Some Larger Way
Listen to “Some Larger Way” by Fred Smith
Some of you know I have taught a Sunday School class for 40 years. It’s my anchor as much as my pulpit. For much of that time I taught on topics or passages I chose but then I put myself under the discipline of teaching the “lectionary.” Baptists don’t call it that but that’s what it is. It is the assigned passage sent from Nashville. There are times when I would rather break out and go back to being independent but I guess this is my feeble attempt at growing in sanctification.
For years, the word “sanctification” conjured up images of determined efforts to do better. You know Grant Woods’ classic painting, “American Gothic” of the dour and frowning wife next to her expressionless husband with the pitchfork in his hand? That was my image of a sanctified life. It was keeping the rules, living inside the boundaries, and narrowing life down to the point of making sin impossible and joy along with it. It was Sisyphus condemned in eternity to pushing the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down again.
Then one day a young friend asked me what I thought were the essentials of a lasting relationship. I had a list of things ready to give him but the longer I thought about them the more I kept circling back to one word: kindness. It’s almost too simple but it sums up all the other things on my list. It is the door that opens up all the other joys.
We talk about gateway drugs as those that lead to others and, at least for me, kindness is a gateway virtue that leads to other virtues.
Several years before my friend asked his question, I stumbled into a passage of Scripture that changed my idea of sanctification as a list of things to do and others to avoid. Instead of a list, 2 Peter 1:5-7 showed a progression of one thing being added to another and making a pattern of pieces that fit together like a quilt and not merely an accumulation of traits:
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”
It is not a prescription of duties and chores but an image of a life that grows and deepens. There is a beginning – faith – and an end – love. But after faith what is the first step toward love? The Greek word used here, “arete,” is often translated as kindness or goodness. Kindness is where we begin and that became, for me, the first step on the journey toward maturity.
What does it mean to be kind?
I discovered the truth about 19th century Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle’s observation that while kindness is one of the traits that is the hardest to define and attain, it is precisely the grace which has the greatest influence in the world. Think about that. The influence of kindness – beginning with those closest to you and working out – may well have the most lasting effect than any other evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Kind to my wife or husband. Kind at work. Kind with my friends. Kind with my children. Kindness that points people to God. Paul even goes so far as to say it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. That has been true in my life and marriage. Over and over it has been Carol’s kindness that has turned me around.
And kindness leads to godliness and affection, which makes the best introduction of all – the introduction to love.
Sanctification, unlike “American Gothic,” is not a burden but an adventure. After faith, simple kindness is the first step on the road that leads us to places, relationships and experiences we cannot plan for ourselves. It is not a narrowing of our lives but a widening only God could produce. It’s not a dull list of rules and restrictions but a discovery of what life is meant to be.
I love “The Old Walking Song” from The Fellowship of the Ring because it sums up the sense of a life that expands in the journey of sanctification. It’s a life of exploration, discovery and joy:
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
I may not know where that larger way goes but I know where the best life starts: kindness.
Art by Jonathan Green