Here, I continue my musings and meditations on 1 Cor. 13:4…
Sometimes I envy the Greeks. (Oops, love isn’t supposed to be envious–see farther down 1 Cor. 13. Sorry, Greek people.)
Anyway, the Greek language (in which the New Testament was written) carries so much more meaning than ours does. One Greek word sometimes can take a paragraph of English to try and describe its meaning–and even then doesn’t always do it justice. So when we translate from Greek to English, some of the deeper nuances can be lost. Add to that the fact that we English-speakers are actually losing some of the deeper sense of meaning from our own language, and even more gets lost in translation.
Take, for example, the phrase, “Love is kind.” What does the English word “kind” really mean? To many of us today, we read that phrase and interpret it to mean, love is nice. Or love is polite and smiles a lot and talks in nice, sweet tones to people. The picture it paints is almost of the stereotypical sugar-sweet Christian who never gets upset.
Somehow, I have a hard time picturing Jesus this way when He was overturning the tables of the money-changers. 🙂 I think the word “kind” must have a deeper meaning.
Actually, it does–even in English. Checking the dictionary definition, I find words like “benevolent”, “considerate”, and “helpful” in describing this word. And the Strong’s definition for the Greek word translated “kind” reads: “to show oneself useful, i.e. act benevolently.”
Looking at this, I get the impression that to be kind means much more than having a pleasant, mild demeanor or favorable disposition toward someone. To be kind involves action. You can’t be benevolent by just “being nice” or having good thoughts toward someone. To be benevolent, you must do good to that person.
To me, then, “love is kind” is a nice way of saying, “love puts its money where its mouth is.”
It reminds me of James 2 in the Bible, where James talks about how useless it is if someone comes to us in need of food and clothing and we say, “Go your way; be warmed and filled,” without doing anything tangible to meet the need. He goes on to talk about how faith without works is dead (or useless). This is the opposite of kindness, because kindness (according to Strong’s) is all about being useful.
So from a certain perspective, the opposite of kindness is not necessarily rudeness or meanness. Rather, the opposite of kindness is complacency.
It also reminds me of a practice in Old Testament days–the practice what we sometimes call “covenant kindness.” This is kindness shown to someone, not based on their own merit, but as a beneficiary of a covenant made, usually between families. Shortly after David became king of Israel, he asked: “Is there anyone left among the descendants of Saul, to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” This was the fulfillment of a covenant he had made with Jonathan–and the beneficiary of that covenant was a crippled son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth. And how did he show this kindness? By taking action. He took Mephibosheth out of a life of desolation and brought him to live in the palace and eat at the king’s table. (You can find this in 2 Samuel 9.)
This, I think, is a good picture of God’s great kindness toward us. It is a covenant kindness, based not on our worth or merit, but because of the sacrifice of Christ, which in itself was the ultimate act of love and kindness toward us. And by it, we have become the beneficiaries of a new covenant, and the objects of His kindness.
Why is this important? Because just like grace itself, the kindness found in love is not based on whether someone deserves it. If it were, we’d all be sunk, because none of us deserves it. When we show kindness by doing good to someone, by meeting a felt need, by being present in crisis, by willingly offering our time, money, or attention, we are an extension of God’s covenant kindness toward all of us. We get to participate, as it were, in the kindness of God; we get to demonstrate His love through our actions.
This phrase, “love is kind”, challenges me to seek a more active way to love. I am seeing kindness as love in action, the thing that makes love tangible and visible to people. It awakens desire in me to do good to others, even as an extension and demonstration of the good that has been done to me.
So…talk is cheap. If you love, don’t just say it. Do something about it.
Because love is kind. And kindness is action.