Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Misdirected Kindness

Last night the elders at FBC gathered for dinner. It was a wonderful time of fellowship. As we discussed various things, one of the brothers, Hedley Robinson, very astutely pointed out that many of the problems that persist in our personal spiritual lives stem from "misdirected kindness"--the tendency of people to be "kind" to others when the proper, loving and kind response is something we tend to think of as unpleasant.

I've been meditating on Hedley's comment since he made it last night. It's a powerful and helpful truth. I have often extended a misguided kindness to others when the better thing would have been to speak a word of correction or rebuke. And I have not doubt that others have done to same to me when I've been wrong. We've entered into a conspiracy of smiling omission, and we've forgotten that word of God that speaks to us as sons: "Better is open rebuke than hidden love" (Prov. 27:5).

This conspiracy maintains that "apparent, polite kindness is better than open, transparent rebuke or correction." Indeed, when we participate in this conspiracy we makes ourselves enemies of sorts. "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses" (Prov. 27:6). Isn't it easier to multiply kisses in the guise of politeness and kindness than to wound? Yet it's in the wounding that we prove ourselves friends. There is no virtue in smothering our brethren with platitudes while simultaneously watching a creeping, cancerous sin grow over their souls. A friend is willing to wound, because sometimes you have to drain some blood in order to help the poison exit the body.

Our fear of man keeps us from loving this way very often. We say to ourselves, "I don't really know them that well," as though long, intimate friendships are the only sufficient grounds for "speaking the truth in love." Actually, it's probably better in many instances that we don't know someone well when we have to speak a word of correction. We are often freer from the temptation of misguided kindness than that bosom buddy of 20 years who may caveat and rationalize every issue alongside his/her friend.

Other times we say, "I don't want to lose the friendship with an unkind word." Here we see that our misguided kindness is often masking selfishness and personal desires. We sometimes care about our needs and our reputations more than we care about our friends'. Again, proving ourselves not to be friends but foes of a sort.

And in the gathered church, the place where misdirected kindness will surface with great vigor is during the sobering business of church discipline. My guess is that most people who oppose church discipline do so primarily because they have come to think of this kind of correction as "mean," unkind and unloving. They have a correct leaning toward empathy, tenderness, and pursuing love. That's good. But those good qualities may be warped and twisted by failing to realize that every "kindness" (often confused with permissiveness) and "patience" (sometimes better known as inaction) isn't truly kind or patient.

It is Jesus who tells us in Matt. 18:15-17 to correct a brother who sins against another, first by going to the brother 1-on-1, then taking witnesses, and if he will not listen, then taking it to the entire church. It's Jesus that says, "If he refuses to listen even to [the church], treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

No one has been more kind than Jesus. God "expressed... his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:3-5). The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate demonstration and vindication of the kindness of God. Christ has been so kind as to shed His blood for sinners. So, we're to trust that when He tells us to discipline each other such discipline is consistent with his blood-shedding kindness on Calvary's cross. Ultimately, it's the wounds that this Friend received on our behalf that reveals true kindness. How can we fail to practice the genuine kindness of correction in view of the Son of God's death on our behalf and for our redemption?

Let our kindness be directed by the Savior's cross and by the word of God. By our misdirected kindness we're killing each other softly.


Mark said...

Exellent post.
"By our misdirected kindness we're killing each other softly."
Definitely something I will be meditating on.

Anonymous said...

Very timely. Thank you, Thabiti.

Tree Newt said...

I recently had to face this very issue. A friend came to me and confessed a sin he still struggles with. While, on the one hand, I tried to show him the love of Christ, I, on the other hand, tried not to make light of the severity of sin. As you write, it's not always an easy thing to do with someone we know well. I pray I handled it in a God-honoring way.

samurai said...

I think this is a serious issue within mainline churches - at least those within the U.S., and to be more precise those with I interact with...

Thank you for this post...

Anonymous said...

This post hits right where it hurts, but isn't that exactly what the post is about? Thank you. I needed this. I had been taught in recent years that my attempts to be lovingly honest were unbiblical. I was trained instead to be lovingly dishonest and not to "hurt feelings." That reasoning helped destroy the church I was attending because no one would deal with sin. I'm linking to this post and encouraging everyone I can think of to read it.

Anonymous said...

Great post Pastor T. This is a well needed reminder about our need to correct one another. I am also reminded of a challenge from CJ Mahaney in "Humility" in which he encourages believers to seek correction as well; this will allow us to grow in humility. Thank you for your post, and keep challenging us to grow in the Word.

Deacon Chism

P.S. I told you I would be checking your blog out and posting some comments.