesus used the word to refer to the kind of fruit a BAD TREE bears in Matthew 7:17-18; Luke 6:43 and for fish that should be thrown away in Matthew 13:48.  This is speech so rotten it should make a godly person gag.  (Not just obscenity, but all speech that hurts people.)

Especially in the Gospels, grieving the Holy Spirit (v. 30) is a serious offense.  This is because God is jealous for His people and disappointed when we choose evil.  The consistent practice of vice betrays the character of someone not really devoted to Christ.  All of these vices are sins; acts of disobedience that separate us from God.  After all He’s done for us, we should be motivated to do things that please God (virtues) and avoid the things that grieve Him (vices).  The idea of grieving the Holy Spirit also appears in Isaiah 63:9-10 (see also Psalm 78:40).

BITTERNESS (v. 31) is differentiated from RAGE and ANGER as a prolonged ungodly anger.  It is a refusal to forgive and forget.  It is a negativity that overtakes a person’s spirit over time, having mushroomed from a single event.

The RAGE mentioned in v. 31 is a more instantaneous ungodly anger.  A tantrum is an example of RAGE.  It is temporary anger, flashing into existence, then burning out.  RAGE causes us to say and do things that we would not even consider doing in more temperate moments.

ANGER (v. 31) is more of an umbrella term, taking in both BITTERNESS and RAGE.  It refers to a flaw in character, the tendency to negativity and to overreact to perceived slights.  Such a person is said to go around with a “chip on their shoulder.”

BRAWLING (v. 31) would certain encompass all physical acts of anger.  More broadly, it might be someone who is insensitive to the feelings of others and to the relational cost of their angry words and deeds.  It the kind of person who would – to borrow an old cigarette slogan – “rather fight than switch.”

SLANDER (v. 31) takes in every word employed to hurt someone else’s reputation or feeling (or both).  The truth or falsehood of one’s words are not the primary determinant of their virtue or vice; the motive of the speaker is.

Finally EVERY FORM OF MALICE is also condemned as vice in verse 31.  MALICE identifies every behavior that flows from a mean spirit.  Notice that EVERY FORM a malicious motive takes is condemned.  This phrase alone ought to undercut the majority of misbehaviors we see, even among churched folk.

  1. Step two: get more virtue (4:29, 30, 32 + 5:2).

The edifying talk set forth in v. 29 could be translated as “uplifting conversation.”  These are good words, the kind that help others see God in us.  Our speech gives away what’s really in our hearts.  Choosing words that prompt spiritual maturity obviously requires care, knowledge and sensitivity to our hearers.  Timely, well-spoken words that flow from our knowledge of Scripture and the Holy Spirit are what we need for building each other up.

The phrase SEALED FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION (30) references a way ownership was indicated in the ancient world; by the placing of a wax seal indented with the mark of the owner, usually a signet ring.  The phrase FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION means that God will keep His people safe from the devil until the day that He redeems them, delivering them to their eternal home in heaven.

Notice that even though we are guilty of sin, we are not threatened with loss of salvation or loss of the Holy Spirit.  Because of His grace, our place is secure.  We should behave as grateful folk.

Kindness (v. 32) is our virtue of note.  Its meaning is so obvious it needs little definition from us.  Kindness is positivity, acceptance, optimism.  These behaviors are interpersonal and are the opposite of politics as usual!  Read Colossians 3:12-13 and you will see that Paul has virtually duplicated the teaching in both these passages.

Compassion (v. 32) is to tenderhearted, sensitive to others.  It literally means “healthy bowels,” but became figurative of deeply-held feelings.  To care enough about the feelings of others to be aware of them and considerate of them is a vital way to place emphasis on the other person.

FORGIVING…AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU (32) is supposed to be standard behavior in the Church.  We have been forgiven by our Father and we owe forgiveness to one another; to His other children especially.  We are to model our forgiving nature after God’s.  In Jesus’ model prayer, we ask God to forgive us to the degree and in the same way we’ve forgiven others.

LOVE (5:2) is, of course, essential.  This is one of 15 references to LOVE in this letter.  It is one of the central virtues that makes all the others possible and is the fullest expression of God.  Love and holiness are the virtues that motivate us to follow God and join Him in doing good to one another.

“It was a bitterly cold evening in Northern Virginia many years ago. The old man’s beard was glazed by winter’s frost as he waited for a ride across the river. He heard a brigade of men on horses coming around the bend. He let the first one pass him without any effort to get his attention.             “Then another passed by, and another. Finally, the last rider neared and the old man caught the rider’s eye and said, ‘Sir, would you mind giving an old man a ride to the other side?’ The rider said, ‘Sure, thing. Hop aboard.’ Seeing the old man unable to lift his half frozen body onto the horse, the horseman dismounted and helped the old man onto the horse.             “The horseman not only took the old man across the river but to his destination which was just a few miles away. As they neared the man’s home the horseman was curious and he asked, ‘Sir, I noticed that you let several other riders pass by without making any effort to get a ride. Then I came up and you immediately asked me for a ride. I’m curious why on such a bitterly cold night that you would wait and ask the last rider. What if I had refused and left you there?’             “The old man replied, ‘I’ve been around these parts for some time. I reckon I know people pretty good. I looked into the eyes of the other riders and immediately saw there was no concern for my situation. It would have been useless even to ask them for a ride. But when I looked into your eyes, kindness and compassion were there. I knew that your gentle spirit would welcome the opportunity to help me in my time of need.’

“Those heart-warming comments touched the horseman. ‘I’m most grateful for what you have said,’ he told the old man. ‘May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion.’ With that, Thomas Jefferson turned his horse around and made his way back to the White House.” (From a sermon by Jerry Cosper, Loving One Another, 5/23/2012. Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-compassion-81983.asp on 5/21/16.)

In his commentary on this passage in Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold summarized an important aspect of kindness in general and this passage in particular: the words we use.  The most immediate and frequent way we can show kindness to each other is by the words we choose.

Arnold wrote, “Paul places an overt emphasis on speech ethics in this passage.  This is consistent with his emphasis on living in unity with which he began the chapter: ‘making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (4:3).  Consequently, he urges believers to dispense with such harmful practices as lying, inappropriate anger, filthy talk, yelling, and saying anything at all that could be hurtful to another person.”

(Arnold, Clinton E., Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. 10, p. 314.)

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2 thoughts on “You’ve Got to Try a Little Kindness

    • Peggy Noonan, a former White House speech writer, said it best when she observed that we have become more tolerant and less caring. Tolerance can just as easily be an excusing for not caring. Not caring enough to confront, obviously, but also not caring in ways that include acts of kindness. As a side note, I approve of “random acts of kindness” but advocate “deliberate acts of kindness” as a higher standard of loving because you’re not hiding behind the anonymity of randomness. Our current version of “tolerance” can just as easily be another form of stand-offish anonymity.

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