Everyone is in favor of kindness in the abstract. Everyone in the world applauds kindness . . . until it looks like it might cost them something. It is then that our commitment to “realistic” standards kicks in. “Surely I can’t be expected to . . .” Unfortunately our commitment to realistic standards is actually a thinly disguised commitment to self.
What marriage does, and what the arrival of children will always do, is accentuate this process, whichever way it is going. This is because in a close relationship like marriage kindness has a phrase that describes what it actually is perfectly, and that phrase is death to self.
It is relatively easy to be kind to people you have never met. You can send a donation to an orphan on the other side of the world, and you can do it with spare pocket change. You can support policies that you think will make the air cleaner, or the water better, and yet be really hard to live with. You can entertain warm thoughts about mankind, but we all should remember the immortal words of Linus in the Peanuts cartoon, “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”
God did not command us to love mankind. He commanded us to love our neighbor. We know that we are being pinched in the right ways when we find ourselves squirming, and asking the question the lawyer in the gospel asked, which was “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The first answer is that your neighbor is the person that God has placed in your life, right in front of you. Your husband is your neighbor. Your wife is your neighbor.
And so if there is any verse of Scripture that I would encourage both husbands and wives to remember, it would be this one.
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
I said I would encourage husbands and wives to remember this passage, but I am afraid this is understating it. Wear this verse as a garland around your neck. Tattoo it on the underside of your eyelids. Commit it to memory, and do it in such a way as that every last one of your bones has it memorized. Have it emblazoned on a plaque, and hang it up on the interior walls of your heart. Have it painted on a mural there.
Here it is again, what every husband and every wife needs to hear, and needs to hear every day, numerous times a day. Be kind to each other. This cannot be done in a spirit of mild detachment, or half-hearted agreement. Done right it will press you. And it will not press you until it starts to cost you something, until you have to die in order to deliver the kindness.
But it is not done in a spirit of independence. This is not an exhortation to develop an autonomous can-do kindness. No. Mark that it depends upon a spirit of forgiveness, and that in turn depends upon an imitation of Christ and His forgiveness of us. In short, kindness of this sort is always a gospel kindness, a forgiven and forgiving kindness, impossible without the sacrifice of Christ, and quite impossible without His victorious resurrection. Imitation of Christ, required in this passage, is a gift from Christ.
Every husband is summoned to be a model of that kindness, but it is not possible unless we have died in Him, and have been raised with Him. Every wife is summoned to respond in kindness to her husband’s sacrifices for her, imitating the church, but this is also not possible without the grace of God in the gospel. When a husband and wife are doing this, it is a reciprocating gospel kindness, and there is an anointing in that which can conquer the world.
Jeffrey, this is an exhortation that touches down. I know that you have a heart of kindness. I know that you are eager to live out that kindness in your relationship with Sarah. You are already a kind man, and I would exhort you, as Paul did to the Thessalonians about their love, to do so more and more. Kindness is not a static thing. As one of the fruits of the Spirit, it is a living and organic thing, which means that it must constantly grow. It is not enough to have been kind. It is not enough to have genuine kindness in your past. You are, as of today, a kind husband. Ten years from now, if you have heard this word, your kindness will have grown. It will have multiplied. You home will be overflowing with it, and whenever your windows are open, the neighbors should be able to smell it. You are a kind man, and so your responsibility is to become much kinder over the years.
Sarah, God says that a man who loves his wife loves himself. This is because of that law of reciprocity I referred to earlier. What a man gives his wife is to be taken by her, transformed, multiplied, glorified, and in that way returned to him. He will shower you with kindness, and your responsibility is to be a fruitful field, returning that kindness to him thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold. He will be kind to you by the handful, and you will return it all to him by the bushel. He is to initiate in kindness, and you have been given a great gift of God, which is the capacity to multiply such things.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.