By Terry Gardner
Self-examination is hard depressing work. However, hard work is always essential to spiritual improvement. Neither diet nor exercise are fun but the result is worth the effort. James contrasts the effective hearer who is a doer of God’s Word with the man who looks into a mirror and immediately forgets what he saw. This forgetful man’s hearing is worthless for it does not lead to a change in his life. Change requires that I don’t just glace at a mirror but that I look “intently at the perfect law” … and that I “abide by it.” (James 1:25).
Recently some staring intently into the perfect law led me to two questions. Am I pleasant? Am I kind?
Ten years ago my friend Robert Welch passed from this life into the next one. He lived a long, full life serving as a gospel preacher. At his funeral his son-in-law observed:
I thought in my first encounters with Bob, even before I was a Christian that he was pleasant. I understand that that’s not considered a great virtue in the “dog-eat-dog” world of today, but I thought he was pleasant. One of Solomon’s proverbs says, “Pleasant words are like a honey-comb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Usually when we read from Proverbs 16 we focus on pleasant words, but it occurred to me that if words show the heart then pleasant words come from a pleasant man.
With Bob, I thought that there was no particular edge to his words. We have all known men and women both, who in conversation with them, you are always aware that there was some sort of competition going on and someone was trying to get an edge or keep an edge. I never felt that way around him, there was no particular edge to his words, there was no particular warning that was necessary before going to see him, where someone had to say, “Watch out, he’s in one of his moods today.” I never heard that said or felt it one time in the number of years that I knew him. Quite simply … I just thought he was easy to be with and enjoyed it.
I am from a very competitive family of people who hate to lose. As a kid my father once told me, “Son, show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” I am also from a family of preachers who liked to debate and argue. Sarcasm came naturally. Am I pleasant? Well I am better described as intense, focused, goal-oriented. Pleasant … I don’t think that is generally what I see in looking into the mirror of God’s Word. I can be pleasant but smart might better describe me. This reminds me of Jimmy Stewart’s great movie, “Harvey” where as Elwood P. Dowd he said, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be' - she always called me Elwood - 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”
Peter tells us that we are to add “brotherly kindness” to our character as Christians. Paul calls kindness a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). Dorcas is described as “abounding with deeds of kindness.” (Acts 9:36). Solomon, in describing wisdom, states, “the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (Prov. 31:26). Micah advises us that the Lord requires us to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8).
Generosity is not the same thing as kindness. You can be generous and yet not be kind. Kindness and humility walk hand in hand. If my speech is arrogant or condescending it is not kind, even if I am right. The goal of a Christian’s speech is to teach not win an argument.
Kindness in speech is a challenge. Old habits die hard and are difficult to change. That said, the only way to be pleasant and kind is to look intently into the Word of God, to count others as better than yourself and to do deeds of kindness. This is what Jesus did and it is what I must do too if I’d be his disciple and servant.