A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” – Proverbs 15:1
After much too long of a hiatus it is time to get back on track. We last looked at The Fruits of the Spirit just over one year ago. As usual, I have no explanation for why I take these little breaks, but I have learned not to question and just go with the flow. Not surprisingly God’s timing, unlike ours, is absolutely perfect. So at a time in my life when I haven’t been feeling all that nice for various reasons related to general frustration and the flaws & foibles of numerous human beings with which I come into contact on a regular basis God has…of course…lead me to write about kindness. That God, He’s an ironic fella.
Depending upon which translation of The Bible one chooses, the terms kindness, gentleness, goodness, and meekness are used somewhat interchangeably in reference to The Fruits of the Spirit, to the point that it becomes confusing. The NIV, New King James, and New American Standard use, in order, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. The King James keeps goodness but substitutes gentleness for kindness and uses meekness in place of gentleness so that the order is gentleness, goodness, meekness. The American Standard uses kindness and goodness but also subs in meekness for gentleness. It can be quite perplexing. So what I have decided to do is examine these terms together because in common everyday use they have close enough meanings that I believe it might be instructive to look at them all at once in order to understand the subtle differences in a Biblical, Godly context.
First things first. As most everyone knows The Bible was not originally written in English. Therefore it can be rather enlightening to dig around and find out what the original words used were and what they meant, which obviously sheds some light on God’s intent. Not surprisingly one Greek word covers kindness, gentleness, & meekness. That word is chrestotes, which means moral goodness, integrity, usefulness, benignity, and beneficence, or the sympathetic sweetness of temper which puts others at ease and shrinks from giving pain. The Greek word for meekness is praos, which pertains to not being overly impressed by a sense of self-importance, and can also mean the state of being gentle, humble, courteous, and considerate.
I think this little ditty has taken me awhile to write partly because there is just so much to say and so many different directions from which the topic can be approached. However, from the moment I launched The Manofesto I made a promise to myself and my readers that I would always try to avoid being too verbose and keep things readable. One reason I wanted to combine these terms into one entry was because I feared that four different pieces would become tedious and repetitive since much of the same ground would be covered. For example, I already wrote about “The meek shall inherit the earth” in the series about The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was a pretty straightforward dude. His teachings aren’t complex, just difficult to put into action. Therefore in pondering and praying about all the angles of kindness, goodness, gentleness, and meekness I figured out that it comes down to two things…what is inside and what is outside. What kind of attitude is in your heart and mind, and how do those thoughts & feelings manifest themselves in your deeds??
Let’s work from the inside out, because everything starts with the intellect & emotions. Utilizing our two terms chrestotes and praos we understand that we must begin with humility, integrity, and a benevolent temperament. Humility is the opposite of self-importance. Humility is being able to laugh at one’s self and be comfortable with your own imperfection. Humility is gladly being a team player and not needing to always be in the spotlight. Humility means not being rude or arrogant, and having respect for rules and boundaries. Humility means humbly submitting our lives to God because we know we can’t do it right on our own. Integrity is simply honesty and adherence to moral principles, i.e. following in the footsteps of Christ. Benevolence means the desire to be charitable and kind to others. Benevolence means giving people the benefit of the doubt and not rushing to judgment or taking pleasure in crushing them like a bug. Benevolence is the opposite of an all too prevalent need to seek vengeance or step over whomever is in the way of what we want. On an intellectual level most will understand these things, but if we are brutally honest with ourselves we often fall short of the mark. How often do we not feel these positive things in our heart?? How often does our attitude stray toward malevolence, arrogance, frustration, selfishness, disrespect, and being judgmental?? I cannot speak for the masses and only know my own heart, and I can say with all sincerity that most of the time I not only fall short, I fall WAY short. The attitude we harbor within our heart has a direct correlation on how we react to and treat others, but is it possible to be polite and courteous to peoples’ face while harboring harsh feelings inside?? Sure…we do it all the time. But there are two things wrong with that scenario. First, eventually…someday…the truth comes out. As the old saying goes “you can fool some of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. When our true feelings come out we just end up looking deceitful and manipulative. Second and more importantly, no matter how often we might be able to put one over on some folks here & there we can never trick God. He knows our heart, and there is no escape from that. I’ve never understood why that one fact doesn’t sufficiently blow peoples’ minds.
Therefore, if we are able to master genuinely feeling kind, gentle, good, and meek within our heart & mind it stands to reason that it will be reflected in our actions and external attitude. I don’t know about y’all, but I feel like I can usually spot a sincerely kind and gentle soul fairly quickly. It is difficult to explain, but they just seem to have a glow, a positive aura. Such individuals reek of goodness. Meekness pours out of their spirit effortlessly. But here is where I struggle: that type of person is all too rare.
I mentioned at the outset that I don’t feel like I have been all that nice lately. Me and The Golden Rule have kind of been on civil but not exactly friendly terms for awhile now. The Golden Rule, for those of you who may reside in the general vicinity of Wyoming County, WV (the 10% of that population that may be literate anyway), states that we are to “do unto others as we would have them do unto you”. Sounds great. It’s a very nice idea. But when a person…like your humble Potentate of Profundity…so often feels overlooked, underappreciated, disconnected, forgotten about, lost in the shuffle, irrelevant, taken for granted, and screwed over it becomes increasingly difficult to treat others just dandy while they treat me like a big pile of dog doo. For most of my life I feel like I have embodied most of the positive traits we are discussing here. I feel confident in saying that without a shred of arrogance simply because I give all the credit to how I was raised by my parents and the things I was taught by people in my family, community, and church. I was taught to be considerate, humble, and courteous. I have always tried to have integrity, to be a team player, and to put others at ease. I get no pleasure out of causing others pain. However, it seems to me that, more & more, those who go in the complete opposite direction…arrogant, mean-spirited, condescending, dishonest, judgmental, disrespectful people…are somehow the mice that always get the cheese. My reaction hasn’t been…thankfully…to become as self-centered & nasty as others, but rather to disengage from society as much as possible. And to be honest I am not really sure that is the right answer.
So what is the answer?? How do we become genuinely kind, good, gentle, meek people in our hearts so that those traits will sincerely manifest themselves in our actions and daily lives?? How do we ignore the nastiness of others and treat them as we would have them treat us rather than how they are actually treating us?? How do we make Luke 6:27-31, which says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you”, more than just empty sentiment?? How do we “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32) ??
Well obviously I am the wrong person to offer a solution since it is a conundrum with which I struggle so mightily, to the point that I question the validity not of my faith but of the earthly demonstration of that faith by the masses. I am too easily wounded by those who don’t seem to realize I exist, even though their actions aren’t always malevolent and usually just oblivious and unintentionally insensitive. We all want to feel like we matter, to feel like we belong somewhere, and for most of the past 5 years of my life I have felt like I don’t matter and don’t belong. Am I still kind & gentle?? Yes…on the outside. But oftentimes I can barely conceal my rage, disappointment, and indignation, clearly indicating that I do not feel genuinely good & meek inside. I recognize the problem but have no concrete answers.
The only answer that I can come up with just muddies the waters further. I am familiar, on an intellectual level, with the concept of being “in the world but not of the world”. But it’s kind of the same deal as with The Golden Rule…much easier said than done. I, like many folks I am sure, try my darndest to not be “of the world”, but the fact is that I live here for now and it is pretty hard to ignore the things that go on all around me and affect me on a daily basis. This whole kindness thing has really had me flummoxed for awhile now because I just don’t know very many truly meek & gentle people. The general populace has bought into the idea of The Rat Race, getting ahead, “success” (whatever that is), and stomping on whoever & whatever is in the way of accomplishing goals. So what am I supposed to do…get stomped on until Jesus comes and be happy about it?? That’s not an approach I am comfortable with, even if it could possibly be the correct answer.
So at the end of the day my general methodology has become retreat. I still try to be nice and helpful whenever possible, but I also avoid putting myself in situations where I know disingenuous individuals are just going to disappoint me over & over. I spend a lot of time alone in my apartment reading and hanging out with my puppy. Sometimes that’s my choice, other times it’s a choice that is forced upon me by the indifference of others. The unfortunate conclusion that I have come to can best be made by using a football analogy. There are 11 people on a football team. The team can sustain one or two people making a mistake, but if I am the lone person trying to advance the ball down the field and the other ten players are heading in the opposite direction I am going to get mauled. So rather than get mauled I mostly just choose not to play the game, which is sad because I love football and want to be involved.