“You’re never going to make it in leadership if you keep being kind.”
Several years ago, this statement was expressed to me on the way out of a meeting. I had just handled an intense situation differently than my peer would have, and it was not lost on me that he had a different perspective on how it should have concluded. What I read very clearly between the lines was: your kindness is weakness- it is an indicator of having no spine or grit.
This interaction made me curious. If kindness was a fruit of the Spirit if it was what Jesus modeled, if it is how He asked us to function toward one another as His ambassadors, why was it perceived as weakness?
As I dug in, I came to the conclusion that we’ve grossly misunderstood the character trait of kindness. We’ve done it a disservice by putting it in a category that defines it as a naive form of ‘niceness’.
But here is something you and I know about genuine kindness… it flies in the face of our human condition and human abilities. Apart from His power and the transformative work of the gospel in our lives, there is no way we could be consistently and entirely kind in the way He called us to be kind.
Micah 6:8 summarizes quite distinctly what He requires of us:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (Hebrew word: hesed), and to walk humbly with your God?” (ESV)
The Hebrew word hesed is mentioned almost 250 times in the Old Testament. In many places, you’ll see it show up when the Lord referencing His character toward His people – kindness, steadfast love, mercy, and goodness. This quality of hesed is not based on a current feeling or a mood – it is the type of character that acts on the behalf of others for their good without expecting anything in return. Hesed is active on behalf of others for their good.
In Exodus 34, we see God refer to Himself twice with this word. After Moses chisels out two stone tablets and heads up Mount Sinai, the Lord comes down in a cloud. The Bible says in verse 5 that He stood there with Moses and proclaimed His name to him. As the Lord passed in front of Moses, He spoke to him about His character. Abounding and steadfast in hesed.
And still, in the same breath, He reminds Moses that He is just- He does not leave the guilty unpunished. Hesed helps us to grasp that God has always been and always will be fully kind, loving, and good toward His people, as well as consistent in His holiness and justice. From the first expression of hesed in Genesis 19:19 (when God rescues Lot) to its last reference in Zechariah 7:9 (when He calls on His people to administer justice and treat each other with kindness and compassion), what we cannot miss is that the gospel is wrapped up in hesed. It is undeserved and unconditional love, kindness, and mercy that is given freely by a God who never compromises the integrity of His holiness and justice.
If I had to express in a phrase what hesed looks like, it is expressing the gospel through the fullness of my life and way of being.
When my life is overwhelmed by the gospel, then I will recognize I’m called to reflect the hesed modeled by my Redeemer. If Christ could humble Himself and take on the form of a servant, than who am I to grasp for anything more than the form of a servant? If His way was to not be intent on His own elevation, but to be obedient unto death- even death on a cross- why would I withhold hesed from anyone?
By choosing to treat others with this gospel kindness, I choose obedience to Christ’s way that is never dictated by feeling, what is ‘rightly mine,’ or proving myself to anyone. This kind of kindness is not naive. It’s not merely ‘nice.’ It is not unable to stand with strength for what is right and just. It is truly a remarkable and fierce display of the power of God – there is no weakness to hesed.
When you observe genuine kindness, you are seeing someone’s complete submission to Him as they choose His way over their own way. This hesed-level of kindness is one of the ways we make it known that we are His. It is one of the ways we bear witness that He is who He says He is.
Lead with obedience and kindness. It’s one of the fiercest displays of His power that you could offer to this world.
Do justice. Love hesed. Walk humbly with Him.