Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Flow of the Spirit is Kindness: Like Christ, our Kind Savior

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 11A
Galatians 5:22, 23
Bob Rakestraw

I have focused a lot over the years on Galatians 5. It has become one of the most important chapters in the Bible for me, and I am very grateful that the Spirit of God led the apostle Paul to write this section of scripture. For this month’s postings I want to dwell on verses 22 and 23, and one word in particular—kindness. The passage always grips me forcefully: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23, New International Version.

In Galatians 5:22-23, the apostle Paul lists nine dimensions of the fruit, or flow, of the Spirit. Note that “fruit” is in the singular, because the well-rounded servant of God is developing and demonstrating all of these spiritual qualities together. You and I cannot be truly joyful persons and not be faithful person. You and I cannot be truly peaceful persons if we are not self-controlled persons. If we speak of “fruits” of the Spirit, we may tend to think of these virtues in isolation from one another. The fruit of the Spirit, however, grows like a sweet melon on the vine, with all parts and systems of the fruit developing simultaneously.

The Meaning of Kindness

The Greek word (the noun) for “kindness,” as sounded out in English, is krestotes, or chrestotes, with the accent on the second syllable. The word is used ten times in the New Testament, all in the epistles of Paul: Romans 2:4a; 3:12; 11:22 (three times); 2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 2:7; Colossians 3:12; and Titus 3:4.

Another form of the word (the adjective) is krestos, or chrestos, and in Greek as well as in English there is only one letter difference between krestos and the word for Christ, Kristos, or Christos. Because of this, and because both words have the accent on the second syllable, the words sound almost the same in Greek as they do in English. How frequently the early Greek-speaking Christians joined the words together to declare that their Kristos—their anointed one, their Messiah—is a krestos Savior, we’ll never know, but I suspect that it was often. Krestos is used seven times in the New Testament: Matthew 11:30; Luke 5:39; 6:35; Romans 2:4b; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Ephesians 4:32; and 1 Peter 2:3.

The words krestotes and krestos have the sense of being useful, suitable, worthy, pleasant, morally upright, reputable, kind, loving and generous. These words obviously cover a wide range of meaning, so the context is key to understanding the sense in a given passage.

The Life Changing Word of God

A careful reading of the seventeen scriptures listed above may significantly change your life. If you read them in their biblical context, with your mind and heart open fully to God, and meditate in them—listening to God about living a kind and Christlike life—you may never be the same. Even though I have been studying the subject of kindness for many years, and have been trying intentionally to live kindly, I was amazed when I reviewed these powerful texts for this brief study. They speak of both the kindness of God and the kindness that we are to show (and think, and even feel, I believe) because the Spirit of our kind Savior is living in us and desiring to flow through us.

I chose to list all of the Bible verses using these words for “kind” and “kindness” with the hope that some of you—if only one or two—will look them up. I know that the tendency (I do it myself) is to hurry past Bible references, and so, to encourage you to go farther, I just want to write out a few of these verses and very briefly comment on them.

I have discussed earlier this year how Christ’s “yoke” is kind: “My yoke is easy (kind, gentle, not abrasive) and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). I continue to be lifted up and soothed by this teaching as I struggle with significant heart-transplant issues every day. Christ’s words strike me again in the famous text exhorting us to love our enemies. The reason Jesus says to love them and “do good to them” is because “the Most High…is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). In my natural self I do not want God to be kind to these ones, but then I stand with mouth wide open when I realize that I myself have often been “ungrateful and wicked”!

One of the most important Bible texts used by God in my coming to him as Savior and Lord at the age of 19 is Ephesians 2:7-10. I saw clearly—enlightened by the Spirit of God—that it is “by grace…through faith,” not human effort or good deeds, that I could be saved. And now, these many years later, I am more aware then ever that this gift of eternal salvation is God’s “kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (verse 7). I have never been the same since that Thanksgiving Day in 1962! It was then that I “tasted that the Lord is kind” (I Peter 2:3). It is a remarkable testimony to God’s kindness when I reflect on my three birthdays during this calendar week: my physical birthday, my heart-transplant birthday (five years) and my spiritual birthday.

Finally, I close with one of the most powerful texts anywhere in the Bible: “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4). I tend to think that God’s anger leads people to repentance, and it sometimes does—God’s intolerance of sin was a factor in my own conversion. But there is a remarkable kindness—a gentleness and generosity—that pulls us to him. Some of you know this personally, and I pray that if you do not, that you will come to him soon. In Jesus there is forgiveness, friendship, and daily, living hope for this life and for the next.

For you who know Christ, you have a powerful Agent of change within you—the Holy Spirit of God. Ask him today and in the days to come to make you a kind person. Practice often and intentionally to speak, act and think kindly toward everyone in your life. I assure you from personal experience you will enter a new dimension of life. You may even become a new person!


Anonymous said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Rakestraw, and Happy Birthday x 3! I am so thankful for you and your teachings. I have printed all of your blogs, 41 pages so far, and I selfishly want about 200 more! My intent is to one day have them bound, so I have my own personal collection of "Dr. Rakestraw's Teachings" in my library.

I feel incredibly selfish in asking this, and am only doing so because you encouraged readers to submit prayer requests to you. I have a son, Jack, who was born with a very rare skin disorder, Epidermolysis Bullosa. I may have even sent you an email asking for prayers when he was born. Well, he is 9 now and has never known a day without blisters on his precious body. My prayer request is for a healing of this ailment. God has given Jack such a wonderful personality and a great sense of humor. Jack loves the Lord and never complains. I take that back. He will complain when he has to eat broccoli, but never about his skin! I would love to see him enjoy life, without pain.

I continue to pray for you and your family. I can’t even imagine what the past 5 years have been like. I’m sure your writings don’t even scratch the surface when describing the trials you and your family are going through. You are an inspiration to many, and the most Christ-like person I know.

I hope you have a very Blessed Thanksgiving and three wonderful Birthdays!

Brenda A.

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Dear Brenda,

Wow, what a message!

You have include both a great encouragement to me and a great prayer concern for me. In fact, not only will I pray for Jack's healing (and for all your family, because these things affect the entire family), but I am asking here and now for the whole Benediction Project family of participants to pray for Jack's healing. There comes a time when we sense that God wants to do something in some aspect of our life or our family's life, and this may be the time. My overriding motivation in saying this is that God's name will be greatly exalted through this work. We know, as well, that God favors a life of health, esp. in children. "In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the healer and helper of the sick, we ask unitedly for Jack's full health of body. Drive away these blisters and pain, for your glory and Jack's benefit, and for the great encouragement of all of us who wait and watch for your hand to work!"

Thank you, Brenda, for telling me about your printouts. I am trusting that our Lord will keep me writing until he calls me home.

Thank you for your genuine concern and prayers. This is a really strange and difficult time for me, but God is not abandoning me.

Much peace and hope,
Bob Rakestraw