The word ‘Kind’ brings memories rushing back. In particular, its memories of my mother repeatedly telling us kids “be kind”, clearly because we were being the opposite! Because there were 5 of us kids in our family, we heard this repeated often! It’s interesting how Kindness is perhaps the least ‘natural’ trait. And its because of this that it is also the characteristic which we notice perhaps the most deeply – the folk who have had the deepest impression upon me as a child were those who I recall were particularly kind.

Kindness is not a set of things we do – it is part of who we are. It is an attribute of God, and therefore also an attribute which His Spirit should bring out in every believer (Gal 5:22). When Paul was demonstrating the reality of his position in Jesus, one of the Spiritual fruits he pointed to was Kindness (2 Cor 6:1-13). Therefore, it is not a surprise that he writes to us in Eph 4:32 to remind us:

be kind and compassionate to one another”.

Ephesians 4:32

It seems, from Eph 4:30-5:2, that to see Kindness outworked in us we are directed to:

a) Stop behaving like the old life (v30)

v30 tells us to stop “grieving the Holy Spirit”. How do we grieve the Spirit? The context shows us it is when we let ourselves be conformed to the old life (anger, rage, slander, malice) rather than allowing His Spirit to transform us. Or, to use the imagery of Rom 12:2, when we are moulded into the pattern of this world rather than the pattern of God.

b) Allow deep change in our hearts (v31)

v 31 tells us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice”. These are deep things – bitterness and malice are what dwell deep in our hearts, producing the responses of rage, anger or slander – all of which seek to control and destroy others rather than their blessing. The contrast in v31 is “compassionate” or, as it might better be translated, “tender hearted”. The idea is hearts which are no longer hardened by hurt, but easily impacted by love. Who can cause such a deep change? The passive verb in v31 suggests a better translation should be: “let all bitterness, rage, anger … be taken from you”. We can’t affect such a change – but God’s Spirit can! And so this leads us to fall on our knees and ask God to do the deep ‘surgery’ that is needed to root out the bitterness and malice and plant a deep love within.

c) Make forgiveness our constant response (v32)

Be kind … [how?] … forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. Kindness requires forgiveness in the same way God forgives. How does God forgive? – He doesn’t ignore sin … he sees it and calls it out. But to make room for mercy, in Christ He “keeps no record of wrong” (1 Cor 13:5), He puts our sins far away from Him “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12). It’s the opposite of bitterness and malice, which come about because we allow resentments to dwell within. And it’s real – the past wrongs are so forgotten that every present and future response is driven by love that causes us to say and seek the best for others.

d) Be imitators of God, living a life of love (5v1-2)

Forgiveness like we’ve described above is difficult! How do I forgive like this? The answer is that we look to Jesus! We see our perfect example in Him, in His love to us in freely giving Himself for us “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8). But, of course, if God’s Spirit is within us, we are being “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29) and so this is not impossible – it is the fundamental outcome of the Spirit’s work, when we willingly seek God’s work in us.

Those who have been kind to you in the past will stand out clearly in your mind. Genuine kindness is such a deep work, and is so attractive, that it speaks most clearly of Him. That’s why kindness is such a vital part of shining for Jesus, both within our lives and in the church.