Sunday, August 10, 2014

What kind of person are you?

“What kind of person are you?” – Now you might be thinking, “Hello! What’s all this ‘what kind of person are you?’ business? I thought this sermon was supposed to be all about kindness!” Well, if you’re the person thinking that this morning, let me just remind you that last week’s sermon was all about… patience! :-)

Yes: this morning is the fifth sermon in a series on the fruit of the Spirit. So let’s start with a bit of a review as to why this is such an important topic. Here are the words of Jesus: 
“Every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree is not able to produce bad fruit, nor a bad tree to produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:17-19)

What kind of person are you this morning? That’s what Jesus is talking about, isn’t he? Two different kinds of trees; two different kinds of people. Two different kind of fruit; two different kinds of behavior. 

A tree’s fruit simply reveals the true nature of the tree – what kind of tree it is. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot product good fruit. Similarly, a person’s behavior simply reveals the true nature of that person. And that bit about being cut down and thrown into the fire? Not exactly sure about the details of the analogy here, but it is a safe bet that it is something that we would do well to avoid.

So the trees that Jesus talks about are us and the fruit is our behavior. Here’s what Paul has to say about that:
“The first way to please God is to bear fruit in good work.” (Colossians 1:10) 

There it is in scripture: good fruit is good work

In fact, the Bible says that our good work are the very purpose of scripture itself, doesn’t it:
 “All scripture is God-breathed… [and is given] so that you may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

We are also told that our good work are the goal of our salvation:
“[We received salvation] in order that we might bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4) 
 “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good work” (Ephesians 2:10)

Now at this point, you may well be questioning my theology: after all, as participants in a Bible believing church, talk about good works makes us nervous – because we all know that we are saved by grace, and not by works. Well, that’s true. But let’s put those verses together:
 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

You see, it isn’t that the gospel sets good works aside. It simply puts them in the right context – they don’t come before our salvation; they come after. We don't work for our salvation -- we work out our salvation. But they are no less important being after! The fruit simply reveals the true nature of that tree. And good fruit proves that the tree is good, after all. 

So given the importance of good works in the Christian life, it should be no surprise at all that the passage that our sermon series comes from is all about good works, too:
 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) 

Now, if you really wanted to, I suppose that you could pretend that some of these are inward and personal – not sounding very much like good works at all! You could imagine that joy and peace were in our hearts between us and God. You could imagine that love and patience were things we experience to ourselves. But it would be a big mistake to think that way. You see, thinking that way takes privacy and personal space for granted – but those things are modern inventions! Back in the time that this was written, everyone would have known that all of these fruit were precisely the “good works” that Paul writes about elsewhere.

Patience and peace result in much less stress and anger – and those around you will surely notice that in your behavior. True love and true joy can only ever be shared – and Paul’s readers should know that. Don’t make the mistake of treating the fruit of the Spirit as anything but a description of how we need to interact with each other. 

So after love, joy, peace, and patience, this morning we will look at kindness! I’m sure that we all appreciate that kindness is something that is expressed in good works.

Here is where kindness is situated among other Biblical words: it happens here – at the intersection of love and grace and goodness. But the English word kindness has an interesting story that I’d like to tell you about.

What’s obvious is that kindness (n. – that is, benevolent behavior) is the quality of being kind (adj. – that is, benevolent). But what isn’t obvious is that being kind (adj. - benevolent) comes from exactly the same source as the words “kindred (n. – relatives)” and “kin (n. – family)” and… “kind (n. – of the same nature)”. You see, to be kind is to treat someone else as if they are of your kind. Whenever we have the opportunity to show kindness, we demonstrate by our actions what kind of person we are. Or to put it another way, kindness is simply treating someone like family. Seriously! This is what the etymological dictionary says about the word “kind”:

kind (adj.)
"friendly, deliberately doing good to others," from Old English gecynde "natural, native, innate," originally "with the feeling of relatives for each other".

Kindness is simply treating someone like family.

Now it is possible that some of you might be thinking: “easy for you to say!” After all, when James Watts was here a few months ago, he asked us to think of a word to describe our families. It was my son’s voice from the balcony that offered “dysfunctional” as a description of my family. And while that might indeed describe my family… at least Nat (my son) puts the “fun” in dysfunction. :-)

Sure: if the bar is set low for someone’s family, it isn’t so hard to treat other people like family. But if the family bar is set higher (and I know that the bar can be set very high: in fact, I grew up in one of those very-functional families)… if the family bar is set high it is VERY much more difficult to use “family treatment” as a standard of kindness. I get that. But it is almost as if Jesus anticipates that objection – this is what he says: 
Luke 12:48 – "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

So yes: I still claim that the kindness that God is asking of you is to treat others like family. But at this point, I suspect that there might be a bit of grumbling. After all, it is common among Christians to consider family to be sacred. In fact, it was only in the last few months that a godly Christian brother asked me: “our priorities, Doug – they should be God first, family second, and all other things after that – right?” It sounded right, and I agreed at the time… but in preparation for this sermon, I confess that I struggled to find ringing endorsements of our earthly families in the Bible. Instead, scripture has a lot to say about the family of God.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God.” (Gal 3:26)
“You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God.” (Eph 2:19)
And my favorite:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

That’s right: God’s kindness is an invitation to become part of his family – the family of Him who is the source of all Love, the family of Him who is the source of all Wisdom, the family of Him who is the source of all Joy. 

The Bible makes this invitation both for our hearts and for our heads. When the Bible wants to reach our hearts, it tells stories – when it wants to reach our heads, it gives us good theology.
First, let me remind you of the Bible story about kindness.

This story starts with someone whose heart was close to God wanting to show kindness to someone else. And the story ends with that someone else exclaiming, “Who am I to deserve all this?” Have you ever had that reaction to something? You see, there are kindnesses and then there are kindnesses. There are kindnesses to which the response is “aw”. There are kindnesses to which the response is “cool!” And there are kindnesses to which the response is “whoa!” And the one in the story I’m about to tell is off the charts. When someone shows you kindness outside of any expectation or without any deserving, that’s what we’re talking about.

At the beginning of our story, is David the King. And this story takes place right after the Bible says “So David reigned over all Israel.” At this point in history, he was the greatest man in the land. It is also interesting that the Bible situates this story as soon as possible after David’s armies had succeeded in bringing about peace in the land. The Philistines were defeated. The Moabites were defeated, The Syrians were defeated. The Edomites were defeated. And with this head of success and triumph, what does David do immediately? He says to his officials: “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness?” How do you like that? While other kings throughout history have made a point of executing the families of their predecessors – particularly when that predecessor invested years campaigning for your death as Saul did – David is looking for one of Saul’s descendants in order to be kind to him

So how does that work out? Well, they found somebody. Somebody with a tragic story: Mephibosheth, King Saul’s grandson, was crippled in both feet, having had an accident as a child. And as you know, being unable to walk has never been fun throughout history, but it was particularly difficult in ancient times. In fact, when word was put out to find this poor fellow, they eventually found him in a place called Lodebar, whose name means “land of nothing”. 

So Mephibosheth is brought to the palace, not knowing what David has in mind. Very likely he’s terrified. The Bible says he bowed down in front of David. But after saying Mephibosheth’s name, the first words out of David’s mouth were “Don’t be afraid.” And by the end of the day this cripple is given everything that belonged to his grandfather, King Saul. Saul’s old servants are now assigned to look after Mephibosheth. And what’s more, Mephibosheth and his son Mica are given permanent places at the king’s table. Can you imagine? This would be the closest thing you could ever get around 1000 BC to winning a lottery – and Mephibosheth hadn’t even bought a ticket. He starts the day in the land of nothing, and he ends the day in the palace in Jerusalem. He starts the day connected to the worst enemy the King has ever had, and he ends the day as a member of the King’s household. No wonder Mephibosheth’s response is so emotional: “Who am I?” he asks, “that you should even bother to notice a dead dog like me?” “Who am I to deserve this?” There really is nothing like experiencing this kind of kindness

But this is the kind of thing the Bible has in mind when it talks about kindness. Not just tit-for-tat kindness. Not just “what’s in it for me” kindness. Rather, an exceptional, free, and generous kindness. And an invitation into the King’s family is available to you, too, this morning. And the Holy Spirit really wants to get the message across this morning, because the story is backed up with teaching. What does the Bible say?
“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 3:4,5)

That’s right: those righteous things we had done were no more than filthy rags. Instead, our salvation depends entirely on the kindness and love of God. Here’s another passage with the same message.
“But God, … because of His great love made us alive together with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses … 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….” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

What great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! God’s kindness to us is demonstrated in the fact that the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, became our kind in order that we could become his kind. That’s what the Bible means when it says 
“God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Here we see the “immeasurable riches of God’s grace.” And how can we respond? How should we respond? The only appropriate response is like Mephibosheth “WOW! How can I possibly deserve this?” The answer, of course, is that you can’t. We simply cannot do anything to deserve this! This is what the Bible says (Romans 5:10)
“We were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son while we were His enemies.”

That’s right: the kind of person that God is is the kind whose kindness extends to his enemies. Of course, that’s the kind of person God asks each of us to be, too:
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Matt 6:35)

If we, too, are able to love our enemies – to be kind to them – then we are God’s children: we are part of His family. That’s the kind of good fruit that is revealed on good trees. And if we are part of his family this morning, then we’ll want to act like this [pic]. 

Here, a not-quite-two-year-old Nathanael has put on his father’s hat and boots. (Ephesians 5:1 – “as dearly loved children, be imitators of God”) If we even so much as had an inkling of the amazing love that God has for us, we would be doing our best to imitate him. And how would we go about imitating God? The Bible says that when we see him as he is, we will be like him. And this is what God says about how he is (in Jeremiah 9):
“If you are smart, let’s hope that you are smart enough to know that brains aren’t something to brag about. And if you are strong, don’t imagine that that is anything to be proud of, either. And if you are rich, don’t waste your time gloating about it.
But let me tell you what’s worth celebrating: throw yourself a party only if you understand and know me – the God who is and the God who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth. For in these things I delight.”

God is the kind of person who exercised exceptional kindness. Have you experienced the kindness of God – who wants to treat us like part of His family? Have you felt that incredible “Wow! How could I deserve that?” feeling? If you have, then you, too, will want to show that same kind of kindness to others, too. Have you become part of God’s family? If you have, this kindness is that good fruit that will result. You see, just like fruit demonstrates what kind of tree bears it, your kindnesses demonstrate the kind of person that you are. 

But what defines the kind of person you are this morning? Are you defined by your job, by your race, by your sex, by your bank account, by your friends, by your education, by your heritage, by your language, or even by your family? If those are the things that define the kind of person we are, then our kindnesses will be limited by our understanding, our kindnesses will be according to our own rules, and they will be within our own space, within our own comfort zone. But if we find your identity in God, and in the kindness that He demonstrates to us through the work of Jesus… only then will we be capable of a kindness that goes beyond our understanding. And this is the kindness that is the fruit of the Spirit; this is the good fruit that God is looking for in our lives. 

“Do you love those who love you?” asks Jesus, “Well, what credit do you think you deserve for doing that? Anyone does that. And if you good to those who are good to you? Do you expect a reward? Anyone does that.”

Instead, Jesus is challenging us to take kindness to the next level. Are you up to the challenge this morning? If we’re not, then I’m afraid we simply aren’t the kind of trees bearing good fruit. So at a minimum we’re in need of a wake-up call! But more accurately, we’re really in need of a new nature – we need to be miraculously changed from the kind of tree that bears bad fruit to the kind of tree that bears good fruit.  The good news, of course, is that such a renewal is available to all of us in Christ!
“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17)
“just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)

In order to bear good fruit, we need a fundamental change of nature, and thank God: that is exactly what He is offering to you this morning. Are you willing to become the kind of person God intended you to be? Are you willing to accept that invitation to become part of His family? If you are, then open your heart to Him. He will then reveal himself to you, and you will begin an amazing journey that will change the way that you look at the world; it will change the way you look at people, and it will change the kind of kindness that you exercise in keeping with the amazing kindness that you have received from Him. 

What kind of person are you, this morning?