Texts: Isaiah 58:5-9, Galatians 6:1-10, Luke 10:25-37 5th Lent Midweek
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness and Goodness
In the name of him who loved us and gave himself for us, dear friends in Christ: Thus far in our continuing series of meditations on the nine fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter five, we’ve considered love, joy, peace, and patience. And I think it’s safe to say that in each case, we’ve found something unexpected there; like maybe the biblical concept of whatever fruit we were talking about was contrary to our normal use of the word, as was the case with love, or perhaps that there was quite a bit more involved with the biblical idea of the fruit in question than we might have initially guessed, as was true of some of the others. The upshot was that I had to spend no small amount of time unpacking and explaining the concepts. Because of this, it occurred to me that since you’ve surely noted that this evening we’re going to be tackling two of the fruit of the Spirit, you may be dreading the thought that we’re going to be here all night as I try to explain the meanings and nuances of both. You might be thinking that you’re going to have to stretch to the limits the fruit of patience we talked about last week.
If so, you may relax. It turns out that the next two fruit of the Spirit, namely kindness and goodness, are closely related and just about as straightforward as they can be. But to best explain them, it will be helpful to first do a quick review of the spiritual fruit of love. You will recall that love in its biblical sense is not the warm feeling of affection you have for that certain someone who sets your heart aglow, nor is it the pleasure you derive from things that delight you, like when you say, “I love ice cream” or “I love flowers in springtime”. No, when the word love is being used in those ways, what you’re saying is “I love what’s good for me, or makes me feel good, or in some other way gratifies me.” That kind of love is all about me. The spiritual fruit of love is exactly the opposite. It’s the same as God’s love. Its focus is not on what’s good for me, but rather what’s good for you (the object of my love). Love is the promise to devote myself mind, body, and soul to doing what’s good for you without counting the cost or looking forward to whatever I may get back from you. Love in this sense is the voluntary commitment to sacrificially give oneself for the good of someone else. It’s the kind of love displayed most clearly in our Savior’s giving of himself to suffer and die on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins – as he himself said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”
This is the kind of love that the Holy Spirit is working to bring to the fullness of maturity in us – that we would be just as selfless and giving and focused on the good of others as is Christ our Lord. And with this in mind, the two fruit of the Spirit for this evening go hand in hand with love. You might even think of them as love’s two companions.
Specifically the fruit of kindness is the predisposition to want to help and serve others. It’s what makes the commitment to show love for someone the obvious choice. It’s an overall attitude of friendliness, hospitality, and deep concern for the welfare and feelings of other people. Kindness is what makes someone else the target of your love. Goodness, on the other hand, is putting love and kindness into action for someone. It’s the energy and driving force with which you reach out, and intervene, and go to work, and get what’s needed, and provide it for someone with a glad and willing heart. Goodness is the application of love and generosity.
And because a picture is worth a thousand words, we have the story of the Good Samaritan as one of this evening’s readings. As he travels down the trail and spies the victim of the robbers’ assault, it’s kindness that moves the Samaritan to have compassion on this total stranger and that compels him to want to help—unlike the priest and Levite who passed by on the other side. The goodness in the Good Samaritan is seen in his treating of the man’s wounds, placing him upon the donkey, seeing him safely to the inn, and promising to pay for future expenses. And by employing both kindness and goodness, the Samaritan becomes our Lord’s model of one who loves his neighbor as himself.
The Spirit of the Lord we have been given is working to bring to fruition in us this same kindness and goodness. Obviously we’re not all the way there yet. And so it will do us well to consider what specific sins are standing in the way of us getting there. With respect to kindness, what often stifles our progress is the desire to judge who is and who isn’t worthy of receiving our compassion and help. We tend to keep that list pretty short: immediate family, of course; extended family—with certain habitually troublesome exceptions; a few close friends maybe; but beyond that, not so much. When encountering those who need help, we tell ourselves things like: “If the situation were reversed, there’s no way he’d help me”, and “Oh, if he only managed his money better, he wouldn’t have this problem; so he deserves it”, and “My help would only be wasted on the likes of him.” In such ways we excuse ourselves from Christ’s command to keep the law of love. That’s what makes the story of the Samaritan sting us so badly. Here’s a guy who is universally hated by the people of the land he’s traveling through. If the Samaritan had been the guy who’d been beaten and robbed, then the priest, the Levite, and our traveling Jewish friend would all not just pass him by, they’d actually enjoy seeing him there half dead, and they’d likely add insult to injury by spitting on him as they went by. The Samaritan knows this very well. And so the kindness he shows is amplified by his setting aside of all the prejudice he might justifiably feel and his choosing to forget the insults and injuries he’s received from Jews in the past. All he sees is fellow man – a brother – who desperately needs help. And as the fruit of kindness grows in us, we too learn to see all people this way.
What interferes with the growth of goodness in our lives is usually the selfish inclination to hold back. We ask, “What’s this going to cost me in terms of time, expense, and messed up plans?” We can then excuse ourselves by thinking, “If I do help, I won’t have enough for myself and my family, or I won’t be able to meet other obligations.” Or we might think, “Why am I the one who always has to pitch in and lend a hand? Surely it ought to be somebody else’s turn.” Or we might hold back on account of the risk involved. You know, sometimes people only pretend to be in need so that they can set you up to be sued or robbed or something even worse. True enough; but do you imagine for a moment that the Samaritan didn’t run the same risk? Who do you think would be a more likely target for thieves in Judea, a fellow Jew, or a hated foreigner with a donkey – which tells us that he’s probably a traveling merchant and therefore likely to have something worth taking? There’s no contest. And then, even once he’s clear of the danger of being robbed on the road, he exposes himself further by promising to pay whatever a Jewish innkeeper might later claim are expenses related to the man’s recovery – a Jewish innkeeper who, I might add, gladly takes a his money but would never dream of letting a filthy Samaritan stay at his establishment, and who would likely relish the thought of taking advantage of one. The Samaritan knows the risks he’s taking; but knows it’s better to suffer at the hands of men for doing good, than to turn away from an opportunity God has given him to show love and compassion.
So where does that leave us? Knowing that our Lord Jesus holds up the Good Samaritan as an illustration of what the Law of God requires of you not just once in a while, but every second of every day, how well do you rate? Not in very good shape, I should guess. In fact, if the Samaritan’s actions describe the path of righteousness, I think it’s safe to say that the Law’s standards leave us beaten, bruised, and lying in the ditch half dead, with every bit of goodness and kindness we might have claimed for ourselves robbed and stripped away.
And that’s where we would have remained. The priest and Levite, those who teach the Law of God, they wouldn’t be much help to us. No, we’d need someone else. We’d need someone who would look on us with kindness and compassion, someone who would take the risk of losing everything – even his own life, someone who though despised by this world would lift us up and treat our wounds and carry us to a place of safety. We’d need someone who would offer to pay whatever debts we might yet incur during our long recovery. Yes. We would need someone exactly like that. And of course that’s precisely what we have in our Savior Jesus Christ.
And he has brought us here to his church, a place of safety and healing, where he continues to bear the expense of our recovery as through his longsuffering love and forgiveness we are being healed and we are being strengthened as we confess our sins and shortcomings, receive his Word of pardon, and by his Spirit grow to be more and more like him. Let us therefore set our hearts on that goal, since it is his goal for us. And may he give us the grace to not grow weary in showing kindness and doing good beginning with the household of faith, and extending from there to all as the Lord gives us opportunity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!