The Legacy of Kindness
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
As I reflect on the passing away of Bishop’s father this week - Uncle Ponniah as I would normally call him - I think of kindness. He epitomised that for me as someone who was always encouraging with nary a hard word. In fact, the last words I heard from him were after the 11.15 am Christmas Service and again, they were kind, tender and encouraging.
We must have all heard about the Singapore Kindness Movement. It is a valiant effort though we may wonder whether it is making any difference. The Bible teaches a lot about kindness and perhaps it is in worshipping communities where this needs to be taught and her leaders encouraged to exemplify.
Reflecting on the verse above, firstly, kindness is extended to one another. We hardly use the term to refer to our attitude towards God, i.e. we will not say we need to be kind to God. Kindness is offered voluntarily to another imperfect human being or someone caught in an imperfect situation. Instead of uttering a harsh word (which may be right), we choose instead to have a kind response. That can stop a situation from cascading into relationship-breaking or stress-inducing situations for the other.
To be “tenderhearted” is another wonderful thought. That is opposed to being “hard-hearted.” Again the idea here is not about giving what one deserves. The guiding point is the giver choosing a different course of action or response. It may be a small reaction but if marked by tenderness, it often soothes and heals.
“Forgiving one another...” - kindness and forgiveness also go together. Here the Bible teaches the idea of kindness as a response when you are personally affronted. You have every right to feel that a corresponding reaction should be exacted. We don’t use this word but it is simply “revenge.” We move beyond being annoyed to saying or doing something to get back at the person. Or we keep holding a deep grudge or bitterness in our heart which eats into us and also affects our relationship with others.
Again and again, when we find ourselves in this situation, we are called to look to the One who has forgiven us. After all, in something as basic as the Lord’s Prayer, we are already told to forgive one another as God has forgiven us. Indeed, “as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
I have been a pastor now for over 30 years. Sometimes people ask me how I manage to cope. “We don’t envy your position”, I am often told. The Singaporean Christian community often reflects the values of her society’s culture: competitive, rule-based and perfectionistic. Truth be told, the strongest resource is found in digging deep into my relationship with Christ. Where I confront my own frail humanity where again and again, He forgives me. His holiness, love, humility and perfection is such that my own wretchedness is exposed. It is when I realise that I have been forgiven that I am able to forgive. It is a terrible religious delusion to think that as Vicar, I am morally superior to those around me. My own sinful condition is largely shielded from those around me.
When they react to the little portions which leak out, the Holy Spirit often reminds me that it would be a lot worse if they knew the whole truth.
In other words, I don’t have any rights except the right to forgive. If I have debts to pay, it is the debt to love. For God in Christ has forgiven me. People who know they are forgiven will know how to forgive. This truth is simple but profound. It can bring healing and wholeness to any Christian community.
Don’t search for a perfect community for there is none. Find one and be kind. You will never know how far it will go. Like Brother Draviam Ponniah, the legacy of a kind soul will live on in the family for generations. And as we can testify, is also seen consistently in his sons: Bishop Rennis, Revd Jeremy and Andrew.