Just be kind. It’s more than a phrase. It’s a movement. The slogan began with some kids in Central Indiana selling signs, T-shirts, and key chains, and now its influence is spreading throughout the world. The principle is basic, and its supporters insist the maxim would benefit us all.

The supporting phrase is just as pithy: “It’s easy.” In other words, maybe the problems, the stress, the conflict, and the pain in our world actually aren’t an irreducibly complex tangle of divergent opinions, identities, and values. Maybe the solution is easier and closer than you think.

Presumably what’s easy is the idea itself, not the actions required to carry out the solution. Admittedly, it’s hard to dialogue meaningfully with a slogan, but taken at its best, the people who wear those shirts or hoist those signs wouldn’t be so naive to think a lifestyle of perpetual kindness is an easy task with black-and-white applications.

Every civilization has asked, “What is our greatest good?” Philosophers have sought to lay out one concise maxim we can all appropriate and live by. Socrates claimed the pathway to happiness is virtue. Immanuel Kant boiled it down to the categorical imperative:  “I ought never to act in such a way that I couldn’t also will that the maxim on which I act should be a universal law.” Kant merely put a fancy philosophical spin on the golden rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt. 7:12).

The problem isn’t with a condensed imperative like “be kind.” The problem—on two levels—is with the word “just.”

Philosophical and Practical Problem

The word “just” implies we can scrap the hard work of nuance and context—which are always necessary—to apply kindness to sentencing a criminal or giving someone a failing grade. The word implies we can bypass the need for elaborate constructions of religion and morality because, deep down, we all intuitively know what being kind looks like.

If that’s the case, though, we have a massive self-deception obstacle to overcome. Look at our two political parties in America. They differ strongly on virtually every policy, yet you could get every representative to swear up and down that all they do is in the service of “being kind.” So maybe we need more clarity than “just” be kind. Maybe the application of “just be kind,” even theoretically, is where the hard work comes in.

To borrow some Greek philosophy, we’re born into a culture that preaches a finis without a telos. No one is allowed to give a firm reason to be kind. But most of the time, being kind doesn’t directly help you; often it’s downright inconvenient.

So we need a compelling motive, which Jesus supplies in at least four ways.

1. Jesus offers a stronger ‘just.’

Jesus gives us the same underlying principle: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” The difference is, he doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t brush off his hands and say: “And there you have it! What are you waiting for? Go and do it. It’s easy!” No, he follows up that command with his own “just,” one that draws our hope toward him: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34–35).

Jesus shows his foundational love and kindness on the cross, which is both the motivation and also the power for us to be kind.

2. Jesus helps you be kind even when it doesn’t look like kindness to others.

Being kind comes a lot easier when it looks obvious or fits the right mold—for example, when you put it on your college application, or you work for a company that demarcates a token percentage of their profits to fight animal abuse.

Kindness in his name should never be a self-righteous cover for shaming and finger-pointing.

But Jesus’s kindness toward us took the form of confronting sin, then bearing mockery, rejection, and death. Kindness in his name should never be a self-righteous cover for shaming and finger-pointing; still, when we practice kindness before an audience of One, it will matter less how others perceive it.

3. Jesus enables you be kind when it doesn’t help.

When Jesus is your “why” for being kind, you can continue to be gracious to your neighbor, even when you’ve asked them to clean up after their dog and they’re still not doing it. Kindness based on Christ comes without an agenda. After all, he loved and pursued us “while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8).

We can be kind to others without insisting they do something for us, because Jesus has already done it all.

4. Jesus helps you be kind to those who are ‘what’s wrong with the world.’

We all have that group about whom we think, They’re what’s wrong with this world; they’re the problem. How do you muster the strength to “just be kind” to them? Gazing at the grace of Christ. That alone changes how we look at those people, for it changes what we see as the chief problem.

The best thing we can do is show ‘those people’ the kindness we got, but didn’t deserve, from Jesus.

The ultimate solution to sin is not getting the right people in charge who will finally legislate right values. Nor is the solution getting everyone enough education. The solution is the internal transformation Christ brings about through his Spirit. So the best thing we can do is show “those people” the kindness we got, but didn’t deserve, from Jesus.

Being kind doesn’t just come naturally. That’s why we’re in this fallen mess. A lot of times you and I don’t want to be kind. That’s why we need a solution that starts with God’s undeserved kindness for us in Jesus, and then continues in his changing our hearts to want to be more like him.