Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4:)
Gentleness and kindness are part of the character that God desires to build within us, and part of the fruit that the Holy Spirit bears in us when we abide in Him. Why are gentleness and kindness, though countercultural, worthwhile and important?
I want to share with you something that comes from training for caregivers of people with dementia. One important idea is that a caregiver should not be looking to correct wrong ideas in the dementia patient, but rather looking to help the patient feel loved. At the core of this practice are virtues of gentleness and kindness. It’s a simple idea and in some ways should be relatively easy to do. Yet this not always easy to do. The first impulse when people with dementia say something untrue or unreasonable is to quickly (and perhaps harshly) correct their mistake.
We would do well to realize that this lesson should carry over into our many interactions at work, home, and church. Why does this matter? First, God calls us to put on these virtues like clothing (Col. 3:12). In doing so, we reflect God’s kingdom here on earth, and we glorify Christ by being like Him.
Secondly, kindness, a trait which manifests gentleness, can lead others to repentance. This is what Paul suggests in Rom. 2:4. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Ponder that! Paul tells us that it is not harshness, arrogance, clever memes, great intellectual knowledge or ability to argue that leads one to repentance. Instead, it is patient forbearing kindness that leads one to repentance, a central theme in the Christian faith. Do you want to see others come to repentance? Then be kind to them.
Consider the instructions Paul gives to Timothy on how to respond to his opponents: to practice kindness with everyone and to instruct gently (2 Tim. 2:24-26). His response must be characterized not by quarrelsomeness or harshness, but by kindness and gentleness. Paul points out, arguments aren’t going to bring somebody to repentance; the “hope” is that “God will grant them repentance.”
The gentle and kind approach is countercultural. At times, these virtues are lacking even in the church: when leaders are more concerned with exercising power than with practicing gentleness. Thankfully, I’ve also seen wonderful models of kindness and gentleness practiced by believers in their interactions within and outside of the church. These examples most often bear the fruit of repentance. So, let us put off harshness, and put on gentleness and kindness. It may help point others toward the kindness of Christ, and in doing so help lead them to repentance.
Holy Spirit, give us strength to show grace to others through the practice of kindness and gentleness, even to those who do not return that kindness.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)
Kindness and gentleness are sparse in our culture. They are so rare on social media. Our cultural icons rarely model gentleness and kindness. They may get an occasional positive spin, but they are not linked with strength or success. Kindness and gentleness do not get us “ahead.” Instead, practicing them often slows our pursuit of wealth and power.
Consider the sitcoms, dramas, reality and talk shows, etc. They feature characters who delight in meanness or harshness, who regularly ridicule and insult others, or who “get ahead” by cutting others down. Whether it is chefs ridiculing contestants; hosts of political and sports talk shows harshly putting people down; and bosses in reality shows gaining fame by boasting of their power to fire people. Harsh characters are portrayed as rich, powerful, and successful. Even if are able to see the lack of kindness as a negative trait, we merely laugh at the meanness and harshness. We see those traits as part of what got them ahead (they have their own TV show!) In many ways, harshness is the glorified model, while kindness and gentleness are devalued. Sadly, we also see in churches where leaders seem to follow the worldly model that associates authority with harshness, and gentleness with weakness.
The Bible offers a very different model. Through the example and teachings of Jesus, as well as the letters of Paul, the Bible describes kindness and gentleness as virtues: character traits we are called to practice, and part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. What is the key then in developing gentleness and kindness in our culture that is so lacking in them? Perhaps the most important answer is found in Gal. 5:23-24, where Paul notes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Kindness and gentleness are part of the fruit that the Holy Spirit bears in our lives. Two important things to note.
First, God desires to develop in us kindness and gentleness; they are the good virtues of the Kingdom of God. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” we should desire these traits to be evident in our lives, words and actions; in the way we treat our family and others, even those we consider our enemies. God makes it clear that we should desire them, even if they are counter to worldly success.
Second, the passage tells us where gentleness and kindness come from and how they become part of our character. They come from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They don’t come from imitating our cultural heroes or mere self-effort. No self-empowered work will make us gentler against this world’s culture of harshness. We need the Holy Spirit to work within us, to submit to the Spirit’s work and to participate in that work. We must pray that the Spirit will help us be kinder and gentler, knowing that we can’t do it on our own. We invite the Spirit to do that work within us. Perhaps we need to start by simply asking the Holy Spirit to help us desire to be gentle and kind.
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
There is an adverb in the greeting from Paul to the Thessalonians, adialeptos. Paul says that even difficult circumstances can bring about adialeptos (incessantly, without intermission) good work in us. In this case Paul incessantly thinks and prays for the Thessalonians.
There are people who leave such a profound effect on you that it compels you to talk to the one who made them. Some people’s candor and work are something so noble you cannot help but to thank God and cheer them on. To remind them to weep – but not to weep like those with no hope. In Paul’s case it was not one person but a whole church in the entire city. His remembrance and reflection about the work of these Thessalonians resulted in one implication that evoked his perpetual thanksgiving and constant prayer: they responded to the Gospel.
The Gospel reminds us that we are being conformed to the image of the Son. It also reminds us that we labor with the same tools and hands and feet as others, but with different motives and results. In many cases we do the same thing but with a different song in our hearts. Because Paul was not there and involved with the day-to-day, he got the pleasure of knowing that the presence of the Lord is actually sufficient. He learned from this early church community a good lesson in life for believers: that the same Spirit that hovered over the waters in the creation account is holding Gospel communities together in their work also. They worked (for each other and in the city) because they had faith (trusted) the Lord. They toiled in difficulty even if things do not work out because God’s love loved them first. They bore down under pressure because their hope was in Jesus.
And this is the nature of the day’s labor for believers. One good work evokes another good work and one “constantly” evokes another “constantly.” We work sometimes by remembering other believers’ work. The Thessalonians received the Gospel message that rang out without intermission, and they responded by working together incessantly. And while Paul may not be present to get involved with the day-to-day activities, it is not as though he was not working with them. Perhaps at three or four in the morning you could hear him calling on the Father in heaven and mentioning the Thessalonians also.
God, please make me a person who cannot stop thinking
about You and my fellow brothers and sisters.
58Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)
Today, I want to focus on labor, that is, the work we do. I want to share a verse from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This verse means a lot to me and my work. 1 Cor. 15:58 reads, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (NRSV)
That last sentence moves my heart: “You know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Why? Because I often know the fearful feeling that my labor has been in vain: times when my work did not bring the expected results, or when those entrusted to my care did not respond to my leadership as I had hoped. I remember when efforts to shape the church in which I worked seemed fruitless. And, when I’m exhausted by overwork, I can worry that I am simply not making a worthwhile difference through my labor.
Most people can relate to my experience. Even those who mostly love their work can go through seasons of doubt. Yet for all of us there is a promise we can rely on. According to our verse, we can know that “in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain.” It might feel in vain. But it is not, in the Lord.
As we learned in last week’s Missions Conference, labor “in the Lord” isn’t just the work of pastors, missionaries, and others who work for religious organizations. Remember that God created us to work in the world. When we do work that is good, and when we do it for God’s glory, then we are working “in the Lord,” whether our work is so-called “sacred” or “secular.”
Why is our labor not in vain? In part, our labor is not in vain because the work we do contributes in small ways to the goodness of the world. (Assuming, of course, that your work isn’t evil or unlawful.) I was thinking about this when we went to dinner last weekend. Our waitress that evening was Becky, someone who had served some of us before. We were so glad to see her. Why? Because her service is wonderful, not only serving food but also friendship. Now, I imagine that her work sometimes feels repetitive, boring, and just plain hard. Waiting on tables is not easy. But what she does, often with smile, really does make a difference. And so it is with all kinds of work. When we do good for the Lord, then our labor in Him is not in vain.
Tomorrow, Monday, most of us will return to work or school. Our ordinary labor will resume. You may have various feelings about this. You might be glad to get back to work. Or sad that the weekend is over. Or worried that what you do doesn’t seem to have much meaning. But if you work “in the Lord,” that is, in service to Him, by His grace, and for His glory, then your labor will not be in vain.
Tomorrow, as you return to your “ordinary” work, offer yourself and the work you do to the Lord. Let your work be an act of worship to God, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain
As we commence our missions conference this week, I am reminded of the lovely passage in Isaiah. "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
Sometimes I wonder why did Isaiah single out the feet for praise? Can you imagine the ingrown toenails, corns, calluses, and strange odors of our athlete’s feet? Why not sing the praise of the messenger himself or his tongue or his smiling face?
I suppose perhaps the feet -- mundane, hardworking and necessary -- are most fitting symbols of those qualities God sees as praiseworthy in the missionary. God knows that the spreading of the good news is hard work. It brings the missionary in contact with the filth and grime of the world. It is very rarely a glamorous, limelight activity. Yet, it gives us comfort that if we don't mind hard work and a little dirt on our feet, we certainly qualify to be a messenger of the good news.
I think Isaiah praised the feet because they stood in the "doing" gap. The feet take the good news to the mountaintop where it can be proclaimed. Our feet move us to those who need to hear before the tongue can speak and the good news is shared, heard and believed.
I think of the feet of Hudson Taylor, as he marched up the plank to board the ship in England for 6 months voyage to the East. It was his theological convictions that led his feet to China. He said: "I would never have thought of going to China had I not believed that the Chinese were lost and needed Christ."
I think of the feet of the martyred Jim Elliott, compelled to go to the Auca Indians out of the conviction that simple obedience to his Lord must direct his priorities. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
I think of the feet of a Christian woman whose feet regularly carried her a few miles through the snow, to a university student center so that she could share Christ with the students who needed to hear. I think of the feet of Helen Gilkerson, who had dedicated her whole life to the service of our kinsmen in Taiwan, walked the streets, business establishments, hospitals, and homes in Hsinchu, so the people may come to know Jesus Christ.
These are the beautiful feet of which Isaiah speaks, the feet God loves to see in action. How about yours? Is your conviction directly link to your feet? Many are still waiting for God's call, some are called and are yet to "go", but make sure we don't miss out the opportunity. Remember always that the great Commission is for all of us, "Go and make disciples of all nations."