Oct
27
2011

Kindness (Greek, chrestotes; Antonym: arrogance or pride)

In a way that only he could, Mark Twain wrote that “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” No matter what you do, if you do it in a kind way to someone, it almost always resonates as generous and good. The word kindness comes from the Greek word chrestotes, which means to be gracious and affable in some way to others, especially when you do it without expecting anything in return. When it comes to kindness, it can represent so many different types of actions—patience, sympathy, tenderness, understanding—and therefore, as you can see, there are many ways a person can be kind.

The opposite of kindness is arrogance—“I am above you”—is a phrase that pictures for us someone who is not kind. Often kindness reaches out to those who we help and they can do nothing for us after we have shown them a kind gesture. In ancient Greece, the word chrestotes was often used to depict rulers who were kind and benevolent to their subjects, but also did not expect anything in return from them. A friend who seemingly always has financial problems—you give them $500 so they can go away for the weekend with their spouse and you know they will never be able to repay the generosity. A driver who has just flipped you off as they pass you by because you like them aren’t going 25 miles over the speed limit—you, however, simply  share a genuine smile back at them. A stranger who obviously is homeless asks you for five bucks for a meal, and instead you take them for an extravagant dinner—sharing a meal with them and listening to a story or two.

Kindness is goodness in action and gentleness in dealing with others. When the word chrestotes is applied to relationships, it means that we are adaptable to others, rather than requiring others to adjust to our needs and wants. Kindness is always unselfish and it always reaches out to the person who needs kindness the most. Ashleigh Brillant, the cartoonist in humor said “Be kind to unkind people—they need it the most.” While funny on first glimpse, this is what genuine kindness can be about—being kind to those who are usally in a foul mood or those who are normally not very nice to be around. It can actually be fun being kind to those who are unkind. It surprises them. It keeps them off guard. It might even make them think about doing the same.

A beautiful illustration that captures chrestotes is found in a story in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 9). After David has ascended to the throne, even though it was not customary, he has a deep desire to show kindness to the family of Saul,  his predecessor who often sought his demise and ruin. In most cases, when a king reached the pinnacle of power and control, he destroyed his enemies, especially those of the previous royal family. Ancient and modern history is filled with examples of this, ranging from Henry VIII to a more current example like Nazi Germany. David, however, does not do this and showed great chrestotes to this family after Saul and his son Jonathan had died in battle. Specifically, Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth still lived (2 Samuel 9:13), and perhaps could have claimed to be the heir to the throne. David, however, does not imprison him or treat him harshly.  In fact, David does the opposite and even allows this possible enemy and rival to live in his very palace and treats him like his own family. He treats him no differently than he does his own sons and daughters. Again, there is nothing that Mephibosheth could do to ever repay the king, and in this situation, David acts with great kindness.

Questions you can ask yourself: how kind and generous are you, especially to those around you who are weak and in need? How often do you help people in need and do at your cost and sacrifice? In what ways do you need to face arrogance, pride or selfishness to become more kind? I once heard Bill Hybels make this comment about giving—in a paraphrase, he said it’s not so important what we give, but what we keep and hold onto for ourselves. What do you need to “give away” (e.g., your time, something financial or material, etc.) to help someone in need? How often do you forfeit your own wants and desires so that you can give something good to someone else? To become more kind and giving to others, especially those in need, what personal sacrifices do you need to make? What do you need to change in your life to become more kind?


In: Spiritual Formation
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