Word of the Week
October 30, 2021
Chrēstotēs: Sharing the Kindness of God
And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Eight of us were around a table at IHOP finishing breakfast and talking about a book we had been reading. Each chapter analyzed one of the storms raging through our society: gender wars, racial conflict, political upheaval and more. One of my friends exclaimed, “Every time I read one of these chapters, I get madder!”
He’s not alone. Everywhere we turn, we hear angry voices shouting across ideological chasms. Even in the church, you find brothers and sisters in Christ who can’t have a civil conversation because they take opposite positions on issues like masks and vaccines.
There is a time to denounce sin, of course. John the Baptist flayed the Pharisees with his accusations of hypocrisy. Old Testament prophets like Amos and Jeremiah denounced the sins of their nation. And Jesus literally whipped those who turned the temple into a marketplace.
However, we cannot afford to leave out one vital ingredient in our witness to the world. It’s a quality that is aptly summed up by a pair of words from the Greek New Testament: chrēstos, “kind, good” and chrēstotēs, “kindness, goodness.”
The ancient Greeks initially used chrēstos with the idea of “useful, good for its intended purpose.” They would use it to describe healthy food, proper offerings to the gods, orderly behavior, or good experiences. You can see this idea in Luke 5:39, where Jesus quoted a common saying, “No one who has drunk old wine wants new, because the old is good.”
Before long, the meaning broadened to describe someone who combined the other qualities of greatness with a goodness of heart that could show kindness to all. It was used in inscriptions to honor rulers or other public figures.
Let’s turn to the concept of chrēstotēs in the New Testament.
- Sinful humanity is not naturally chrē
“There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12).
- God is good and kind.
“If you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3).
“For My yoke is easy and My load is light” (Matthew 11:30).
- God shows His kindness in His actions toward people who have no claim on it.
“Love your enemies . . . and you will be sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35).
God shows “the exceeding riches of His grace by His kindness toward through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:7).
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love appeared” (Titus 3:4).
- God is also holy and just, dealing with sin and rebellion.
He balances kindness with severity (Romans 11:22).
His kindness is not a pretext for ignoring evil; God means it to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
- God’s people should reflect His kindness
Paul carried out his ministry “in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love (2 Corinthians 6:6).
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness . . .” (Galatians 5:22).
“Love is patient, love is kind . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:4 using the verb).
“As those who have been chosen of God, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, . . . (Colossians 3:12).
Ephesians 4:32 sums it up: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
There is a time for fierce defense of the truth, but even the most battle-scarred warrior can remember that our Commander was known for His kindness. Our God is good to His creatures. Surely we can find ways to inject a little kindness into our discourse.
Words that describe character qualities are sometimes hard to tie to a rigid definition. You can often find your word in a list of similar character qualities (such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 or the cluster of traits mentioned in Colossians 3). This gives you a general idea of the meaning: chrēstos, for example, is a character trait that goes with love, patience, and forgiveness. A second clue to meaning comes in verses that use a word in contrast with its opposite. Romans 11:22, for instance, contrasts chrēstos with severity. Kindness chooses not to be severe in situations where you might expect severity.
Q – I have heard that the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were written in all capital letters with no spaces between the words. Is that true?
A – Yes, it’s true. In fact, first century Greek was written in all capitals, with no breaks between words or sentences, virtually no punctuation, as a solid block of letters. When they got to the end of a line, they just dropped to the next line and kept going, even if it was in the middle of a word. It wasn’t until much later that copies of the New Testament appeared with both capital and lower case letters.
You might think that it would be awfully hard to read something like that, but if you knew Greek, you could figure it out pretty easily. John 3:16 might look something like this:
Here’s what an actual ancient Greek manuscript looks like.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, we will consider the Greek word for thankfulness next week.
©Ezra Project 2021