Christians often speak of faith in quantifiable terms. Do we have enough faith to trust the plan of God or to believe that God can heal? Is our faith strong enough to withstand persecution? This notion of faith as a measurable quality is not foreign to Scripture.

Jesus rebuked those who had “little faith” (Matt. 8:26), rewarded those who had “great faith” (Matt. 15:28), and taught that a lack of faith could hinder ministry (Matt. 17:19-20). The problem is not that we quantify our faith; the problem is when we do so selectively. We tend to speak of faith as the source of the miraculous, rather than every day obedience.

By contrast, the apostle Paul spoke of “the obedience of faith” as a central priority of his preaching ministry (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Commenting on these bookend passages in Romans, Thomas Schreiner concludes, “All obedience is rooted in and flows from faith.” Indeed, sometimes it takes more faith to fulfill the moral commands of Scripture than it does to trust God with our most difficult circumstances. This is especially true when it comes to the call to be kind to one another, specifically in our words (Eph. 4:29-32). These truths confront us with an important question: do we have enough faith to be kind?

Not the Same as Sentimentality

Biblical kindness goes deeper than sentimentality. In the Scriptures, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) that mirrors the character of God (Hos. 11:4; Titus 3:4). It is a Christian virtue that demonstrates our status as God’s chosen people (Col. 3:12).

The presence or absence of kindness in our speech is indicative of our relationship with God. In Proverbs 31, the woman “who fears the Lord” has “the teaching of kindness on her tongue” (Prov. 31:30, 26). Job saw in his friends’ unkindness a failure to fear God: “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14). Kindness is a horizontal expression of vertical security. We are free to extend kindness to one another, because we believe that God has shown kindness to us in Christ (Eph. 4:32). Kindness is rooted in and flows from faith.

Against this backdrop, sinning in our words toward one another takes on a darker hue. Sinful speech is easy to rationalize. We are motivated by the truth, we tell ourselves—not enmity toward our opponents. The issue demands a response. Its importance calls for confrontation. We must be bold, because so much is at stake.

But kindness and boldness are not antonyms. In fact, much is at stake when we fail to be kind to those with whom we disagree—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Righteous Position, Righteous Disposition

The Lord forms his people as we go about “speaking the truth in love” to one another (Eph. 4:15). Each component of that phrase provides a guardrail for biblical community. Faithful communication requires both a righteous position and a righteous disposition. The content of our message (the truth) and the manner in which we deliver it (in love) matter to God. If our words are bold but our hearts are callous, we fall short of God’s standards.

The book of James connects sinful speech to a lack of faith. An extended warning about taming the tongue (James 3:1-12) follows the famous discussion of faith and works (James 2:14-26). As James is arguing for the necessity of good works flowing from faith, he turns to speech as a primary example. We might summarize the connection in his own rhetoric as follows: “I will show you my faith by my words” (cf. James 2:18b).

Imagine how this concept could reframe an all-too-common scenario. One Christian posts an opinion on social media about a controversial topic. Another Christian responds negatively, not only disagreeing with the view but also questioning the person’s character. The inflammatory comment presents a dilemma: issue a kindhearted clarification or fight back?

Public Shame Is Not the Holy Spirit

Of course, truth demands clarity. But before we appeal to righteous anger and cite Jesus turning over tables, we ought to consider our reticence toward kindness. If we are hesitant to be kind to one another in moments like this, it may be that we have more faith in brute force than the strength of our argument. Worse, it may be that we believe the power of public shame is greater than the power of the Holy Spirit. Our instinctive response answers an important question: Do we have enough faith to believe that “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1)?

Extending kindness toward others, especially in the context of disagreement, is fraught with peril. What if kindness is misinterpreted as affirmation? What if a soft answer is mislabeled as weakness? What if others view the absence of anger as a discreet admission of agreement? These are surely genuine concerns and call for great wisdom, but should we not be most concerned with the greatest threat of all: what if our words grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:29)?

All sin is rooted in unbelief.

When we fail to be kind to brothers and sisters in Christ, we are failing to trust God in some way, perhaps his power to change hearts or the sufficiency of his Word. In Christ, we need not be controlled by such fears. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4) and we can trust its work in others.

Every act of obedience in some way silences our fears as we place our hope in such promises. Our kind words are acts of faith, as we entrust ourselves to the Lord, who “is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works” (Ps. 145:17).

More from Matthew D. Haste

Held in Honor: Wisdom for Your Marriage from Voices of the Past

The Pastor’s Life: Practical Wisdom from the Puritans