Years ago when doing a sermon series on The Fruit of the Spirit, I noted to my congregation how relatively pedestrian some of the spiritual fruit seem to be. Who might have guessed that when detailing the evidences of the Holy Spirit in a person's life the Apostle Paul would tumble to listing things like "kindness" or "gentleness"? To the minds of lots of people kindness is akin to being nice. But niceness seems more like something you'd run into in a book about "Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" than a post-Pentecost trait displayed by people who had been doused by no less than the Spirit of the Living God.
Yes, the Fruit of the Spirit include some big-ticket items the likes of which you might expect: love, patience, self-control, faithfulness. But the seemingly more commonplace virtues of gentleness and kindness (and goodness while we're at it) mingle in freely with those other fruit and there seems to be no ranking among them, either. Each is as important as the next. None can exist without the others.
It's easy to think, though, that kindness and gentleness may be lower on the list of fruit than others. That is until you bring your thinking about the Fruit of the Spirit into contact with a venue in which kindness and gentleness are wholly absent. Because it is then that you realize that without the ability to be kind, to be gentle, to be NICE for heaven's sake, life devolves into gross ugliness in a big old hurry.
Or that's what I thought when I watched an episode of the Fox summertime show "Hell's Kitchen" the other night. This show is just one of scads of reality TV shows now available. I watch none of those shows except for (upon occasion) this cooking show but my sense is that reality TV shows are all pretty much the same. The premise of "Hell's Kitchen" is that celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay--he whose ability to wield the F-word is greater than any other which can be conceived--assembles two teams of professional or semi-professional cooks and chefs and puts them through a series of challenges by which to winnow the teams down to just one person who gets the grand prize of being head chef at one of Ramsay's premiere restaurants. It perhaps goes without saying that many of them fail miserably and come in for the rankest of verbal lashings from the chef as a result.
But to make it really interesting, how each team does depends on the efforts of its every member and when things go bad, it is the team that has to cannibalize itself to decide which weakest link needs to go home next. To state the obvious, this ratchets up the pressure to nearly unbearable levels.
Many Christians would (rightly) be offended by this program sheerly for the profanity used. (Indeed, if you only listen to certain portions of the show, it sounds more like a Morse Code-like series of beeps than actual dialogue in English.) But bracket out the F-bombs and other things that don't get bleeped out and what remains is an ugly, almost sub-human spectacle wholly devoid of . . . kindness, gentleness, or anyone's ability to be even remotely NICE. Without a willingness to be kind or gentle, what is left is rank competition, overt hostility, hatred.
What remains, in other words, is the dead opposite of community.
It's no doubt a sign of the dissolution of civilization that TV executives create spectacles in which people can behave in ways so gross as to make one wonder about that whole "image of God" thing after all. It's hardly an encouraging sign of civilization that viewers line up to watch such reality TV shows, which also make tons of money for networks like Fox. But a few minutes of watching such bizarre spectacles may also be enough to make us realize that when Paul singled out kindness and gentleness as among the marks of those in whom the image of God had been renewed by the indwelling presence of Christ's Spirit, he wasn't elevating to an artificial level of importance social niceities that are not actually all that significant for human flourishing.
Oh no, Paul knew what he was doing. In all of our lives, we do well to, as Paul put it in Galatians 5, "keep step with the Spirit." Because as "Hell's Kitchen" and its ilk reveal, those who do otherwise will sooner or later dehumanize and tear one another to bits.