a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
August 16, 2020
2 Peter 1:3-8
3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some say “knowledge is power.” But what kind of knowledge? Our Scripture suggests that if we possess spiritual qualities in “increasing measure” it will make us productive and effective in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This morning I want to focus on just one of those spiritual qualities – kindness – and the power it has to make us effective and productive – in other words to live out and act on our faith, not just believe it, and to add power to the lives of others as well.
In today’s Scripture reading, Peter lists a series of fruits of God’s spirit, and he includes kindness. Peter points out that God, in God’s “divine power, has given us everything we need for “life and godliness, through our knowledge of” Christ. He says we even participate in the “divine nature.” Knowing this he lists a series of “qualities” that he says we should possess “in increasing measure.” At the very heart of this list is what he calls, “kindness.” Since that is our topic this morning I wanted to talk some about how this truly is an important fruit of the spirit.
It’s far too easy to forget to show kindness to others or worse, to choose not to be kind. There seems to be a virus of that going around these days too. Attitudes focused on “me” and a willingness to make decisions about the lives of others, with little or no thought about the outcome, seems to be wildly popular. But I believe we can decide to live differently. It can be tough. It may not be just a one-time decision. We may fall back into unkind habits and have to recommit to kindness again and again. But every habit, including both kindness and unkindness become habitual by repeated actions.
Kindness has a generative power. Like all spiritual fruits, when it is shared it multiplies. Sometimes the best place to start is with those we live with. In some ways the enforced closeness of the COVID virus may have strained basic family kindness more than the normal every day routines we had prior to “distancing” from others. Let’s make a point of deciding to treat those closest to us with the greatest kindness. Think of it as a kind of practice for being kind to those out in the world.
I read a story of a woman who was waiting to pick up a friend in the airport. She was looking, straining, to see her friend in the line of passengers coming off the flight her friend was on. She noticed a man coming towards her carrying a light bag. He stopped right next to her to greet his family. First, he motioned his youngest son, maybe six years old over and knelt down and they grabbed each other in a hug. As they separated enough to look in each other’s face, I heard the father say, “It’s good to see you, son I missed you so much!” His son smiled somewhat shyly, averted his eyes and replied softly, “Me too dad!”
Then the man stood up and gazed in the eyes of his oldest son (maybe 9 or 10 years old) and while cupping his son’s face in his hands said, “You are already quite the young man. I love you very much.” They too shared a very loving and tender hug.
While this was happening a baby girl was squirming excitedly in her mother’s arms, never once taking her little eyes off the wonderful sight of her returning father. The man said “Hi, baby girl!” as he gently took the child from her mother. He kissed her face all over and then held her close to her chest while rocking her from side to side. The little girl instantly relaxed and simply laid her head on his shoulder, motionless in pure contentment. After several moments, he handed his daughter to his eldest son and declared, “I have saved the best until last!” and proceeded to give his wife the most loving kiss she ever remember seeing.
He gazed into her eyes for several seconds and then silently mouthed “I love you so much.” They started looking into each other’s eyes, beaming big smiles at one another, while holding both hands. The woman witnessing this said, for an instant they reminded her of newlyweds, but she knew by the age of their kids that they couldn’t possibly be. Watching this display of love she suddenly realized she was staring but heard herself ask, “Wow! How long have you two been married?”
“We’ve been together 14 years in total and married for 12 of those.” he replied, without breaking his gaze from his lovely wife’s face.
“Well then how long have you been away?” she asked. The man finally turned and looked at her, still beaming his smile, “Two whole days.” Two days?! She was stunned by the intensity of greeting. She had assumed he had been gone for at least several weeks - If not months. She knew her expression betrayed her, and said almost offhandedly, hoping to end her intrusion with some semblance of grace, “I hope my marriage is still that passionate after 12 years!”
The man suddenly stopped smiling and looked straight into her eyes and with forcefulness that in her words, “burned right into my soul,” and said something that left her a different person. He said, “Don’t hope, friend, just decide!” Then he flashed his wonderful smile again, shook her hand and said “God Bless!” With that he and his family turned and walked away together.
“Just decide!” Decide what example you want to be. Decide whether you want your example to others, not just your spouse or family, will be generative or degenerative. Our example can be generative, causing other to grow in love and hope and kindness or we can “pile on” the other way, causing others to decide to be hateful, spiteful, and uncaring to others, even those we claim to love the most. Unkindness has a degenerative quality. Like all evil qualities, or what Paul called fruits of the flesh, unkindness robs us of power, and diminishes us and the person we are unkind to.
Peter says that if we develop these qualities then we will be more effective and productive in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is a powerful promise. It is one probably few of us spend much time concerned with. We spend a lot of time concerned with our bank accounts, our health, our families, our personal pleasures, but probably few of us spend much time thinking about how effective and productive our knowledge of Jesus Christ is. Peter tells us that by employing God’s Spirit and the fruits that come into our lives by it our lives will become more effective and productive for Christ.
We may want to be more effective and productive at work, or at home, or even at something that we enjoy like golf, but we probably never thought about becoming more effective and productive for Christ. What I believe we will discover is that if we focus on these spiritual fruits, as we become more filled with the fruit of goodness, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and kindness we will actually become more effective and productive at these other things as well. Jesus put it this way: “Put first the Kingdom of God, and all these other things will be added to you as well.”
Another example of the generative power of kindness was demonstrated back when the Olympics were in Sydney, Australia. There was a competitor whose story reminds us how cheering others on can help them achieve their very best. Eric Moussambani - nicknamed ‘The Swimmer’ - was from Equatorial Guinea. He swam in the 100-meter free style event to qualify at the Sydney Olympics. He was 22-years-old and just learned to swim the January before the Olympics. He had only practiced in a 20-meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than 50 meters. He received a special invitation from the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate even though their athletes don’t meet customary standards. He entered the 100-meter men’s freestyle, even though he had only trained in a pool that was 20-meters.
In his first heat, two other swimmers were disqualified for false starts, so Moussambani was forced to swim alone. The Associated Press story described him as, “charmingly inept.” He never put his head under the water’s surface and flailed wildly just to stay afloat. He was still ten meters from the wall when he virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he might drown! Even though his time was over a minute slower than what qualified for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood to their feet and cheered the swimmer on. After what seemed like an eternity, the African reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, Moussambani said through an interpreter, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.”
Whose life might you change this week? Will it be by kindness or unkindness? Everyone needs to know there is someone cheering them on. And with someone cheering them on they may not win an Olympic gold medal, but they may live a gold medal life because of the kindness we show them. And our lives will feel more like we are winners of a gold medal too! Everyone needs someone to cheer him or her on. It is a simple kindness that can alter our trajectory. It can turn us from ineffective and unproductive to effective and productive – and not just in the things of the world such as jobs, or families, or recreational activities. It can turn us into someone who is productive and effective for Christ, because we have tasted the fruit of God’s Spirit.
So pull out that piece of paper I invited you to have handy. Write down these questions for your own consideration, and maybe this week you will find a way to increase your kindness quotient and your knowledge of the power of Christ:
Think of 3 examples of kindness you have witnessed in the past few days/week.
List 3 kindnesses you have done – past week – that might be a challenge for some of us!
List 3 people you will do a kindness for this week, and, by the way, be looking for ways to show a kindness you hadn’t planned to do.
It is a simple thing to cheer someone on in a difficult situation. It is a simple thing to add our efforts to theirs if they need our help. The Scripture promises us that knowledge is power – when it is put to use. If we know how to use the power of kindness and we use it, then we have the power to change our lives and the lives of others. May we all use the power of kindness every day in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. AMEN.