A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians

By Cris Hernandez, Child of God

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I – Preparation

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  (Gal.2:20)

Chapter

1) Notes on Spiritual Growth            

2) Definitions 

3) All Human Needs Are Satisfied In Christ

4) Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage 

5) Understanding the Meaning of Virtue      

6) The Beginning of Spiritual Warfare; Knowledge of Good and Evil

7) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 1- Obedience

8) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 2- Knowing and Pleasing God

9) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 3- Preparing for Heaven

10) The Acquisition of Virtues:  How To

 

Part II – Pursuit

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”  Job

 Chapter

11) The Foundations of Virtue:  Fear of the Lord, Knowledge, Wisdom

12) The Pursuit of Virtue:  Faith, Courage

13) Recognizing Virtue:  Discernment, Remembrance, Watchfulness                      

-The “D” test for discerning goodness from evil

14) An Attitude of Virtue:  Peace, Abiding Prayer, Stillness, Hope 

15) Perpetuating Virtue:  Purity, Simplicity, Honesty, Integrity       

16) The Pleasure of Virtue:  Joy, Thankfulness, Praise      

17) The Essentials of Virtue:  Humility, Selflessness, Goodness

18) Sharing Virtue: Justice, Dignity, Mercy  

19) Virtue and the Human Will:  Self-Control, Patience, Gentleness

20) Empowering Virtue: Charity, Generosity, Hospitality

21) The Beauty of Virtue: Forgiveness, Kindness, Compassion

22) The Fulfillment of Virtue:  Love

 

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation” 

Herbert Spencer as quoted in “Alcoholics Anonymous” © 1939, 1955, 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

 

Introduction

            The purpose of this book is to encourage and to challenge fellow Christians to a life of greater intimacy with God.  The study of virtues is the means to this end.  This book defines virtues as the characteristics of God, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that we can aspire to obtain as part of our own being.  To know virtue experientially, is to know God, and to know Him as if He were a flesh and blood companion of many years whose personality and characteristics are familiar and recognizable enough to be emulated.  To study virtues is to learn the ways of God such that His workmanship is readily discernible in us, in others, and in the world around us.

 

Hebrews chapter 4, verse 12 describes the Word of God as a razor sharp, double-edged blade that easily slices the meat off the bone.  In that spirit, this book aims to be a stiletto, a dagger that is just long enough, just narrow enough, and so very pointed, that it slides easily through the protective rib cage and goes straight to the heart.  Thus slain by His Word and crucified with Christ (Gal.2:20), a death to self that we might be alive in Him, the work of separating the flesh from the spirit can begin.

 

The pursuit of virtue is presented here as an exercise in spiritual growth.  Spiritual growth means increasing our awareness of the presence of God in our day-to-day lives while conforming our ways to His, from the core of our being outward.  Prior to examining individual virtues, spiritual growth issues will be reviewed in detail, including specific “how to” recommendations.  It is imperative that we prepare our hearts in humility and submission as well as being well practiced at confession and repentance prior to our attempt to learn virtue.  Since God is the goal of our pursuit, it is best understood upfront that encounters with God can be very humbling experiences.   His awesome holiness is so overwhelmingly powerful and pure, all our impurities and ungodliness become grotesquely obvious to us as we near Him.  First, our imperfections are exposed and then our faithless bravadoes and facades are completely stripped away from us, for no unclean or impure thing can exist in His presence.  Akin to being naked, defenseless, and completely humiliated, our flesh will want to grab familiar garb and lean on comfortable crutches rather than let go of worldly ways so that our spirit may move freely toward God.  We need to be prepared for this encounter or we will be no less devastated than Isaiah (Is.6:5) when confronted with the ugliness of sin which dwells in our flesh (Rom.7).  Prior to studying virtue and having a more intimate, intense relationship with God, we as Christians, as children of God, need to be fully assured that God loves us.  We need to know with conviction that Christ has provided the means for the forgiveness of our sins (1Jn.1:9), and that in Christ we are wholly acceptable to God and welcome into His presence, worthy of His blessings (Eph.4:20-24, Gal.4:4-7).

 

With the threat of devastation to our self-image now looming, the question as to why we should pursue a study of virtues begs to be answered.  Many reasons could be given here as to why Christians should be acquainted with the virtues, but the primary reason is unity with God.  Unity with Him is the ultimate purpose of this life God has given us; it is how we honor Him best.  Virtue puts our lives in accord with life as God intended it to be.  The resulting harmony of His purpose and our intent added to the indescribable joys and pleasures we experience as we grow in nearness to God, the source of all goodness, makes this endeavor the most rewarding life pursuit option available to us.   Also, part of the beauty of this pursuit is that it can be done while pursuing other life interests, and as long as the ways of God are given top priority, all other areas of life become richer, fuller, and more rewarding.  As Jesus said, His yoke isn’t burdensome or weighty (cf. Mt.11:28-30), and the pursuit engenders the fullness and abundance of life Christ promised (Jn.10:10).

 

Our study of virtues isn’t merely a discourse on individual virtues and love isn’t just presented as the supreme virtue.  Though Jesus clearly teaches us the supremacy of love in Mt. 22:35-40, the focus here is more in line with verse 40, where Jesus says that love is the fulfillment of the law  (also see 1Pe.4:8;  Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14;  Jas.2:8).  In this work, love is presented as the fulfillment of all virtues and as the supernatural life of Christ as expressed through us.  Presenting the interdependency of virtues and expressing the need for them to grow together, may be a new approach to some readers.  The study of the component virtues provides the building blocks, or stepping stones, that need to be in place as we are learning to love.  Two things to note here, first, this work is not meant to be merely a source of information or read as a mental exercise.  Virtues must be lived in order to be learned, and this requires practicing their expression as we tend to the daily circumstances of our individual lives.  Secondly, our pursuit of virtue equates to the pursuit of God, for God is love, and since God is eternal and infinite, it is important to understand that we will never in our time on Earth be finished with this pursuit.  As humbling as this can be, to believe otherwise may lead to unnecessary frustration from our perpetual failings, or worse, giving up the pursuit altogether.

 

The pursuit of virtue also involves spiritual warfare, for there is no way to grow spiritually without combating the demons.  Demons can be understood as any obstacle that prevents a soul from being wholly united with God and His will, as the rebellions and temptations we face when we attempt to surrender fully our human will to His divine will.  The Bible portrays demons as the legions of fallen angels who are loyal to Satan, having both intelligence and purpose (Mt.12:25-27; 2Cor.2:10-11; Eph.6:11-13; Rev.12).  Their aim is to defame God and desecrate all that is sacred.  They especially hate Christian souls who have a sincere and strong desire to worship God and honor all that is His.  Demons operate using the powers of suggestion and persuasion to communicate with human souls.  They tempt the children of God into acting outside of His will.  They easily influence ungodly souls who are not even aware that demonic suggestions are not their own ideas and therefore unable to separate evil notions from their own thoughts.  The greater their influence over a soul, greater is the soul’s potential for committing acts of heinous evil.  This work aims to prepare us for this battle by first revealing the demon’s tactics and then explaining how to overcome their assaults.  Lack of preparation here can likewise have devastating results.

 

The author is a firm believer that unity in Christ and expressing the love of God are far more important than strict adherence to the doctrines that serve to divide His disciples.  Accordingly, an effort has been made to walk lightly around theological issues, choosing certain words that are less likely to be the cause of theological debate, while defining others within this text so that the reader knows the author’s intended meaning (2Tim.2:14).  For example, “unity” will be used frequently; “salvation”, “theosis”, “justification” and “sanctification” are used sparingly.   It is the author’s prayer that the purpose of this text, for us all to grow in nearness and likeness to our Lord Christ Jesus, not be compromised by our doctrinal differences.  As Christians, we all read the same book; therefore, the Bible is liberally referenced in this text as an inerrant and authoritative source of Truth.  Again, it is the author’s prayer that any current differences in our understanding and application of scripture not become an impediment to our pursuit of virtue.  The author also invites the readers to read around, or translate into their own framework of beliefs, any statement herein that is a matter of doctrinal interpretation in order to keep from dismissing the intent of the text altogether.  Likewise, if the author’s definitions don’t match the reader’s definition, the reader is invited to switch the pairings of words and their definitions throughout the text.  Giving priority to meanings instead of demanding that a particular word convey the same theological concept for all Christians is one way to keep from compromising our unity in Christ.  The author prays for your indulgence for the rewards of virtue are great.

 

Also, please do not take the aforementioned warnings lightly, learning to live in the spiritual realm has inherent dangers, whether from agitating the demons or from adverse reactions to encounters with the holiness of God.  To proceed without proper preparation is analogous to getting married without first being willing to make a faithful commitment, or having children without first being willing to put aside selfish, self-serving ways in order to rightly provide for them.  Lack of preparation here can be similarly painful and harmful to self and others. It is quite intentional that the first 10 chapters of this book all concern preparation for the 12 that follow.  It is also recommended that this undertaking not be done alone, the use of a mentor is highly recommended, as is having someone to provide feedback and compare notes.  Before proceeding, a few more specific precautions:

  • Do not compare yourself or your progress to others, you will either become smug and conceited, or disillusioned and defeated; learn to be satisfied with simply pleasing God.  Comparing ourselves to others always leads to sinful pride or an erroneous sense of inadequacy.
  • Do not believe any suggestion that the pursuit of virtue is futile, unrewarding or unfulfilling, all such suggestions are from the demons and are contrary to the Word of God.
  • Keep your primary focus on Jesus and the examples of the saints who have gone before us, do not dwell on your successes or failures; again the result is either pride or frustration.
  • As we grow spiritually and learn to recognize the goodness of God more readily, it should become easier to compliment and encourage others as we learn to live our lives in the fullness of His love.  Likewise, ungodliness also becomes more apparent.  Do not succumb to self-loathing or the temptation to point out the failings of others, and do not lose heart when those who were once esteemed begin to appear all too human.

 

The author would also like the reader to understand that these lessons were originally prepared so that the author could learn about virtue.  The author does not claim to be a “paragon of virtue”, but rather a soul who came to Christ as an adult and has had to unlearn a wealth of sinful habits in order to learn of virtue.  There are many un-referenced sources in this work because the author pursued many topical studies prior to formulating the idea of writing a book.  These sources include books, magazines, preachers on the radio and television, pastors and priests during worship services, classes, friends, and so on.  One last note; the scripture passages following the chapter texts contain lessons to be learned as taught to me in my personal travels and studies, they aren’t meant to be literal or condensed translations.

 

I pray ye well.

 

Cris Hernandez

Child of God

email:  aprimeronvirtue@yahoogroups.com

 

 

Copyright Information:

King James Version (KJV):  public domain (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible)

New American Standard Bible (NASB*):  © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

New International Version (NIV):  © Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

(* Unless otherwise noted, scripture passages quoted within this text are from the NASB)

The Philokalia: (Vol. I © 1979 The Eling Trust; Vol. II © 1981 The Eling Trust; Vol. III © 1984 The Eling Trust; Vol. IV © 1995 The Eling Trust; Vol.V unavailable to the author)

Concerning scripture contained within quotes taken from The Philokalia, “All Biblical passages have been translated directly from the Greek as given in the original Philokalia.  This means that quotations from the Old Testament are normally based on the Greek Septuagint text.”   (from the translators of the Philokalia)

Note:  text within the quotes from the Philokalia and elsewhere contained within brackets “[example]” is from the author.

 

The author extends his appreciation to all his teachers whose thoughts are contained within this text as well as to those who supported him while these lessons were being prepared.

 

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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

Chapter 18 – Sharing Virtue – Justice, Dignity, and Mercy

Justice:  to execute right judgment in accord with the Word of God; discernment in accord with Truth; divine equity, giving others what they are due in regards to recognizing the dignity of all mankind; to exact what is due, holding the guilty accountable; righteous discernment when considering mercy or punitive measures

Dignity:  to honor and respect all souls as precious beings created by God

Mercy:  willingness to forgive; showing unqualified kindness to strangers, enemies or the otherwise undeserving; graciousness, compassion, loving-kindness, benevolence

 

A recurring theme of the Bible is that we are to give to others what God has given us.  It is likewise taught that what we do for others will be returned to us (Mt.6:5, 12, 14-15, 7:1-2, 12).  If our hearts are not moved to showing others the goodness of God simply out of our love for Him, knowing that we reap what we sow (Gal.6:7-8) should tempt even the most selfish souls to show a little kindness towards others and abstain from injustice.  Here is where we learn that our pursuit of virtue requires sharing our gifts.  There are two items to note here in the economy of God.  First, sharing the virtues of justice, dignity and mercy need not exact a monetary or material cost, especially when returns are taken into account.   Second, when we share spiritual things our quantity is doubled, not halved as with physical things.  A full share for both giver and receiver, and likewise, repetitive shares do not create smaller fractions, but replicate and grow by multiplication.  Praise God!

 

The virtues of justice, dignity and mercy should collectively govern all our relationships.  Whether our interaction is one on one, one to many, or many to many, they are the guide wires that keep us on track with God.  Their interaction, like the twined cord, proves strong and lasting, garnering ways protected by God.  Without them, relationships, businesses and nations collapse as they run contrary to God.  Justice ensures that we treat others fairly and impartially.  Affirming the dignity of all souls brings the presence of God to bear upon all human interaction.  Likewise, the divine origin of mercy elevates relationships into the heavenly realm while addressing the needs of otherwise undeserving souls, bearing witness to the goodness of God.

 

Justice

 

Justice assumes law.  The Law of God is recorded in the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and is applicable to all mankind.   The Law is based on the value system of God, predicated upon fairness and impartiality towards all peoples.  Justice requires knowledge of Truth and wisdom from God in order to rightly discern and execute the will of God.  The execution of justice is to be entrusted to honest souls who value virtue and are not swayed by selfish, self-serving motives.  Justice is righteousness in action, ensuring that everyone’s God ordained rights are upheld.  As we affirm the dignity of others, we preserve our own by acknowledging the higher Law of God that declares all souls are precious to Him, including ourselves.  The opposite is also true; when we inflict an injustice upon another soul, we rob ourselves of dignity by not adhering to the value system that gives it to us while debasing ourselves with sin.  Also, what we do to one soul makes a statement about how we assess humanity overall.  Justice ceases to exist when dignity is compromised because the Law of God has not been upheld; therefore, godly discernment is required to recognize fair application of the Law.

 

To execute justice, to judge another soul as being guilty of an offense and take recourse to rectify, may on the surface appear unloving and contrary to merciful forgiveness.  It is neither.  Assuming that our discernment is righteous and the offense real, failure to hold the guilty accountable is contrary to the Law and therefore compromises dignity, in essence lying to the offender by saying that their behavior is acceptable when it is not.  A person needs to be convinced of their guilt in order to correct their erroneous beliefs that compromise the dignity of their victims as well as themselves.  Holding the guilty accountable is how this is accomplished.  Our forgiveness neither absolves guilt for an offense nor exonerates the perpetrator; it is a pardon after sentencing on a personal level.  It is unloving to allow a soul to live in darkness and condemnation; enforcing His Law by holding the guilty accountable is a testimony for the Truth of God.  It allows the offender to see and experience the will of God in action.  When felons serve prison time, they have been given a sure message that their behavior is wrong and that they need to repent of their ungodliness.  Capital punishment may seem like eye for an eye retribution or compounding evil with evil, but sentencing a murderer to meet our Creator may just be what it takes to bring such a soul to repentance.  Forfeiting time on Earth pales in comparison to the penalty of eternal condemnation.  Also in the administration of justice, by sentencing felons according to the severity of their crimes, we protect others and prevent the creation of more victims, which is likewise an act of love.  It is a sign of ungodly delusion when someone condemns the innocent while failing to hold the guilty accountable as exemplified by taking a political position against capital punishment while promoting the practice of aborting the life of womb-bound babies.

 

In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, the story is told of the woman caught in adultery who is then brought before Jesus by the Pharisees, the religious and civil rulers of the era.  The woman was publicly arrested amid her passion, dragged disrobed and disheveled across town, and brought into the synagogue’s courtyard where Jesus was teaching a gathering of worshippers.  According to the Law, the penalty for adultery among the chosen people of God prior to Christianity was to throw stones at the guilty until dead (Lev.20:10).  Though the penalty seems quite harsh, it exemplifies how we are to treat any sin in our lives, totally obliterate it and prevent further contamination to our families and communities.  God is holy, and we are to be holy as God is holy (Lev.11:44).  The Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus to see whether He would uphold the Law and consent to her stoning.  Jesus and the Pharisees were often at odds with each other over the application of the Law; they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath and blasphemy.  Jesus declared that they were replacing godliness with religious observance, that by their pretense of piety instead of pursuing inner virtue, they “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel” (Mt.23:13-33).

 

On this occasion, the Pharisees were guilty of a variety of offenses.  First and foremost, they failed to acknowledge the deity of Christ Jesus, the ultimate judge (Mt.19:28), an offense that brings condemnation (Jn.3:16-21).  Secondarily, they were unwittingly putting God to a test which we are told not to do (Deut.6:16, Mt.4:7).  The list of their offenses committed in this act of arrogance before God goes on, however, it is enough for us here to see that they were wrongly motivated and therefore nullified themselves as being worthy judiciaries.  Jesus rebuked the gnat-straining, camel-drinkers by pointing out their hypocrisy and poor discernment concerning the Law.  Their motivations for bringing this woman to Jesus included revenge, self-justification, hatred, self-preservation, and contempt, while quite lacking in the virtues of humility and compassion.

 

While they held the woman in front of Him, Jesus knelt and wrote in the loose dirt upon the ground about their feet.  Whatever He wrote, it seemed to bring their hearts into conviction, for they began to walk away one by one when Jesus invited anyone without sin among them to throw the first rock.  It was then that Jesus turned to the woman and executed justice with mercy.  Her guilt obvious, her shame sincere, with repentance in her heart and her confession of Christ Jesus as Lord forthcoming, Jesus knowing the hearts of human souls (Mt.9:4, Lk.16:15), forgave her sins as only God can do.  His instruction to “go and sin no more”, acknowledges both the sin and its penalty of condemnation.  Jesus, acting in His full authority as Son of God, is ever justified.  In Christ we are likewise justified (Rom.5:1-9, 1Cor.6:11, Titus 3:4-8) and entrusted with the authority and responsibility of executing justice as a ministry and in service to God and man.

 

Dignity

 

Dignity is the virtue that acknowledges the value of all human life as being sacred.  Mankind is the most valued of all creation because we are created in His image as spiritual beings.  Dignity is the pivot point upon which the arms of justice rest; the scales of justice are useless and corrupt when dignity is compromised.  All judicial decisions must affirm the dignity of all litigants in order to be fair.  A crime is an offense against the Law, and the Law is based on upholding the sacred order of creation, especially the dignity of mankind.  Crime is as much a sinful affront to God as it is an offense against an individual or a community.  Crime is not to be compounded by the sin of injustice.  Holding the guilty accountable out of hope for their repentance and restoration is not a thought born of rationalization or cowardice, it is obediently accepting the responsibility to uphold the Law and prevent the creation of more victims; it is one way to combat evil.  All crimes violate the dignity of the victims.  A murderer doesn’t acknowledge another person’s right to life.  A thief doesn’t recognize the right of others to possess their own property.  A rapist doesn’t value the right of persons to possess their own body, soul or spirit.  Offenders demean themselves by their actions, becoming known by their ungodly behavior rather than virtue.

 

The severity of crime is measured by the degree of injury to our human dignity; a victim’s emotional pain is the perceived loss of dignity.  However, as painful as being a victim can be, this perceived loss of dignity is not based on Truth because as Christians our dignity comes from God and is therefore permanent and not subject to the forces of the physical realm.  Our dignity is neither upheld nor compromised by how people treat us, or even how we treat ourselves.  The source of our dignity is in the hands of God, not people, and especially not the ungodly.

 

As we learn the virtue of dignity, we learn to affirm the worth of others and ourselves.  Remembering people’s names, showing simple courtesies, opening doors and yielding so others may go before us, are all ways to affirm another’s dignity.  Learning dignity keeps us from abusing others with insulting or demeaning words or actions.  The virtue of dignity is not to be compromised by the value system of the flesh (Phil.3:8), or by any form of discrimination, prejudice or personal bias that serves to devalue another soul.  The more intimate the relationship, the greater the need for dignity for it to be healthy and spiritually uplifting.  Nagging, nit picking, criticizing and intimidation can all undermine a relationship by gnawing away at a person’s sense of self worth.  Over time, such sustained abuse can eventually lead to a variety of anxiety or personality disorders for those whose identity isn’t firmly based on Truth.  Children are especially vulnerable; therefore, they need continual affirmation in order to grow up knowing dignity.  We all need dignity to be spiritually and mentally healthy.  We need to know that we have value and that our lives have significance.  This prevents making life decisions based on a sense of worthlessness that leads to reckless behaviors such as promiscuity, abuse of intoxicants, and crime.  Without regressing into a legalistic mentality, other behaviors that compromise dignity that should cause us to check our motivations include mocking, sarcasm, malicious teasing and gossip, ostracizing, insults, sass, ridicule, dishonesty, disloyalty, manipulation, and imposition.  Checking these should prevent lapsing into the more grotesque assaults upon dignity, a list that includes torture, slavery, abduction, sadistic dominance or masochism, terrorism, thievery, murder, extortion, prostitution, usury, exploitation, and oppression.

 

As with crime, another demonic ploy devised as an attempt to strip souls of their God ordained dignity, is to create institutions that seek to deprive individuals of their right to self-determination.  When God created us, He gave us free will that we might choose to worship Him on our own volition so that our exaltation of Him would be pure and not compromised by compulsion or the inability to choose.  God has no need to fear the loss of influence and therefore has no need to enforce conformity; He allows us our mistakes so that we might learn and come to worship Him voluntarily.  We are to uphold the dignity of others by giving to them what God has given us, the use of free will.  Institutions that impose ideologies and lifestyles upon their constituents by use of force or severe punishments are not motivated by the love of God, but rather by such things as the fear of men, fear of death, selfish self promotion, pride, lust for power or control, greed, or even outright defiance to God the Creator.  Also, as with all crime, such institutions require His children to redress in order to uphold justice.  There is virtue in the effort to free souls from such tyranny.

 

Mercy

To be merciful is to express the loving-kindness of God to an undeserving soul.  Genuine mercy has but one motivation, to show others the mercy God has shown us.  Being merciful acknowledges the enormity of our sin-debt to God, and seeks to alleviate it in miniscule ways by sharing the grace of God with others.  Being merciful is contrary to every fiber of mankind’s flesh because mercy, like holiness, is uniquely divine in origin.  Secular substitutes may produce the appearance of sympathy or benevolence, but without personally acknowledging our indebtedness to God for the restoration of mankind through Christ Jesus, there is no mercy.  Outpourings of humanistic kindness do not qualify as expressing the virtue of mercy because of not being motivated by the goodness of God.

 

If there is a rarity of mercy in our lives, it may be due to lack of remembrance or possibly the fact that acts of mercy require certain conditions.  For us to express mercy toward another, they need to owe us a debt or otherwise be in need, and be undeserving of any due consideration save for the love of God.  Forgiving the offenses of friends and loved ones is righteous but not necessarily merciful.  Jesus outlines the criteria for mercy in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5:38-48).  He speaks of mercy as a quality of the sons of God, of showering His goodness upon both the righteous and the unrighteous, without partiality.  The intent here is not to subject mercy to a litany of legalistic considerations, but rather to distinguish and elevate mercy to its rightful and proper place.  We do this so that we may be free of delusion as we seek to expand the Kingdom of God on Earth by sharing with others what He has given us (Mt.6:10; 28:18-20).  The bible makes it quite clear that we are to show mercy to others as God has mercifully shown us mercy.  When we do so, we invite the furthering of His mercies in His providential care for us.  Discerning His mercy may be difficult to distinguish from His goodness in daily circumstances, but anytime we fail to receive punitive consequences for ungodliness, or recognize we’ve been doubly blest, we should pause and give praise and thanks to God for His goodness and His mercy.  Mercy is very pleasing to God and He showers rewards upon those whose deeds are merciful.  Our expressions of mercy are evidence of the Holy Spirit within us.

 

A falling leaf may be blown helter-skelter by shifting winds, but the will of God is like the flow of a river that takes the fallen leaf only in the direction of its current.  Likewise, as we learn to abide in the Holy Spirit, we should be sensitive to His call for mercy when we would otherwise in the flesh chaotically react or systematically retaliate.  Mercy is contrary to the carnal desires for reprisals, retributions or revenge that are symptomatic of living in the flesh.  A soul would be most blest not to have these passions, but we are none-the-less called upon to express the love of God without partiality and without thought for another’s deservedness.  Again, we do this in remembrance of His love for us as expressed by the giving of His Son in propitiation for our sins.   Praising and thanking God for His mercy towards us should allow us to be cheerful in our expression of mercy.  It should likewise prevent us from being reluctantly motivated into compassionate deeds out of resignation, or fear of losing blessings, or discipline for disobedience.

 

The example of Jesus and His teachings tell us that we are not to ignore pleas for mercy and that God likewise acknowledges our pleas for His mercy (Mt.5:7, 18:23-35).  Mercy does not supplant the administration of justice; rather, it gives us more options in expressing the supremacy of His love.  Incarcerating those obsessed by evil is merciful in that it keeps them from compiling more misdeeds that contribute to the degradation of their soul, exacerbate their guilt, and lengthen their list of offenses to atone for should they come to repentance.  Mercy also acknowledges another’s dignity by deeming them worthy to receive loving-kindness and compassion.  Our mere distaste for the sight of pain, or distress for the sight of suffering, or any other aversions we harbor that inhibits our service to the needy, does not absolve us of responsibility or culpability for being merciful; courage is often needed prior to expressions of mercy.  Those blest with the gift of mercy are uniquely qualified to minister in hospices and hospitals as well as many types of public service.

 

Scriptural References:

 

Justice: 

Ex.23:1-8, ordinances to execute justice honestly with fairness and without partiality

Lev.19:15, ordinance against judicial injustice and partiality for whatever reason

Deut.1:16-17, instruction to administer justice fairly and impartially

Deut.16:19, justice is not to be distorted by partiality, bribery, or any unrighteousness

Deut.16:20, justice is to be the singular pursuit of nations

Deut.24:17-18, justice is not to be withheld from aliens or the dispossessed

Deut.27:19, failure to uphold justice with righteousness incurs the wrath of God

Ps.11:7, our Lord is righteous and loves justice, the upright come into His presence

Ps.33:5, God loves righteousness and justice

Ps.106:3, those who uphold justice in righteousness are blessed by God

Ps.112:5, conduct that is equitable and just brings blessings from God

Pr.8:12-21, wisdom from God is necessary to execute justice with righteousness

Pr.18:5, warning against siding with the ungodly or siding against the godly

Pr.21:15, the righteous find joy in justice while the ungodly fear the consequences

Pr.28:5, the ungodly have no appreciation for justice; righteousness brings understanding

Pr.29:7, the righteous seek justice for all, the ungodly show no such concern

Pr.29:26, true justice is ultimately the province of God

Is.1:13-20, be good and just; there are fatal consequences for ungodliness and injustice

Zech.7:8-10, dispense justice in Truth, do not rule in oppression or devise evil schemes

Mal.3:1-5, our Lord will come to execute justice and judge those who oppress and abuse

Mt.12:15-21, the cause of Christ brings justice to all peoples; justice will prevail

Mt.23:23-24, religious observance does not excuse the absence of faith, justice or mercy

Lk.11:42, Jesus asserts justice and love as integral components of worship

Lk.18:3-8, wait patiently and never doubt that God will execute justice

 

Dignity (to honor): 

Ps.8:3-9, a psalm recognizing the preciousness of mankind to God

Ps.15, a description of a life in accord with the economy of God

Pr.3:13-16, the true richness of life comes with the honor of wisdom

Pr.13:18, honor comes from the ability to hear, accept and respond to correction in Truth

Pr.15:33, the honor of wisdom requires humility

Pr.21:21, the pursuit of righteousness brings honor

Pr.31:25, a virtuous woman is blest with dignity

Ac.28:10, the righteous are given the respect of others and consideration for their needs

Rom.12:9-13, we are to honor our brothers and sisters in Christ preferentially

1Cor.12:21-26, church members are a single body and are honored or disgraced as one

Eph.5:33, we are to honor our spouses and affirm their dignity

Eph.6:2, we are to honor our parents and uphold their dignity

1Thes.4:3-8, sexual immorality compromises dignity; lust demeans a soul

1Thes.5:12-13, show honor and appreciate those whose occupation is service to our Lord

1Tim.5:17, honor gospel teachers, preachers and church elders who lead well

2Tim.2:19-21, cleansing ourselves of ungodliness brings honor from God

 

Mercy:

Ex.25:10-22, the construction of the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat of God

Ps.6:9, David pleas for the mercy of God who accepts his prayer

Ps.25:10, those who live by the Word of God will see His mercy in Truth

Ps.32:8-11, wickedness begets sorrow while trusting the ways of God elicits His mercy

Ps.33:16-19, to fear our Lord and have hope in His mercy keeps evil at bay

Ps.86:5-7, God has an abundance of mercy for those who call upon His name

Ps.103:11, the love and mercy of God is boundless towards those who fear Him

Ps.145:8-9, our Lord is merciful and His works attest to His great benevolence

Pr.3:3-4, being merciful in Truth brings honor from both God and our fellows

Pr.11:17, showing mercy is good for the soul while cruelty creates a troubled soul

Pr.14:21, being merciful to the poor bring happiness

Pr.14:31, we honor God by being merciful; contempt for God when we oppress the poor

Pr.28:13, openly confessing and forsaking sin will evoke the mercy of others

Dan.4:26-28, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar to be merciful to prolong his prosperity

Hos.6:6, showing others mercy is more pleasing to God than our religious practices

Mic.6:8, our Lord requires justice, mercy and humility in His presence

Zech.7:9-10, our Lord instructs us to administer justice with compassion and mercy

Mt.5:7, Jesus says the merciful shall be blest with mercy

Mt.9:13, Jesus instructs us to learn what Hos.6:6 means

Mt.9:27-31, two blind men plea to Jesus for mercy and sight; Jesus blesses them

Mt.17:14-18, a man pleads for mercy for his crazed son; Jesus casts out the demon

Mt.18:23-35, God has shown us great mercy; we should be merciful to others as well

Lk.1:76-79, Jesus by the mercy of God brings light into a dark world

Lk.6:32-36, God is merciful; therefore, we are to show mercy toward others

Lk.10:25-37, Jesus teaches us to show mercy without partiality, prejudice or selfishness

Lk.17:11-17, the mercy of God should bring us to express thankfulness and praise to God

Rom.11:30-36, praise for the wondrous mercy of God towards a sinful world

Rom.12:4-8, sharing the gift of mercy should be accompanied with cheerfulness

Eph.2:4-9, remembrance of the grace of God and His mercy

Heb.4:14-16, draw near to God when in need and be blest by His mercy

Jas.2:12-13, being merciful invites the mercies of God into our lives

Jas.3:17-18, seeking the wisdom of God leads to learning mercy

1Pet.1:3-9, by the mercy of God we are born anew into the fullness of eternal life

Jude 1:19-23, as we await the return of Christ, by His mercies we are to be merciful

 

Commentaries:

 

Justice:

“Justice is sometimes called discrimination [discernment]:  it establishes the just mean in every undertaking, so that there will be no falling short due to over-frugality, or excess on account of greed.  …the person able to hold fast to justice is neither dragged down through thoughtlessness, licentiousness, cowardice or greed… nor does he fall victim to craftiness, and overbearingness, to stupidity and over-frugality, to excessive astuteness and cunning. Rather he ‘judges with self-restraint’ and endures with patient humility, fully acknowledging that whatever he possesses he has received by grace, as St. Paul puts it (cf. 1Cor.4:7).”

“…the person to whom it is granted to keep the commandments gives not only his possessions but even his very life for his neighbour.  This is the perfect mercy; for just as Christ endured death on our behalf, giving all an example and a model, so we should die for one another, and not only for our friends, but for our enemies as well, should the occasion call for it.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 258-9

 

Dignity:

“The virtue of justice respects the rights of every person, not merely because it is unfair to do otherwise.  Rather, justice respects the personal rights because it respects the person, his or her sacredness as a child of God, created by God, with a right to live as fully human a life as possible.  Once we admit the sacredness of human life as an end in itself, justice issues become self-evident.  Once we acknowledge that each and every human being, regardless of age, intelligence, or race, has a God-given value that no one has the right to violate, then justice questions present their own answers.”

Mitch Finley, “The Catholic Virtues” © 1999 by Ligouri Publications, pg. 72

 

“The virtue of authentic justice cultivates respect for the dignity of all persons, for the right of all to the resources they need, and for the privilege of all to be involved in decisions that shape their lives.”

ibid. pg. 73

 

Mercy:

“Because He wishes to unite us in nature and will with one another, and in His goodness urges all humanity towards this goal, God in His love entrusted His saving commandments to us, ordaining simply that we should show mercy and receive mercy (cf. Mt.5:7).”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 173#45

 

 

“A truly merciful person is not one that deliberately gives away superfluous things, but one that forgives those who deprive him of what he needs.”

Ilias the Presbyter (12th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 37 #27

 

“The merciful person is he who gives to others what he has himself received from God, whether it be money, or food, or strength, a helpful word, a prayer, or anything else that he has through which he can express his compassion for those in need.  At the same time he considers himself a debtor, since he has received more than he is asked to give.  By Christ’s grace, both in the present world and in the world to come, before the whole of creation he is called merciful, just as God is called merciful (cf. Lk.6:36).”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 96-97

“To master the mundane will of the fallen self you have to fulfill three conditions.  First, you have to overcome avarice by embracing the law of righteousness, which consists in merciful compassion for one’s fellow beings; second, you have to conquer self-indulgence through prudent self-restraint, that is to say, through all-inclusive self-control; and, third, you have to prevail over your love of praise through sagacity and sound understanding, in other words through exact discrimination [discernment] in things human and divine, trampling such love underfoot as something cloddish and worthless.  All this you have to do until the mundane will is converted into the law of the spirit of life and liberated from domination by the law of the outer fallen self.  Then you can say, ‘I thank God that the law of the spirit of life has freed me from the law and dominion of death’ (cf. Rom.8:3).”

Nikitas Stithatos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg 82 #13