Word Study on Kindness

The Spirit needs to develop it in us.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and let’s explore the terms in that book.

The Greek noun is chrēstotēs (pronounced khray-stoh-tayss and used 10 times in the NT).

In the LXX (3rd to 1st century Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and pronounced sep-too-ah-gent) it meant “friendliness, kindness, mildness, and was used in inscriptions as a title of honor for rulers and important public figures” (DNTT, p. 609).

BDAG is considered the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and its first definition comes from Rom. 3:12, which is a quotation from the Septuagint (a third to second century, BC, translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek and pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent). So the noun can mean “uprightness in one’s relations with others—uprightness.”  Reading 3:12 in context, however, one could also translate it as kindness: “No one does kindness, not even one.” So “uprightness” is not its main meaning.

Here it is: “The quality of being helpful or beneficial, goodness, kindness, generosity” (BDAG). The NIV translates it as kindness in every verse where it appears.

The adjective is chrēstos (pronounced khray-stohss and used 7 times), and it can be used of a yoke that is easy or kind (Matt. 11:30). It can even mean a high standard of value, fine, as in new or “fine” wine (Luke 5:39). But its main meanings are “morally good and benevolent”; “reputable” (1 Cor. 15:33); “kind, loving, benevolent” (Eph. 4:32; 1 Pet. 2:3; Luke 6:35); “the quality of beneficence, kindness” (Rom. 2:4) (BDAG).

All the appearances of chrēstotēs come from Paul’s epistles.

Paul writes a verse that many hellfire preachers need to learn. We should not show contempt for the kindness, forbearance and patience of God, because his kindness is intended to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The main thrust here is that God in his kindness is waiting patiently, for a long time, so that people will repent of their sins.

In Rom. 11:22, Paul uses chrēstotēs three times. “Consider therefore the kindness (chrēstotēs) and sternness of God: upon those fallen, sternness; upon you, kindness (chrēstotēs), if you remain in kindness (chrēstotēs); otherwise you also will be cut off” (my translation). Sternness or severity: twice; kindness: three times. But the warning is clear. As a community, we must persevere in our relationship with God, or else we will be cut off. “Perseverance” means, “Hang in there! Don’t give up on your faith!” We are called to maintain our relationship with him

Paul is fond of lists. He recounts that he went through great hardships, troubles, distresses, including beatings, imprisonment, and riots. He worked hard, had sleepless nights, and got hungry (2 Cor. 6:5). Then he adds the positive virtues that he showed during his tough times: purity, understanding, patience and kindness in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love, in truthful speech and the power of God (vv. 6-7, NIV’s word choices). His contrasting the two sides of his life is remarkable. Distress on one side, Christian virtues in the power of the Spirit on the other. Are we able to keep our focus on the virtues in the power of the Spirit while we go through tough times?

Paul writes that one of many reasons God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus—a remarkable and marvelous spiritual reality!—is that in the coming ages he would show (off) the incomparable riches of his grace, revealed in his kindness (chrēstotēs) to us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6-7). The reality of those words in our lives is hard to take it. One could meditate on it for a lifetime. But more importantly, can we believe that we live there, in the heavenly realm, seated with him?

Here comes another virtue list. Col. 3:12 says that we are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. That is now our new identity, so how are we to act? We are to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” We are holy and dearly loved. Only when we understand our new identity can we let those virtues grow by the indwelling and power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

In a remarkable passage of contrasts, Paul describes people before Christ came: foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating (Tit. 3:3). Then, in contrast, when the kindness (chrēstotēs) and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved or rescued us (v. 4). How has he saved us from those vices? By the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior (v. 5). Being born again by the power of the Spirit sets us free from our former way of life.

So how does this post help me grow in Christ?

There are two sides of kindness: God’s and ours. When Paul writes of the kindness of God, he signifies that kindness lives in God’s character. It is one of his attributes. Out of his kindness, he shares or communicates it with us. Now we are expected to live it, to walk with it wherever we go. No wonder Paul said it was a fruit. Without the Spirit, would we exhibit it naturally? Perhaps, because some people seem to be hardwired to be kind. But many of us would not show it without the Spirit.

We need more of the Spirit to show more kindness. And we can certainly pray to the Father to grow it in us.


Do I Really Know God? He Is Gracious

Do I Really Know God? He Is Compassionate and Merciful


Works Cited

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