Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
The Real Signs of the Spirit—May 9, 2010
6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
This is the Word of the Lord
The marks of a supernaturally changed heart, a heart changed by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, are listed in the classic text Galatians 5:22–23, which lists, what’s called there, the fruit of the Spirit. Those traits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and so on. Each week, we’re taking one of those traits and looking at it in order that perhaps we could experience more of that supernatural change in our own lives.
Now tonight we get to the trait, the spiritual fruit, of kindness. Whenever preachers are working through the fruit of the Spirit, this is a big challenge, this particular one, because the Greek word translated kindness in the New Testament has a real breadth of meaning, unfortunately. Sometimes it can be, depending on the context, translated fitting, sometimes pleasing, sometimes honest, and sometimes compassionate.
Therefore, how do you talk about kindness if it’s a word that has that kind of, what they call, lexical range? The answer is you can’t do it abstractly. You have to look at a kind of relationship that combines all those traits. The kind of relationship that combines them all is friendship. So what we’re going to do tonight is look at friendship. Not that you can’t have friends without a supernaturally changed heart, but I think we’re going to see there is a kind of friendship and there are resources for friendship given to you in the gospel that are second to none.
Now one of the most iconic, cinematic presentations of the power of friendship … it’s so iconic that it’s often mocked, but it’s still iconic … is the second of the old Frankenstein movies with Boris Karloff, Bride of Frankenstein. There is one scene in which the monster lurches into a cottage in the middle of the forest. There is only one person living in the cottage: an old, poor, blind man.
When the blind man comes to the door to meet the monster, of course he can’t see him so he’s not afraid. He does sense that he can’t speak. So he says something like, “Are we both afflicted? I cannot see and you cannot speak. Maybe we could be friends.” So he brings the monster in and treats him kindly, constantly calling him friend.
At one point, the blind man kneels by the monster and begins to pray. He prays, “Our Father, I thank thee that in thy great mercy, thou hast taken pity on my great loneliness and now out of the silence of the night has brought two of thy lonely children together and has … sent me a friend to be a light to mine eyes and a comfort in time of trouble. Amen.”
A writer commenting on this part of the film says, “In this incredible scene, the Monster sees the hermit break down and cry at the end of the prayer. The child-like Monster sheds a tear and compassionately reaches out to comfort the crying man with a consoling pat on the back. They both share a need for human compassion. […] During the prolonged fade out from the scene, the glowing [Christian] crucifix is the last object to vanish from view.”
Of course, as some of you may know (and you can always go see this on YouTube; it’s up there), what happens eventually is the villagers come to the cottage. They see the monster. They attack the cottage. They begin to set it on fire. The last thing you see in this part of the scene is the Frankenstein monster lurching his way out of the flames and out of the smoke saying, “Friend? Friend?” pleadingly, but there is no answer.
The point is nothing is more humanizing and nothing is more life-changing than friendship. Why? How? Take a look at this passage, which is the classic passage in all the Bible, in fact, in all of religious literature, I think … It’s a unique passage about friendship. There is nothing like it anywhere else, and here is why. First of all, it tells us the character or nature of friendship. Secondly, how you forge friendship. Thirdly, where you get the power for friendship.
1. The character or nature of friendship
What’s intriguing about this passage (and I gave you, in a sense, a sample of it) is at the beginning of chapter 15, Jesus speaks about his relationship to the disciples under the metaphor of vine and branches. He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” That’s a metaphor that talks about relationship, right? It’s a metaphor of deep unity because the vine and the branches share a common life. They share a common bond.
Then, around verse 9 or so, Jesus shifts into another metaphor. Instead of calling them the branches (“You are my branches,”), he starts calling them my friends. They’re very tied together, as we’re going to see. There is actually a verb, the word remain, that he uses both when he is talking about them as branches and when he is talking about them as friends.
There’s more overlap between this image of vine and branches and friends than you might think because in the Bible, friends are often spoken of like this. Deuteronomy 13:6, almost a throwaway statement, says, “If you have a brother, the son of your mother, or a friend who is as your own soul …” Then, of course, in 1 Samuel 18, it says, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” This idea of souls knit together is the biblical image of friendship.
I want you to think, “What does that mean? Souls knitted together?” It’s more than just mental agreement. You might have a colleague you work with, and you both agree mentally. This is more than that. Frankly, it’s even more than sexual attraction. It’s more than just the connection of bodies. It’s more than just the connection of opinions. Souls knit together means you have common loves, common passions, common beliefs, and common interests.
There are a couple of classic things you can read on this. Go online, and you’ll find Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a fascinating essay on friendship. Of course, the chapter on friendship in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves. Ralph Waldo Emerson says something like, “Friends do not ask, ‘Do you love me?’ so much as, ‘Do you see the same truth?’ or ‘Do you care about the same truth as I do?’ ” C.S. Lewis said the typical expression of an opening friendship would be, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” That’s how friendships start.
C.S Lewis basically puts it, “Though we can have erotic love and friendship with the same person, in some ways there is nothing less like a friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love. Friends do not usually talk about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in one another, but friends stand side by side absorbed in some common interest.
That is why those pathetic people who simply want friends can never make any. The very condition for having friends is that you want something else besides friends. If someone asks you, ‘Do you see the same truth as I?’ and your honest answer is, ‘I don’t really care about the truth; I just want you to be my friend,’ no real friendship can start. There would be nothing for the friendship to be about. Those who have nothing can share nothing. Those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”
What is this? It means basically that friends are people you meet who have a common interest, a common passion, and common beliefs. You immediately feel a oneness. That means, to begin with, friends are discovered. There is a place in Proverbs 27 that says, “The counsel of a friend is pleasant,” but the actual Hebrew word means sweet.
One of the problems with understanding actually anything in the Bible is you have to understand the original context. In those days, you couldn’t sweeten things. Cooks couldn’t do that. They didn’t have sugar in the places where the Bible was being written in that time. You could discover sweetness. There were some foods that were naturally sweet, but cooks couldn’t create sweetness.
So when it talks about friendships being sweet, it’s talking about not something you can create, but something you’ve discovered. So the way friendships begin is, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one. You like that movie? You like that music? You like that kind of book? You too?” Common beliefs. Common bond. That’s the beginning, but it’s only the beginning.
2. How you forge friendship
When I say friends are discovered, don’t take that too far because there is always an initial sense of oneness with a person who can be a friend. You click. You see it. Yet you are both human beings, meaning you’re both flawed and you’re both different from each other. Therefore, you’ll never actually get past the difficulty of embracing someone who is other than you, someone who is different than you, someone who, in spite of having some similarities, is also very different.
Embracing the other is incredibly costly, and turning a person who is a potential friend into a lifelong friend, which is one of the great things there is in life, takes work, two particular kinds of work, two particular kinds of discipline, and here’s what they are. They’re both here in this classic text. When Jesus says, “You are my friends …” he shows you what the two things are, these two disciplines by which you turn would-be friends into real friends. Those two disciplines are vulnerable transparency (which you see in verse 15) and sacrificial loyalty (which you see in verse 13).
First, vulnerable transparency. This is an amazing verse. “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Do you see the difference between a boss and a friend? A boss says, “Do this. I don’t have to explain myself. That’s your job.” A commander says, “Obey my order. I don’t have to explain myself. Your job is you obey the commander.” He says, “I’m not treating you just like that; I’m treating you as a friend.” Friends tell secrets. Friends open up. Friends let you in. Friends show you what they’re really like, what they look like without their makeup on, what they’re really dealing with, how they’re really feeling.
There is an interesting verse in Psalm 25:14. If you look at different translations, sometimes the translation is, “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear him.” The secret of the Lord is with his people. Sometimes it’s translated, “The friendship of the Lord is with his people.” Do you know why the translators can’t decide? Because the same Hebrew word that means secret can also be translated friend. Do you know why? Because friends tell secrets. Because you’re not a friend if you don’t. There’s a vulnerability, and there’s a transparency.
You say, “Well, what does that mean?” Let me go a little deeper then. Transparency means in friendship the ability to take and receive criticism well. Now by the way, everybody gives and takes criticisms, but friends are people who give and take criticism well. That’s the reason why you have verses like Proverbs 27:6. Proverbs is the best place on this sort of thing. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend …” That’s the King James Version. Isn’t that great?
Proverbs 29:5 says, “If you flatter someone, you’re not their friend,” because that’s the worst thing for them. You’re letting them live with an inflated understanding of what they can do. That’s terrible for them. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend …” Friends don’t flatter one another. Of course, the famous Proverbs 27:17, where it says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
In other words, look. Very often there is something you need to hear about yourself that you don’t want to hear. You’re not going to listen to it from a trained counselor. You’re not going to listen to it from a family member. You’re not going to listen to it from a colleague. If you have a longtime, trusted friend, you can’t, in a sense, write them off and shrug them off as not caring about you or not knowing you. Friends know about you, and friends care about you.
They’re not people who have to be with you because they’re work colleagues. They’re not people who have to be with you because they’re family. They’re friends. Very often, only longtime friends can tell you the things you most need to hear. If you don’t have a lot of longtime friends, there are all kinds of things you’re never going to hear about yourself. You’re just not going to grow. So vulnerable transparency is the first thing. It’s very hard. It’s a discipline you add to a potential friend to make them into an actual friend.
Secondly, sacrificial loyalty. I find most intriguing the fact, which you can see in the text, that the word remain is a word Jesus uses not only up when he is using the metaphor of the branches but … Verse 6: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away …” What is he saying there? He says, “You can’t pull off branches overnight and put them back on and expect it to work. Branches have to stay with the vine. If you take them off, they never can have that same kind of unity.”
Then later on, he says, “I want you to remain in my love. I want you to remain in my friendship.” What this means is friendship is about remaining, sticking with people through thick and thin. It means on the one hand, in the most practical way (and this is very hard), friends make time for each other, especially today. Making time for each other is really tough. Therefore, to even do that for somebody shows a commitment, does it not?
More than that, it means you stick with people, you stick with your friends even when they’re difficult or even when they’re going through difficulties, even when you’re not getting much out of the relationship. That’s what a friend does. That’s the reason why you have these other famous Proverbs about that. For example, Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times …” Proverbs 18:24 says, “Friends stick closer than a brother.” So there it is. Do you hear it? What is a friend? Friends always let you in (vulnerable transparency) and never let you down (sacrificial loyalty).
By the way, you can’t have, therefore, 500 friends on Facebook or MySpace. I know they’re called friends, but they don’t fit this definition. When Nathan the prophet comes to David, whose whole kingdom and spiritual destiny are tottering, he comes in and he says, “Thou art the man.” Do you remember that? It’s in 2 Samuel 12. We actually looked at this in a sermon last year.
He comes in and he says, “David, this is what you’ve done. You have sinned. You have betrayed your kingship,” and so forth. Do you have a Nathan in your life who can do that? That can’t be done on Facebook. It has to be done face to face. You’ll never listen to it otherwise. Friends always let you in and never let you down. Are you applying this to potential friends to make them into actual friends?
3. Where you get the power for friendship
We have a lot against us. First of all, the very idea. Let’s look at this. Vulnerable transparency, unconditional constancy and loyalty. It’s frightening.
It’s kind of exciting to imagine people giving it to us, but it’s not all that exciting imagining you giving it to anybody else because transparency is scary, and loyalty and constancy are draining.
We live in a culture that, both in its messaging and in its social structure, does everything to keep you from developing friends. You know that. When you’re in a place like New York, there are two kinds of relationships that happen more easily than falling off a log.
First, the network of colleagues. There are a ton of people you need to know, you need to schmooze, you need to see, you need to spend time with, and you need to get to know and be friendly to who are people in your work or people you need to know in order to do your work. It’s your colleagues network. You have to know those people. You do know those people. You enjoy those people, but the purpose of those relationships is your work, career, and money.
Secondly, your socializing network, people you party with, people you socialize with, people you have romantic interest in or you might have romantic interest in. So here are the people you party with, and the product is fun. Here are the people you network with, and the product is career and advancement and money. They happen like that.
There’s no investment like this from you or in you. There is not sacrificial loyalty because the whole idea behind it is these have to be people you have fun with. These have to be people who pay off for you. Sacrificial loyalty is not part of it. Transparency is definitely not part of it. So you’re going to starve. You’re going to be impoverished. You’re not going to get the things only friendships can give you.
What are we going to do? You need the power to overcome the natural fear, the scariness of transparency and the natural weakness that comes when you consider the constancy and the loyalty of friendship. You need a power to help you overcome your fear and your weakness. Where do we get that power to be friends? Where do we get the power to make people the friends we should? Right here.
Do you know Aristotle very wisely wrote a lot about friendship? One of the things he said is you can never be friends with a god. However you relate to God or to the gods, you could never be friends with the gods. The reason he said that was because he believed all friendships had to be between social equals. He did not believe friendship was possible unless you had the same amount of social standing or power or education and so on.
Why? Because, of course, friendship is based on that discovered commonality, common interests, common loves, common passions. That happens to people of the same culture, of the same race, of the same class, of the same education level. Therefore, no way could you have a relationship with a god that was called friend.
Of course, by the way, I have been on panels with representatives of other religions many times over the years actually. Whenever I even try to talk about this, that we can know God as a friend, I’m told in no uncertain terms (usually respectfully but also very strongly) that that is an inappropriate way of talking about God. In their religions, God is never talked about like that. That is bringing God down. God cannot be your buddy. God can’t be your pal. God can’t be your friend.
Yet the Old Testament gives us hints. Exodus 33 says God spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend. James 2 says, “Abraham …” Oh, what a great man. “… was called the friend of God.” Wait a minute. How could that be? Isn’t Aristotle right? He is a smart guy. How could God become vulnerable? Friends are vulnerable. How could God become loyal to you sacrificially? That’s ridiculous. No, it’s not. You know it’s not. Now you know why no other religion would dare say God could be your friend, but Christianity can.
Here’s how. When God came to earth in Jesus Christ and went to the cross and died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that was, as Jesus himself says in verse 13, the ultimate act of friendship. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” He is not talking in general. The next day that is what he is going to do. The cross is the ultimate act of friendship.
Do you know how friends always let you in? Look at the cross. How much more open could he be to you? His arms aren’t just stretched open to you; they’re nailed open. How much more vulnerable and transparent do you want him to be? Friends never let you down. How much more faithful, how much more sacrificial, how much more loyal could he possibly be than to go to the cross?
In the garden of Gethsemane, he saw all the people he was supposed to be securing the pardon for, all of his so-called disciples. They were betraying him. They were abandoning him. They were falling asleep on him. They were about to deny him. He knew he could either go to hell for them and take everything they deserve, or he could lose them. He went to hell.
There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. There is the ultimate friend who loves at all times. There is the ultimate friend whose wounds are faithful. Do you remember that Proverb? “Faithful are the wounds of a friend …” In this case, in Jesus Christ, these aren’t the wounds the friend inflicts; these are the wounds the friend bears for you and me.
It’s simple love economics. Where do you get the power to reach out to people and to be transparent to them when you might get hurt and to be loyal to them when you might be let down? It’s simple love economics. Look in verse 12. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. I am laying down my life for you. I am pouring out my love for you.” It’s very simple.
If you are an incredibly wealthy person, you’re a trillionaire, and there are a couple of people around you who you like, and they have some idea for an investment and the business plan is okay, but you’re not totally sure about it, you’re going to invest in them. Why? Because you can afford it. You like them. You want to encourage them. You could afford to lose the money.
That’s exactly the way it is if Jesus Christ’s friendship is a thing that just fills your heart. You can afford to open up to other people. You can afford to take a risk, because all friendship is a risk. You can afford it because you have the ultimate friend and the ultimate love of a friend. Now let me apply this in three ways.
1. We need to bring the idea of friendship back into the center of relationships between people of different races and different classes and different nationalities
Aristotle was right that in general, friendships only happen between people of the same race. You can see it. People of the same class, people of the same education. You can see it because the starter fuel, you might say, the raw material for friendship, is a common bond, common belief, common passion.
Do you realize what this means if you’re a Christian? Do you realize what resource this is? If you’re a Christian and you find somebody of a radically different race, completely different class, different gender, different nationality, different politics, but they’ve had the same experience of Jesus Christ as you, they have the same passion for the gospel, they have the same interest and passion for the Scripture, do you know what that means? You are capable of deep, enriching friendships with people who are utterly different than you. In other words, we need to completely show Aristotle he was wrong.
This is the reason why my friend, Don Carson, puts it kind of like this: “The church is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It’s made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, nationality, accents, jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they’ve been saved by Jesus Christ. We are a band of natural enemies turned into friends who love one another for Jesus’ sake. Christian love is mutual love between social incompatibles.”
Do you know what it is like to have a deep friendship with a person who is socially utterly different than you? It’s so enriching, and it’s possible. So let’s bring friendship back into our relationships across the races, across the classes.
2. We need to bring friendship back into the center of relationships between men and women
Here’s what I mean. By and large in this city (and by and large even in this church), men don’t want to be friends with women. They either stay away from the women or they want to date them. They only go after the people they want to date or have sex with.
Now I can kind of understand staying away from women if you’re a guy or only going after the ones you’re kind of romantically interested in if you’re not a Christian. If you’re a Christian, you have no excuses. I’ll tell you what is wrong. Here are 10 women in the room. Two of them look attractive to you, so you head for them. You try to get a relationship going with them. Maybe one of them might actually become a friend, if you’re lucky.
The best thing to do is to befriend the women. Befriend the Christian women around you. Then if you fall in love with one of them, then you can actually trust that the love is strong enough to build a lifetime marriage on. Don’t you dare do what you’re doing, which is to go after the women you’re attracted to and then maybe turn a couple of them into friends. No, go befriend women, and then see whether you fall in love with any of them. That works. I know.
So we need to bring friendship back into our relationships between men and women. This is an opportunity you have within a Christian community that the rest of the world does not have because it is true that it is tough to sometimes have friendships between men and women. Christianity gives you that same ability that enables you to have friendships that break not only through the racial/cultural barriers, but the gender barriers.
3. We need to bring friendship back into the center of our relationship with God
There are lots and lots of people who are Christians and who believe in God and who obey God in general, but they do not actually do what Jesus is saying. That is to befriend God. Jesus says, “If you’re my friend, you’ll obey my commandments.” Do you see that? “If you’re my friend, you will remain in me.” What does that mean? Let’s see. He has been vulnerable to you on the cross. He has been sacrificial to you on the cross.
First, obey him. Don’t just obey him when it’s convenient. Obey him. You sacrifice now. You make yourself vulnerable. You go to the mat. You unconditionally say, “I’m going to do what you have said. I’m going to do your will no matter whether I understand it or not, no matter whether I like it or not.” Now you’re starting to become a friend.
Secondly, talk to him. A quiet time, a devotional in which you read the Bible and pray should not just be getting some ideas and doing some petition. The Bible says you should be listening to God, a sense he is talking to you, speaking through his Word. Prayer should be talking back to God. Do you have a sense of his presence? Does it happen regularly? Do you make time for it? There’s nothing like it. That’s what you need.
Let me tell you why you need it so badly. We’re all like Frankenstein monsters. Do you know that? Your self-image is a bunch of stitched-together contradictions. Your father didn’t like you, but this person did like you. This person broke up with you and said these awful things. You don’t know what to believe about yourself. In some ways, you have an over-inflated view of some of your abilities. In other cases, you’re way too remorseful and ashamed of other parts of you. You’re a Frankenstein monster.
What you need is one, over-mastering love, one person whose love heals you, who says, “This is who you are,” one great, ultimate friend. Therefore, we’re all like that Frankenstein monster who is groping through the forest, saying, “I know I could come into my own if I could find the ultimate friend my heart is looking for.” Well, Jesus. There he is. Let’s pray.
Thank you, Father, for offering us the friendship we most need, which is friendship with you, and then giving us the power to create friendships in our lives, which our culture does not really help us with, but your gospel empowers us to achieve. We pray that you would help us to build on your friendship love and with that power shape many, many new friendships in this community, in this town, in our lives so we can become more and more like your Son, Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for his friends. It’s in his name we pray, amen.