(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s “Cultivate Kindness” message, part of the Cultivate series. The video is also available to you here.)
I believe so much in the power of kindness.
Now, my son was in a great school last year. And that word—kind, be kind, choose kind—was something that they would often say. And I often would ask my son, “Well, what do you think that means?”
And he would say, “To be nice. If there’s somebody being bullied, to kind of step away and not join in or to stand up for.”
But I kept wondering. What is a biblical view of kindness? What does it mean for the Spirit of God to cultivate kindness within us? Is it just to be nice? Or is there something so much more?
And just, in our remaining time, I wanna just take you through some passages of Scripture and make some observations. I’m going to jump to Titus chapter 3, verse 3, and I want you to hear this:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But 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. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
This is the gospel. This is the good news. The truth is, friends... there were times in our story where there was brokenness, where there was pain, where there was sin. And if you go all the way back to the very beginning, Genesis, early pages of Genesis, chapter 3... the world was perfect. It was so good.
The best kind of example I know how to describe of this is there was this lake that I used to go to. And in the mornings, the lake was just glass. And if you like to wakeboard or water ski, you know that a glassy lake is beautiful. There’s ripples. There’s no wake. It’s just so much fun.
And I remember one day just standing there, reflecting and seeing just how clean and glassy the water was when a buddy of mine just disrupted it all. He ran as fast as he could down the deck. And as I was sitting there, he just jumped over me and cannonballed, and the ripples and the waves just picked up.
And I want you to know that in Genesis chapter 3, this is where sin begins. And it causes a ripple all throughout creation. And what ends up happening when the man and the woman take of the fruit and they eat of it, believing that God has held out on them, that God has not given them His very best, what that choice does, what that decision does is it creates... spiritual separation between us and God.
There’s emotional distance. Shame is introduced. Stress. Worry. Anxiety. Fear. Introduced in the narrative of humanity. And it causes relational rifts. I don’t know who I am, and that person has something, and so we start manipulating. Wars start. Murder starts. People start oppressing and taking advantage of each other. And when there’s a spiritual, emotional, and relational rift, you are gonna find yourself with physical needs that are begin to break out.
People finding themselves in oppression. People finding themselves in need. Systems and structures that end up pushing people to the fringe. And it all begins because of sin.
And what’s so beautiful in that passage of Titus is that but the kindness and love of our God who sent His Son to redeem all of these areas. And that word kindness is a powerful word. In the original language, that word kindness is the word Chrestos. Now the word Christian in Greek is the word Christos. There’s only one little separation, and it’s one letter—the “i” and the “e.”
But for the first church... they often would be referred to not as Christos, not as Christians, but as Chrestos. The outside world—people outside the church—referred to followers of Jesus as the Chrestos because they were so moved by grace that they found themselves being kind to other people who were outside the Christian faith.
The first Christians, they were these Chrestos, known as the kind ones, because they welcomed people in. Romans. They welcomed the Greeks in who were suffering. They helped people who were impoverished. They helped people who were sick. When sickness broke out and everyone bailed, you know who showed up? The Chrestos. The kind ones. They had been so affected and moved by God’s grace, by God’s kindness for them, that they had to give it away.
It’s essential to the teachings of the first church. In Colossians, it says this: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And this takes you back to the baptism waters. Because when you would enter into the waters, you would basically take off your old clothes. And when you would come out of the waters, they would give you a new shirt, a new robe, and this whole setting, I imagine the leaders of the church looking at them, holding their shoulders and saying, “My friend, you have been clothed. You are a part of the chosen people. You are holy. You are dearly loved. God’s grace and kindness has been poured out to you. Now clothe yourselves with compassion.”
And this word compassion in the original language is splanchna; it’s like my favorite Greek word. But it literally means to care for what God has birthed into the world. It’s what you feel when you see the news. It’s what you ache when you see someone suffering. It’s that compassion that happens within you. But it’s not just something you’re supposed to feel. The next thing that you’ve clothed yourself in is kindness. To be one of the kind ones. To be one of the people who actually go and to be humble, to be gentle, to be patient. And so this kind of language, this kind of idea, was essential and critical for the first church.
But what is kindness? What does it really mean to be one of the kind ones? What does it mean to be and wear this concept of the Chrestos?
I want to tell you. Biblical kindness is simply this: When the seeds of good deeds meet felt needs.
What do I mean by this?
See, sometimes I think when we think about kindness, it’s just doing something nice. It’s a bit of a transaction. I help you in hopes that someday you help me. I help you. Someday, maybe when I’m down on my luck, you might help me.
But biblical kindness is much different. Biblical kindness says, “I understand that this pain and the brokenness and distortion and fracturing happened when sin entered this world. And it affected the spiritual, the emotional, the relational, and the physical. And when I give, I want the seeds of grace to be present. I want to go after the root issue, the root cause, which is sin, and I want the seeds of grace and good news to be in these good deeds meeting actual felt needs.”
Friends, everywhere you go, there are people who have this ache. Spiritually. Emotionally. They don’t know who they are. Relationally. There’s rifts with their kids or rifts with their family, rifts with people in their neighborhood. There’s physical aches, physical needs. But biblical kindness is us going, “We’ve got grace. We have experienced kindness from above. And we see... we see. And we are gonna bring these seeds through our good deeds, meeting felt needs in hopes that our brothers and sisters would experience a God who is with them, a God who is for them, and a God that deeply loves them. That’s what biblical kindness is.
How do we do it? How do we actually not just go through a transactional culture where I give you something; hopefully someday you’ll give me something. How do we actually embody and cultivate this Fruit of the Spirit known as kindness?
This is how we do it.
Number one. You cultivate kindness by embracing grace. It starts with grace. It starts with you recognizing God’s gift for you. If you’re going to be someone who is kind, you have to first and foremost recognize how kind God was to you. When was the first time you recognized and realized God’s grace, not for this person or that person but for you? And when you can embrace grace, it changes the trajectory of how you view yourself, how you view sin, and how you view each other. Embrace grace.
And number two. You have to see the need. We’re so good at entering into a restaurant, getting our food. Going into a local coffee shop and getting our latte. Going to our cleaner’s, dropping off our clothes and just getting our clothes. And, again, that transactional side to us is we pay, we get. We drop off, we’ll come back and pay and get. That’s how we go. And oftentimes, we miss the ache and the need before us.
You know how you see the need? You look at people’s eyes. Eyes don’t lie. And, sometimes, I’ll be staring into someone’s eyes, and I’ll just be looking at them, and, all of a sudden, what they want to do is just drift. They can’t even look. They can’t even look me in the eyes.
And sometimes, I’ll be sitting at a restaurant locally, and I’ll be trying to engage and look into the eyes of my server, or looking at the eyes of a barista, or looking to the eyes of someone that I’m sitting next to on a plane and just try to see them. Cause it’s amazing is when you look into their eyes, you can almost feel and sense what’s the spiritual ache? What might be the emotional ache? Is there a relational need or even a physical need?
But many of us, we’re just so good that we just find ourselves looking down at our phone. And we’re not seeing the need. We’re seeing the latest Instagram post or Facebook or Tweet. And we look forehead to forehead. And many people even that we’re trying to look at in their eyes, there’s just so much on their shoulders, that they’re even looking down.
And I think for the first church, biblically kind church that they were, they were focused and fixated on the needs of humanity. If you’re gonna cultivate kindness, and the Spirit’s gonna be at work in you, man, I want you to embrace grace, and I want you to see the need, to see what the people are feeling.
And number three. This one radically changed me. This one transformed my understanding of kindness. Number three. We have to carry the burden.
Now, stay with me for one second. I asked some professors that I had in college, I asked some friends of mine about this... and I wanna try to unpack in just a matter of seconds poverty. Spiritual poverty, emotional poverty, relational or physical poverty. Here’s just my simple definition. It is the limited options.
When you feel impoverished spiritually, you’re like, “I just, I don’t know what to do. I feel stuck.” Emotionally: “I, I don’t know where to go.” If you feel it with finances: “I just feel stuck. I don’t know which bill I can pay. I don’t know. I just feel like I have minimal options. And I don’t know how to get more.” Or: “I don’t know how to get out of this place.”
But on the flip side, people who feel blessed or rich, what do they have? Multiple options, don’t they? Spiritually—multiple options. “I got this community,” or “I know these verses to go to.” Or: “I know this community or this mentor. I mean, I feel rich in my faith.” Or emotionally: “I know what to do if I feel stuck.” Or financially: “I can get myself out.”
But think about this. Kindness isn’t just a transaction to help. Kindness, just like we heard, is about carrying the burden. It’s taking from our resources and begin to understand and carry this burden so that our brothers and sisters can actually have more options.
And this really is the gospel. Think about it. Jesus... Jesus is standing at the right hand of the Father, and He has all of heaven looking down at earth. At any moment, He can have angels sing His favorite song. He has everything—all the power, all the glory, all the way. And yet, Philippians chapter 2 says He empties Himself. Of all that. And He takes on the embodiment of humanity. And He walks this earth. And just like it said in Titus, what we read, righteousness that we couldn’t do, we felt stuck—spiritually and emotionally, relationally, and physically—we felt stuck. We did not have options to get us to God. And yet He carries our burden, walks up a hill, stands on the cross, takes what we have done, what has been done onto us, sheds Himself on our behalf, so what? So that we can have options. Options so that we spiritually can have access to the Father. Emotionally so that we can be sons and daughters and heirs. Relationally so that we can see with Kingdom eyes. And physically gives us spiritual gifts, talents, and opportunities to partner with Him in the redemption and renewal of all things. It was God’s kindness poured out to us, and He asks us, “Will you also give it away?”
And, friends, that for me is one of the most moving things. And the invitation—just like the parable of the Good Samaritan—wasn’t just someone who stepped over like the priest and the Levite. He picked him up. He carried his burden. He gave of his time and his talent and his treasure, and he began to help this man get back onto his feet again. And friends, I just need you to know this. This week has been a hard week for Southeast Texas. I mean, 42,000 people displaced. 180,000 homes either destroyed or damaged. Hundreds of thousands of people in shelters. Many of the people having just to leave with just a backpack, not knowing if everything in their house would be destroyed once and for all.
And they just left. And they just walked.
And we put out this challenge to you. And just brought this to you. Bill sent out this email on Wednesday. At Midweek, we kind of had this moment where we shared, “Hey, here’s how we’re gonna help in conjunction with World Vision.” And you all rallied.
But I want you just to see just a couple of these pictures because they spoke to me about the Texans helping, kind of having this sense of kindness, just really caring. Here’s one of a baby being held. And you look at the boats in the water. You see another one at an elder home. Elderly home. Boats pulling up just trying to rescue. People just putting out their fishing boats, just trying to get kids. They’ve got the backpack on. And this was just people with that kindness. And then we just asked you. Would you have that kindness, too?
And I love hearing that Target is out of diapers. Cause you all had kindness. And you showed that. And you saw a need, and you met that need. And I just wanna say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have been dropping off clothes or dropping off diapers and socks and toothpaste and toothbrushes and soap. Here’s just some pictures of the volunteers that have been taking things out of the cars. I mean, it’s just remarkable.
Even in our lobby, people have been walking in, dropping off stuff out in the lobby in the bins. And it’s just amazing. Here’s just a live shot of it. Just filled. And I know some people are like, “Steve, do we have to walk it into the lobby?”
And I’m like, “I want you to do it.”
“Well, isn’t there a more efficient way?”
No, no, no; there might be, but here’s this. I want you to understand the spiritual formation piece of actually having to stand in solidarity and know as you carry that into the lobby, you are just carrying probably the same kind of bag that our brothers and sisters in Texas are carrying. And when you begin to actually feel that and know that and lean into it, God begins to shape your heart of empathy. And many of you have done this. And just, from the bottom of my heart, I wanna say thank you. There’s no other church on the planet like you. I’m just so proud of you guys.