Kindness + Respect: a primer for believers

Nice is a nothing word. Sure, it has a dictionary definition but if someone tells me that my outfit is “nice,” I go change. I attempt to never tell my kids to be “nice” because what does that even mean? A lot of times I think it just means “don’t rock the boat, don’t make waves, and for heaven’s sake, don’t be the wave.” I’m almost always the wave so I don’t have a lot of space for that. I’m not interested in nice and much more importantly, God never tells us to be nice.

But I do frequently remind my boys to be kind. One of my parenting goal is teach my boys to be kind and respectful by teaching them why they should be kind and respectful. We need good reasons for the things we do; motivation can make all the difference.

Kindness, as opposed to niceness, is a characteristic that should flow out of a believer. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). God describes Himself as kind. Psalm 145:13 says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.” Love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4) and we are told to be kind to everyone (Ephesians 4:32, 2 Timothy 2:24).

Kind is described as gracious, generous, considerate, affectionate. It’s a challenging assignment to think of being kind to everyone. I think it’s much easier to be kind to other people when we respect those people and consider them worthy of kindness. We run into a problem though because we respect people for some criteria: influence, fame, position, wealth, age, etc.

There is a different way. I’m attempting to teach my children to respect other people because every person is made in the image of God. God loves every person. Jesus died for every person. And if God feels that way about them, we’d better respect them. He tells us to honor all people (1 Peter 2:17); it’s not an optional outlook.

Everything has practical implications when you’re teaching children. Don’t interrupt when other people are talking. Don’t call people names. Look people in the eye when they are talking to you. Consider others more important. Listen to how you’re talking as well as what you’re saying. It’s a simple gauge to ask if they want to be treated the way they are treating someone else. I try to always bring it back around to the character of God. We are kind to others, not because they deserve it, not because we feel like it, but because God is kind to us.

Our theology plays out in our words and actions, our body language and our tone. I’ve been studying 1 John and realizing how interwoven loving God and loving others is. There’s no loving God without loving my brothers and sisters. And I cannot truly love people if I don’t love God because God is love; there is no love without Him. I cannot claim to love God if I don’t treat the people around me with kindness and respect.

One thing I’ve learned about being a leader is that I can’t take my people where I’m not going. If I want my boys to be kind and respectful, I need to be kind and respectful. That includes being kind and respectful to my children. I’m going to say that again. I mean, I should treat my children as image-bearers of my Father whom Jesus died to redeem. They learn from what I do and not just what I say. I cannot treat them poorly and hope they hear my words about kindness and respect.

Parenting brings lessons into sharp focus. I seek to bring God’s concepts to the level of my children’s understanding and then realize that I’ve put them on my level as well. As I teach my boys to show kindness, to move among the world with respect for others, I see the ways I fail to do this. I notice where I don’t think someone is worthy of respect or when someone is annoying me and I think I can skip kindness. I see how often I act as if kindness and respect are extras and not leading characters.

As I’ve worked through my theology of kindness and respect, I’ve seen it over and over in the Word. I’ve also noticed a place where I’m most tempted to skip it: with myself. Should I be gracious and generous with myself? Should I remember that I am also made in the image of God and He loves me? I think, of course, I should. I’ve grown up with a lot of weird ideas about myself that God’s been remaking and I’m grateful for His kindness as He’s been doing that. I am unworthy on my own and yet Jesus’ sacrifice gave me His righteousness and made me a coheir. I die to myself as I identify with the death of Christ. But I also believe that I am also a person and it’s really pride that makes me think that I’m capable of living outside the limitations of humanity.

I hear my own internal voice the most and it is essential that I preach truth to myself. I cannot fill my mind with truth from outside sources and then leave the lies of the enemy on repeat in my heart and mind. How I talk to myself matters.  One of my main goals in life is to come alongside the people around me and cheer them on. I want to encourage them, exhort them, speak truth over their lives. I carry a Bible in one hand and my pom-pom in the other. My rule is that I cannot say something to myself that I would not say to my best friend. I can’t speak words over myself that I wouldn’t say over you.

Does that mean I cannot call out my own sin? Of course not. We need that, done correctly, in love and relationship. Does that mean I don’t acknowledge my own weakness? Also nonsense. It does mean that I remember how God made humanity to thrive and work within those bounds and that I remember that Jesus has redeemed me and is at work transforming my very person. That is how you should live too.

There is not a lot of kindness in the world. There’s not a lot of respect either. Most of the time, I hear people blaming this on the next generation. Let’s claim this responsibility for ourselves. We can be kind to everyone and show the kindness of God. How would the lost respond to the kindness of the church? Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Are we rich in kindness and forbearance and patience with people who don’t know God? Are we rich in kindness and forbearance and patience with people whose lives aren’t lining up with the Word?

What if we reclaimed the call to be kind? It isn’t applauded and it’s flashy. What if we reworked our theology on respecting other image-bearers? It’s rare and not rewarded by the world’s systems. But it is the life that Jesus lived and a life that shines before a dark world.