Sorry, couldn’t come up with any catchy title—If you’ve read this for a while, you know that titles are my weakest suit. This is one that also needs some explanation, but that’s what I’m here for!
Kindness is the second of the aspects of love which Paul uses in his classic description of the great virtue. That’s because kindness is an essential element of it. Here once again I turn to MacArthur’s definition, since it crystallizes it so well: “Tender concern for others, reflected in a desire to treat others gently, just as the Lord treats all believers.”
I thought about it for a bit, and decided that today’s passage gives the best illustration of what we’re talking about. Matthew was addressing the collision between the Jews’ popular expectations concerning the Messiah and who Jesus actually turned out to be. He knew that if word got out about him prematurely, then that could precipitate a confrontation between him and the religious leaders and/or Rome, and that wasn’t his plan. He wasn’t there to set up a physical kingdom (this time around). Instead, his agenda was to establish a spiritual Kingdom, and part of that was showing kindness to the “least of these” in society.
Verse 19 addresses his aversion to a political agenda, but verse 20 is what I really want to focus on today, because it’s such a beautiful picture of what he came to do, and most of us miss it because we’re not familiar with that time period. You know what reeds are, right? Those tall hollow things that grow in shallow waters. People of that time commonly cut a piece off and used it as a musical instrument, commonly like a flute by shepherds. Over time, it was worn out and useless, and since they were a dime-a-dozen, most people threw them out and promptly replaced them with a new one. A “smoldering wick” was a candle wick in its last stages before it burned out. Of course, the most natural thing in the world is to just snuff it out, since it was on its last legs anyway.
My friend, can you think of any better description of how the world treats its own? Ask the person nearing retirement age who’s replaced by a younger employee because the company is looking for “new blood.” Ask an aging female movie star who used to get male blood pumping and who now doesn’t get any calls from her agent because she’s “over the hill.” Think of the people in nursing homes who are abandoned and forgotten by their families, who are just waiting to die.
That’s how the world treats people, but it’s not what Jesus does. He looks at the ones who are worn-out, considered useless and ready to be thrown out and replaced, and instead of casting them out, he gently picks them up, cleanses them from their past and finds vital use for them in his Kingdom. That’s his kindness in action.
Once again, we need to be careful about how we approach this. Although the world isn’t kind at times, it does sometimes overemphasize this virtue over others like truth. Remember that in Paul’s description of love, he tells us that it “delights in the truth.” Yes, you can make a case that it’s kind to protect someone from unpleasant realities. But that’s not the full picture of love. All of us at times needs some "tough love," right? So sometimes the kind thing is not the loving thing.
However, in spite of how the world overemphasizes this at times, that doesn’t negate the fact that it is an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. As we grow closer in our relationship with Christ, sometimes the work he does on us is to “smooth” some of the “rough edges” so that we’re more considerate of others’ feelings. Some people have a more natural gift in this area (like my wife), while others (like me) need Christ to work on us some more.
So how about you? Do you need the Spirit to work on you as well?
Lord Jesus, I praise you because that’s what you do with people. I thank you because that’s what you’ve done with me. Please guide me with your Spirit to be as kind to others as you are with me.