Be kind. For once.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

We Christians don’t have a reputation for being kind.

I wish it weren’t so, but I know a lot of pagans, and kindness is definitely not the first thing which comes to mind when they think of Christians. More like easily outraged, quick to judge, quick to condemn, holier than thou, just as bad as any pagan but such utter hypocrites about it, impatient, shunning, unforgiving buttholes. And if you were immediately offended by my using that word “buttholes,” you kinda proved my point.

Every so often I’ll read a discussion on Reddit which brings up Christianity, and the immediate response of the commenters—even when an atheist didn’t start the discussion!—is how thoroughly awful Christians are to everybody. Some of the critics will even be fellow Christians!—“Yeah, we suck.”

Then someone will point out Jesus. And the inevitable response of everyone, pagans and Christians alike—atheists included!—is he doesn’t suck. He’s a good guy; he taught peace and love, hung out with sinners and whores and lepers, railed against hypocrites… and unlike his followers, actually forgave sins. Jesus always gets a thumbs-up. Christians, of course, not.

It annoys me to no end. What’s with all the Christian jerks? Don’t we know better? Shouldn’t we?

I’m not gonna perpetuate the myth our fleshly attitudes are the leading cause of unbelief. They certainly don’t help, but people who don’t believe in Jesus are simply looking for any excuse not to. Otherwise they’d be Christian: “Well Christians suck, but despite them, Jesus is legit. So I’m gonna follow him on my own.” They’d be one of those Christians who shun all the other Christians and won’t go to church. But no matter how much they claim to respect Jesus, they still won’t follow him… because hypocrisy isn’t solely a Christian practice, y’know.

Anyway. The reason there are awful Christians is ’cause we’re deficient in love—and love is kind. 1Co 13.4 Christians who don’t love, who swap out the charitable, unconditional love of God for the vastly inferior substitute of reciprocity: A “love” which expects to receive “love” in return, and if it doesn’t, nevermind; it’s withdrawn. A “love” which demands payback, which is only offered to “worthy” and “good” people. A “love” that’s largely based on karma.

Which is a massive problem. Χρηστότης/hristótis, the word we translate “kindness,” Ga 5.22 more accurately means “graciousness.” It’s the grace of God, in action. It’s one of God’s character traits—which is precisely what the Spirit’s fruit is. When we’re fruity, we exhibit God’s grace: We’re kind, like he is.

Whereas when we’re not kind, not gracious, we’re still gonna be fuming about my dropping the B-word seven paragraphs ago. And plan to write an angry email, then never, ever read this blog again. And feel totally justified in such behavior. Grace and kindness is for people who don’t use rude words, even if they’re TV-safe words.

When we’re kind, we’re gonna be gracious, friendly, generous, humble, courteous—and nice. Yeah, I know plenty of Christians who are quick to point out kind and nice aren’t the same thing: Niceness is entirely about getting along with other people. And people will frequently lie, deceive, stifle their opinions, compromise their standards, or choose other evils, just to get along with others. They’ll be nice hypocrites.

But I would object we don’t have to lie and deceive in order to be nice to others. We can be gracious! We can forgive. We can agree to disagree. We can be patient. And hey, if all it takes to get a better reputation with others is to simply be pleasant to them, why are we objecting to this? Why is being a thorn in everyone’s side so fundamental to our integrity?

Pointing to an unkind Jesus.

I’ve written elsewhere about Christians who try to defend their unkind behavior by pointing to Jesus. ’Cause let’s be fair: Sometimes our Lord did say things people didn’t wanna hear. Sometimes he spoke in ways we’d interpret as harsh, abrupt, offensive, and unkind. Deliberately. Bluntly. Sometimes it feels like he intended to outrage people, like he didn’t care who he offended, ’cause he was keeping it real.

So since Jesus got away with it, why can’t we?

The reason we can’t is simple: That’s a total mischaracterization of our Lord.

People project their lousy attitudes and behaviors on others. Constantly. (No wonder they hate their political opponents.) So if they were Jesus, and said the things Jesus does, they’d only do it out of harshness, bitterness, self-righteousness, or tough love. They’d be sarcastic. Ergo Jesus was sarcastic. They’d be jerks, so they reimagine Jesus as a jerk. Dark Christians preach a dark Christ.

I encounter this phenomenon all the time. I write stuff which is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and humorless people immediately reinterpret it as sincere. (And nuts.) They quickly take offense. Conversely I write stuff which is meant to be sincere, and flighty people blow it off. Ironic people treat it as ironic. The easily offended get angry, and wanna fight or wanna leave. Loads of people misinterpret me, so I’m not surprised at all when such people misinterpret Christ Jesus. They take his parables and turn ’em mean; they take his hyperboles—meant to provoke thought, not anger—and turn ’em into “the harsh sayings of Jesus.” They make him angry and bitter like them.

But the only valid lens to look at Jesus is the Spirit’s fruit. That’s his character. Kindness included. His gospel isn’t harsh; it’s kind. He didn’t present it harshly, but kindly. Proof-text time!

John 1.14-18 NLT
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
15 John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ ”
16 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

When Jesus’s students got a good look at him, they saw how gracious he was, and John wrote of it here.

Christians tend to reinterpret this to only mean God’s saving grace—and in so doing they miss a significant fact. There are plenty of Christians who imagine God as an angry deity who so couldn’t wait to smite sin, who gleefully beat the tar out of Jesus when our Lord took our sins to the cross. But that’s their own rage speaking, not the scriptures. That’s our scuffed-up lenses, not the Spirit’s fruit. If that’s how we imagine God, we have him so wrong. And the only Son, in demonstrating God’s grace with his infinite kindness, explains correctly and exactly who God is.

He didn’t preach an angry gospel! He preached a kind one.

Luke 4.22 NLT
Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Our negativity ignores all the references to his graciousness. I’ll give you one of the more common examples of reading our bad attitude into Jesus’s teachings: His list of woes in Matthew 23. To graceless Christian preachers, the Pharisees worked Jesus down to his last nerve, so he tore ’em a new one. The whole passage is presented as pure condemnation: “To hell with you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You’re terrible. You’re dead meat.” They read this and conclude, “No wonder these Pharisees wanted Jesus dead.”

But the Son of Man didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but save it. Jn 3.17 Jesus wasn’t raging; he was mourning. Hence his word woe throughout Matthew 23. Hebrew people said that because they felt terrible. Jesus wasn’t angrily condemning them; he was mournfully foretelling what’d be the results of their phony religiosity. He graciously, sympathetically, kindly, felt bad about it: He didn’t want this for them. As he says right here:

Matthew 23.37-38 NLT
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. 38 And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.”

He foresaw the great tribulation which’d destroy them. And God doesn’t want anyone destroyed, but for all to repent. 2Pe 3.9

Now, compare this compassion with your average dark Christian, who’s downright gleeful about the wrath to come upon sinners. No wonder pagans often love Jesus, but not so much us.

What Christians try to pass off as kindness.

There’s real fruit, and there’s fake fruit. There are plenty of fleshly behaviors Christians and pagans alike try to disguise as kindness. Our tipoff they’re fake: No grace. No generosity without strings attached. No forgiveness. No love.

HYPOCRISY. This is the most common form of fake anything: People are nice on the outside, but privately or secretly they’re evil, backstabbing, gossipy, bitter, sarcastic, manipulative, and doling out passive-aggressive punishment. They’re the people who say “God bless ’em” when they really mean “God damn ’em.”

This sort of behavior is widely tolerated. Mainly because people figure, “Well, they are actually helping. If we didn’t accept their charity, the needy would go without.” It’s an ends-justify-means attitude: “Sure, it’s only about looking good for others, or salving their consciences, or court-ordered community service, or a tax break. But since they gotta help somebody, why not us?” And honestly, I don’t fault charities and ministries for accepting their aid. A million-dollar donation from a self-promoting blowhard will help just as many needy people as a million-dollar donation from a saint.

Hiding our evil is not the same as getting rid of it. We gotta be rid of it! And when hypocrites try to pass themselves off as the real thing, call them on it. They need to be rebuked. Kindly—“I don’t see how sharing this ‘news’ with us is really for her benefit”—but vocally. Don’t let ’em do evil, nor let them get away with it. Forgive them, but stop their evil.

Which naturally leads us to…

PERMISSIVENESS. Jesus expects us to forgive everyone and everything. But forgiveness doesn’t mean we tolerate sin. We challenge and rebuke it.

Yet lots of people don’t wanna be rebuked. They want to continue doing as they do, and they don’t wanna feel guilty for it. They’ll resent us for telling them they’re sinning. They’re hoping they can manipulate us into keeping our mouths shut. And largely, they have. Lots of Christians rebuke nobody, for fear of appearing unkind. Or impolite.

Part of the problem is when Christians rebuke, we are unkind. It’s not a gentle correction, a nudge to the right path, a suggestion, a redirection. There’s no waiting for an opportune time, no weighing whether our relationship is such that they’ll listen to us. We simply get out the warhammer and start bludgeoning.

Pay attention to the Holy Spirit. How does he get you to correct your behavior? Look at Jesus in the gospels: He definitely spoke out against sin. Yet he refused to condemn sinners, and always offered them compassion and forgiveness. He’s our model. Follow him.

POLITENESS. Yeah, I mentioned Christians keeping our mouths shut for fear of appearing impolite.

But there’s politeness and there’s politeness. Fr’instance, among many people in the United States it’s “polite” to pretend nothing’s happening, nothing’s amiss, when someone commits minor acts of rudeness. You can speak up when the rudeness escalates to a certain point—namely when you see it’s offended everyone in the room—but until they cross that line, it’s more important to be patient and courteous. Problem is, certain rude people love to take advantage of this social custom, stay just below the line, and be as boorish as they can get away with.

But evil is evil, and we need to speak up. Never to harm, never to wound; solely to get ’em to change their behavior.

EQUIPPING. By “equip” I mean make people able to do for themselves. Say you’re struggling to make the rent every month. Ideally you need to pay your own way, of course. And maybe our fellow Christians can help you out by equipping you to do just that: Show you how to budget properly, or hook you up with a better job, or find you a cheaper place to live, or find some government program you’re eligible for. If we can help people do for themselves, by all means we should.

Okay, now say you’re in a bind. It’s not about your job, your rent, your budget: You had a one-time disaster and you simply need help. You need donations, or you need a place to stay. And in my experience, here’s where Christian aid totally dries up. They’ll equip people to do for themselves, but they absolutely won’t give. ’Cause they don’t want anyone dependent on them. Or, more often (and bluntly), they just don’t wanna give. Finding people help is much cheaper than paying people’s rent. Advice doesn’t cost ’em anything. They’ll give that away easily. Money’s a whole other thing.

See, selfish people are really bothered by kindness. They run their lives by karma, not love; reciprocity, not grace. They will help people as an investment, ’cause they expect to profit by their efforts. They want these people to return the favor someday, somehow. It’s not friendship. It’s business. It’s Mammonism, really.

Be kind to one another.

We Christians need to put our impulses aside, and choose to be kind to other people. We gotta replace what we are, with who Jesus wants us to be. And if we don’t feel it: Big deal. You have more self-control than that. Get control of those emotions. Change ’em to something positive.

For if we don’t take control of those emotions, others certainly will. They’ll manipulate us into feeling whatever way suits them best. The devil can trick us into feeling unkind all day long, and in so doing get us to be unkind all day long.

So be kind. Practice on your fellow Christians. Like so.

Ephesians 4.25-32 KWL
25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 2627
28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Look at Paul’s instructions: Don’t be fake to each other. Be truthful—but kind.

It’s okay when people make us angry. In the KJV, verse 26 starts, “Be ye angry, and sin not”—and people use this as an excuse to be angry. But more accurately, ὀργίζεσθε/oryídzesthe means “be ye made angry”—people are trying to provoke us, and let’s not take the bait! Or they’re not trying to provoke us; they don’t mean anything by it; for once, give ’em the benefit of the doubt. Don’t give in to anger, and use it as an excuse to be an angry Christian. Forgive.

Don’t steal. Even if you feel entirely justified in getting a little bit of your own back. Even when “it belongs to the church, and I’m part of the church, so it’s okay if I take it”—don’t. Just don’t. Give instead.

Don’t say all the usual platitudes which don’t really mean anything. Say something useful.

Most importantly, don’t take the Holy Spirit for granted! Follow him as he shows us how to love our neighbors better. Fix your attitude: God doesn’t want us to become any of the stereotypes we find in far too many churches of the curmudgeonly Christian, the emo Christian, the angry Christian, the loud Christian, nor the profane Christian. God expects us to be the gracious Christian. The nice Christian. The forgiving Christian. The courteous Christian. The kind Christian.