One of the marks that reveals a person’s genuine faith in Christ is how they treat others. There are friends and loved ones in my church, and in my life, that brighten my day when I see them. As I’m writing this very article, I’m laughing just thinking of one sister in Christ who brings joy when I see her. We aren’t the closest of friends, but her love for others is so genuine and pure it fills me with excitement. The love of Christ radiates in and through her life. I know she loves the Lord because she genuinely cares for His people. She hugs necks and asks “how you are doing?” with a sincerity that reveals her genuine care for others.
I’ve been pondering this question of friendliness a lot lately. Are you friendly? I guess my first question should be whether or not you’re a child of God.
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ Jesus forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Christian parents love to use this verse when siblings fight. If you have an earthly brother or sister, your parents may have drilled into you, like mine did, the importance of being kind to my brother, forgiving him when he wronged me and loving him. How much more so should we be loving and forgiving the spiritual brothers and sisters we do life with and will do life with in eternity? We serve the same God. We desire the same things because we are filled with the same Spirit. We live a life devoted to Him. Our sins have been forgiven and we know of His marvelous grace. We have experienced love, kindness and forgiveness like nothing else in Christ Jesus, and from His great example we should also radiate love, kindness, and forgiveness.
Yet, we all know folks —perhaps even ourselves — who will avoid speaking at church or in town. Some are marked by a spirit of unkindness, generally unfriendly to everyone. Others can be identified by their selective kindness, ignoring those who don’t personally benefit them in some way. Most would agree that this form of selfish, pride-filled, selective kindness is the very opposite of Christ-like. But, there’s another side of this attitude of selective kindness that’s all too familiar to most of us.
I have struggled with this attitude in my own life. I will speak to any soul who will look at me. I like to greet people. I like to talk to people. I enjoy being kind for the most part. But, at times, there have been people who have not returned my kindness. In some of those instances, I’ve settled in my mind to no longer be kind to them, and the Holy Spirit has reminded me of a passage of Scripture.
“And as ye would that men should do to you , do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thanks have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thanks have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thanks have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend hoping for nothing again; Luke 6:31-35a
The idea here is to love, give and do good to others expecting nothing in return. I am called to love, show kindness and do good to others regardless of their heart and behavior towards me. Their response does not define who I am or how I am to respond to them. My kindness and love is in response to God, what He has done for me and His lovingkindness to me. This doesn’t mean I must be a doormat. It doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to establish healthy boundaries. It simply means I am called to display love and kindness as Christ did.
This call to “un”-selective kindness necessarily includes those who are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. God created man in His image, and because of that great and simple truth every human being has value and should be loved by the children of God. Think about that for a moment. Every person has worth because they bear God’s image. That point alone merits kindness. We should be a living demonstration of kindness and love that comes only from Christ to everyone, not based on some selective or selfish motivation, but simply based on the motivation that they have value because God says so. When we are unfriendly or unkind, we misrepresent who our God is and what He has done in our life.
Does this call to kindness mean we can never be honest or confront sin? Some might have a perception that it’s unkind to confront sin, but nothing could be further from the truth. We share God’s Word with others, the instructions He has given, and what Christ has done on the cross for them out of love and kindness as well. How unloving and unkind would I be as a mom to not confront my children when they sin and encourage them to repent? One of my kids struggles with using harsh words when talking to his sibling. It breaks my heart when he does it. I want my boys to love one another, to care for each other and to empathize with their sibling’s struggles. So, when he uses harsh words, I confront his sinful behavior and encourage him to repent. We learn and memorize Scripture that calls him to speak with gentleness and reject a harsh tone. I tell him how harsh words and tone can impact his relationships in a negative way, now, and in the future. I do these things because I love my son and because not confronting his sin would be the ultimate unkindness as a parent.
Imagine for a moment one of your kids is playing in the middle of the road and a car is coming toward them at a fast speed. Would it be unloving to say “Get out of the street NOW!”? Your kid is having such fun playing on his bike in the street. It would stop his fun. Of course not! To think in such a way is ridiculous. We warn our children because we love and care for them. It is the same with those who do not know Christ, or for a fellow-believer who is walking in sin. There is nothing more loving and kind than to share Christ to someone who is not yet a believer and it is loving and kind to encourage and hold accountable a fellow believer to return to right fellowship with God by repenting of their sin.
If you sense there’s an element of unkindness in your life and practice, be encouraged by remembering Christ and what has done for you. Remember God and His love for you. Remember His kindness and mercy. Turn to Him to give you a heart of love, kindness, and forgiveness. Turn to Christ.
• Brooke Russell is a licensed professional counselor with Cord of Three Counseling service in Blackshear.