READ : 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” goes a movie clich?. It would be more accurate, though, to say: “Love means not doing things for which you have to be sorry.”
What is love like? It is so simple, really. When you get right down to it, love is not all about flowery words and phrases, sentimental songs, or passionate feelings. What it really involves is how you treat people. In fact, if love is not practical – that is to say, “put into practice” – then it is not anything. Love means doing good to people; love means doing to others what you would want them to do to you. Or, as the apostle Paul states so simply in his great chapter about love, “Love is kind.”
The Kindness of Love
When the Bible says that love is kind, it uses a word that refers to the ordinary, simple, down-to-earth, everyday acts of goodness people can do for one another. This is how love actually behaves, we are told. Love does not abuse or take advantage of others. It does not use people for its own pleasure or satisfaction. It does not take people for granted or ignore their needs. It is not selfish or demanding or complaining or belittling of others. Love does good to others. It patiently serves. It goes out of its way to help. All of this is involved in the simple phrase, “Love is kind.”
The kindness of love does not necessarily consist in grand gestures or extravagant sacrifices. While it certainly is an act of love to sacrifice one’s life for another (as Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”), love is also kind in the little ways.
The state where I live, Michigan, has a huge suspension bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac, linking its lower and upper peninsulas. I read a story some time ago about a man who travels across that bridge frequently and who, whenever he stops to pay the toll for the crossing, gives twice the amount in order to cover the charge for the vehicle behind him as well. That’s a small act of kindness. It’s not going to change anyone’s life, but it will undoubtedly brighten someone’s day. And in its own humble way, that is a good illustration of the way love behaves. Love is helpful even when that costs something. Love meets needs, small ones as well as big ones. Love gives without expecting to be paid back.
Love’s kindness can also be so utterly astounding it takes our breath away and leaves us groping for words to describe it. Several years ago I visited Mother Teresa’s House of the Dying in Calcutta. This is the place where she began her life of service to the abandoned poor of that vast Indian city.
We arrived at the hospice just as the last rays of the setting sun bathed the building in an orange glow. Outside was a crowded street, filled with noise and confusion and squalor. Inside there was light and order and purposeful activity.
The main room of the hospice was large and open, with a bare concrete floor and green, painted walls. A center aisle running the room’s length was bordered on either side by a raised platform lined with cots. On each cot lay a man. These were the poorest of the poor, people with no place else to go, with no families to care for them, no one who wanted them; people whose bodies had been broken by disease or worn out by hard labor. Mother Teresa and her sisters of charity took them in. They bathed and fed and comforted them.
I stood and watched as the sisters and other volunteers moved among the rows of cots or sat patiently alongside one. What they were doing was not complicated or hard to understand. Hard to believe, yes. Hard even to imagine such a place unless you had seen it. But not hard to understand.
They were not offering medical treatment; most of the people were too far gone for that. They were just offering love: bathing, feeding, cleaning, speaking to, and soothing the sick and dying. That’s what love is. Whether in trivial ways or ways that are unutterably profound, love is kind. Love helps where there is a need. Love simply does good to others.
The Ways of Love’s Kindness
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our love were more kind? I don’t mean that everyone should turn into a Mother Teresa overnight. That is not likely to happen, although it would certainly make the world a better place. But it should be possible for all of us, for ordinary men and women, adults and children, to behave with more kindness toward those whom we love – not to mention strangers and others. Wouldn’t it be great if rather than hurting people, we helped them instead? If we offered less abuse and cruelty, and more simple service?
One obstacle to kindness lies in the very nature of our love. I referred earlier to the difference between eros and agape. The problem with our natural human love, our eros, is that it is a love that needs and demands satisfaction. Because it is based on the desire to take and possess, eros is often irritable and resentful, especially when it does not get its way, and it is not always distinguished for its kindness. But agape, the New Testament word for Christian love (the love that springs from and is patterned upon Christ’s love for us), is giving love. Agape is love that does not arise out of our own needs. It simply serves, and that is why it is always kind. Marriages begin with eros (most of the time) but they can only really survive where there is agape as well.
The kindness with which love behaves must also be extended to more than just our lovers, families, and friends. In one of his hardest sayings, Jesus told his disciples to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45, niv).
At first this sounds like nonsense. Enemies by definition are those whom we hate. How can anyone love someone they hate? Moreover, enemies are those people who make it their business to try to hurt us. The thing to do to them, as everyone knows, is to hurt back, or better yet, hurt first. Yet look again at what Jesus says:
I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
These are indeed hard sayings. But it helps us to understand them a little better, even if not to practice them, by remembering that Jesus is talking about the kind of love that consists more in how we treat people than how we feel about them. He is not telling us that we have to somehow find it in our hearts to have cordial and warm feelings toward those who are cruel or evil or who are treating us unfairly; what he says is that we have to be good to them. We have to be kind.
Turning the other cheek means that in the face of insults we must behave with restraint and forgiveness instead of trying to retaliate. Going the extra mile means that when someone demands something from us we should respond with generosity rather than resentment. The natural human instinct is to offer payment in kind: hatred for hatred, love for love, kindness for kindness, injury for injury. “You scratch my back,” we say, “and I’ll scratch yours. Treat me right and I’ll be your friend, but cross me and I’ll make you regret it.” That is the natural human way. It makes sense to us.
Jesus’ way is the way of love. It says to repay evil with good and to be kind even when we are dealing with enemies who are unkind. By the world’s way of reasoning, it does not make sense at all.
The Kindness of the Lord
But it does make sense if you remember what God is like. Here again, when it comes to love, he is way ahead of us. Love those who hate you . . . do good to those who do you ill . . . offer kindness to the undeserving and unappreciative people who will just take advantage of you while laughing at your gullibility – a loser’s strategy? Well, God has done it all. In fact, that is what he does every day. It is exactly the way God has decided to treat people.
The Bible says this about him: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all; and his compassion is over all that he has made. The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings” (Ps. 145:8-9,17). In Luke’s gospel Jesus repeats the command to love our enemies, and adds this: “. . . love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be [children] of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (Luke 6:35).
I wonder whether you have ever thought about God’s utterly astonishing kindness. “He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” Has something like this ever happened to you? You do something nice for someone, going out of your way to help when you do not have to, just out of the goodness of your heart. But the person for whom you have done this favor is oblivious to you. She is so thoughtless she does not even say thank you, or worse, so self-absorbed she does not think any thanks are due. She just expects you to go on serving her forever. How does that make you feel? What do you do the next time your help is needed?
But that is just how it is with God! The vast majority of people take his good gifts each day without so much as a “thank you.” They live with their backs to him; withholding their worship which is his due, bestowing their love upon lesser things, never thinking about him, never calling upon him except in desperation, never even using his name except to make jokes or to curse, and all the while eating his food, breathing his air, basking in his sunshine, enjoying all the gifts of God’s good creation.
Yet God is kind. He goes on helping and giving and loving. Do you know about God’s ultimate act of kindness? It happened when he gave his Son Jesus Christ to die in the place of sinful people, so that whoever believes in him will have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yes, even “the ungrateful and the selfish.”
When I think about that, it makes my heart leap, because I know that is the kind of person I am deep down. If God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish, then I have hope that he will be kind to me. It is easy to think that if God really knew what we were like, he could not love us. But, of course, he does know – and he does love!
You cannot qualify yourself for God’s kindness; it is unmerited. You cannot earn it; it is free. You cannot deserve it; it is a gift to the undeserving. But you can respond to it, you can accept it intentionally, you can return your thanks for it, you can offer your worship. Most important of all, you can give your life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and begin to practice love’s kindness yourself. Then you will be a child of the Most High, and you will love the way your heavenly Father does.