When the apostle Paul was writing about living a godly life, he listed what he called the “works of the flesh,” which included things like enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, and envy.1 He then followed up with The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.2 The fruit of the Spirit is the working of the Holy Spirit within us, which causes us to grow in godliness and Christlikeness.
Within this list we find two aspects of the fruit of the Spirit which go hand in hand—kindness and goodness. In reading what Scripture has to say about these two qualities, we find that both are described as attributes of God’s nature.
Good and upright is the Lord.3
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.4
Because God is kind and good, and has shown His kindness and goodness toward us through Jesus’ sacrificial death to atone for the guilt of our sin, we are in turn called to be kind and good to others.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.5
Kindness and goodness are closely related, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Both express an active desire to help meet the needs of others. Jerry Bridges wrote:
Kindness is a sincere desire for the happiness of others; goodness is the activity calculated to advance that happiness. … Goodness is kindness in action—words and deeds.6
Kindness and goodness aren’t something shown only to people we love, but to all—even someone who might be seen as an opponent or enemy, because in doing so we imitate the kindness of God. Jesus made this clear when He said: Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.7
Of course, we’re naturally more inclined to show kindness to those we know and are close to, but the call is to develop a kind and good temperament so that we are sensitive to others and willing to do deeds which manifest love.
As believers, we are new creations in Christ,8 transformed by the Holy Spirit, and called to go about and do good, as Jesus did. He was devoted to the welfare of humanity, and put that devotion into action through loving, caring, and acting in a manner which exhibited kindness, goodness, and care for others.
Kindness and goodness are often manifested on a large scale when there is some sort of emergency or great need which causes people, Christian and non-Christian, to reach out and help others. Many of us will help out in an emergency, which of course is kind and good, but the biblical understanding of this fruit of the Spirit goes beyond that. It is a transformation from our natural proclivity to look out for ourselves, to be selfish and concerned about our own needs, into a godly nature, influenced by the Holy Spirit, that is mindful of and willing to do something about the needs of others. It has to do with being transformed in a way that gives us a deep desire to mirror Christ.
Being kind and good to others is meant to be an everyday occurrence, not only a sporadic rising to the occasion and doing something unusual or heroic. Most of our opportunities for extending kindness through doing good to others are found in simple everyday activities.
Scripture teaches that we are to look not only to our own interests, but to the interests of others.9 This requires fighting against our inborn selfishness and purposefully acting in ways that go against our human nature. Most of the things we do to become more Christlike butt heads with our human nature. Striving to become more like Jesus calls for change in our heart, mind, and actions; but it’s in the heart where those changes must be deeply rooted.
Author Kelly Minter wrote:
I’ve realized how much the heart is central to all of [the virtues]. There is simply no way to detach my heart from my actions, especially when it comes to the characteristics of Jesus. If my heart is full of pride and arrogance, I will not extend mercy and patience to the people I encounter. When my heart is tied up with jealousy and anger, kindness and forgiveness will not run freely in my life. Conversely, when God has tenderized our hearts, humbled us, and aligned us with His Spirit, we will not be able to help the overflow of kindness, joy, and love.10
What do kindness and goodness look like? They’re found in our speech when the words we say to others are laced with love and concern for others, when we listen attentively to others, giving them our full attention when perhaps we would rather be doing something else. We recognize them in those who are self-sacrificing, who give of their resources, their time, or their attention to someone in need. They mean showing genuine interest in and concern for others. They turn the other cheek when someone wrongs us. They help us hold our tongue when someone has said something insulting or hurtful. They don’t seek revenge, but forgive. Both kindness and goodness come from hearts which contain love, compassion, and mercy.
Kind people don’t gossip. They don’t betray trust. They display patience. They aren’t self-centered. They aren’t short-tempered or explosive. They don’t constantly talk about nor draw attention to themselves. They aren’t petty.11
As those who want to imitate Christ, we are challenged to lay down our lives for others. This means giving time to others, such as our spouse, children, and other loved ones, so they feel loved and cherished. It can mean simple things like washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, or playing with the kids so our spouse can rest. It also means being good to those outside of our own family or acquaintances; showing kindness by giving to others in need, even when it’s a sacrifice; speaking a kind word to someone, even when we’re struggling ourselves; and there are countless other ways we can be kind to others.
Kindness means loving words spoken and caring deeds done. It’s having a compassionate heart, and putting that compassion and love into action. All of us have opportunities to be kind to others throughout the course of our days. We can offer a kind word, lend a helping hand, do a deed—perhaps even one that goes unnoticed, with the goal of acting with love, of making life a little more pleasant for others. Sure, it will cost us time and effort and sometimes cost financially, but it’s well worth the sacrifice, as it reflects Jesus’ love to others and it pleases the Lord.
Jesus gave us an idea of how highly God regards showing kindness and goodness in this passage regarding the coming day of judgment:
The King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”12
- See Galatians 5:19–21.
- Galatians 5:22–23 ESV
- Psalm 25:8 ESV
- Titus 3:4–5 ESV
- Ephesians 4:32 ESV
- Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2010), 215.
- Luke 6:35 ESV
- See 2 Corinthians 5:17.
- Philippians 2:4
- Kelly Minter, The Fitting Room (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2011), 139.
- Ibid., 137.
- Matthew 25:34–40 ESV