kindness: (1) the state or quality of being kind; (2) an act of kindness. It's the noun form of kind (adj.) : of a friendly or generous nature; showing sympathy, mercy, empathy, or understanding; beneficial to something's function. [ < OE gecynde (kind, natural, fitting, as one would treat one's kin) < assumed Germanic kundjaz] Other words in the word field: warm-heartedness, kind-heartedness, mercy, kindliness.
The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22 was chrestotes, a form of chrestos. Its base meaning is "useful, fit for use", but it has derivative meanings of "useful for others" --> "kind, pleasant"; later also "having integrity in relationship with others". The idea expressed by the shift in meaning is that kindness is useful, while harshness works against others. In the Septuagint (an ancient translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek; seen in references as LXX), chrestotes is used of gemstones to describe their value.
In some contexts, the translation 'kindness' is used for Hebrew chesed, though the Hebrew word usually infers a more vigorous sort of mercy than 'kindness' usually bears in English. A related Greek term is eleos, which often translates the Heb. chesed in the Septuagint.
You can also check the dictionary for definitions of 'kind' and 'kindness'.
Kindness in the Bible
As with all aspects of positive human character, kindness is firstly an aspect of the Creator's character, and is rooted in the image of God in which we were created. From that basis, kindness reaches further into God's purposes:
- how Christ's followers are to be toward others
- what we can learn from a good woman
- God's kindness is reflected in nature, and in history.
- it is in the nature of love to be kind.
- the kindness and harshness of God.
- spiritual rebirth birth is an act of God's kindness.
- Christ's 'easy' (Greek chrestos)) yoke
- it's kind to give for others believers who are in need
- Kindness is one of the apostle Paul's "garments" of character Christians are to "wear".
God is said to be "good". Several different terms are translated that way, and there are many angles to God's good-ness. One of these angles is that God is kind. Sure, God can get angry; God is kind, but also just. Many people have the impression that God is at heart an angry god who likes punishing people and rampaging throughout creation. But wrath is not the main course. The main course is that God treats us with kindness, giving gifts and being patient with our insolence. God's especially kind with the poor and afflicted who trust God. Kindness comes from an attitude that everyone around you is worthy of being treated well. But so are you - stop being angry with yourself, forgive yourself, and be kind to yourself.
(Notice how the fruit of the Spirit all mesh together, interrelate, bleed into one another. Kindness, gentleness, and goodness are slightly different things, yet it is hard to be one without the others. For instance, it is hard to be kind without being gentle as well. Most of the time, the result of kindness is that you are being good to/for someone.)
Kindness Given to Others
Kindness puts people at ease, tells them you're out to do them good instead of harm. That allows people to feel safe around us. But if Ephesians 4:32 is right, it's mostly a matter of doing to others as God has done for us.
Ancient European and West Asian gods are not usually portrayed as being kind. Their stories are more about anger or about being distant or uncaring, or doing weird things just for sport. That is how most of the ancients thought of their god(s). It comes from having a cynical and painful view of the world. South and East Asian religions (especially Buddhism) treasure kindness. It is said that Buddha faced a raging elephant with such kindness that the elephant was tamed. The Hebrew God (and thus the Christian God) is characterized by love and kindness. But God is not always kind, due to God's sense of reality and justice. God will not allow us to turn kindness into a lie, or use apparent kindness as a cover for oppression, at least not for very long.
photo by Maja Majika.
Since God is kind, the follower of Christ is to be kind. Being kind is part of being holy, a mark of what makes the Spirit-led person distinct from others. How does this show?
Do acts of kindness for people. Give them little tastes of God's love. People actually like being treated kindly, as if they are valued. They can lay down at least some of their defenses, relax more, and feel comfortable. Most non-Christians have an expectation of being treated a bit more kindly by Christians, and are disappointed and sometimes even angry when they're not treated that way. While it's wrong to live according to others' expectations, it is a challenge we need to take to heart. Many practicing Orthodox Jews today do good deeds (mitzvot) as the opportunities present themselves in their daily lives, mainly because it is what God wants them to do. To them, doing good for others is more than a duty, it's also a prayer and a devotion.
Being vicious can be fun. There's a visceral kick one gets from throwing knives at one's chosen enemies. Radio talk show hosts, including some supposedly "Christian" ones, live on it, and their fans feed off of it. Gossip circles spread the ugly words far and wide. Put-downs become an every-day part of life. The social media are home to thousands of 'trolls' - people who look for ways to make comments that cut other people down. But cruelty doesn't make you important, it just makes you cruel.
"A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person."
Dave Barry, *Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn*
"Kindly words do not enter so deeply into men as a reputation for kindness."
"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."