We just finished up a series on the book of Acts at church. Our pastor, a called and gifted exhorter of the gospel, thoroughly explained and connected all of the historical and theological dots within the pages of Acts. This is no little thing to someone like me, who in the past attended other more contemporary churches where rabbit trails were more often created rather than accurately disclosing one continuous story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation.
One particular story in Acts 28 stood out to me during the series. In this chapter we read about Paul’s shipwreck experience on the island of Malta. God, in His mercy, safely delivered the ship to the island and remarkably, not one person was lost. Earlier in Acts 27, Paul had told the centurion in charge that he feared for the lives on board, but as the terror on the sea grew, an angel of God appeared to Paul and revealed that he, along with the others on the ship, would be delivered safely onto the shore — and God is faithful.
After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. (vs. 1-2)
It is the story which follows the shipwreck that has caught my heart. It is evident that the locals on Malta were uncertain about Paul, especially after of the snake bite event described in the same chapter. However, this disconcerting and troublesome omen did not stop the leader of the island from personally providing hospitality to all of the weary travelers for the following three days, many of whom were criminals. Three months later, when the group was able to secure a ship to sail from Malta to the mainland, the local people honored the weary travelers and generously gave them all that they would need to further their journey.
As I read this story, it struck me that the people of Malta did not know any of the men who had been stranded upon their shore. I truly doubt that the soldiers on the ship could have hidden the fact that there were some unsavory characters on board their stranded vessel. The people of Malta had real, honest concerns based on what they had observed, but the text tells us that they chose to show the foreigners unusual kindness throughout their stay.
Earlier in Acts 27, we see another act of unusual kindness, this time executed by a centurion on board the ship. The soldiers had decided to kill the criminals when the ship lodged on the reef, but this one particular centurion wished to save Paul. He didn’t just wish — he acted. He acted with unusual kindness, more than likely risking his own neck in order to save the lives of everyone on board.
This chronicle made me wonder how often we choose to show unusual kindness in our own lives — not just plain ole’, regular kindness, but unusual kindness. It’s easy to be kind in easy situations. It’s easy to be kind on occasions of our own choosing. It’s really easy to be kind to the people we love. But what about the kind of kindness which requires us to step out of our comfort zone? What about the kind of kindness which requires us to face people with which we have disagreements? Further, how hard would it be to show unusual kindness to others knowing that our reward would not result in our own personal affirmation? We are such a needy generation.
What about people we do not know? People of other cultures and races — new visitors at church or in our neighborhoods — the cashier at the grocery store who is in a grumpy mood — the person of a different theological persuasion or political party - that person we already know we have a hard time getting along with? How easy would it be for us to show unusual kindness to any and all of these people — even when it might be physically and mentally uncomfortable?
The phrase unusual kindness requires definition but I’m not sure I can give a complete and thorough definition for such a huge topic. Unusual kindness can be applied in so many different situations and scenarios.
While most people expect a kindness to be shown in tangible ways, but I think unusual kindness goes beyond what our hands can do, although sometimes our hands are exactly what is needed in any given situation. More simply stated, unusual kindness is not usual kindness. It goes out of its way for the right reasons. It is often unexpected and equally as often ignored, sometimes on purpose. Unusual kindness often requires courage, especially in situations that might be counter-cultural in nature.
For instance: Is it a kindness to agree with someone you actually disagree with, just for appearances’ sake? Is it a kindness when we ignore saying hard, truthful or beneficial things when it is a good possibility that our intent will be misunderstood or unappreciated? Is it a kindness to share our possessions, our love and our time and yet refuse to bring up the name of Jesus so as not to offend or inconvenience a friendship? Is it a kindness to turn a deaf ear when a spoken response, no matter how uncomfortable, would be the most kind response of all? Is it a kindness, by the lack of a sound and reasoned response, to let false ideologies infiltrate the hearts of those who might have been misled by culture, cult or simple ignorance?
Unusual kindness sometimes means stepping into the unknown and sometimes requires that we wade in the muck and mire of personal discomfort for the benefit of others. It also means careful thought must be taken before words are spoken or actions are delivered. I personally still have an immense room for improvement in this area and constantly try to keep the old adage to ‘chew your words before you spit them out’ in the forefront of my mind.
Some might regard that kindness is more easily shown by not speaking at all when disagreements occur, but I do not concur with that opinion. Honest conversation, in my opinion, can be a huge kindness in a generation filled to the brim with political correctness, self-centered lives, confused ideologies and rampant commercialism.
For the Christian, understanding how to implement acts of unusual kindness starts with understanding the author of unusual kindness — the One who first was kind and merciful towards us. We have not been left uninformed and on our own. God gave us His Word. There are a plethora of examples within the pages of the Bible, such as the wisdom passages, which can teach us well how to be emissaries of unusual kindness.
There is no better place than Ephesians to speak of the immensity of God’s kindness towards the believer.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
When we reflect on the immensity of the gift of Jesus Christ to a sinful, fallen world, it is very difficult not to develop a mindset of gratitude. If God is faithful in the big things, such as our very own salvation, then surely He also tenderly cares for the hearts of His beloved in even the smallest of concerns.
A recent example in my own life: my once-in-a-lifetime dog, Charlie, passed away this week from liver cancer. His abrupt death was more than grievous to my heart and I wondered how long it would take for me to stop mourning his untimely death. God, in his rich mercy for this, His beloved child, sent an act of unusual kindness my way in the little wiggly body of Henry, our new Australian Shepherd puppy. It’s not that I could ever forget Charlie — that would be impossible. He truly was a phenomenal companion. But God sent a new little bundle of joy into my life so that my heart could heal more quickly. That he sent Henry so quickly is beyond remarkable. That this same God, the God who created the universe and all that is in it, could so lovingly care about the deep sadness in my heart with such a tender response is beyond the definition of unusual kindness.
The gratitude I feel in my heart for little Henry cannot be fully explained — that God would love me so greatly — even in the “little” things of life. More importantly, I am in awe of the constant reminder that God has showered me with His most merciful gift of all — the gift of salvation goes which far exceeds any definition of unusual kindness.
To understand, as Romans 2 puts it, that God’s kindness is meant to lead me towards repentance is remarkable.
There’s a danger for the human person who decides to become an earthly emissary of unusual kindness, however. Care must be taken to remember that we are also flawed, sinful human beings, able to make wrong decisions. It follows, too, that our own flawed selves begin to think that we are owed the same kind of response in return from others. As an example, we begin to think that God owes us the salvation He so freely has given to us just because we are a ‘good’ person; flawed, but good. Nothing could be further from the truth. God did not give us salvation as a reward for what we have done, but because we could do nothing to earn it. Rather, He chose to love us well, sacrificing His very own Son for our redemption.
We should become wary of expecting others to shower unusual kindness upon us, as if we deserve it. True acts of kindness do not expect a reward nor do they demand one. When we begin to expect others to perform up to our own standards, forgetting the immensity of our own frailty and sin, we have made a grave error in regard to the purpose of demonstrating unusual kindness. Rather, it is wise to cultivate an understanding that the very fallen nature of man is such that this beautiful gift often remains elusive but when revealed, is remarkable indeed.
There is a final kindness I think warrants discussion. What kindness do we show to ourselves? Buying new clothes, getting a massage, eating out at a fancy restaurant? While these earthly delights bring a smile to our faces, I can think of no better kindness to express towards oneself than the cultivate the desire to sit under good, solid, orthodox, theological teaching each Lord’s Day for the purpose of growing up in our faith and for the refinement of our own hearts and minds, which is necessary to more clearly see and understand the heart of God, our Father.
We will never be perfect emissaries of unusual kindness, but as our hearts grow more towards Him and away from ourselves, the possibility is greater. It would be well for us to remember the path of humility spoken of in Philippians 2 when we desire to demonstrate unusual kindness.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.