Wisdom and Kindness

Posted on August 23, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Wisdom

If you read the last post, you might well be asking how wisdom and the Beatitudes fit together. You know your child should learn to be wise; you also know that he should be poor in spirit. Yet, at first glance, there appears to be a lack of specificity to both goals. For example:

Jessica, mommy wants you to be wise all day. Is that clear!?! So, today let’s work really hard on having some wisdom as you play with your little brother.

Sean, you are a teenager now. It is time for you to start demonstrating that you are poor in spirit. When I begin to see some evidence of being poor in spirit, I will know that I can trust you.

These examples don’t really work, do they? Okay, let’s try it another way.

“Jessica, mommy wants you to be kind all day. So, let’s work really hard at being kind to your little brother.”

“Sean, you are a teenager. By this time you certainly know what is selfish and what is not. So, I need to start seeing more unselfish behavior from you. When that happens we can talk about some of the things you want to do with your friends.”

These two examples seem a little more realistic than the first two, don’t they? However, Sean and Jessica will not be any closer to a life of wisdom and service to Christ if this is the type of instruction they are given. You see, in both sets of examples, the child’s behavior is addressed, but the heart is not instructed. In the first set, wisdom and poor in spirit are spoken of as if they were behavioral traits. That is why the examples seem odd.

However, in the second set of examples, specific behaviors were given as the goal. These examples seem more comfortable and might well be something that you frequently hear parents say. But in terms of pointing children toward Christ, the second set is just as far off the mark as the first. Focusing on behavior, either good or bad behavior, is exactly what the enemy of your soul wants you to do as you train your children (Col. 2:20-23). God, however, wants you to speak to the heart of the child.

If you interpret kindness as simply giving the other child the first turn with a toy, you have missed the essence of kindness. Sharing toys so that both can have equal time with a toy is not, by itself, biblical kindness. Sharing may result in a more pleasant day, but what will the child really be taught?  Could she be learning, “If I am kind I will get what I really want. My brother won’t fuss, I get to play with the toy, and Mommy is happy with me for being kind. This is a recipe for teaching Jessica to be selfish. She is being trained in a subtle form of self-service masquerading as kindness. Her kindness is not sacrificial; rather it is a tool that is achieving a more pleasant life for her.

Whoa!  You might not have seen that one coming! After all, kindness is the fruit of the Spirit, isn’t it?

Yes, kindness is wise behavior; but there is much more to wisdom and kindness than first meets the eye. The apostle Paul describes what true kindness looks like in Ephesians 4:32:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Paul begins the same way that Jessica’s mom did in our example. He says, “Be kind to one another.” But he doesn’t stop there, and that makes all the difference! Next, he says, “Be tenderhearted.” Thus, Paul immediately brings in the heart; good behavior is not enough. Jessica is to care deeply and tenderly for her little brother. Her kindness is to extend beyond “giving to get.” There must be a compassionate desire to care for her little brother.

Next, consider that Paul says kindness must flow from forgiveness. Any pair of young siblings will have plenty of opportunities to extend forgiveness to each other. For example, Jessica must not hang on to thoughts of her brother’s unkindness to her just yesterday. She is to know that she also is in need of forgiveness every day. So her kindness to her brother is to be heartfelt, genuinely focused on what is best for him.

Finally, Paul drives home what truly moves Jessica’s kind act from mere behavior to an act of worship. Jessica’s model is Christ. Thus she knows that true kindness involves joyful self-sacrifice.

This is what wisdom looks like as it is expressed through kindness. Thankfully, Jessica’s parents have consistently held out what true biblical kindness looks like. They have helped her see that such kindness is not something that can be mimicked by the flesh. They have prayed with her countless times as she acknowledged that she didn’t want to be—and could not be—biblically kind by herself. They helped her to see that biblical kindness can only occur with the help of Jesus Christ and his saving grace.

Jessica, by the grace of God, has begun to be biblically kind. In being trained this way, her heart has been shepherded towards wisdom. Jessica has learned that doing things her way is the opposite of wisdom. She is not kind to advance her own desires; she is kind because she is learning to live for Someone other than Jessica. She is learning to be poor in spirit.

And that is what we will look at in the next post when we check in with Sean.

As always, let me know your thoughts.

 

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.