Leading Question: If we are kind to those who are doing what is wrong, isn’t there a danger that some will conclude that we agree with and even support that which we actually oppose?
Some time ago I was talking on the telephone with an unhappy former Adventist, one who had adopted a very evangelistic attitude toward his former brothers and sisters in Christ. In short, he was attempting to rescue Adventists from the delusions of Adventism. He had become so accustomed to Adventists railing at him for his evil apostasy, that when I adopted a more gentle approach he actually thought that I, too, was moving away from “mainstream” Adventism. I was startled and sobered. Was I being too kind?
1. Kindness vs. Patience: Matt. 5:43-48. If patience means enduring evil more passively, then kindness means a more active outreach to those in need. But how broadly should we define the “needy”? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that God is even-handed with his gifts, letting the sun shine on good and evil alike, letting the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain is even more blunt: “He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:36).
2. Shunning? 1 Cor. 5. One of the surprising contrasts in Paul’s letter to the believers at Corinth is suggested by chapter 5 where he counsels the believers to separate themselves from the man who was living with his father’s wife. “Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5, NRSV). He concludes the chapter with these vivid words: “Drive out the wicked person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13, NRSV). Before that he pointedly advises the believers to separate themselves from all kinds of evil people: “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber” (1 Cor. 5:11, NRSV). If we have to separate even from the greedy, most of us would be living by ourselves! How does this line up with 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is kind,” and with Jesus’ statements in the Gospels?
3. Kindness as the touchstone of one’s relationship with God: Matthew 25:31-46. In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus suggests that the real test of our religion lies in our willingness to show kindness to those in need. Why wouldn’t this be salvation by works? Ellen White’s comments on this passage are striking:
Christ on the Mount of Olives pictured to His disciples the scene of the great judgment day. And He represented its decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and suffering. – Desire of Ages, 637
Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God. – Desire of Ages, 638
4. Right doing as a sign of the new birth? 1 John 2:29. John declares that everyone who does what is right “has been born of him.” In short, he uses born-again language to refer to ethical behavior, even though the person does not know Jesus.