My son buys knives. If you let him, heíll show you a whole video about how cool one particular brand of knives is. Lots of acrobatic swinging of blades, slicing of bamboo poles, destroying of melons, etc. I love him anyway. Especially since he bought me a knife last year. Now I have some extremely nice Cutco knives (bought during my other sonís brief affiliation with that company), and didnít feel the need of another. But I tell you what, that new knife is useful. For everyday chopping of any vegetable in existence (not sure about bamboo poles), I reach for it as my tool of choice.
Kindness has its place. Goodness is great. Gentleness, so misunderstood these days, is wonderful. But in a pinch, when chaos reigns, your schedule is berserk, the budget is busted, toddlers are bouncing off the walls, vegetables need chopped and people are bailing on you, donít you really want someone who is useful? Me, too.
I started out to write about kindness this morning, as in ďthe fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness...,Ē and looked up the verse in several Bibles. Then I looked up the Greek.
The word translated kindness in most English versions of Galatians 5:22, and gentleness in the KJV, is also rendered goodness in much of the rest of the New Testament. It's χρηστοτητος (chrestotetos), Strongís number 5544, and it means, (are you ready?) usefulness. Strongís goes on to say it indicates moral excellence in character or demeanor. SoÖmoral usefulness. I have to tell you, that sheds megawatts of new light on the passage. If I am indwelt by Godís Holy Spirit, I will grow loving and joyful, be filled with peace, deal with people from a deep well of patience, and be useful.
You can fake kindness, goodness, and gentleness with smooth words and sympathetic looks, but itís pretty hard to fake being useful. You change the diaper or you donít. Bad example, I donít change any diapers. You get the bills paid or you let them pile up. You answer the phone at 2 a.m., climb into your car and go sit with the distraught couple, or you roll over and go back to sleep. You commit to being somewhere to help. You show up and help, or you make excuses. People may believe youíre kind or good if you say the right things. But no oneís going to believe (for long) that youíre useful unless you roll up your sleeves and do stuff.
Now I understand that Iím hyper-focusing on the literal meaning, and not taking into account the more nuanced implications of the word. After all, word 5544 and its root 5543 show up 17 times in the New Testament, and they are never translated useful in the English versions I have access to. Iíd love to know if other languages somehow get the ďusefulĒ part of the definition into their translations. But I just have English and Greek, and couldnít read any others if I had them, so Iíll resort to the best Bible study strategy, and look up the other occurrences of 5544, to learn from the bigger context. Here goes.
Six of the ten occurrences of 5544 refer to Godís goodness or kindness toward us. Godís goodness is not a nice-smile-and-a-kind-word sort of goodness, but a truly useful goodness. For example, Romans 2:4 says that the goodness of God leads us to repentance. Ephesians 2:7 links Godís kindness to Him displaying ďthe immeasurable riches of His graceĒ to us in ages to come. In fact, the goodness/kindness of God is tied to His love for us, and His provision for our reconciliation with Him. Very useful goodness, that. Sounds like heaven!
Finally, take a look at Romans 3:12. ďAll have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good (5544), there is not even one.Ē See that? Doing good is contrasted with being useless. Too cool. The context is a discussion of how all humans are guilty before God, all under sin, incapable of doing true good (being morally useful) apart from God. We are all tainted by selfishness, bad motives, deception and worse. Like Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:5-6, we need to be saved. Our own righteousness is like filthy rags (can you imagine anything less useful?) and we need to be rescued by Godís gentle, kind, extremely useful goodness. Thank You, Yahweh, for Jesusí all-sufficient atoning sacrifice on our behalf.
Now go, be good and useful.