It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t say that a healthy dose of “the straight truth,” or a lecture on the evils of sin, or a forceful condemnation of the life or lifestyle of a person leads towards repentance. Garish “gospel tracts” or colorful invitations to a meeting where someone else will point out their sins aren’t what lead to repentance. Neither will stirring sermons on the evils which sin has brought to the world, or the threat of what the end time judgment will be like for sinners, or are the colorful word pictures of “sinners in the hand of an angry God” in colonial preacher Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermon, destined to lead us toward repentance.1 Paul says that God uses the only method that has any real chance for working – kindness.
First of all, he says that that is God’s way of working to bring about changes in the lives of every person on earth. Then he repeatedly says that it is one of the main fruits that reveals if He lives in our lives.
If you carefully examine the life of Jesus, it is the only method He used, with very rare exceptions – those appearing to be reserved exclusively for those who were being unkind. As the 19th Century author, E.G. White, put it, “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”
You see, people don’t care what you believe, until they believe that you care.
Many of us experience a great deal of frustration when we read the Book of Acts and wonder why we don’t have the same results as Peter and Paul and the rest of the New Testament Church. Maybe it is because there is a missing ingredient in what we are doing. We have allowed ourselves to become reliant on “hired guns” to do the work for us — local pastors, visiting evangelists, Adventist television stars, door-to-door book and magazine salesmen. Maybe God is waiting for us to try Jesus’ way. To go out into our communities and neighborhoods and to live lives of extraordinary kindness — not only for the easy and convenient to love, but for everyone — even the unlovely and the ungrateful.
If you think that that idea is a stretch, is hopeless idealism, let me continue the quotation from the 19th century author: “There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the storing an the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.”
It may be couched in 100-year-old English, but the point is pretty clear. Jesus’ way works!
If we hope to represent God like Jesus, then we will choose to live lives of extraordinary kindness. It will show up in all kinds of creative ways as we allow God to live out His life in us because, simply put, kindness, like nothing else, has the power to soften hearts and open them to hear about the God we serve.
Several years ago, bumpers all over North American were festooned with a bumper sticker encouraging people to begin committing “random acts of kindness.” It is a nice sentiment, but I don’t believe it is nearly adequate for committed followers of Jesus. God is calling us, His presence on earth in tennis shows and work boots and high heels, to commit “intentional, constant, focused, acts of kindness! If we want to really impact our world, then it seems that we would want to work like Jesus did!
John 2 is a living example of someone committed to making kindness, creatively lived out, a part of his life. John, just a common, average, ordinary guy got an extraordinary idea for sharing kindness. On his days off he goes down to Home Depot or Lowe’s in his pickup and sits in the parking lot waiting for someone to come out with a load that is obviously too large to easily fit into their vehicle. With a smile he approaches them, as they stand trying to figure out what they are going to do, and offers to take it to their home or office for them. They can follow him (he grins) to make certain he isn’t going to run off with their stuff.
When they ask him why, he tells them that it is his little project to share a little kindness in the world. Either before they leave, or when they get to their destination, they ask him how much he wants to get paid for what he is offering to do. He tells them it has already been paid. When they ask by whom, he says, by Jesus when He died for them. And that’s it. He heads back for the big box hardware store to wait for another opportunity.
He doesn’t try to give them a tract or a gospel presentation or an invitation to a meeting of some sort. He has just one goal in mind, to lead them one step closer to Jesus.
I think he’s doing a pretty good job of it!
1 The Bible word meaning literally, ‘to change direction.”
2 A pseudonym
Dan Appel writes from Northern California