Chapter 21 – The Beauty of Virtue – Forgiveness, Kindness and Compassion

Forgiveness:  to pardon, to cease from exacting payment for a debt (monetary or personal offense) and foregoing all demands for recompense

Kindness:  beyond common politeness or customary courtesies, the otherwise unnecessary words or deeds shown another simply to give cheer, ease a burden, or provide a simple pleasure

Compassion:  sincere and sympathetic concern for the well being of others, especially towards those suffering bodily, emotional, mental, or spiritual ailments; the expressions of a merciful spirit

 

The beauty of virtue is beholding a vision of God (Mt.5:8).  We glimpse the awesome grandeur of God when we encounter the virtues of forgiveness, kindness and compassion.  We light up the world with the splendor of His loving-kindness when we practice them.  Holding them dear in our hearts combats the evil of their fleshly opposites that include the cold, shallow, hard-heartedness of vengeance, cruelty and indifference.  These virtues comprise a bright and colorful kaleidoscope-like menagerie of many other virtues.   In their beauty is the miraculous mystery of restorative healing powers.  Those who practice these virtues will exude an inner beauty more meaningful and lasting than any natural or contrived external appearance.  Forgiveness perpetuates loving and caring relationships by removing the obstacles that interfere with their continuance.  Kindness plants the seeds of goodness that replenish and restore hope.  Compassion is the spirit that moves a soul to take action to alleviate the many and various manifestations of pain, suffering and anguish.

 

Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness is a pardon for an offense.  To forgive another does not mean that the offense somehow becomes acceptable, nor does it convey the notion that there was no injury or harm.  Forgiveness involves taking into account all the injuries resulting from an offense and all the repercussions in their entirety, those currently known and those yet to be realized, and then pardoning the perpetrator from all penalties we might wish to exact as compensation.  We are to forgive all perceived offenses regardless of their legitimacy or the nature of the existence of the offender.  We forgive others, we forgive ourselves, we forgive the inanimate, and should we hold a grudge despite His perfection, we forgive God.  Anything that stirs anger or wrath is an occasion to practice the virtue of forgiveness (Eph.4:25-27).  Though our anger may be justified, another’s sin becomes our sin of omission when we disobediently fail to forgive as God has instructed (Mt.6:14-15).  It is no sin to be the victim of someone’s ungodliness, but if we do anything other than show the goodness of God to those who sin against us, we risk letting their sin motivate us to sin in return.

 

Forgiveness is personal and not to be equated with the customary penalties given to those who commit felonious crimes; foregoing the penal process under the guise of forgiveness compromises justice and honesty by failing to hold the guilty accountable.  Teaching accountability often motivates the offender to repentance and personal rehabilitation.  Incarceration also serves to prevent the creation of more victims by not allowing the serious transgressors to prey freely upon their community.  Forgiveness and prison time for felons are not contradictory, but complementary and collectively necessary as recourse for criminal behavior.

 

Forgiveness first requires the desire for goodness as its underlying motivation, then mercy to see it through to completion, and lastly a sense of justice that we might be at peace knowing that the debts we forgive others do not compensate for the enormity of our indebtedness to God for His forgiveness of our sins (Mt.18:21-35).  The internal struggles we encounter when attempting to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply, helps us to appreciate the depth of the compassion and mercy of God who forgives all our sins against Him.  Failure to forgive others as God has forgiven us expresses ingratitude and indifference towards God when placed against the backdrop of His forgiveness as demonstrated by the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross.  A habit of forgiveness, as it is with learning and practicing all virtues, spares us difficult life lessons designed specifically to highlight the hardness of our hearts and the need for His continual grace (Mt.19:8).   Our humble obedience to forgive merits His grace; the defiance of pride and exalting selfish concerns puts us in a position to be humbled by God (Pr.3:34, Mt.23:12, 1Pe.5:5, Jas.4:6).  The flesh can easily manufacture a host of rationalizations and reasons to withhold forgiveness from those who have done us harm, but none are valid in the presence of God.  Likewise, we must learn to accept forgiveness from God and others lest we exist in constant state of self-condemnation, hating ourselves, purposely isolating and excluding ourselves from receiving His blessings.  The inability to accept forgiveness begins a process of devaluing the sanctity of human life and invites a host of demons armed with self-destructive and self-penalizing behaviors such as insobriety, eating disorders, self-mutilation, indiscriminate sexual activity, recklessness and abusiveness towards self or others.  They come when souls consciously or sub-consciously believe they need to be punished for an offense and are unworthy of the good things life has to offer; accepting forgiveness extinguishes these thoughts.  Failure to accept forgiveness may be symptomatic of a perverse sense of pride and self-deception.  To believe a soul is unforgivable erroneously elevates the power and ugliness of sin above the power and beauty of God.

 

Without forgiveness, we are held in spiritual bondage, unable to grow, unable to approach the beauty of God, unable to let go of the past that we might enjoy a more rewarding present.  Without forgiveness, old wounds fester for a lifetime without ever healing properly; crippling our Christian walk and leaving obstacles in our path that continually interfere with our spiritual growth.  Without forgiveness, we persist in letting little irritations gnaw away at the quality of our most important relationships.  Without forgiveness, we compromise all manner of goodness and mercy that our spirit longs to experience, and do so simply because we fail to rid our lives of the leach-like demons of vengeance, hatred, avoidance and acute self-interest; demons that constantly regurgitate their foul bile into the streams of our thoughts and motivations.  Without forgiveness, we remove ourselves from a position to receive a multitude of His blessings because our Lord commands us to forgive, and lack of obedience always prevents us from rightly being in His will and intimately knowing His goodness.  Without forgiveness, our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical conditions collectively disintegrate due to the persistent anxiety and stress generated by stewing resentments and simmering hostilities (Ps.6, Pr.14:30).

In contrast, a life of forgiveness is one of peace.  Instead of the hostile and violent thoughts that accompany a lack of forgiveness, there are actions motivated by the goodness of God.  Forgiveness provides us freedom in that it allows us to let go of the past and make the most of our present, liberating us from the entanglements of sin, putting an end to potential lifelong tit-for-tat ungodliness and the habit of compounding another’s sin with our own.  When we live a life of forgiveness, searching our souls regularly and being on guard for when it is needed in the immediacy of the moment, we cultivate the goodness of God within us.  Forgiveness enriches our lives with healthy and loving relationships, removing the desire to ostracize ourselves or others, and eliminating the self-inflicted loneliness and isolation that accompanies a life lacking forgiveness.  By forgiving others, we acquaint ourselves experientially with our forgiving Father in Heaven as we begin to learn firsthand what it takes to forgive everyone of everything.  We are also freed from our ties to any unhealthy habits that serve to encumber our walk with Christ.  We are likewise freed from the burdens of guilt and remorse, past, present or ongoing.  Forgiveness removes the desire for revenge that gnaws away at any budding goodness within us.  Forgiveness soothes the emotional disturbances and mental anguish that can cause all manner of anxiety and personality disorders, from sleeplessness, depression, and twitches to suicidal thoughts, histrionics and anti-social traits.

 

To forgive someone, they need not be present.  To go to another and tell them we forgive them is to accuse them of an offense for which they may or may not be willing to accept culpability.  Such confrontation is not part of the forgiveness process.  To forgive someone, we define and delineate the offense, tally all the damage done without exaggeration, detail how it hurt us, and lastly, accurately record the repercussions, those already experienced and any potential fallout we may envision.  Then, with the help and grace of God, we pardon the offender, and from that moment forward, we cease to view that person as indebted to us.  Should we later find ourselves feeling resentments, ill will or open hostilities towards them, we simply remind ourselves that we have forgiven them, and cease the train of thought.  To heal a relationship wholly, all persons involved must be willing to own up to their transgressions, seek forgiveness and then be willing to make amends.  Not all relationships will be restored or preserved by our forgiveness alone and we must learn to accept this lest we fall prey to believing all failed relationships are our fault.  We forgive solely because God has forgiven us and has commanded us to do the same (Mt.18:21-22, Eph.4:31-32).  Though there are many benefits associated with forgiveness, any motivation other than a simple desire to please God only serves to pollute purity with self-serving intent.  Our obedience in forgiveness preserves the joy of life in His presence, perpetuates the flow of His grace and blessing towards us, and likewise frees us from bondage to a particular transgression.  By maintaining an attitude of forgiveness throughout the day, we learn to forgive as God has forgiven us, and learn to love the otherwise unlovable with an unencumbered, unburdened heart in the same manner as God loves us.

 

If we are honest with ourselves and have learned to own up to our shortcomings, we will know that there are times when we need to seek another’s forgiveness and make amends.  To believe otherwise compromises our integrity and our worship due to our disobedience and our failure to abide in the Truth (Mt.5:23-24, Rom.3:23).  Whenever we have wronged another, we have occasion to seek forgiveness and make amends.  To do so, we must be careful to confess only our transgressions and accept all blame for what we have done; we are always responsible for our behavior regardless of circumstances or another’s actions.  After simply stating what we hope to be forgiven for, we express our regrets and ask them to forgive us.  Merely saying, “I’m sorry” without specifically asking for forgiveness for our misdeed, doesn’t give others the opportunity to forgive us and we cannot assume that they have, or will in the future, if we don’t ask.  Also, when seeking forgiveness, we need to repent of the deed, specifically and generically, then be prepared to make amends for any harm we have done.  Whether the reparations require monetary or behavioral means, without this willingness the sincerity of our compunction is questionable.  Also, making amends is a powerful reinforcement of our identity as children of God, severing all links to past ungodliness, assisting in breaking sinful habits and becoming free of self-punishing behaviors.  Prior to approaching another to confess any serious wrongdoings, we should always consult our spiritual mentor since our intimate involvement undoubtedly prejudices our objectivity, creating the potential for compounding our sins and worsening the situation, especially when there are accomplices.  Should we have trouble owning up to our shortcomings or suffer from the unwillingness to seek forgiveness, we need to backtrack (see chapters 6 and 15), uncover the source of our rebellions and address these issues first.

 

We also need to learn how to forgive ourselves so that we might fully know the true healing power of forgiveness.  The need here is especially acute if a soul has come to Christ late in life or otherwise has many regrets concerning their past.  When we sin, we not only offend God, we hurt others and ourselves.  We can be blinded to the pain and damage we inflict due to a form of denial born of narcissism.  For instance, when we see someone else hurt another person, we are immediately able to categorize him or her as mean and hurtful.  However, when we’re the one inflicting the pain, the tendency is to rationalize our actions as being justified, and then cling to the lie that we don’t need to seek forgiveness.  However, God is not mocked, our conscience knows the truth and subconsciously we are classifying ourselves as a mean and hurtful monster, as one who is undeserving of the love of God, His goodness or His blessings.  When this happens, we then begin a cycle of self-condemnation, excluding ourselves from His presence and the good things otherwise available to us, and courting the demons that bring self-punishing and self-destructive behaviors.  To prevent this, we humbly learn to own up to our faults, repent of them, and in the same breath, forgive ourselves in the same manner we forgive others.  This is how we learn to be free of both sinful habits and the anguish of perpetual guilt.  Those who are unacquainted with self-forgiveness should start with relatively small and immediate issues, summoning faith and grace in obedience to His will.  Once we’re accustomed to the forgiveness process and understand the internal struggles and emotional issues associated with owning up to the ugliness of our sin, we then need to take a lifelong inventory of our transgressions.  We do this by specifically noting how our misdeeds have in turn hurt us, especially if they cause us to believe things about ourselves that are inconsistent with our identity as children of God.  Once the sin and repercussions have been tallied, we repent of them and thank God for His forgiveness, forgive others where need be, and likewise forgive ourselves.  This exercise, often done with age appropriate photographs to assist with our memories and historical perspective, has remarkable healing power in that it frees us from our past failings and allows us to conform more easily to the spirit of Christ within us presently.  When addressing our inventory of past transgressions, it helps to remember that God loves us unconditionally, without regard for our behavior.  Also, keep in mind that we are growing constantly and need to be able to separate the person we’re becoming from the person we’ve been in the past.

 

Now, while these exercises in forgiveness are fresh in the mind, pause and practice forgiving others and self.  If there is difficulty creating a list of offenses, begin with birth and segment life into five-year spans, and list the traumatic experiences from each age range.  Then discern where there may be a need for forgiveness in these events and proceed with the exercise.

 

Kindness

 

Kindness is like a spiritual gateway through which varieties of virtues are given means to flow.  Kindness is like the mast of a mighty sailing ship in that it supports the virtuous sails that provide the power to propel the craft.  Kindness is like the backbone of man, when it is compromised, the virtuous handiworks of his arms and legs cease to function.  Kindness is like an ever-flowing spring that provides the water of life for a multitude of living things that are our virtues. Kindness is like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day, tirelessly refreshing all who are touched by it without being given anything in return to replenish it.  Kindness originates from the power and energy of the Holy Spirit which flows through us, girding all our deeds with His goodness and mercy and willing sacrifice, giving life to humility, selflessness, charity, generosity and purity, all the while bringing the joy of hope to the thankful, praising God.

 

To exhibit kindness, is to summon the virtues of compassion, selflessness, faith, joy and charity, then channel them into an expression of His goodness and mercy, performed with simple and honest intent, with the purest of motives and without any expectation of results or returns.  Kindness affirms the dignity of others by surpassing and outshining all cultural and social norms of politeness, cordiality and etiquette.  Kindness likewise restores hope and offers encouragement to those worn down by the prevalence of the flesh.  Kindness negates fleshly traits such as selfishness, unruliness, rudeness, meanness, greediness, indifference, and self-centered thoughtlessness that if left unchecked, grow into the greater evils of cruelty, abusiveness, hostility and violence.  Kindness is a virtue that is always at our disposal.  There is not a lot of demonic activity against kindness.  Demons are not omniscient.  They do not have the discretion to differentiate the virtue of kindness from social pleasantries and niceties expressed in the flesh.  We can increase our productivity by taking any given situation and making it better with the application of kindness, and when we do, we are blest with a greater sense of accomplishment and of goodness.

 

Kindness is an action or gesture towards another that demonstrates the goodness of God.  It isn’t just being nice to someone, it is the heartfelt, sympathetic concern for another’s happiness and well-being, and the willingness to take an action for another’s benefit at one’s own expense; it is a willing sacrifice without thought of being paid back or rewarded in any way.  An act of kindness has the goodness of God and the benefit of the recipient as its only motive.  If this purity is corrupted in any way by contriving outcomes, posturing, guilt remediation, or scheming towards any particular end, the act ceases to be one of kindness and denigrates into self-serving manipulation.  Though we can’t control how our actions are perceived by others, if we practice kindness and make it our habit, our kind deeds will be spiritually uplifting for all involved; we will not make people feel like we’re trying to get something from them or otherwise make them suspicious of our motives.  To be kind, we will need to learn to be content with the joy of sharing the goodness of the Holy Spirit with others and with the sense of pleasing God.  We needn’t ignore that God rewards the faithfulness of His servants; however, we need to be careful not to let seeking rewards become our motivation lest we put the cart before the mule and stunt our spiritual growth with self-serving interests.

 

To learn to be kind we must be led by the goodness of God primarily.  To assist our progress, it helps to remember His goodness towards us when fatigue, sluggishness or insensitivity impedes our taking action.  If it isn’t already our habit, we will need to practice empathy; the analogy of “walking a mile in another’s shoes” is aptly applicable when learning kindness.  Then as we learn to see the world through another’s eyes, we will be better able to perceive what exactly their soul needs to replenish their spirit.  With this knowledge, we obtain the power to affect the mental, emotional and spiritual condition of the people around us in a good way.  We then have a choice to either brighten the world with an expression of His perfect goodness, or spread the blight of godlessness with sins of omission.  Without kindness, we allow indifference, selfishness, bitterness, or malice to overcome our innate spiritual goodness, grieving the Holy Spirit.   When we shortchange others the kindness we owe them as an affirmation of their dignity, we do so in defiance of our Lord and invite them to do the same to us.  We then begin compounding a downward spiral into ungodliness, creating stumbling blocks for the lost and dispirited, incurring His wrath.  The opposite is likewise true; one act of kindness can begin a chain reaction of kind deeds, supplanting their ungodly opposites all along our way and creating the potential to turn evil hearts back to God eternally.

 

Our ability to express kindness can also be used as a gauge to measure the quality of our spiritual condition as well as our ability to surrender to His divine will at any given moment.  When we are unwilling to be kind, we should search our hearts, discover the source of our rebellion, and do what is necessary to exterminate the demon.  An intentional lack of kindness is a form of disobedience.  Turning a deaf ear to His teachings on compassion embraces harshness and the demons of cruelty.  It likewise dishonors God with irreverence toward His Word and disgraces His creation when we fail to affirm the dignity of others by partaking of kindness.  Practicing kindness keeps us in a position to receive His blessings, while a hardened heart is prepared lessons designed to illuminate its poor spiritual condition.  Kindness cures hardened hearts by spreading the warm goodness of God that melts away the sinful bindings that inhibit its expression, enabling the way for greater expressions of forgiveness, mercy, and selflessness.

 

Compassion

 

From the Book of Proverbs (11:22) we read,

“As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout

So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.”

 

Since discretion is an essential element of all virtue, it follows that without discretion, there is no virtue, and without virtue, there is no beauty.  Regardless of a soul’s external features, there is no true beauty without virtue.  All manner of pleasant and pleasing physical appearance are negated when a soul lacks virtue.  Likewise, a soul not blest with an appearance that appeals to the flesh can nonetheless become beautiful by practicing virtue, especially the virtue of compassion that is easily perceived as beauty by our spiritual senses.   However, over time, the joy of virtue can mold the human form such that one develops a smile that glows bright enough to light up a room, adds a sparkle to the eyes that stir weary souls to life, and exhibits gestures that invite warm human interactions and friendships.   The opposite is likewise true, a lack of virtue, a lifetime of coping with sin, can lead to seemingly permanent expressions of bitterness and disdain, a countenance that repels and causes immediate discomfort in others.

 

Perceiving the beauty of compassion is as basic as our primal instincts of safety verses fear; compassion conveys the feeling of being in a safe haven.  It communicates the sense of being cared for, that our needs are being taken care of while we are able to rest and recuperate in the warmth and comfort of soothing goodness.  Whereas kindness plants the seeds of goodness all along the way (Mt.13:1-23), compassion aims to redress suffering (Lk.10:30-37) or meet the needs of others (Mt.14:13-21).  Whereas kindness can be expressed in simple words or gestures in passing, compassion requires an investment of our time, effort and means in order to restore an injured soul, to set right an injustice, or otherwise provide for the needs of others.  Compassion is the spirit within us that moves us to action when we see pain and suffering.  It understands and responds to pleas for mercy that are often expressed merely through tears or expressions of anguish.  It has a genuine desire to alleviate the effects of sin and instill goodness; its motives are pure.  Compassion has sympathy for the downtrodden, the waylaid, the destitute, the dispirited, the diseased, the lost, the dispossessed, the defeated, the victimized and the compromised, and can empathize with the thoughts and emotions that are common to all life’s sufferings.  The compassionate soul lives to alleviate these things by learning to heal, to teach, to protect, to encourage, to console, to provide, to forgive, to care, or to shepherd, and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of others.

 

Before we can even attempt to express compassion, we need to keep in mind the needs that are common to all human existence, learn to recognize how they’re not being met, and then be able to discern a course of action to address specific needs.  All human needs can be traced back to the generic needs of significance or security (ref. “The Search for Significance” by Robert S. McGee, © 1985, 1990 Rapha Publishing; Houston, Texas, USA), and this includes all their manifestations, whether they are physical, soulful, or spiritual.  We can learn to recognize them in others by first learning to recognize them in ourselves, by paying attention to our own wants and desires and how they vary in priority as our condition experiences the highs and lows common to life on Earth.  Once identified, we can then see how a particular need is either being satisfied or neglected, and on what level, body, soul or spirit.  Though God has already provided for all our spiritual needs, we often need help learning to recognize and receive His provision for us.  Physical needs, food, clothing and shelter, at first seem simple, obvious and all inclusive till we remember our body’s internals, the effects of accidents and illnesses, and the instinctual urges to bond and mate.  Soulfully, we can tend to another’s needs by quelling the primary threats of indifference, worthlessness, and rejection.

 

Compassion heals.  As God has provided the means for our salvation and as medical doctors learn to heal the body, compassion neutralizes the demons that haunt human souls.  This has become well evidenced and documented in observation of twelve step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous where all the participants are victimized by the same impediment to spiritual and personal growth.  Whether an addiction, a proclivity toward a particular vice, post-traumatic stress, or any other personality or anxiety disorders, the company of fellow sufferers who are able to show the greatest amount of compassion due to their shared experience, knowledge and understanding, best facilitates the miraculous healing powers of compassion.  Our physical eyes cannot see another’s demons; we cannot fully know the nature, size or strength of the demons that afflict another’s wellness unless we’ve done battle with it ourselves.  Non-combatants don’t know the amount of courage and perseverance required to overcome something they can easily dismiss.  Conversely, in a support group, fellow sufferers can help identify the common enemy, its traits, what it feeds on, what weakens it, and then share strategies on how best to overcome it.  Compassion requires unconditional acceptance of others and foregoes all appearances of judging or condemning another soul for their shortcomings.  Support groups also provide a safe place for a soul to make confessions without fear of retribution or recrimination.  This environment leads to further repentance of subsequent sins as participants learn to make a habit of self-scrutiny.  Confessions to non-combatants risk a lack of understanding and confidentiality, and can be potentially dangerous in that it introduces them to demons that they may not be prepared to fend off, creating the possibility of further contagion.  Twelve step groups also teach making amends and when possible, undoing the damage done with full restitution.  By practicing these principles, members learn to grow into the newness of a godly life that is productive and full of joy rather than continuing in the desperation and depravity of addictions and subsequent, ungodly, maladaptive behaviors.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit within us will stir compassionate thoughts; however, there are simple things we can learn to help facilitate obtaining this virtue and being more like Christ.  First, we need to practice being observant, attentive and well informed.  Not knowing what is going on in the lives of people around us can lead to unintentional insensitivity, and even callousness or crassness depending on another’s emotional vulnerability at any given moment.  Being well informed will not be confused with being a nosy, gossipy, busy-body if we ask questions out of concern and not curiosity, pray for blessings for the person being discussed, and then not repeat what we know unless asked by another compassionate soul who is likewise only interested in the well being of others.  When we keep abreast of other’s circumstances, we can do as Jesus did, and with a kind word or deed address the needs of others without requiring them to rehash a lot of information that may be difficult for them to share.  Should we have troubles of our own, selflessly caring for others not only helps relieve our own discomfort, it is a witness and testimony to the love of God in Christ Jesus who lives in us and provides for all our needs.  Then, as we witness God watering the fields of the evil and the good alike, we become able to express compassion toward those we like as well as those we don’t (Mt.5:44-48).

 

When expressing the goodness of God with compassion and kindness, or when performing a service for Him, a host of demons arrives with a proven set of strategies designed to knock the purveyors of goodness off their course.  As puerile as it seems, name-calling can be an effective weapon preventing good deeds and is often the demon’s first salvo aimed at the children of God.  Whether it is children calling each other “goody goods” or adults attaching labels such as “bleeding hearts” or “crusader”, we need to learn not to let these simple attacks deter us from the tasks God has given us to do.  Being called a “hypocrite”, “self-righteous” or “hateful” by an ungodly soul should not deter us in our obedience to God.  An easy way to deal with them is to simply acknowledge their perceptions and then take a stand as being on the side of good by explaining to them the potential evils of leaving the task undone.  Instead of being deterred by the simple assaults of our detractors, we should ask ourselves; “Is this task truly something God has given me to do?  Is the detractor pursuing evil or good?  Am I willing to endure persecution in my obedience to God?”  Our reply to these souls, who most likely don’t understand deeds motivated purely by goodness, can be our witness and testimony to the love of God, turning not only the situation away from evil and towards goodness, but also the hearts of the lost.

 

Demons will also attempt to magnify the challenges any given task presents in an attempt to overcome our goodness with annoying frustrations or a sense of futility.  At such times, remembrance of Christ and a variety of our lessons will defeat the demons and keep our focus on God in obedience.  Thankfulness, perseverance, purity, courage, patience, joy, self-control, or charity, or any combination of virtues applied to the situation with proper discernment, can be used to repel the attacks of these demons.  Another demonic foray that aims to rob us of the joy of pleasing God is to create false expectations that lead to disappointments when expectations are not achieved and the realization of failure leads to an array of feelings associated with disenchantment.  This can happen when we insist on our own sense of fairness, resent uncomplimentary but helpful feedback or critiques, or develop a martyrdom complex.  If we allow ourselves to think that everyone around us should be as concerned with the task God has given us to do, and that they should be willing to make the same sacrifices we do in order to complete our task, such thoughts will undoubtedly lead to resentments.  Instead of joy and peace in our service, we will be overcome by these common frustrations and be left with nothing but ill will to show for our efforts.  We can make ourselves out to be great martyrs worthy of adulation and hefty rewards if we allow the demon of pride to infect our humble obedience to the call of Christ.  If we are overly sensitive to criticism, unable to discern the constructive from the destructive or the caring from the malevolent, then our joy and thankfulness will indeed be replaced by resentments.  This also happens if we are unwilling to listen to any suggestion that we may have erred or that a better way is possible, feeling insulted rather than abiding in our dignity.  If we listen to these demons, we will be overcome by feelings of being under appreciated, become disgusted with another’s perceived lack of usefulness or paltry contributions, and then disparage and demean them in an attempt to lessen the damage to our fleshly self-image.  Among fellow Christians, this qualifies as judging another’s servant, and is exactly what St. Paul instructs us not to do in Romans 14.  Instead, we need to forgive the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, be an example of Christ ourselves, and encourage and assist others in their spiritual growth.  We can maintain our joy while in service to our Lord by refusing to entertain thoughts critical of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and by truly being thankful that God has deemed us trustworthy and capable.  It also helps to take an inventory of all the things that make it possible for us to be in a position to serve God.  A list that includes our eternal salvation in Christ, knowing God, life itself, our mental and physical talents that enable us to perform a particular service, and all resources available for our use; these are all things to be thankful for and not taken for granted.  Being thankful for all things at all times gives us joy instead of the misery that accompanies indulging in ingratitude, being critical or condemning others.

 

Demons attempt to squelch all expressions of goodness; however, their means are likewise limited by the extent the children of darkness are willing to go in pursuit of evil.  We must never forget that there are souls on this Earth that enjoy evil and consciously reject God rather than part with their perverse pleasures.  The self-serving and hedonistic pursuits of the flesh seem benign when compared to the sadists, masochists, and the violently controlling and abusive types.  These miserable people take pleasure in another’s pain, suffering, oppression, and distress so much so that they seek out ways to inflict such things upon others.  Should we fail to comprehend the full extent to which evil will go, we risk being completely stupefied with fear, overcome by their grotesqueness, collapse in a state of shock or otherwise rendered inert, and then be left suffering from posttraumatic stress.  Not only will we be unprepared to seek the grace of God in the moment we encounter unrestrained evil firsthand, afterwards the common result is the inability or unwillingness to be an uncompromising servant of God.  As Christians, we are targets for the demons because they can recognize the goodness of the Holy Spirit within us, and true to their evil nature, they crave to foul, soil, humiliate, abuse, maim, destroy or desecrate all that is good.  Such is the pleasure of the depraved and sadistic souls who never clean their spiritual house. They come to prefer the company of demons and become like stringed puppets in carrying out demonic whims.  We need to be prepared and know that they exist.  When we encounter extreme evil, we must remember and have faith in God, for His grace is sufficient to overcome all evil.  Then we seek the courage to act righteously.  Whether that means being still or an extreme intervention, God supplies the necessary grace in the moment.  Our part is to trust Him, to act in accordance with His will with the assurance that we do the right thing.

 

The world is full of unenlightened souls who put little or no effort into personal or spiritual growth.  Such people are prone to being motivated by personal vendettas, by petty jealousies, by the bitterness of lifelong disappointments, by sharing their pain by inflicting it on others, by a lusty greed for whatever they can get their hands on, and again, by the desire to ruin whatever joy and goodness they see in another’s life.  They are opportunists who seek to take advantage of another’s vulnerabilities, plotting complex schemes with covert and dishonest tactics.  What such people fail to realize is, whether by intentional denial or inability to figure it out, that the misery of their life is their own choosing, that their bitter harvest is reaped from the evil they sow.  These forlorn souls take pleasure in being spiteful, controlling, manipulative, disruptive, perverse, abusive, violent, unruly, or crass.  However, as children of God, we are not to indulge in any of their behaviors in return.  As difficult as it may be to exercise self-control in the presence of such malfeasance, we have been taught to love our enemies and do good things for those who mistreat us (Lk.6:27).  Lost, darkened and demented souls are in need of our compassion since they know neither the joy of salvation nor the beauty of kindness and forgiveness.  Though their actions may stir anger within us, we will need to recall that all souls are precious in His sight, practice forgiveness, and with proper discretion, treat the ungodly with compassion so that they might come to repentance and a saving knowledge of our Lord Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Forgiveness

Ps.32:1-6, asking forgiveness of God through confession and repentance, heals

Mt. 6:9-15, failure to forgive as God forgives is a sin of omission

Mt.18:21-35, God holds us accountable when we fail to forgive others as He forgives us

Mk.11:25, before asking God to pardon sins, we first pardon all whose sin infects us

Lk.17:1-4, anticipate troubles in relationships and always remain willing to forgive

2Cor.2:5-11, a lack of forgiveness gives opportunity for the schemes of demons

Eph.4:29-32, a lack of forgiveness compromises our virtue

Col.3:12-14, our forbearance of other’s shortcomings depends upon our ability to forgive

 

Kindness:   

Pr.11:7, a person who lacks kindness is treated with indifference

Pr.12:25, kindness gives us the power to encourage and gladden others

Pr.14:21, our ability to be kind reflects the quality of our spiritual condition

Pr.14:31, kindness honors God, oppressing the downtrodden is a disgrace that taunts Him

Pr.19:17, kindness towards the needy serves our Lord and He rewards these good deeds

Mic.6:8, with our knowledge of goodness our Lord expects us to be kind and just

Mt.18:5-7, lack of kindness can cause another to stumble and this angers God

Lk.6:32-38, the kindness we extend toward others is the measure of our blessings from God

Rom.2:1-13, failure to reflect the kindness of God invites the wrath of His judgment

Rom.11:22, kindness perpetuates blessings while hardened hearts learn of His severity

1Cor.13:4-7, kindness is recognizable in our expressions of love in the Holy Spirit

2Cor.6:1-10, service to God is marked by the ability to show kindness to persecutors

Gal.5:16-26, kindness is evidence of His lordship over us and the Holy Spirit within us

Eph.4:29-32, impurity, bitterness, anger, wrath and malice compromise kindness

Col.3:8-14, impartial kindness is a sign of our renewal in Christ and knowledge of Truth

2Tim.2:22-26, impartial kindness is a required virtue to be a servant God

Titus 2:3-5, reverence for the Word of God is made manifest through kindness

2Pet.1:5-9, failure to show kindness is symptomatic of ignorance or forgetfulness

 

Compassion:

Pr.11:22, exterior beauty is wasted when unaccompanied by inner beauty

Mt.9:18-38, the compassion of our Lord Jesus brings miracles of healing

Mt.14:13-21, the compassion of Jesus in tending to the physical needs of the people

Mt.15:32-38, the compassion of Jesus preemptively addresses the needs of others

Mt.20:29-34, the compassion of Jesus restores those who plead for mercy

Lk.10:30-37, Jesus instructs us to have compassion for strangers in need

Php.2:1-18, in Christ we find the humility that enlightens our world with compassion

Col.3:1-14, children of God have a heart of compassion for all

 

Commentaries:

 

Forgiveness:

On The Lord’s Prayer (Mt.6:12-13):

“Scripture reveals to us in these words that he who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with this neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for.  Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgment of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sin.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 302

 

“Wisely bear in mind that, if God acquits, no one can condemn (cf. Rom.8:33-34).  If you have been called [to serve God], do not worry about your past life, even if to some extent it has been soiled:  for it has been purified once more by God and through your own self-correction.  But afterwards be diligent and watchful, so as not to eclipse the grace.  Then if someone stupidly casts aspersions on your [service] because of your past, he will hear a voice from Heaven saying, ‘What God has cleansed, do not call unclean’ (Acts 10:15).”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 370-71 #51

 

“Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt.6:14).

This then is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.  But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.  Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul.  Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.  But this is not to the credit either of the devil, or of the person who tempts, or of the person tempted.  The devil, being maleficent, deserves our hatred, for he acts with no concern for our welfare.  The person who tempts us merits our compassion, not because he tempts us out of love but because he is deluded and oppressed.  The person tempted, finally, endures affliction because of his own faults, not on behalf of someone else.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 95

Kindness:

“True kindness allows to life a proper space and freedom of movement; it even gives and provides these, for only in this way can life grow and develop.”

“Kindness pardons, for it is magnanimous and releases the offender; it trusts and always allows life to begin anew.”

“Kindness can look beyond itself; it does not begrudge to others what it lacks.  In fact, it can even rejoice with others.”

“Kindness means that a person is well disposed toward life.  Whenever he encounters a living being, the kind man’s first reaction is not to mistrust and criticize but to respect, to value, and to promote development.”

“…in kindness there is strength – strength in proportion to its purity – and perfect kindness is inexhaustible.”

“Kindness requires patience.  Suffering returns again and again and demands understanding.”

“One other thing is required of kindness, some which we rarely speak: a sense of humor.  It helps us to endure things more easily.”

“A friendly laugh at the oddity of all human affairs – that is humor.  It helps us to be kind, for after a good laugh, it is easier to be serious again.”

“…we shall seek for kindness in the place from which all virtue comes; we shall seek for it in God.”

“If we could see God’s goodness, this abyss of kindness, we would be joyful all our life long.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 110-112;

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

 

Compassion:

“Compassion implies the most intimate sympathy with people who are suffering, despised, and marginalized.  Harsh judgments of others by any ‘paragon of virtue’ who invokes God, even the God our Lord Jesus Christ, reveal total shamelessness.”

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

 © 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 50

 

“Wherever compassion is missing, ‘works of righteousness’ are poisoned.”

“In the face of the suffering of heartlessly despised people, the compassionate person is shaken by sympathy and enlists to do something for them.  True sympathy urges us to action.  Active sympathy makes it clear that we are on the way to worshipping God as the supremely compassionate one and honoring Him in real life fashion.”

ibid. pg. 51

“The intellect is the organ of wisdom, the intelligence that of spiritual knowledge.  The natural sense of assurance common to both intellect and intelligence is the organ of the faith established in each of them, while natural compassion is the organ of the gift of healing.  For corresponding to every divine gift, there is in us an appropriate and natural organ capable of receiving it – a kind of capacity, or intrinsic state or disposition.  Thus he who purges his intellect of all sensible [physical] images receives wisdom.  He who makes his intelligence the master of his innate passions – that is to say, of his [passionate desires of the will] – receives spiritual knowledge.  He whose intellect and intelligence possess an unshakeable assurance concerning divine realities receives that faith with which all things are possible.  He who has acquired natural compassion receives, after the utter annihilation of [self-centeredness and self-adoration], the gifts of healing.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 217 # 33

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Chapter 20 – Empowering Virtue – Charity, Generosity and Hospitality

Charity:  to provide for the needs of others without thought of repayment

Generosity:  the joyful spirit of giving freely of one’s self and one’s means

Hospitality:  honoring others by providing for their needs and serving them; making guests welcome; being courteous and considerate of others

Service:  contributing to the needs of the saints or the ministries of our Lord

The theme of this chapter is giving to others, our means, our time, and of our selves.  The collective expression of the virtues of charity, generosity and hospitality exude the graciousness of our Lord who said the children of God would recognize one another by their fruits (Mt.7:16).  When we affirm the dignity of others by attending to their needs; whether they know our Lord or not, they will know they have been touched by the extraordinary presence of goodness, giving them a chance to see the reality of God.  Though an ungodly soul will most likely need help understanding the living expression of the gospel, merely being a recipient of His grace can soften their hardened hearts and make them more receptive to hearing the gospel message.  Unselfishly attending to another’s need is a gospel seed of great potential.  Concerning our witness to others as ambassadors of Christ, St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times… and if necessary, use words”.  Being charitable towards others is to share a portion of the bounty of God that has been entrusted to us.  Generosity is the endearing spirit that compels us to give amply to others our time, our energy, or our trove of possessions.  Being hospitable honors both the deserving and undeserving without distinction, with kindness and consideration towards guests in our home or those we meet in public.  Service is the fulfillment of our responsibilities towards the ministers and ministries of our Lord.

Charity

A self-serving life is a sign of the flesh while charity is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work within us (1Cor.3:3).  The “jealously and strife” St. Paul speaks of here comes from a lack of thankfulness associated with being in want, want of more, and not being content with the provisions and blessings God has already deemed fit to entrust to us.  Hoarding money and things while neither giving nor sharing our time, our efforts, or our virtues, does nothing to engender a life full of His blessings and rewards.  Selfishness is the root of discontentment that comes from wanting more; it is also the ungodly source of motivation that leads to gathering more at the expense of others.  This is not to suggest that the children of God will never find themselves in need, for in order for one person to learn to give, there must be another who is willing to receive.  We must all learn to do both, for it is sinful pride that causes a soul not to accept charity, and greed that keeps us from giving to others.  May we be blest with all seasons (Eccl.3:1-10) so that we will learn our lessons presently and become fully prepared to meet our Lord (see the Parable of the Marriage Feast, Mt.22:1-14).  Also, being in need teaches us compassion for the needy that helps develop a more charitable heart.

Charity only occurs when answering a call from our Lord (Lk.18:19,2Cor.8:3-5); our response is a measure of our trust in Him and a sign of obedience.  Like the man who turned over his donkey and colt to the disciples merely upon hearing the words “The Lord has need of them” (Mt.21:1-11), we should likewise be willing to return to our Lord what He requests from us.  We give in obedience, and we are rewarded accordingly.  However, we are not to seek rewards or attempt to barter with our Lord by giving things away in hopes of receiving something else.  For the needs and wants in our own lives, we are to present our requests to our Lord in prayer and listen for His answer and instruction; we should also remember to ask Him if there is something we must do before He can answer our prayer.  For example, when praying to marry or have children, it would be prudent to ask the Lord if there is anything to do or learn prior to being entrusted with the intimate care of another soul.  We should likewise be prepared to hear our all-knowing Father in Heaven deny a request that is contrary to His will, not in our best interest, or otherwise harmful to others.

Charity also includes our benevolence, our kind words or an extra measure of patience we extend towards others, whether strangers or family, friend or enemy, younger or older, the thankful or the ingrates.  The greatest gifts we give are those given in service to our Lord.  Our natural talents are best used in service to Him as well.  As we grow spiritually, our willingness to exert ourselves and expend our resources in His service requires energies that need to be drawn from the well of living water.  His well never goes dry and His living water sates all thirsting (Jn.4:7-14).  Our angst over giving beyond what comes natural to us will lessen as our souls conform to the likeness of our Lord who gave His life for us.   Greediness, selfishness, the fear of loss, and the anxieties associated with extending ourselves for the benefit of others, will fade as the worries of the flesh give way to the glories of our Lord.

Charity has many expressions.  We begin by giving money or things, progress to giving our time, and grow into giving the best we have to offer, our virtues (Mt.23:23).  Kindness towards a stranger, patience with children, wisdom in tense moments, hope for the despondent, companionship for the abandoned, courage for the fearful, encouragement for the forlorn, guidance for the lost, and dignity and justice for everyone, these are just a few examples of how we are to be charitable with our gifts from God.  In doing so, we follow the instructions of St. Paul, reorienting the hearts of lost souls back to God by serving them according to their need (1Cor.9:22-23).  Learning to be charitable also means trusting God in His provision for us and valuing our treasures in Heaven more so than our comforts here on Earth (1Cor.10:32-33).  Our giving may involve making sacrifices in order to answer His call.  The flesh will rebel against charity; it’ll stir anxieties within us suggesting that our gifts are better kept to ourselves, that we’ve already given enough, or that giving them to others is wasteful or futile.  We’re not to heed these demons.  We are to have courage and be obedient to the call of our Lord.  However, this is not to suggest we give money to every charlatan whose speeches tug on our heartstrings or give ourselves to every cause while neglecting priorities at home.  The virtue of discretion is not to be abandoned, it needs to be learned and practiced so that it may properly govern all our actions.  We are ever responsible for how we expend our talents and resources (Mt.25:14-30).

Generosity

Generosity is the joy of giving that accompanies charity.  It is born of gratitude and remembrance, for all our blessings are gifts from God.  They are entrusted to us for the moment.  Our talents and our means are His provision for our care; we are likewise to use them in worship, in service, and in caring for others.  It is a graceful spirit that comes upon us when we fully trust in His providential care, donating and sharing our blessings without anxieties or fears.  We recall that blessings multiply when shared and God rewards the sacrifices made in obedience to His call.  The spirit of generosity is purely motivated by the goodness of God.  It is free of any schemes predicated upon anticipated results or returns, therefore it requires discretion and self-examination to ensure that our gifts are not tainted by self-aggrandizement, guilt remediation, or plotting outcomes.  When giving is done with purity, our motives will be above reproach and we will become known for our graciousness and giving.  Conversely, we are not to compromise another’s generosity by unnecessarily questioning their motives.  Such attempts to sate the suspicious tendencies of our own flesh are most likely the result of ungodly jealousy or envy.

Learning generosity may require practicing abstinence from indulgences and treats we customarily afford ourselves.  This is to be done only after we have given ourselves to God in totality (Deut.6:5) and are truly seeking to follow the example of Christ in His journey to the cross (Lk.9:23-24).   As with learning any new behavior, initially it may feel awkward, unnatural or forced.  As long as our expression is in obedience to the call of God, these feelings are the rebellions of the flesh that oppose the yearnings of the Holy Spirit within us Who seeks to be known.  However, if we learn to appreciate the results of our giving rather than focusing on the sacrifices generosity requires, we will learn the joy of giving and then the selfish ways of the flesh will abate.  Again, we are not motivated by seeking results, but rather by obedience, for not all recipients of our gifts will be grateful.  Some minds are so darkened they are just plain oblivious to goodness, they become unable or unwilling to acknowledge their blessings or gifts with any show of appreciation.  Such ungodly souls will withhold expressing thankfulness as a form of rebellion against goodness.  Being an angel to another soul, especially if they are ungrateful, will require that we learn to be compassionate when the body is tired and when our emotional reserves are spent.  Doing so is evidence of progressing beyond the natural abilities of our flesh and into the living realm of the Holy Spirit, drawing upon and being refreshed by the living water of our Lord (Jn.4:10, 7:38).

Learning to appreciate the joy of giving will empower our willingness to express other virtues.  Generosity is itself empowered by maintaining an attitude of prayer and worship, of abiding in the Holy Spirit, and an ever-present willingness to obey all that our Lord commands.  Such a state invites the presence and power of our Lord.  For it is only when we are fully immersed in His love for us, comfortable with our identity as children of God, wholly aware of our security in His hands and able to freely acknowledge His acceptance of us and our actions, that we are able to expend ourselves for another’s benefit as our Lord Christ Jesus did for us.  When we understand that our virtuous deeds create treasure in Heaven, then we can act in faith with the full assurance that what we give to others is the accumulation of wealth and not an expense, and begin to learn of the generosity of Christ.  We will afford goodness to those who only know meanness, patience for those who have no time for us, dignity for those who don’t know the preciousness of their own life, forgiveness for those who think they don’t need it, and love for those whose hearts are barren.  Here we are reminded that the acquisition of virtue is not primarily about learning noble behaviors, it is about learning how to live in the presence of God and fostering an intimate relationship with our living Lord by allowing Him to live His life through us.  Experiencing the life of Christ by watching our own hands and by hearing our own voice as they function in accordance with the will of God, is to know the joy and fulfillment of being a living member of the body of Christ.

Hospitality

Hospitality is compassion born of empathy with eyes that see as God sees, impartial, loving and merciful.   At the core of its expression is the affirmation of the economy of God, that all souls are worthy of His blessings and due our just consideration.  Its outward expressions include the social conventions of cordiality, politeness, manners, and etiquette.  In its simplest form, hospitality can be understood as being nice to people in public and as a host who is warm and friendly when welcoming guests into their home.  However, for those whose natural inclinations lean toward being anti-social, learning hospitality requires learning to draw upon many virtues; goodness, humility, selflessness, dignity, mercy, patience, gentleness, kindness, and the impartiality of justice; all these must be practiced while learning hospitality.  The demonstrable ability to share a wealth of virtues in varied circumstances may explain why St. Paul stresses hospitality as a necessary quality to consider when choosing church leaders (1Tim.3:1-7,Titus 1:5-9).

As we learn to express the virtue of hospitality, we are growing spiritually and learning to live as God intended.  We are being restored to the sanity of humanity’s pre-fallen state, developing the mental and emotional health of righteousness.  We will likewise come to know the peace of our Lord and live with an unsullied conscience, free of semi-conscious guilt and the subconscious self-loathing that leads to a variety of psychosomatic illnesses such as sleeplessness, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders and self-destructive behaviors.  Also, by living according to Truth and acknowledging ultimate realities in our daily affairs, we become an example for others, teaching His way in all that we do (Titus 2).  We need to be patient with ourselves as we learn to serve those around us, yet be willing to combat the ungodly habits of the flesh that suggest it’s beneath our dignity to wait upon others.  Like all virtues, it takes practice.  Experience will teach us that the ways of God are more beneficial and rewarding than any inhospitable fleshly tendencies we possess or any rancor we may desire to express towards unruly strangers or unwanted guests.  Expressing or venting ill will may afford us a perverse sense of pleasure in the moment, but it stymies our growth, and hinders or hurts others.  It also leaves an ungodly odor and all who are exposed to this malodorous stench have to deal with it until the air is rightly cleared with our redress.  God knows what each of us needs in order to be healed of our reeking sins.  He also knows how to heal each of us individually.  In His time, He will prioritize and bring to our attention the issues we need to address, healing our unique flesh patterns that compromise our virtue.  We need to be willing to heed His direction, following the steps He prescribes while being attentive to the gentle nudging He gives us when our behavior runs askew of His perfect will for us.  He will prioritize; we needn’t expend all our time rehashing our many faults and failings, or obsessing over an ungodly habit.   He will lead us along paths of righteousness for His namesake and His glory, our part is to be willing to say “yes” to our Lord, and follow where He leads (cf. Ps.23).

The spirit of hospitality is summed up in the words of Jesus, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt.7:12).  Jesus likewise said, “’Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Mt.25:40).  Remembrance of these teachings when greeting either strangers or familiar guests is how we learn hospitality.  Likewise, from the parable of Jesus we know as the “Good Samaritan” (Lk.10:30-37), we are taught that our hospitality is not to be limited to those we know and like, and neither should it be tainted by our complaints nor our estimation of another’s worthiness.  We are to welcome strangers, travelers and immigrants, showing them the same courtesies we would appreciate if we were in their predicament (Ex.22:21, Lev.19:33-35).  However, our best efforts should be extended toward the emissaries of God, ensuring that our ministers of the gospel and our missionaries, and all whose vocation is in service to our Lord are kept well.

The virtue of service means contributing towards the needs of the saints and ministries of our Lord.  All souls not engaged in a full time vocation serving our Lord should support those who are (Rom.12:6-13, 2Cor.9:8-15).  When prompted to action by the Holy Spirit, anything we do to help is considered service.  We are to look diligently for the hand of God at work, and then when we discern His handiwork, we are to ask Him in prayer if there is a contribution for us to make and then be willing to follow where He leads us.  We should all be aware of our unique talents and abilities as well as our weaknesses and limitations, and be willing to use our talents in the manner our Lord directs us.  Our talents should be well worn from use and polished with care, not hidden away for safekeeping (Mt.25:14-30), and the gifts we expend not accounted for as losses, but as deposits into the treasury of Heaven.  As important as time spent in labor and money for materials are to any work, they are never a substitute for virtue; we should always monitor the condition of our own souls to ensure we are rightly motivated by the love of God.  Restitution may be required when seeking forgiveness, but it is not meant to be a substitute for either charity or service.

As with all giving, the primary obstacle most souls need to overcome when learning service is selfishness.  Also, remember that the sense of either futility or waste is a demon known to interfere with giving.  Other pitfalls to beware when serving are feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or fraudulence.  Our Lord equips us for service, and it is not our estimation of ourselves that we are to rely on, but rather have faith in His.  Our Lord is wholly sufficient and capable of all things, and since the Holy Spirit indwells all His children, we are likewise empowered when we act in faith.  Also, it isn’t a question of our credentials, for without Christ, no one deserves to partake of what is sacred for all are condemned (Jn.3:16-21).  However, since Christ is in us and we are in Him, feelings that suggest we are unworthy fakes are not to be entertained; in Christ, we are forgiven and made whole (1Cor.6:9-11).  God empowers us to do what He wants us to do, our part is to be willing to trust and obey.  On the other hand, if there is persistent, lingering, habitual sin in our lives, not just memories of times past, we will need to excuse ourselves from certain tasks if there is a possibility we may tarnish His work or harm His children.  Again, discretion and consultation are required to determine if the desire to serve is an answer to His call or an evil temptation conspired to the detriment of the gospel message and demise of precious souls.

In the Epistle to the Ephesians (please read Eph.4), St. Paul outlines the importance and purpose of service.  Our service is when we employ all we’ve learned about walking with our Lord and cultivating a personal relationship with Him while abiding in the Holy Spirit, and then begin the equally important work of building up the body of Christ here on Earth.  The church is the spiritual body of Christ, the community of the souls who are children of God.  Christ is the head, and we comprise the parts needed to fulfill all its purposes and functions.  Despite the fragmentation that has occurred in the physical church since Christ first graced us with the fullness of His presence, we are united in Christ and must humble ourselves in obedience to His cause when spreading the gospel message and while combating the influence of evil wherever it lurks.  We do so in love and in Truth, forgiving the misgivings of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the same manner Christ has forgiven each of us.  To the glory of God, amen.

Scriptural References:

 

Charity:

Pr.11:24-25, God rewards unselfish souls by entrusting them with greater abundance

Mt.5:38-42, Jesus teaches us to be charitable and not obsessed with possessions or gain

Mt.6:1-4, giving is best when seeking only to please the Lord

Mt.7:9-12, dignify others by giving them good things

Mt.10:40-42, our greatest gifts are those given in service to Him and His servants

Lk.14:13-14, God will repay us for showing honor and being gracious toward the needy

Rom.12:1-8, instruction to expend our gifts and talents liberally and cheerfully in service to God

Rom.12:17-21, being wronged isn’t cause to commit evil in return; share goodness only

1Cor.15:58, service to our eternal Lord need not have limits for it is never in vain

2Cor.9:6-11, the blessings we receive are proportional to those we give in service to God

Gal.6:7-10, only when we abide in the Holy Spirit do we receive spiritual blessings

Generosity:

Deut.15:7-11, God commands us to give generously; do so joyfully, without scheming

Ps.37:21, the righteous are both gracious and generous towards others

Ps.112:5, the truly gracious and generous soul has just motives that withstand scrutiny

Pr.22:9, being generous toward the needy brings blessings from God

Is.58:6-7, forsaking self-indulgence frees us of the selfishness that inhibits generosity

Mt.10:8, we are to share with others the many talents and blessings God gives us

Mt.20:1-16, another’s generosity or blessings should not stir envy or suspicion in us

2Cor.8:1-5, we must first give ourselves to God before we can rightly give to our Lord

1Tim.6:17-19, we are to teach generosity, humility, and trust in God not money

Hospitality:

Ex.22:21, do not to oppress strangers from foreign lands, rather show compassion

Lev.19:9-10, our excess is to be used to provide for the needy and strangers

Lev.19:33-35, the Law says to treat aliens as natives and treat them fairly and justly

Mt.25:31-46, we are to treat all the children of God as we would treat Christ our brother

Rom.12:9-13, St. Paul teaches us to serve the servants of God and to practice hospitality

1Tim.3:1-7, consider the gift of hospitality when selecting church leaders

Titus 1:5-9, again St. Paul instructs us to select hospitable church leaders

1Pet.4:7-11, we are to be in service to others and hospitable without complaining

3Jn.1:5-8, we are to support evangelists and missionaries hospitably

Service:

Mt.6:19-21, contributions to the church are deposits in the treasury of Heaven

Lk.11:42, contributions to the church and its work are never a substitute for virtue

Lk.12:35-40, we are to serve our Lord with diligence, ever listening for His call

Rom.12:1-8, we have all been equipped with talents and our Lord has tasks for us all

2Cor.9:12-15, we have His promise of grace to empower us and to provide the means

Eph.4:11-13, our church goals are unity, quality, quantity, and Christ-likeness

Eph.6:5-8, we are to serve our secular bosses obediently while abiding in the will of God

1Pe.5:1-4, those rightly motivated in their service are rewarded with a crown of glory

Commentaries:

Charity:

“The Lord will demand from us an account of our help to the needy according to what we have and not according to what we have not (cf. 2Cor.8:12).”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 274 #66

“He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs.  He gives equally to all according to their need…”

St. Maximos Confessor (7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 55

Generosity:

“Generosity is a sign of gratitude.  It speaks of inner freedom.  Everything that we are, that we can do, and that we have is precious; it blesses us and liberates us insofar as we can recognize and honor it all as a gift from the love of God.

Many rich and clever people are wretchedly off because they overlook or downright deny the actual interior dimension of life, the dimension of the gift.  The rich man who makes Lazarus search for a few paltry crumbs (Lk.16:19-31) is a poor wretch, a poor devil.  The rich person who boasts of superfluous possessions slanders God by implying that ‘so far nobody has ever given me anything’.  God is blasphemed as a ‘nobody’.

If we really sense and honor the brilliance of all our wealth and power in the presence of God, the giver of everything good, then we will not cling to it.  We will not misuse these riches and capacities for our own self-aggrandizement and false self-assurance.  We are not practicing some sort of idolatry; we are and we will be evermore generous, free to give and to receive.

For generous persons, all their possessions, capabilities, and possibilities become a treasure stored up in heaven, as they serve the needs of others, honor them, and make them happy.”

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

© 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 106-7

Hospitality:

“You also have the example of how the widow of Zarephath gave hospitality to the prophet (cf.1Kings 17:9-16).  If you have only bread, salt or water, you can still meet the dues of hospitality.  Even if you not have these, but make the stranger welcome and say something helpful, you will not be failing in hospitality; for ‘is not a word better than a gift?’ (Ecclus.18:17).”

Evagrios the Solitary (5th C.); ThePhilokalia Vol. I, pg. 32

 

“When we receive visits from our brethren, we should not consider this an irksome interruption of our stillness, lest we cut ourselves off from the law of love.  Nor should we receive them as if we were doing them a favour, but rather as if it is we ourselves who are receiving a favour; and because we are indebted to them, we should beg them cheerfully to enjoy our hospitality, as the patriarch Abraham has shown us.  This is why St. John, too, says: ‘My children, let us love not in the word or tongue, but in action and truth.  And by this we know that we belong to the truth’ (1Jn.3:18-19).”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic 9th C., Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 32 #84

“Accepting the task of hospitality, the patriarch used to sit at the entrance to his tent (cf. Gen.18:1), inviting all who passed by, and his table was laden for all comers including the impious and barbarians, without distinction.  Hence he was found worthy of that wonderful banquet when he received angels and the Master of all as his guests.  We too, then, should actively and eagerly cultivate hospitality, so that we may receive not only angels, but also God Himself.  For ‘inasmuch’, says the Lord, ‘as you have done it to one of the least of these My brethren you have done it to Me’ (Mt.25:40).  It is good to be generous to all, especially to those who cannot repay you.”

ibid. pg. 32-33 #85

Service:

“Those who because of their spiritual immaturity cannot yet commit themselves entirely to the work of prayer undertake to serve the brethren with reverence, faith and devout fear.  They should do this because they regard such service as a divine commandment and a spiritual task; they should not expect reward, honor or thanks from men, and they should shun all complaint, haughtiness, negligence or sluggishness.  In this way they will not soil and corrupt this blessed work, but through their reverence, fear and joy will make it acceptable to God.”

St. Markarios of Egypt (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 294-5, #24