“Kindness”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
A couple of months ago, Clay made me a very gracious offer. He said that throughout the month of August, I could preach all of the Sunday morning sermons so that I could be sure to get in everything I wanted to say to this congregation before leaving. After I argued with him about this for a little while, I invested some thought in figuring out what I wanted to say. I concluded that I wanted to preach 3 sermons about the Jackson Heights church personality, highlighting the three attributes that make us happy and successful in doing the Lord's work.
The first of these attributes is kindness. This is a strikingly kind congregation, which makes us both appealing to others and pleasing to God. I know that many of you practiced great kindness before you ever heard of me, and I pray that such kindness will continue to mark this congregation for decades after my departure. This morning, let's contemplate the role of kindness in the life of the Christian.
We first should reveal our kindness to those in need. Consider the words of the Lord in Luke 14:12-14. As it often does, the gospel of the kingdom here turns conventional wisdom on its head. Jesus tells us that when we give a meal for others, we shouldn't invite those who might benefit us. Instead, we ought to invite the poor who cannot repay us. When we do this, God will be the One who does the repaying.
Although Jesus is discussing food specifically, the applications of His message extend far beyond the dinner table. When we truly are serving Him, we aren't thinking of the future and how our good works will help us. Rather, we are doing good with no thought of the earthly consequences.
This is tricky! I figured out a long time ago that the right thing to do also was the smart thing to do, even in earthly terms. It's righteous for us to be faithful to our spouses, but it's also wise. As a rule, adultery brings 70 kinds of misery and sorrow down on the head of the adulterer. Likewise, it’s both godly and wise to tell the truth. If you're a liar, people will figure it out, and soon nobody will trust you.
However, kindness is only kindness when it is extended without the thought of earthly benefit. We can't be kind only when we think it will help us or even when we think it will help the church. In fact, we ought to be kind even when we have concluded that no earthly good will come from it at all.
To the world, this is foolishness, but to the Christian, it makes perfect sense. Verse 14 explains why. Often, we aren't kind because we want to protect ourselves from being swindled by some con artist. Sometimes, the issue isn't even the money. It's our pride. Regardless, we have a promise from God that whatever we surrender will be repaid in heaven. His great, eternal kindness in heaven frees us to be kind here.
Similarly, God calls us to be kind to our enemies. Here, let's read from Romans 12:19-21. Many Bible students find this text hopelessly confusing, but I think the confusion arises because of our misconceptions about the role of vengeance in the life of the Christian. Understood correctly, this isn't a passage about whether vengeance should be taken at all. It's a passage about who should be taking the vengeance.
In the world, the answer to this question is easy and obvious. If somebody pushes you, you push back. Some people will walk up to their enemy and blow his brains out; others will look for little ways to make his life miserable at work or even at church. Still others will just talk bad about him in the hope of diminishing him in the eyes of others. Though obviously they vary greatly in terms of significance, all of these are forms of vengeance.
Paul exhorts us to adopt a very different strategy toward our enemies. Rather than looking for ways to get them back, we should treat them kindly. We should look for ways to help them.
The world thinks this is nuts. How can we possibly let insults and offenses go??? Paul’s answer is that vengeance belongs to God. Just like His promise of heavenly repayment frees us to be generous to people who won't help us, so too His promise of vengeance frees us from the need to be vengeful ourselves.
Here is where we intersect all those imprecatory psalms that we've been singing on Wednesday nights. I'm sure that many who have been attending the class wonder if it is even godly to sing such things under the new covenant. According to this text, the answer is clearly yes. God has promised us that He will avenge us, and it is always right to ask Him to fulfill His promises. That's part of the covenant!
This may put us in a seemingly contradictory position. On the one hand, we show love to our enemy and treat him kindly. On the other, we pray to the God of justice to punish him for his wrongdoing. However, the same contradiction appears on a much larger scale elsewhere in Scripture. Is it not true that the same God who loves sinners also will end up condemning most of them to hell? The answer lies in the unique ability of God to mete out both mercy and justice. We can put our vengeance in His hands and trust that He will do the right thing.
Finally, we must be kind to our opponents. Our final passage of the morning is 2 Timothy 2:24-26. These aren't the people who wrong us or harm our families. These are the people who are wrong and annoying on Facebook and won't be quiet.
In my twenties, I had this one written down on a 3x5 card and taped to my bathroom mirror for years. There's a pretty good case that I shouldn't have taken it down at all! I have some trouble being kind to the needy, but I have a lot of trouble with being kind to opponents. I have a big combative streak to my personality, and if you get me riled up enough, online or even in person, I get much more interested in scoring points than in being gentle.
However, gentle is what Christ wants us to be. In part, this means picking our battles. It's easy to get mad at people on social media when we can't see their faces, but it's nearly impossible to persuade somebody who can't see our face. There's not much point in trying to win over somebody who disagrees on Facebook!
Also, notice the stakes that Paul mentions in verse 28. These opponents aren't people who disagree with us about politics or college football. They are those who have been taken captive by the devil and are following his will. Outside of that, we really need to ask whether engaging an opponent is worth it at all.
When the stakes are that high, when somebody’s soul is in danger because of their convictions, we need to remember what the goal is. It is not winning the argument, as judged by us or even a third party. It is convincing the opponent. When that is the case, we must be patient, gentle, and humble; otherwise, there is zero chance that they are going to listen to us even if we're right. This can take a long time and be very frustrating, but it's the only way to turn an erring heart back to God.