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Kindness Begins at Homeby Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Tempering Anger With Kindness
Bob is thoughtless and cold. In her frustration, Sylvia snaps and snipes at him, and too often boils over. "I know I shouldn't say those things when I'm angry. But I just have to get it out of my system. I can't help myself." The thrown vases, the blasting tirade, the cruel slashes all take their toll. Bob withdraws even more.
While the fruit of temperance or self-control (Gal. 5:23) focuses primarily on control of sexuality, Biblical kindness focuses on control of anger (Eph. 4:31-32). Uncontrolled anger blocks kindness.
Anger itself is not the sin. Paul cautions, "In your anger do not sin" (Eph. 4:26). Yet, like a fenced dog near an open gate, anger will escape in unkindness unless we guard the exit.
True kindness doesn't bite its lip in silence. It acknowledges and expresses anger, but doesn't let the anger attack the spouse to hurt, to score, or to get even. We take our cue from the eternal God:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . (Ex. 34:6- 7).
Our Father exhibits His eternal kindness toward us by a purposeful forbearance. Sylvia's excuse, "I can't help myself," is a cop-out. We can keep our anger from canceling kindness. Not easily, but with a firm grasp on Christ's power. New Testament kindness is not the laxness of an indulgent grandfather. Kindness is strength. "Better . . . a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Prov. 16:32). We require the full strength of the Holy Spirit to control anger. Three Biblical strategies enables us to remain kind, even when angry.
Confrontation is the first antidote for anger out of control. George wasn't used to saying much when Sally's spending bathed them in red ink. He loved her too much to make her unhappy. But when the February Penneys bill arrived George had had enough. He was angry, but he didn't lose his cool. After reviewing with her their earning ability, monthly costs, and precarious checkbook balance, he asked her to give him the credit card for a while. Later, he felt terrible. Was he really being kind?
Kindness doesn't rule out plain speech, confrontation, or rebuke. These are acts of Christian kindness. Jesus directs us to confront squarely a brother who sins (Lk. 17:3). Paul was anything but namby-pamby. He faced issues head on (Gal. 2:11ff; cf. 2 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 2:15). Yet his words of rebuke never aimed to injure, but to set right and heal (cf. 2 Cor. 2:2-4). For Paul, rebuke went hand in hand with "patience and kindness . . . weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left" (2 Cor. 6:6, 7).
Long-term kindness between imperfect family members is possible only through confrontation. To remain emotionally healthy we must acknowledge our anger, but we don't have to give it free reign. Loving rebuke, when appropriate, keeps rising anger from turning ugly and blocking kindness altogether. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another" (Eph. 4:31-32).
Forgiveness is a second antidote to unbridled anger. Jan can't bring herself to forgive Hank his continual finding fault with her cooking. She can't quite turn out lasagna or pizza or chicken casserole like "mom" used to make it. When she gets up nerve to confront him, his weak apologies are soon followed by a new round of nit-picking. She tries to excuse his cracks. "He can't really help himself. He had a bad day at the office." But it doesn't work. She tries to rationalize the insult: "This doesn't really hurt very much. I can handle it." But her pain and anger refuse to subside. She has not yet tried real Christian forgiveness.
Genuine forgiveness faces sin squarely, without either trying to excuse the sin or minimize the hurt. At the cross, God didn't stretch the truth to lessen the pain. Christ bore the sin fully so He might forgive it completely. Forgiveness is the raw material of God's kindness. His forbearance in the face of provocation is inconceivable without "forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" (Ex. 34:7). Real forgiveness is neither an excuse or a brave front. It is a deliberate faith choice, a refusal to hold this sin against him, against her. "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). Excusing or trying to rationalize Hank's cruel words can't defuse anger. True forgiveness can.
A third antidote to uncurbed anger is politeness. "Love is . . . kind . . . It is not rude, it is not self- seeking" (1 Cor. 13:4, 5). Love requires courtesy. Good etiquette is kindness codified.
I remember as a teenager trying to show proper amenities to my next door neighbor whom I was dating. I would rush to open the door for her, help her remove her coat. Years later I married her. Too often I let her open the door herself. Why? We take for granted constant companions. Politeness gives way to an unvarnished candor which doesn't seem to care if it offends. The fact is, close quarters require courtesy far more than occasional dates.
Christian courtesy is vital kindness in a marriage's tense times. Listening without interrupting. Refraining from namecalling. Allowing the other person to speak his piece. Common courtesy. The Bible challenges us "to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men" (Tit. 2:2, RSV). If courtesy is required in public, how much more in our own families? Living by a rule of courtesy enables us to keep inevitable anger from overflowing into rage.
Uncontrolled anger blocks kindness. But persistent exercise of Christian confrontation, forgiveness, and courtesy enables the fruit of kindness to lend its sweetness to a marriage. Even a difficult marriage.
Kindness in the Face of Provocation
Anyone can return kindness with kindness. But kindness in the face of provocation, kindness in return for hostility--that is the Biblical fruit of the Spirit at its peak of ripeness. A word study of "kindness" in the New Testament yields a amazing discovery: where "kindness" is mentioned in hostile situations, God Himself is nearly always the author.
He personally demonstrates before His children this raw, unvarnished kindness--love in return for hostility. Paul lists a catalog of man at his worst: "foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved . . . We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." Then comes the good news. "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . ." (Tit. 3:3-5).
God's greatness is seen in His restraint. Even when fools "show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience"--count it as softness--yet He persists (Rom. 2:4).
Before a God who substitutes kindness for retaliation, our excuses evaporate. Provocation does not justify rudeness, "because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" (Lk. 6:35). If our God can show kindness in the extremity of utter rebellion, how much more should we show kindness to our own families. With God's example in sharp focus, we see that Christian kindness is no fair-weather option. Kindness is not based on merit of the recipient but on the character of the author. Kindness isn't for weaklings. It is the guts and gears of the gospel in action. The ooey-gooey of a honeymoon couple is charming but less than convincing to a cynical world. The really compelling witness before our tragically fragmented culture is this: a Christian marriage which demonstrates kindness in spite of conflict. "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" (Jn. 13:35).
All Scriptures are quoted from the New International Version unless otherwise indicated.
New Testament Kindness
A Sidebar Accompanying "Kindness Begins at Home"
The Greek word chrestos, usually translated "kindness", originally meant "useful, good, suitable" (cf. Lk. 5:39; Mt. 11:30), later broadening to include moral excellence, genuine goodness of heart (cf. Rom. 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:33; Gal 5:22). Emperors and politicians liked to have this word engraved next to their name in public inscriptions. It sounded good for public consumption.
In the Bible, however, kindness is more than fluff. New Testament usage focuses on four facets of kindness: friendliness, compassion, helpfulness, and forbearance.
1. Friendliness. Kindness is friendly, actively seeking to form and foster personal relationships. It cannot exist in a vacuum. Kindness reaches out. "Love is patient, love is kind . . . it is not self-seeking" (1 Cor. 13:4, 5). It is the friendliness that inquires about a spouse's rough day.
Our model is God's friendly seeking us out, putting aside past hurts to restore friendship. We reflect His kindness, " . . . for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord" (1 Pet. 2:3, RSV). Our future also is secured by God's friendship, "that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7).
2. Compassion. Compassion is the second earmark of kindness: a ready sympathy, a sincere concern for the needs of another. Kindness cares. We make it part of our wardrobe: "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience," Paul wrote (Col. 3:12). "Be kind and compassionate to one another" (Eph. 4:32). Compassion flows readily to helpfulness.
3. Helpfulness. This third face of kindness is generous, willing to extend itself in practical ways to aid others. A sightless beggar was brought to the Master. The question, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mk. 10:51) characterizes Jesus' manner with people.
In exchange for the harshness of the law, Jesus offers His help--a "kind (Greek chrestos) yoke" (Mt. 11:30). Moreover, we Gentiles are "grafted" into the tree of God's people through "the kindness of God" (Rom. 11:22). God's compassion spills forth in practical, helpful, merciful deeds.
4. Forbearance. The fourth face of kindness is uniquely Christian--forbearance in the face of provocation. Again and again God's response to hostility is an example of kindness. God's "kindness, tolerance and patience" are designed to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4). "He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" (Lk 6:35). Paul recites man's litany of enmity and spite, then trumpets: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . ." (Tit. 3:4-5, cf. 2 Cor. 6:6-7).
Kindness is at the very roots of the God's nature. And His Spirit is maturing the Father's kindness in our character.
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