This week we’re thrilled to be sharing the wisdom of John Hindley in a guest post on the Fatherly Kindness of God. John was Scott’s pastor while he was a university student in Manchester. He is a seasoned church planter (currently leading BroadGrace Church in Norfolk), father and author (of the brilliant book ‘Serving Without Sinking: How to Serve Christ and Keep Your Joy*‘, among others). We love John – he exudes joy in the gospel and love for Jesus and has a wonderful gift of warming hearts to the Father. We know he’s got lots of wisdom to be gleaned, so we hope you enjoy this post!
Kindness: an underrated virtue?
Kindness is an underrated virtue. I think we often put it in the same category as nice. It is the sort of thing that goes well with little children – their pictures are nice, their sharing is kind. As we grow up we want stronger virtues – goodness, integrity, courage. I don’t want to overplay the point, as kindness is part of the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22 but it is a virtue I had given little thought to.
I increasingly think it is a critical part of love. It is kindness that shows us whether our love is a cold and dutiful thing, or a warm and relational thing. Kindness is not a weak virtue, although it can be understood as one. The reason for this is that we wrongly play it off against truth. We see it as unkind to speak a difficult truth to someone. To tell a friend that they look fat in that is unkind, even if it is true. More importantly to tell a friend that they are not likely to get that job they’ve just applied for is unkind, even if it is true. The problem is that we are making kindness about what we do. More often, kindness informs how we do things. I can tell a friend the truth about clothes or jobs or their sin or their life kindly.
This is the power of kindness. It goes beautifully with truth, because it makes truth easier to hear. David writes, ‘Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it’ (Psalm 141:5). We know that the wounds of a friend are faithful (Proverbs 27:6) and they are delivered kindly.
My growing appreciation of kindness over the last few years has gone hand-in-hand with a growing understanding of a verse that slightly puzzled me, Ephesians 6:4: ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord’. I trusted the Lord that exasperating one’s children was a particular danger, but I couldn’t see why. Now I get it, and it is to do with a lack of kindness in me.
I now have three girls, Daisy, Eliza and Sylvia, and I see how I exasperate them. I will dish the dirt on myself, then show you how the kindness of a greater Father than me is undoing my sin and leading me through the sunlit meadows of repentance. There are two ways I exasperate my children. The first is through my inattention. This might be when my mind is occupied with something else – work, chores, plans for the evening or whatever. More often it is when my agenda is different to theirs. A fairly common example of this currently occurs most evenings around 6.30pm. My agenda is to get teeth done, milk warmed, stories read and beds filled. Daisy and Eliza’s agenda is to perform a dance show for me. Sylvia’s agenda is to play ‘running away from daddy shouting and waving my arms in glee’. My temptation is to simply force my agenda on them.
Nothing wrong with that, you might say, as they need to get to bed, and it is good for them to learn that they are not in charge. That is quite correct. The problem is that my heart is not seeking to do this for their good, but for my ease. I want it done so I can get on with chores, relaxing or work. I am not engaging with them, I am not interested in what they want. It is purely, selfishly, about me. And so I exasperate them, I do so by simply making it about obedience, not relationship. I repeat the instructions to do their teeth, louder and louder, getting crosser and crosser, even with the baby who doesn’t really get it. They respond with anger, defiance, and tantrums – exasperated little children.
Worse, though, sometimes I am glad to be at this point. Sometimes it is more deliberate than mere inattention. Sometimes I want to show that I am right, to show that I am in charge, to have a good reason for some proper discipline. Sometimes I want to turn their silliness, their tiredness, their craziness into sin and disobedience so that I am clearly in the right when I lose my temper, shout at them and make them obey me. I hate this in myself, and if you recognise it at all in yourself, you will too.
The way that the Lord is giving me repentance in this area is through his kindness. The antidote to the poison of exasperation is the kindness of God our Father. I have noticed how God treats his children with kindness, and that by the work of the Spirit in us, he makes us kind, just as his Son Jesus is kind. The kindness of God is firstly an objective reality towards us, with the coming and the cross of Christ at its heart:
‘For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ – Titus 3:3-7
Our salvation is kindness, shown by God. It is kindness that led him to send Christ to die our death, carry and kill our sin, and suffer our judgment on the cross. It was kindness that raised Christ from the dead to draw us into his new life of righteousness and joy. It was kindness that led our Father to pour out his Holy Spirit on us richly.
This is no surprise, because these very real and infinitely strong truths come to us so gently. The Spirit comes alongside us as a counsellor, drawing us to Christ and to growth in him. There is no forced change, no Jesus boot-camp, just the Spirit directing our gaze to Christ and in so doing, making us shine like the one we see (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).
We see the way that the Father saves us in the staggering promises, in the words spoken to a woman by a well in Samaria. We see this kindness as Christ invites Matthew and Zaccheus to himself, as he restores Peter’s life, hope, dreams and future in John 21. We see a God in Christ, the perfect radiance of the Father, who will not break a bruised reed (Matthew 12:20). We see kindness in what Christ does and says and how he does and says it.
Isn’t this our experience too? When I look back at my sin and folly, I am amazed how consistently the Lord has spared me from myself, how he has led me so gently to his Son again and again. My tantrums are frequent, my prayers of thanks are rare. But the kindness of my Father leads me to peace, not to exasperation, much as I deserve to be exasperated! So I have begun to pray for kindness for myself and for our family. I have found that the Spirit has pointed me to see the ongoing kindness of God in the bible and in my experience. I have found also, that he has worked kindness in me. It turns out that engaging with the world of my children means I really enjoy short shows some evenings, and they don’t mind so much if there isn’t time. I love being a kinder father, it is a joy and delight, it makes my children such a blessing to me, and it shows me a glimpse of the amazing kindness of my Father, which is the wellspring from which the Spirit draws what he works in me. I may even be a slightly less harsh husband as well.
There is kindness in our Father. It is deep and good, and it is directed towards us. It is also given to us. We can be like God, love like the Father and obey, wonderfully, the command not to exasperate our children. What loving kindness our God has.
We hope you enjoyed this guest post – we certainly did! Many thanks to John Hindley. If you enjoyed it, why not leave a comment below. If you think others would enjoy it too, then please do share it using the buttons below.