Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you.
Proverbs 11:17 (NLT)
I remember so clearly the day my friend Jane said she needed to talk to me. I walked back to her office and sat down, unaware of the blow that was coming but nervous all the same. She told me that I’d hurt her deeply with an offhand remark someone had overheard and reported to her, and she didn’t understand why I’d say such a thing.
Staring at her in shock, my eyes filled with tears and all I could think was, But I prayed for you! I couldn’t consider how my actions had hurt my friend or how my misconstrued words had the opposite effect of what I intended. All I could think about was how, just a few weeks earlier, I’d prayed around the clock for Jane’s family during a crisis. I’d supported her and loved her and been there for her, and now she doubted me. She took the word of another that I had said something to hurt her. My heart was crushed, and my defenses were sky-high. We sat in that room, both of us feeling betrayed and let down by the other.
Though I didn’t feel sorry in the moment, I apologized to my friend. And I eventually did understand how the words I’d intended to be kind and encouraging to another friend had, in fact, been hurtful to Jane. Genuinely remorseful, I then apologized to her again.
I realized something after that situation though. This wasn’t the first time I’d felt doubly offended by someone I’d prayed for. Not only had they wronged me (at least in my mind), but they did it despite how fervently I’d prayed for them. I realized that I was treating prayer — an intimate act of kindness that, to me, carried enormous relational weight — as a guarantee that the person I prayed for would owe me a similar kindness. Rather than seeing prayer as an unconditional gift on behalf of someone I care about, I saw the act of praying for my friends — or helping them move or throwing them a baby shower or helping them write a résumé or, if I’m honest, any sizable gesture of kindness — as an investment or as friendship insurance.
Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that kindness deserved to be repaid, that kindness was a deposit into a relationship and I’d eventually see dividends returned for my efforts. If you had asked me, I’m certain I would have said that kindness was its own reward, that helping others was how I showed them my love and God’s love. But part of me still expected to get what I’d “earned” with all my good deeds and kindness.
Unfortunately, that experience permanently changed my friendship with Jane. But God also used it to begin changing my heart. He showed me that while I was often kind, my motives weren’t pure. And He reminded me that I shouldn’t expect earthly rewards anyway. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus flipped many of His listeners’ assumptions upside-down—including how they should treat their enemies. He said, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
Jesus said our reward for showing kindness — to enemies, yes, but also to friends — would be great. But He never promised that reward in this life. Now, when I read His words and Proverbs 11:17, which promises a reward for kindness, I understand that the reward we receive is a heavenly one. It’s the satisfying knowledge that we are acting like our heavenly Father did when He showed us His love by sending His only Son, knowing we could never repay that gift.
Love without strings and kindness without expectations aren’t easy. They are impossible, really, unless we ask God to give us His heart for others. Only then will we be able to truly love one another, giving freely and offering kindness as a genuine expression of God’s love. And our eternal reward for that will be more than we can imagine.
God, I’m so grateful for Your unconditional kindness. Please forgive me for treating kindness as a transaction, and please give me the strength and love to be kind to others without expecting anything in return. Amen.