Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Time To Be Kind

Do you wish you were more kind?

We go through life examining our sins and coming to certain conclusions: I wish I could control my anger; I do not want to look at a woman that way; I don’t want to be so greedy and self-centred, etc. When we enter a situation, do we walk away with that one question: I wish I was more kind? I confess, I do not often think like that – did I win the argument? What else could have I said that would have convinced that person? Not – was I kind?

Kindness, like love, is often easier to describe than define. Kindness is also most often described in Scripture as some sort of action – unexpected, contrary to circumstances, filled with a spirit of humility, grace and selfless action. If I had to define kindness, I would say it is active humility that sets aside self and places God in the centre of a relationship or circumstance. When God stands in our place, surprising things happen like forgiveness, gentleness in tone and language, self control in actions, and unforeseen grace that honours God.

Kindness takes a prominent place in Scripture. We read of kindness in lists - 1 Corinthians 13.4 (love is kind) and Galatians 6 (fruit of the Spirit). We read of God’s kindness in places such as Acts 14.17 (God’s kindness to all people as he pours rain from heaven for the crops) and Ephesians 2 (God’s kindness in the giving of His Son) And we read of how our Christian response is to be one of kindness. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 reads: Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and every one else. The amazing thing about this verse are the qualifiers: nobody, always, each other and everyone else. Here there is little wiggle room. We are to always seek to be kind – humility with God at the centre – even when we are wronged by one another and every one else. We also read in 2 Timothy 2:24 that the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Again, the qualifier: everyone – even with those who oppose our ministries.

But it is not only in particular verses that we find kindness passages. Elisha, among others, was a very kind prophet. There was the incident were he cursed some youths who where then mauled by bears after they called him “bald” and told him to “go up” (possibly a reference to what took place with Elijah – so not even so much a personal reference) but the rest of his ministry was filled with acts of kindness – much like the ministry of Jesus. He healed water with salt so the town could drink; he provided oil to a widow so she would not have to sell her sons into slavery; he restored the Shunamite’s son to life; he fed a hundred people; he poured some flour in a pot so the prophets could eat soup; and he healed Namaan the Aramean (an enemy) from leprosy. The story before the one we will look at is Elisha hearing the plea of a prophet whose axe head fell into the water. This may seem small scale to feeding a hundred people or healing leprosy but you hear the anguish in the prophet’s voice: Oh, my lord, it was borrowed. And so a simple act of kindness follows – Elisha causes the axe head to float.

Our passage is 2 Kings 6.8-23 and it is a powerful passage about the kindness of God leading to kindness among enemies. Elisha takes the people of Israel out of the “vicious circle of folly” which would lead to more war and leads them to acts of kindness which stops the Aramean raiders from invading Israel. If kindness is active humility leaving God in the centre, then in the story of the Arameans and the king of Israel, we learn how to bring kindness into our relationships.

There are two incidents before the Arameans enter Samaria which place God in the centre. In other words, if we are to express kindness, we must understand God’s kindness or more specifically, experience it. The first act of kindness was shown towards the King of Israel, the one who would later ask: Shall I kill him, shall I kill him? The king of Aram would set up ambushes to capture the king of Israel but time and again, God would tell Elisha who in turn would tell the King of Israel where the ambushes would be set. We read in verse 10 this happened time and again.

The point in verses 8-12 is that God’s kindness is expressed to us daily. Every day, whether we give thanks or not, we receive kindness from God. We read throughout the Scriptures of God’s protection – David and Goliath, Daniel and a few lions, Peter in prison. We also read of God’s presence in the valley of the shadow of death and refuge in times of trouble. The very fact that we breathe is a kindness of God. Food on our tables, a roof over our heads – all expressions of God’s kindness.

But God’s kindness does not stop with general kindnesses such as protection. In verses 13-19 the King of Aram becomes very upset so he sends an army to attack Elisha. The next morning Elisha’s servant steps out of his house with his cup of coffee, looks up and sees – AN ARMY!!! After spilling his coffee he runs to tell his master – Oh my lord, what shall we do? And what does Elisha say? Do not be afraid. A man who probably had as good a reason to BE AFRAID as anyone in Scripture is told – do not be afraid. This is the amazing kindness of God as it goes beyond protection and provision (verses 8-12) to absolute rest in God so His people never need to be afraid. There is perfect peace found in God’s expressions of kindness. Even though troubles and “sorrow like sea billows roll” causing fear, God stands before us and calms the waves: peace is like a river that attends the soul – it is well, it is well with our soul.

This calmness brings Godly response – grace, mercy, love, wisdom – all done in his strength. God’s stands in the middle and we reflect what we have enjoyed – kindness. The reason the servant is told not to be afraid is because those who are with us are more than those who are with them. Amazing. God is so great and His strength so surprising that the servant’s eyes are opened to God’s army – hills full of chariots and horses of fire.

Here is God in the middle – we have all received undeserved kindness from God. But this only comes when our eyes are opened and we live by faith – when we see God. It is like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4.16-18, pressing forward through difficulties because he looks to what is unseen, not what is seen.

Elisha and the King of Israel had both experienced God’s kindness and now it is time to express God’s kindness to the enemy ((19-23). After Elisha prays, the army is led blind right into the heart of Samaria. When the king of Israel sees this, he is like a little boy in a candy store – Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them? And then in what I think is one of the key verses, Elisha reveals the natural human heart – the natural response to the enemy: Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword and bow? Well, yes I would and so would the king of Israel. But God gives a different answer – throw a banquet. While you may kill, God offers a feast. You kill with words and attitude and anger and tone but God pours a feast of love and grace. You hate, God shows kindness.

Elisha tells the king of Israel: Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master. God stops the vicious cycle and reveals the gracious cycle of wisdom. The people of Israel send them away and the bands of Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. The consequences of kindness are freedom from war and fear.

It is those consequences – war and fear – from which many long to be freed. Their lives may not be surrounded by a physical army but they are married to someone who ambushes them time and again. How do we stop the cycle of foolishness? How do we cease (over time) the angry words, the harsh tone, the acts of revenge or the neglect of gentleness? How does a wife not fear that God is not dealing enough with her husband but rather that God is out to get her – everything is against me in the words of Jacob.

How many times do we walk into a relationship and we hear the words (although put in a more sanctified manner) – shall I kill them, shall I kill them? What is the great danger? It is not only destruction of a relationship but it is the hardening of the heart that becomes distant from God. We read in Romans 12.21, the reason we are to not repay anyone evil for evil is that you may not be overcome with evil. That is a strong warning.

So where does one find compassion, gentleness, thoughtfulness and consideration? Is it to try better and not let things hurt so much? We read in Ephesians 5 31-32: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another …. How? Like Elisha, we have been shown kindness (Ephesians 1-3). In fact, Paul’s final prayer is a desire that you get a glimpse of the depth of the love God has for you – sinners. And it is this reflection of God’s kindness that we bring into our relationships. It is what Elisha experienced and then reflected so the Arameans where able to see who God is and His gracious feast of kindness.

1 comment:

Julian Freeman said...

Hey, long time no post! Glad to hear from you again. :)