The Power of Kindness - 1 Corinthians 13
The meeting was of little consequence, just another meeting on another day to discuss another mundane agenda. As the chairman reviewed the minutes of our previous meeting, I took a moment to look around the room and observe my fellow participants. It struck me that everyone in the room that day was hurting in some way. The individual chairing the meeting had lost his much-loved mother just a year ago. The person sitting on my right was dealing with a rebellious teen-age son who was into drugs. The person sitting on my left was going through divorce proceedings after being married 20 years. The person sitting across the table from me had a grandson in the hospital with a rare disease. Having recently lost a younger brother, I made it unanimous. We were all hurting.
All of us in that conference room looked composed and businesslike on the outside, but on the inside, we were quietly suffering. Ironically, there was nothing unique or different about this particular group of people. We were just a group of colleagues from different backgrounds and different academic disciplines. Get almost any group of people together and it is likely that everyone in it will be hurting for some reason. This kind of situation repeats itself almost any time people come together. Suffering is a universal phenomenon, something we all have in common.
At one time or another, we have all had to deal with grief, heartache, disappointment, betrayal, abandonment, regret, or discouragement. The fortunate few who haven’t will. Suffering is an inescapable part of life in a fallen world. This is why it is so important for you, me, and all Christians to be kind to the people we interact with. Every person we know or meet is probably already hurting in some way. Consequently, we should avoid making things worse by being rude, impatient, or inconsiderate. A little act of kindness can make a big difference in the life of someone who is hurting.
Kindness means being considerate, friendly, warm, empathetic, and gentle. Kindness requires humility on your part—putting the other person ahead of yourself—and humility is a Christian virtue. In Philippians 2:3 where we are told to be humble and look on others as more important than ourselves. Being kind to people involves thinking of them first and yourself second. In the Greatest Commandment, Christ tells us, in part, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Being kind to others is one of the ways we show Christian love for our neighbors.
Kindness is positive, uplifting, and encouraging. It is also mutually-beneficial. Kindness helps those who receive it as well as those who give it. I have had misguided people tell me they worry that being kind will be interpreted as is a sign of weakness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is power in kindness, the power to change lives. Let me give you an example of just how powerful kindness can be. An individual I know—I will call him Carl—told me that the kindness of a stranger saved his life. At a point in time, Carl was so discouraged over a series of setbacks in his life and the loss of his wife to cancer that he was contemplating suicide.
One day as he was driving to work, Carl had a flat tire. Dressed in a business suit, Carl wasn’t looking forward to changing the tire. Further, with a history of heart problems he wasn’t sure he could even do it. Standing on the side of the road while other commuters whizzed by, paying him no attention, Carl had finally reached the end of his rope. This was the final straw. Who would care if he committed suicide anyway? His wife was gone. He had no children. The people he worked with had no interest in his problems. They all had problems of their own.
As Carl was thinking these discouraging thoughts, a young man pulled up behind his car and asked, “Sir, may I change that tire for you? You don’t want to get your suit dirty.” The young man quickly changed the tire, and then, to Carl’s surprise, thanked him. Confused as to why the young man would thank him, Carl tried to pay him. The young man demurred saying, “You don’t need to pay me. You have just done me a favor. My pastor challenged everyone in our church to perform at least one act of kindness every day for thirty days. This is my first act of kindness today.”
Before they departed, the young man suggested that Carl try the thirty-days of kindness challenge. He told Carl, “You will be glad you did. It will make a huge difference in your life.” As he drove away, Carl noticed he was low on fuel. He stopped at the first gas station he came to. As he pulled in, Carl noticed an elderly woman struggling with the gas pump. He offered to pump the gas for her and she gratefully accepted. It was a very small act of kindness, but the woman was so appreciative that Carl felt a sensation of gratefulness himself, something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He committed right then and there to taking the thirty-day kindness challenge.
By the end of the thirty days, Carl was a new man. The more acts of kindness he performed, the better he felt and the more he wanted to perform. These simple acts were helping him more than the people who received them. Carl’s whole outlook on life had quickly changed for the better and thoughts of suicide soon subsided. On day thirty-one, Carl decided to continue the acts of kindness. He would make the challenge a lifelong endeavor. In fact, he told me the thought came to him, “Why just one? If one is good, more is better.” The last time we met, before saying a word, Carl handed me a snack he had picked up from my favorite fast-food restaurant. That was his first act of kindness of the day, but it wouldn’t be his last. Carl discovered the power of kindness and he still puts it to good use every day. He discovered that kindness has the power to change lives. It changed his, and probably saved it.
We have all heard of people performing random acts of kindness, but there is more to kindness in the Biblical sense than just being nice to people. Being nice is an important part of being kind. In fact, it is the starting point. But being kind involves more than just being nice. It is a broader, more comprehensive concept.
To help a counseling client understand more fully what kindness means, I pulled ten specific admonitions from 1 Corinthians 13 and restated them in action terms. These ten actions can serve as a guide to help you incorporate kindness in your life. Each action represents a different strategy for being kind in the Biblical sense. To translate Scriptural admonitions relating to kindness into practical action, practice applying the following strategies:
Be nice—do not be hardhearted
Be patient—do not complain
Be content—do not envy
Be humble—do not boast
Be considerate—do not be arrogant
Be pleasant—do not be rude
Be selfless—do not insist on having your own way
Be imperturbable—do not be irritable
Be gracious—do not be resentful
Be honest—do not lie, mislead, or deceive
Practice these Biblical admonitions as you interact with family, friends, and strangers. Doing so will improve your life and theirs.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.