Cure Them With Kindness!

Neal Pollard

A comedienne draws attention for being mean-spirited and cutting when roasting a White House press secretary recently. While cringe-worthy, it’s hardly an isolated incident. Nor is it confined to Washington politics, being seen across the spectrum of society. Civility has taken a beating in the current culture. Social media may be a breeding ground for insults, attacks, hostility, and animosity, but it’s hardly confined to just that forum.

Make no mistake, a lack of kindness is a hallmark of worldliness and unrighteousness. It is the antithesis of a quality God demands of the Christian. Ephesians 4:32 commands, “Be kind to one another….” The original word translated “kind” here is found seven times in the New Testament, and it is a divine quality. In fact, in six of the seven references, God demonstrates it. In Ephesians 4:32, it is to be exhibited by us in view of God’s having shown it to us through Christ. It means “pertaining to that which is pleasant or easy, with the implication of suitability” (Louw 246). It causes no discomfort, meets a high standard of value, is morally good and benevolent, and is beneficent (BDAG 1090). In common usage in New Testament times, the word, when referring to people, was synonymous with being decent, of good disposition, gentle, good-hearted, and morally upright (Kittel 1320). In other words, people in society could and did recognize its presence in people. Its absence is also, sadly, noteworthy. 

The old adage “kill them with kindness” might imply utilizing kindness to get an advantage or revenge on someone unkind, making us look good and them look bad. God calls for something more out of those of us striving to hold up the Light to a dark world. The world is sin-sick, and rude, coarse, hateful attitudes, words and actions are but a symptom of this. We have the medicine the world needs, even if it fails to see its need. Some will be drawn to it when they see it in us. 

Paul counsels Rome with inspired advice that will help us cure the rude, ugly, spiteful, and vicious behavior we often encounter. He says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21). Look closely at what he says. Avoid the payback mentality. Go to great lengths to preserve peace. Leave revenge to God. Don’t stoop to the world’s level. 

This imitation of God with revolutionize the places where we practice this. The moral malignancy plaguing our world cries out for medicine, and we as Christians know where to access it. Let’s discipline ourselves to use it, even in the face of those spreading the spiritual sickness of spite. 

8717079909_141f57a7de

Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Neal Pollard

Paul’s words in Romans 14:19 seem to have fallen upon hard times, often among those who are in a position of greater trust and influence. In that particular verse, the apostle is drawing a conclusion about his instructions to Christians, saying, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” We are living at a time where not only is peace not pursued, but strife and division are what are being chased.  We can expect the godless world to be inflammatory, provocative, and disrespectful. We should not expect the precious children of God to interact with each other in this way. Especially through this written medium, here in the information age, we often feel free to make statements we should reasonably expect will upset and divide one another and other onlookers. We may feign shock when the inevitable, virtual fist-fight breaks out, but a few moments of deliberation about the matter would have easily anticipated (and, prayerfully, avoided) it. These words of Paul’s are to presumably mature Christians, sensitive to one who may be “weak” (1) but one who is certainly a “brother” (10). Often, we fixate on the subject matter—“eating meat” or “observing a day”—and on which brother (strong or weak) we are. Those are the illustrations. Beneath the issues, there are timeless principles we must strive to follow.

  • None of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself (7).  This is the principle of INFLUENCE.
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (10,12). This is the principle of ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Do not destroy… him for whom Christ died (15b). This is the principle of BROTHERLY LOVE.
  • The kingdom of God is…righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (17). This is the principle of SPIRITUALITY.
  • He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (18). This is the principle of RIGHTEOUSNESS.
  • Do not tear down the work of God (20). This is the principle of WISDOM.

There are further observations we could make from this context, but these are enough to give us pause to consider (a) what we choose to say which might inflame the sensitivities of others and (b) how we interact with each other in discussing any matter.  What do we hope to gain that we would risk something so precious and valuable to God as a brother or sister in Christ? Do we wish to bring out the best or worst in others.  Let us take care not to slaughter kindness, consideration, gentleness, and brotherly love on the altar of things “which give rise to speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4) or “worldly and empty chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20).

kindness-boys-on-path

FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

fruit-basket-396622_960_720

Avoid Foolish And Ignorant Disputes!

Neal Pollard

A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ.  He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher.  The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful.  In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.

Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23.  One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.”  We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate!  Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn.  I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.”  Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?

And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler.  For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar.  The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not!  That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.

Remember what Paul tells the Romans.  “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19).  The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this.  Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words.  “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving.  You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!

HOW DO WE TREAT ONE ANOTHER?

Neal Pollard

As we live in a culture of disrespect, Christians have an added responsibility to give thought to how we speak to one another.  Civility, courtesy, and manners were once staple subjects taught in every home, but those days are increasingly relegated to the yearbooks of nostalgia.  Yet, it shouldn’t be so with God’s people.  Especially if we, as we claim in our songs, sermons, and speech, love one another, that will be reflected in speaking kind words even when we feel impatience, disagreement, or aggravation toward another. This is difficult, but it is a mark of our bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

In the last several chapters of Romans, Paul reinforces this idea of loving, kind treatment of one another.  He urges the church to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (12:10), “give preference to one another” (12:10), “be of the same mind toward one another” (12:16), “love one another” (13:8), “let us not judge one another” (14:13), “build up one another” (14:19), “be of the same mind with one another” (15:5), “accept one another” (15:7), “able to admonish one another” (15:14, but notice that this comes from those who are “full of goodness”), and “greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:16).

So how do we lift that off the page and put it into practice?  Think about any and every interaction we have with other members of the Lord’s body.  Give forethought to how you answer them and speak to them.  Apply this to our leaders, our peers, and those who are led by our example. Do your words and attitudes help create the kind of atmosphere Paul repeatedly calls for, or do they undermine it and make it difficult.  It is so easy to allow pride, selfishness, lack of self-discernment, or the like to erode the kindness from our demeanor.  But now more than ever, we need to bear this distinctive mark in a world who has seemingly lost sight of it.  When we treat each other the way Paul encourages, we will not only build each other up but we will draw the world to the Lord.  It is the mark of true discipleship (John 13:34-35).  In our busy, hectic, stressful lives, may we redouble our efforts to be ever be edifiers and never be nullifiers!

Handling Offenses: Talking It Out

Neal Pollard

Would you believe that not everyone always agrees with what I teach and preach?  Of course, I may not always know—at least directly—that someone disagrees with my message.  Yet, my greatest respect is for that brother or sister who has a problem with me and tells me so!  When they address that to me in kindness and love, I am left with much greater admiration for them.  The same respect is reserved for those who handle those occasions when my words or behavior might come across hurtful with gentle directness. Perhaps it is because subtleties like pouting, passive aggression, silence, and withdrawal are easily missed by one so slow of wit as myself.  Perhaps it is because of the great disdain I, and most others, feel for sharp-tongued tactics like gossip and slander.  “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed” (Pr. 27:5). This challenges me to follow such good examples and pursue active peace than passive aggression.

Talking out our problems is a sign of the church understanding the family aspect of its nature.  Happy is the physical family who finds functional ways to work through its problems, knowing that each member is imperfect and prone to do what offends.  The church is no different, though the blood that binds us does not course through our veins but poured forth from the cross of our Savior. Together, we comprise the “house of God” (1 Ti. 3:15).  What a precious relationship, meant to be treasured!

Talking out our problems is the best way to clear up misunderstandings and misperceptions.  It is possible to misjudge the heart, motives, words, and actions of others. Avoiding the problems or persons may work to avoid unpleasant conflict, but it leaves the problem to fester and grow worse.

Talking out our problems is the biblical pattern.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus lays out the way to resolve “internal problems” within His body.  To choose a different route is to deviate from the way He has chosen.

Another great proverb says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (Pr. 28:23).  May God help me to embrace that truth and pursue it, all while we “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). That does not mean avoiding the unpleasant or saying the difficult.  Some times tackling the unpleasant and difficult is our surest way to “make for peace…”

“EX-CHURCH-OF-CHRIST” AND GENTLENESS

Neal Pollard

There are a couple of web sites out there regarding churches of Christ.  While I do not have the time to read every page and all content, I spent some time looking at them in-depth.  These sites have the following in common regarding their view of churches of Christ.

(1) They vehemently affirm that we are a denomination.

(2) They insinuate or explicitly say that we are a cult or close to a cult.

(3) They point out that we defend what we teach and practice with “ad hominem” (i.e., personal and character) attacks or with hateful, abrasive speech.

Given that we have no convention, headquarters, or central, governing body, no one of us can speak on behalf of every congregation or even every member of a congregation.  Thus, I will not say that there are not congregations that have become denominational or even a denomination.  Regarding denominationalism, what I can say is what I believe and teach (and what many others do).  I do not rest my “heritage” in the life and works of Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, or any other man but Jesus.  What I teach is that we need to get “before” Catholicism and Protestantism, striving to teach and follow what New Testament Christians did.  Is it possible to worship, teach the same way to salvation, and hold the same moral ideals and principles that the New Testament reveals that the first Christians did?

Regarding the charge of being a cult, religious experts on the subject, like Martin or Ankerberg and Weldon, define and describe a cult in great detail.  Their description has been generally accepted as factual and logical.  A cult is defined as a group of people who follow a person or that person’s interpretation of the Bible (Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, or David Koresh).  They consider their own writings of equal authority with the Bible.  They redefine the most basic of Bible doctrines of concepts, including the Godhead, the deity of Christ, human suffering, and works.  Their redefinition has no roots or resemblance to revealed scripture. They also work through excessive spiritual or psychological regulation or dependence (A&W, XXII). These do not even come close to describing mainstream churches of Christ.

However, let me say something about that last charge.  Too often, well-meaning, passionate members of the church have been guilty of lacking adequate kindness and gentleness in responding to individuals like those responsible for the aforementioned websites.  I can understand righteous indignation and love for Christ and His church.  But, let us remember that it is never right to do wrong.  To personally attack anyone, to allow righteous anger to become sinful anger, to be insulting, demeaning, ridiculing, or sarcastic is unjustifiable.  Any defense of such tactics falls short of the ethical and moral standard taught in the New Testament.  I have often heard it said, and I agree, that “if you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind” or “you can be right, but be wrong.”  Let us study more and sting less, being more knowledgeable and less nasty.  Divine truth is powerful enough to stand on its own merit.  Let us “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and be known for our love (Jn. 13:34-35).  It is our most powerful weapon to fight those first two, false charges.