Christmas may be long past, but the One who gave us His Son wrapped in strips of cloth that day is the Giver who keeps on giving. He gives the gift of kindness and gentleness to His people day-in and day-out. These gifts are hard to hang onto. Nonetheless, trusting in Christ’s promise of new life and deliverance pours kindness and gentleness into the way we think and the way we experience life.
The best defense is a good offense. Because without God we are continually on the defensive, vainly trying to protect ourselves and preserve our false gods, we become offensive. Sometimes we mask our offensiveness well. Sometimes we try to flaunt our flimsy powers to secure our lives and firm up our idolatrous identities at the expense of others. This often does no more that reveal—much more than we want—how vulnerable we are and how feeble and pathetic our idols are. Sometimes our need to defend ourselves on our own terms turns us to meanness, callousness, nastiness, and heartlessness. Indifference to others can turn to outright ruthless cruelty in the worst cases.
On the other hand, we can also practice a milder and mellower kind of self-centeredness. We may be so subtle that others admire us for being nice and perhaps even for the self-sacrifice we design to serve our own interests. But the appearance of reaching out to help may be intended to serve our need to look good to others or to God. It is true that those around us can benefit even when the goodness they receive from us is using them for our own purposes, but such manipulation does not flow from our trust in Jesus.
Trust in Jesus recognizes His way of practicing humanity as the supreme example and model for all human creatures. The King James version of the Bible heightened the intensity of the feeling of suffering with the other, or compassion, by expressing God’s way of dealing with His people with the word “lovingkindness.” Whichever word we use, this kindness typifies what the ancient Israelites experienced repeatedly from their God. For even when they were unfaithful to His covenant, He kept His promise and returned to them repeatedly to be their God (see also 2 Timothy 2:13, where Paul says this faithfulness is just the way God is). Therefore, the psalmist could excitedly pray, “I have not hidden Your saving help within my heart. I have spoken of Your faithfulness and salvation. I have not concealed Your lovingkindness (or steadfast love) and faithfulness from the congregation” (Psalm 40:10). The Lord exhibits His kindness as the expression of His faithfulness and love, of His restoring the true humanity of His people. Their salvation rested upon His kindness.
The Lord exhibits His kindness as the expression of His faithfulness and love, of His restoring the true humanity of His people.
When Jesus came to earth, He pursued His path of enacting divine lovingkindness for human salvation with gentleness toward those who reviled Him. He met harm and injury simply by suffering, not by threatening. Then He took reviling, harm, and injury that others inflicted on Him, on behalf of all sinners who want Christ out of our lives, to the cross. This lovingkindness resulted in our dying to sin and living to righteousness, healed by His wounds, the expression of His kindness, the consequence of His gentleness (1 Peter 2:23-24).
In what is truly a joyous exchange of ways to act, which Paul outlines in Ephesians 4, the apostle concludes with the trading in of our “bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice and slander” for “kindness and tenderheartedness, forgiveness after the model of God in Christ” (4:32). In a parallel passage, Colossians 3:12, Paul describes God’s holy, beloved chosen people: They practice kindness that expresses itself in compassion, humility, gentleness, and patience, with forbearance and forgiveness. This way of life seeks to represent Christ and to replicate His intention and action toward others. Paul described the basis of this life as what God has done for His chosen people in the incarnation of His Son, showing us in Him the immeasurable riches of His favor toward us (Ephesians 2:7). The appearance of God our Savior demonstrated how good and kind He is as we have experienced this kindness in the gift of regeneration and renewal in our baptisms. That kindness restores our righteousness, our identity as children of God, and makes us heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7). This restored identity projects itself with the kindness of the Lord into the lives of others. Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery (perhaps in God’s case we should say praise) but it also is our sincere expression of appreciation and gratitude.
The kindest thing a physician may do in some cases causes some temporary pain. For instance, when she removes an appendix or a tumor with her knife. But kindness often expresses itself in gentleness. Jesus was not gentle with those who were abusing the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-17), but He demonstrated the gentlest of touches in dealing with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) or Mary as she anointed His feet (John 12:3-8). Jesus depicted His relationship with His sheep in terms of self-sacrificial love (John 10:15). Hymn writers have often described His relationship with these sheep as typified by gentleness. He feeds us and carries us lost and wandering people back to His sheepfold after gently lifting us from the brambles into which we have plunged ourselves. The English nobleman, Anglican priest, and hymn writer Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877) is said to have closed his life uttering words from his “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulders gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me.
Perhaps Baker had in mind to continue with the next verse:
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill,
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me.
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
(Lutheran Service Book #711)
Christ’s cross displays the cruelty of sinful humankind. Christ’s presence on it displays the gentleness and kindness of the Sheep who was led to the slaughter without opening His mouth in protest (Isaiah 53:8) but only to pray for forgiveness for those who were crucifying Him (Luke 23:34).
In the early twenty-first century West, kindness and gentleness do not gain much public commendation. The heroes of the past half-century have often exhibited a violent turn in character. Rudeness and roughness too often typify the way of societal leaders in politics and business. Into this world slip those who bear the image of God as Christ has exhibited it and bestowed it on us. We come to make the little but profound differences in the lives of the suffering and outcasts, those who have lost their way and feel themselves far from home, vulnerable, wounded, and despairing. They are ready to react again by recoiling from a gentle touch, expecting a hard blow to follow. The tenderness of a kind word or embrace that comes from the lips of those speaking words and reaching out hands for Christ actually transform lives, for life itself springs from the kindness of our Lord.
The tenderness of a kind word or embrace that comes from the lips of those speaking words and reaching out hands for Christ actually transform lives, for life itself springs from the kindness of our Lord.
Without knowing Jesus, we cannot know the sheer pleasure those people experience whose hands touch the sores of the leper with a gentleness that seeks to comfort and to heal. The deep-seated joy and satisfaction from seeing another life blossom under the water of our tears and the support of our gifts cannot be matched by any acquisition apart from receiving the gift of love of our God and of other people. Counter-intuitive as that may seem, the strength that asserts itself in self-sacrifice and gentleness makes powerful waves. The strength of kindness may elicit the mockery of those who seek strength in their own abusive or manipulative power, but it also gives them pause to think. In that pause, the Holy Spirit may break through their offensive defensiveness and work the miracle of the creation of kindness and gentleness in hearts hardened (but never sufficiently hardened enough) to defend themselves on their own terms.
Only in the kindness and gentleness of Jesus, and in our own pale imitations of it, can the world come to order and peace; peace for the offensive defenders of their own perverted vision of themselves and true human life, and peace for those whom they regard as their victims. They are, of course, mistaken in their delusion that their defensive and arbitrary display of their own muscle can win them lasting domination. In Jesus Christ, the victory goes to the kind and the gentle.