Today, my friend and I were reminiscing about our sons. We learned that both of our sons were in a wedding when they were roughly four or five years old. They both had to wear formal attire to participate in the prospective weddings. Their reactions to this were very different. To be clear, they both had to wear a tuxedo. This is the expected garb of a ring bearer. Most young boys have no interest in fancy clothes, especially the shoes and the flowers.
My friend and I discussed our respective son’s reaction to the need to wear such fancy clothes. One son was not thrilled. He cried. He tried to take off the clothes and shoes, then he destroyed the boutonniere. The other son asked if he could wear these fancy clothes to school. See, very different reactions.
This story came to mind as I was studying Paul’s words to the Ephesians. He urges the saints in Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called (4:1). After he explains that every saint has a duty in the Kingdom, Paul moves on to explain what it looks like to walk in the new life they have in Christ. This new life is the opposite of the life they lived before they tasted that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:3).
Paul then uses the illustration of wearing clothes to express what the saints must do. He tells them to take off the old self and put on the new self. He lists what belongs to the old and should be taken off, and what belongs to the new and should be put on. The old is corrupt. The new is renewed because it is created in the likeness of God.
The old self lies, sins in its anger, is destructive with its words, is bitter, violent, and loud in its anger, and so grieves the Holy Spirit because of these evil actions. Just like old or dirty clothes, these should be taken off and put aside because when Jesus enters the person, He renews them to be like God. In other words, Jesus gives a new set of clothes. The new self speaks truth, builds up others, is kind, is tenderhearted, and forgives. Why? Because this is the way God has treated the person, even before they were renewed (Romans 5:8).
I like that the verb tense in the Ephesians 4 passage is both past and present, meaning the action is done and continuing. This means, as a saint, I am this new self, renewed by the work of Jesus. I am also a work in process, developing the characteristics of God by His grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit each day.
I want to be a disciple who follows Jesus. Yet too often, I find myself more like the son crying in the fancy clothes, trying to tear it off. My old clothes are much more comfortable. Can’t I be a disciple of Jesus in the old? It is not as much work. It is not so uncomfortable. I like the old clothes better. Like a four-year-old, I whine.
As we have been learning in this column this year, a disciple has many characteristics that are not easy to develop and live out. Today, we will address the idea that a humble disciple is kind. Paul tells the Ephesians to “be kind to one another” (4:32). He tells the Colossians to clothe themselves with kindness (3:12). Paul shares with the Galatians that kindness is part of the fruit of the Spirit (5:22). It seems that Paul urged a good portion of the people he led to be kind. What does it mean to be kind?
Merriam-Webster defines kind as “arising from or characterized by sympathy or forbearance”. This definition embodies compassion and patience. What do you think of when you hear the word kind? Do you think of a person, a kind neighbor or relative? Does an act of kindness come to mind? The act might include a time when some entered an emotional space with you to support and encourage you. Or it could be when someone was incredibly patient with you. In American culture, we tend to interchange the words kind and nice.
In the New Testament, the word we translate as kind carries the idea of a person who uses their higher standing for the good of others. This higher standing might come in the form of wealth, rank, power, or position. This person uses all they have to make sure those around them have what they need.
The Israelites sing praise to God for His generous, sympathetic patience with them in the Psalms. Repeatedly they sing, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!” ‘Steadfast love’ is the same word used for kind. In His kindness, God rescued, protected, provided, and lived in the middle of the Israelites. He did not leave them to find their own way or to fight their own battles. He took them from slavery to freedom in a land flowing with milk and honey. He was good to them. As you read the account to the Exodus, you will find God being kind to the Israelites, yet not necessarily nice to them.
What is the difference between nice and kind? According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, nice includes being polite, pleasing, agreeable, and socially acceptable. In other words, nice means being and doing what makes others comfortable and happy. If we look back at how the Bible defines kind, it is doing for others what is needed for their good.
An example of kind versus nice in the Bible can be seen in Exodus 13:17-18. The Israelites left Egypt on the way to the Promised Land. The shorter route is through the land of the Philistines. After all the Israelites had been through, it would have been nice just to get to where they need to be and rest before they begin this new life. Instead, God led them on a route that showed His kindness. This route allowed for what He knew they needed, peace.
In our context, consider a therapist who is helping you recover from an injury; physical, emotional, or spiritual. They know where you want to be, and the best way to get you there. They know how tough the path is to heal. Imagine if one day you tell your therapist, “This is too hard! I don’t want to do this anymore. I should be better by now!” This may resemble the whining I wrote about earlier. The therapist has a choice to make. They could say, “You’re right. You should do what is easier for you right now. You don’t have to do this anymore.” Or they could say, “I know this is painful and unpleasant. I also know it is worth it. If you want to heal, you must do this.”
Which therapists would you want? In all transparency, in the moment, I want the first. I want the easy way out. The way that is not long or difficult. I want the nice therapist. What I need is the kind therapist. The one who meets me where I am and encourages me to keep moving in the best direction. They do not sugarcoat the realities I am facing. They acknowledge the difficulties I am experiencing, and they walk with me through them. Kindness is using all that we are to give people the good they need, not just what they want.
How do we become this kind disciple Paul urges readers to become? In humility, each person wanting to follow Christ must humble themselves and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the true nature of God to them, allow them to experience this true God, and then teach them to walk in the ways of Christ. This disciple will deny themselves for the sake of the will of God. They will act with consideration of what will benefit others.
As you and I walk more in the new self that we gained through Jesus, we should become more comfortable with these fancy clothes. I pray that soon you and I will be more like the four-year-old ring bearer, wanting to wear kindness wherever we go. In the process, I pray we also become less like the one crying and destroying the boutonniere. May God teach us how to humble ourselves and put the new self He has given us in His kindness.
 Konrad Weiss, “Χρηστός, Χρηστότης, Χρηστεύομαι, Χρηστολογία,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 485.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 106:1.
 Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Nice. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved June 26, 2022.
This post originally appeared at: Putting on the Fancy Clothes — The Bonhoeffer Project