“Love is Kind” I Corinthians 13:4
Using meanness to advance the gospel is a contradiction.
Songwriter Taylor Swift asks her young generation, “Why You Gotta Be So Mean?” Online Memorial Sites wrestle with how to filter online comments designed to comfort the bereaved but that are used by some to add pain to the sufferers. Unkind impulses remind me of Senior Hall my freshmen year in High School. If a freshman was to get lost among lockers and staircases he dare not seek solace where the seniors stored their gear. There are worse things than wedgies in the world and they lay poised down that long hallway like venus fly traps offering grizzly shelter for little lost moths. Veteran students who had the wisdom to help a neighbor chose instead to make school harder for the already vulnerable. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the church can often imitate this misuse. Sometimes those who visit the Christian community can find us badtempered toward the disadvantaged, the sin-sore, the limited and the rookie. By saying so, Paul exposes a problem, not just within Corinth, but within me; within many of us.
For those who remember the last scene of the first Karate Kid movie, it is as if Paul is saying to the church, love “doesn’t sweep the leg.” There is a reason why something inside most of us “boos” when the master in the movie tells his student to attack his opponent’s damaged leg. Competition has lost its health. The game has traded clothes, snuck into life and sucker punched a human being. Unkindness takes a cheap shot. It plays dirty and laughs. It exploits the wounded, abuses the sinner, cashes in on the limited, and profits from the misfortune of another. It is difficult to imagine Jesus mocking the voice of the sin-broken and then making them the butt of the punchline. Jesus has had multiple shots to take at me. But he refuses and it humbles me.
Pastors and congregations aren’t meant to use the misguided or limped parts of people’s lives as fodder for late night comedy banter nor are we meant to demonize the foibles of those who oppose us as the political talk radio personalities do. I’m not allowed to take cheap shots at others in Jesus’s name. Kind to everyone,” is Paul’s pastoral theology. (2 Tim. 2:24, Eph. 4:32)
Ironic because Saul of Tarsus was anything but kind. When Jesus called Paul, his reputation was too notorious, his previous way of life too unthoughtful toward the hardship of others. How kind of Jesus to send a friend (Barnabas). Kindness prepares a warm fire for one who is wet and cold. It makes provision for the worn-out, the shipwrecked and the troubled. (Acts 27:3; 28:2; Philip. 4:14) Kindness provides a safe and manageable place to live for the cripple-footed. (2 Sam. 9:1-7) It fills the role of father for the fatherless, supplies a blanket for the blanket-bare, gives food to the nourishment-ravaged, and dignity for the poor. (Ps. 109:12, 16)
Ironic because the celebrity-fests, entitlement-quarrels, and gifts-competetions in the Corinthian congregation were misused to justify their inattention to lovely things like kindness. I am Corinth. It lives in my heart. The oft-told story about the church doing meanly what it does rightly causes lament. Why? It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4) It is the kindness of God even for the ungrateful and the evil that distinguishes God from us. (Lk. 6:35) God has never been unkind to you or to me. Saul of Tarsus knew this first hand. He knew the grace of Jesus’s kindness. That’s why he said it. “Love is kind,” he said.