This past week, longtime mail carrier Floyd Martin retired from his neighborhood route in Marietta, Ga. Now—the best many mail carriers could expect on their last day on the job would a handshake or maybe a cake. But—most retire without the people who benefit from their labors even knowing.
Well, that’s not what happened to Floyd.
Instead, the Atlanta suburb he has served made a show of love and respect for Floyd so big, it trended on social media—resulting in tens of thousands of people across the country cheered along for what Floyd has meant to that community. Neighbors decorated their mailboxes for him on his last day. They presented him with gifts and threw a tearful block party as they recounted all they ways he has been more than a mail carrier over the past 20 years. And that’s what Floyd has been—MORE than a mail-carrier. He’s been kind to the neighbors he has served. In fact, stories from his customers have flooded the Internet. One shared how Floyd has always picked up the newspaper to bring to his most elderly residents—along with the mail—saving them painful steps. Another shared how he feeds neighborhood cats. Children love Floyd because he passes out lollipops whenever he delivers the mail. In fact, one child even dressed up as “Mr. Floyd” on career day. Another neighbor started a Go Fund Me page to send Martin to Hawaii, a dream trip he always wanted to make. They raised over $13,000. On top of that Delta Airlines heard about it and offered to fly Floyd for free. In various videos from his celebration, Floyd proclaimed his love for the community. He’s been a mail carrier for 35 years, and he’s had the Marietta route for 20. He says, “I could have left them a long time ago, but I wouldn’t, because I love them.”
If you’re our guest, I’ll get you up to speed by saying we are studying the Fruit of the Spirit—the God-empowered qualities that make us the best kind of neighbors. I think Floyd is a perfect example of someone in whom today’s fruit of the Spirit in our study has taken route. I’m referring to kindness or goodness—reflected in the way an entire neighborhood responded to his years of kindly blessing them.
Before we go any further, let’s read our text for this series. Again, I’ve left out the fruit we have studied thus far.
Galatians 5:22 – the fruit of the Spirit is , joy, peace, , kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 – ________________ and – . Against such things there is no law.
Now—unfortunately, these days our world has become resistant to kindness. This is a side effect of our busy, “me-first culture.” With our hectic schedules we have created a hostile environment in which kindness tends to shrivel up and die. I mean, like animals on the endangered species list, kindness is having a hard time surviving these days. I think another one of the factors when it comes to the approaching “extinction” of kindness is the fact that our world is becoming more and more impersonal.
Think of it.
We go to a gas station and don’t even have to talk to anyone. We just put our card in the slot, pump the gas, and drive away without ever looking at another human being. Remember the days when you used to actually talk to the man who pumped gas for you, wiped your windshield, offered to check the oil, and asked you about your day? I know most of you are too young so—go watch a few episodes of the Andy Griffith show on Hulu—and note how Gomer and Goober interact with the customers at Wally’s Filling Station. We see this at stores where we see more and more automated checkout lines that require little or no human interaction. And—more and more stores are going away—as we order what we want on line. You don’t even interact with a real policeman anymore when you get a speeding ticket. Speed and traffic light cameras just send you the bill. And—when it comes to calling a utility company—or even a church for that matter—more and more often we get these very impersonal phone trees.
Can you imagine what would happen if they put a phone tree on the 911 system? “If your emergency is a murder, push ‘1.’ If it is a burglary, push ‘2.’ If the burglar is still in the house, push ‘3.’ If he has a gun, push ‘4’ repeatedly.’”
Well, this morning I want us to learn how to do our part to save kindness from extinction by studying this vanishing fruit. Let’s begin, as we have on other Sundays, with a definition. What exactly is kindness or goodness? Philip Keller says it, “involves finding ways to brighten and cheer the lives of others.” Stephen Winward says it, “includes sympathy, generosity, and benevolence.” In essence Rick Warren combines these two statements and says, “Kindness or goodness is love in action.” And, I like that because we are talking about much more than a feeling here. We’re talking about doing something tangible.
The Greek word for “kindness” is “crestos” — and here’s something interesting about that. “Crestos” is one letter different from the Greek word, “Cristos” which is the word for “Christ.” In fact, when the early church began in the days of the Roman Empire, non-Christians often confused “crestos” with “cristos” —and assumed that the early Christians who made up this new “religion” were simply people who believed in kindness. Well, that’s not too far from the truth—because anyone who follows Jesus Christ must learn to bear the fruit of kindness. Genuine Christianity is indeed the “kinder religion” because all true believers—are called to be good and kind.
If you doubt that I would remind you of Jesus’ description of Judgement Day in Matthew 25. He said that on that day we will be publicly recognized as to how well we fulfilled this calling—we’ll be judged as to whether or not we bore this fruit. We’ll be congratulated for the times we gave the thirsty something to drink—times we gave clothes to the naked, food to the hungry—times we visited the imprisoned. And—we’ll be rebuked for the times we failed to be kind—failed to act—failed to show our love in these tangible ways. So, we’re not talking about a minor issue here—far from it! No—love in action—kindness—is the heart of Christianity. It’s an essential part of the process of becoming Godly. It’s a non-negotiable when it comes to being more and more like Jesus.
You know, when we describe Jesus we are quick to think of His power—but the Gospels record the fact that those closest to Him described His kindness. His first miracle was an act of kindness—turning water into wine to save two newly weds the embarrassment of running out at their reception. And do you remember Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus? As a sell-out—a Jew who was paid by the hated Romans to collect their taxes from his fellow Jews—well, as a traitorous sell-out, Zacchaeus was hated and avoided by the townsfolk. Everyone in Jericho despised him. No one came to his house for a friendly visit. No—Zach sat at the dinner table alone every night.
Yet when Jesus came into town riding the wave of popularity at this point in His earthly ministry, followed by throngs of people who wanted to get close to Him—Jesus stopped, looked up in that sycamore tree, and told Zacchaeus He was coming to his house for a visit. He told him loud enough for everyone in town to hear. And He didn’t have to do that. He could have sent a note. He could have had one of the disciples discreetly tell Zach of the Master’s intent after the crowd had passed–but no—Jesus made it public knowledge that He wanted to be with Zach.
Wasn’t that a kind thing to do? It would be like the most popular guy in high school—the quarter back or the head cheerleader—letting it be known that he or she was going to hang with the one everyone else on campus avoided.
And—do you remember when Jesus rescued the woman caught in the act of adultery or the time He stopped to talk to the woman who had been healed by touching the hem of His robe—or when, while enduring unspeakable physical and emotional agony on the cross, Jesus turned to minister to the repentant thief hanging next to Him? Our Lord was known for His kindness, wasn’t He!? So—if we ignore the kindness of Christ—we don’t really understand Him do we?
The Apostle Paul speaks of this character trait of our Lord frequently. In Ephesians 2:7 he says that, the incomparable riches of God’s grace were, “…expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Titus 3:4 says, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” In Psalm 63:3 David praised God saying, “Your loving-kindness is better than life.” Nehemiah said, “You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness.” (Nehemiah 9:17)
Well, it is no wonder then, that texts like Colossians 3:17 say that if we are to be known as God’s children—if we are to be recognized as Christians—we must learn to, “clothe ourselves with kindness.” This morning I want us to do some self-evaluation to try and discover how well we are doing at bearing this fruit. I want us to seek to answer a question Max Lucado suggests—namely: “What is my ‘KQ’—what is my ‘kindness quotient?’” There’s a pyramid graph deal in your bulletins and on the screen—that I hope will help illustrate all this.
(1) I want us to begin BELOW the pyramid because the truth is, when it comes to our kindness quotient, some of us start with a DEFICIT.
This is what we would refer to as someone who’s KQ is “Negative K.” And you know the kind of person I’m talking about. Don’t look around—but there may be some of them in the room right now—because a lot of people haven’t even thought about bearing this particular fruit. So, they are indeed in deficit territory. These people, are harsh and curt and quick to judge or criticize. They lay out verbal “land-mines” wherever they go: home, school, work, grocery store check-out lanes—wherever. Their response to your comments are always defensive and critical.
Now—I don’t know exactly why they are this way. Maybe they take 12-hour time release nasty pills when they wake up every morning to make sure they can stay UN-kind all day long. Maybe their bed has two wrong sides to get up on—but these are the people you want to steer clear of when they face traffic jams, computer problems, or bad hair days.
An interesting thing I have noted over the years is that if these people are married for any length of time, they usually have very patient, loving, spouses who are especially kind—people who are much further up on the pyramid than they are, because it take a lot of patience and love and kindness to put up with these “kindness-challenged” kind of people. Now—no finger pointing or elbow jabbing—but do you know anyone like that?
C. S. Lewis has something very interesting to say about these people who are below the line. In his classic book, Mere Christianity, he basically says, “For those of us who are a little better at kindness in our lives, it’s easy for us to look critically at people below the line who have this unkindness streak in them. It’s pretty easy for us to feel superior—to look down our noses at them.” But, then Lewis goes on to challenge us to stop and wonder, “What made this person so un-kind? What made them this way?”
Well, I think this is great advice because as the old saying goes, “Hurt people—hurt people.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not justifying their unkind actions or words—but we must understand that there is always a reason for people to act the way they do. So, if someone’s below the line in your life—instead of putting them in their place—instead of responding in kind—which tends to be UN-kind—think for a moment. As yourself, “Who hurt them? Who creamed them in life? Who treated them in such a way that it’s become natural for them to walk around and hurt other people?” When you encounter UN-kind people don’t start by judging them—start by trying to understand them. That’s the kind thing to do. We have to respond this way because as Lewis says, “You don’t know where they started their journey.”And he’s right.
- They might have had alcoholic parents who raged at them when they were little children.
- They may have been abused.
- They may have some physical ailment—some “thorn in their side,” some constant source of physical pain that pushes them toward negative 10 on the “niceness meter.”
- Maybe they didn’t have the loving parents you did.
- Maybe they have financial struggles you can’t imagine.
- Maybe they live with a terrifying medical diagnosis.
We don’t know do we? We don’t know where they started their journey!
The fact is understanding and kindness go hand-in-hand because the more you understand a person, the kinder you tend to be toward them. This is why it is easy for us to be unkind to strangers. This is why our first impulse is to lay on the horn when some slow-poke gets distracted and won’t move when the light turns green. We don’t know that person—so we seem to think it’s okay to attempt to honk them into movement.
Let me ask—have you ever done that—you know, really blown the paint of the car in front of you with your blaring, angry car horn—and then on up the road a bit you came up beside them and realized you KNEW that “slow poke?” Maybe it was a neighbor or fellow church member? Maybe it was someone you’ve been witnessing to—but you saw them and they saw you. Did your face turn red or what?
I’m reminded of the preacher who said, “I’ve never had to apologize for my position but I have had to apologize for my disposition.” This is a good time for me to remind you that as the old saying goes, “If your words are soft and sweet, they won’t be as hard to swallow if you have to eat them.” Or—as our kids put it in the children’s musical a couple weeks back, “Taste your words before you spit them out!” It’s always best to be kind.
Well—when we know someone—when we strive to truly understand them and their hurts—well, even if they are below the pyramid here—it’s easier for us to be kind to them.
This week I read a story from the days of the old west—a story about a train that was filled with very tired passengers. Most of them had spent the day traveling a long distance by buggy or horseback or foot to get to the train station and at last evening had come and they had all tried to settle down—to get some sleep as the train rumbled along. However, at one end of the passenger car a man was holding a tiny baby and as night came on the baby became restless and cried more and more. Unable to take it any longer—frustrated with this inconsiderate father, a big brawny man spoke for the rest of the group and said, “Why don’t you take that baby to its mother?” There was a moment’s pause and then the man said, “I’m sorry. I’m doin’ my best. You see, my wife, the baby’s mother—well, she’s in her casket in the baggage car ahead.” After an awkward silence, the big man who had asked the cruel question got out of his seat and moved toward the man with the motherless child. He apologized for his impatience and unkind remark. He took the tiny baby in his own arms and told the tired father to get some sleep. Then in loving patience he cared for the little child all through the night.
Listen—if you have someone in your life who is kindness-challenged—they’re way below the line—their “KQ” doesn’t even register—then ask God to help you understand them—and their situation—and with that understanding learn to be kind to them. Remember—that’s how God deals with us. This is what David is talking about in Psalm 103:14 when He says, “The LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are but dust.”
Aren’t you GLAD God deals with us in that way? Aren’t you thankful for His understanding and kindness in your life? I know I am! I’m saying there should be a lot of grace when it comes to dealing with people—especially those who start with a kindness deficit. But you know, the fact is no matter where you and I start on this graph, Jesus calls us to a higher level of kindness. And the wonderful news is that not only does He call us to a higher level. He offers to empower us to reach that level. You see, kindness is a fruit of His indwelling Spirit. With that in mind, let’s continue.
(2) Okay—once we leave the deficit area, the first level we come to in calculating your kindness quotient, is what we are going to call “K – 1.”
This is kindness in very BASIC terms—it is when we are able to lower and even renounce all together our nastiness tendency. It’s when it dawns on us that it is wrong to think that if we have a bad day and bad circumstances, then we have the right to say and do unkind things. The K-1 Level is when we become mature enough to understand that when we get bad dumped on us in life it’s not a free pass to act mean to everyone in our path. It’s the realization that grumpiness—unkindness—well it’s never justifiable. To put it plainly, it’s when we learn that it’s never right to be a jerk. We come to understand that nastiness is not a spiritual gift—that there is no right way to do a wrong thing! It’s when we realize we can’t have a bad day and then think it’s okay for to yell at your wife or kick your dog.
The K1 level of kindness is the renunciation of our meanness factor. It’s saying, “I’m just not going to be mean to anyone anymore. I’m not going to rationalize it. I’m never going to justify it.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m going to come up to at least this level. I’m going to obey Scripture and strive to “do everything without grumbling or complaining.” And—maturing Christian—listen to me here. There is never a time when it is okay for us to be mean.
As I’ve said in the past, when we decided to follow Jesus as Lord—we give up our right to free speech. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:29 we are not permitted to, “…let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Mean words—hurtful words don’t benefit anyone. That is going the wrong way. Paul says it grieves the Holy Spirit when we behave that way. He goes on to say we are to always be, “kind and gentle, tender-hearted toward one another.” (Ephesians 4:32)
In fact, let’s all say it together, “Be kind and gentle, tender-hearted toward one another.” Now, just so we don’t forget it when you get up in the morning and start your work week, let’s say it again. “Be kind and gentle, tender-hearted toward one another.” Tuesday’s coming so let’s say it again. “Be kind and gentle, tender-hearted toward one another.” Many of us lose steam come Wednesday—Thursday can be the most frustrating day of the work week—Friday you are worn out and tend toward grumpiness—so let’s say it one more time—but put your name in there first, so as to really say it to yourself. This will sound odd because we all have different names but say your name and then this verse, “Mark! Be kind and gentle, tender-hearted!”
Now, believe it or not this verse works—all verses do! God promises that His Word will not return void but will accomplish its purpose. And part of its purpose is to reprogram our thinking and the best way to get Scriptural programming downloaded through our thick skulls—and into our fleshy “CPU’s” is to follow the example of our AWANA kids and memorize Scripture—like our text for this series—and the weekly verses in our 52 verses deal. The more you know the Word—the more you will become like the WORD!
We are never right to be unkind toward others.
(3) Now—when you realize this—then you have reached the second level—what we might call “K-2” on the kindness quotient continuum.
K-2 is when you grow up enough to go from simply making the decision to renounce unkindness—to embracing the Spirit-inspired realization that it really is the better way to live.
You understand that kindness pays off. You see that, Godliness really does indeed have value in all things. I’m reminded of something that happened to a grocery store clerk named Jordan Taylor. He had been stocking bottles of orange juice at a grocery store when he noticed Jack Ryan “Ziggy” Edwards, 17, staring at him in rapt attention. He stopped and offered Edwards an opportunity to help in the work, and soon they were both operating in coordinated teamwork, stocking the bottles and milk cartons together. Taylor’s collaborative spirit made an impact that reverberated around him. Edwards’ father was on hand and was so impressed that he filmed the whole exchange—and in a follow-up conversation Taylor revealed that he wanted to go to school to become a teacher. Edwards’ sister then setup a crowdfunding account to raise funds for Taylor’s education. Meanwhile, the grocery store offered the autistic Edwards a part-time job stocking shelves, a job for which he’d already so clearly demonstrated his capability. The money raised for Taylor’s education enabled him to enroll at nearby Grambling State University—but that’s not all! Before the start of the semester, a local credit union contacted his family to notify them of their gift for Jordan—a Chevrolet Cruze sedan. His local congressman, Garret Graves heard about it and complimented Taylor saying, “What we’ve seen over the recent years is the people that are getting attention are the ones that are divisive. And here, what’s happening is the good deeds are being recognized.”
Kindness works people! We reap what we sow—so why not do as Glen Campbell sings and, “…try a little kindness?” In fact, I want to suggest a very simple way to prove the validity of this principle.
One of the easiest ways to be kind is simply to smile at people because smiles always come back. They are as contagious as yawns. And, you know, social scientists have made an amazing discovery about smiles. We all know that when we feel good on the inside we smile on the outside. But scientists have learned that the reverse is also true. They have learned that if we smile on the outside, we begin to feel good on the inside. So, when you smile at people and they instinctively smile back, you are making them feel good. You have the power to make that kind of positive difference in someone’s life. Try it with the check-out clerk at Giant. Try it with your spouse. Try it with the most kindness-challenged person you know and see if your little world doesn’t become a little happier, kinder place!
We guys tend to think that kindness is a wimpy, weak, emasculating kind of thing. But that is not true. Kindness is a powerful thing—a world-changing kind of thing. Plus—kindness takes guts—especially when it is directed toward people who are being unkind to us. As someone once put it, “With kindness you can lift sad people up. With kindness you can cool angry people down. With kindness you can bridge racial, ethnic, socio-economic and gender chasms. With kindness you can lower someone’s stress or reduce someone’s fear.” Kindness is an incredibly powerful thing. Christlike kindness can even lead someone to faith in Jesus. As Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness leads toward repentance.” Frederick Faber hit the nail on the head when he said, “Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.”
Tim Winton is Australia’s most celebrated novelist. He’s written more than a dozen bestselling books and is the winner of numerous “land down under” literary prizes. He lives on the coast of Western Australia with his family. Winton was interviewed on the popular ABC television show Enough Rope with Andrew Denton. At one point, the conversation turned to Winton’s well-known Christian faith.
Denton said, “I want to talk about your faith. When you were, I think, about five, a stranger came into your family and affected your family quite profoundly. Is that right?” Tim Winton shared how his father, a policeman, had been in a terrible accident in the mid-1960s, knocked off his motorcycle by a drunk driver. After weeks in a coma he was allowed home. Winton said he remembers thinking, “He was like an earlier version of my father, a sort of augmented version of my father. He was sort of recognizable, but not really my dad, you know? Everything was busted up, and they put him in the chair, and, you know, ‘Here’s your dad.’ And I was horrified.”
Winton’s father was a big man, and Mrs. Winton had great difficulty bathing him each day. There was nothing that Tim, who was five-years-old at the time, could do to help. News of the family’s situation got out into the local community, and shortly afterward, Winton recalls, his mother got a knock at the door. A stranger stood there. He said, “G’day. My name’s Len. I heard your hubby’s a bit [ill]. Anything I can do?” Winton explained that Len was from the local church. He had heard about the family’s difficulties and wanted to help. Winton said, “He just showed up, and he used to carry my dad from bed and put him in the bath, and he used to bathe him—which in the 1960s in [Australia] in the suburbs was not the sort of thing you saw every day.”
According to Winton, this simple act of kindness from this Christian man had a powerful effect: “It really touched me in that—watching a grown man bother, for nothing, to show up and wash a sick man—you know, it really affected me.” This “strangely sacrificial act,” as he described it, was the doorway into the Christian faith for the entire Winton family.
(4) The third and final level is what we’ll call “K-3.”
This is “graduate level” kindness—industrial strength level—other worldly level of kindness. By the way, this is the level of kindness that gets involved up close, face-to-face, hands on. It’s treating any one in need as you would your own brother. People who mature to this K3 level are people who live every day with an increasing awareness of God’s kindness to them—such that it stirs them to not just renounce nastiness—and not just be kind because its powerful and it pays off in life—no—K3 people go beyond that and spend their days dreaming up out-of-the box ways to show outrageous kindness to other people—even “kindness deficient” people.
They do this because they understand that this is what God did for them in sending Jesus. They know that because of their sin, they were God’s enemies—deserving death—but that in spite of this God sent His Son to take our sin—our death on Himself—and as Paul puts it in 2nd Corinthians 5:15 this realization compels them to no longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them—so they are constantly doing truly sacrificial acts of kindness—costly kindness—kindness of a Christlike caliber—even to their enemies.
In his book, A Love Worth Giving, Max Lucado tells the story of an auction that was held to raise money for a school. One of the “items” up for bid was a purebred puppy that melted the heart and opened the check book of many bidders—two in particular. These two auction attenders sat on opposite sides of the banquet room—a man and a woman—and as the bidding went on these two surfaced as the most determined. Lucado writes,
“Others dropped out but not this duo. Back and forth they went until they’d one-upped the bid to several thousand dollars. This was no longer about the puppy—but rather victory. This was the Wimbledon finals and neither player was backing off the net. Finally, the man gave in and didn’t return the bid. ‘going once—going twice—going three times—sold!’ The place erupted, and the woman was presented with her tail-wagging trophy. Her face softened, then reddened. Maybe she’d forgotten where she was. She never intended to go twelve rounds at a formal dinner. Certainly, never intended for her neighbors to see her pit-bull side. So you know what she did? As the applause subsided, she walked across the room and presented the puppy to her competition.”
What would happen if you did something that kind to your “competition” — your enemy? What if you were kind in an out-of-the-box K-3 kind of way to the boss who fired you or the wife who left you—or to the co-worker that stabbed you in the back? What would happen if you were, “kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another—even as God in Christ Jesus forgave you?” (Ephesians 4:32)
Look at the chart. Where are you? Where do you want to be? I mean, find where you are on this kindness quotient continuum and imagine how it would effect your marriage if you moved up a level or two. How would it effect your relationship with your children? Your neighbors? Your co-workers? Your church family?