Chrestotes 5

Matthew 6:1-4

Trying to teach a child to tie shoelaces can be a difficult thing, not only for the child, but also for the teacher. I can’t tie my shoelaces if I think about it. I have been doing it so long it is an automatic thing that doesn’t require conscious thought. I just do it without thinking.

Matthew presents the “Sermon on the Mount” in three chapters, and today’s passage is part of this famous teaching. How should you NOT do acts of righteousness? How should you NOT give to the needy? How should you give? Why?

This brief passage from Jesus contains a very common expression – “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I have heard it used many times to describe times when people, usually in business, are going in different directions with their work. When co-workers are doing things that are counter-productive or divergent someone might say, “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

But Jesus is giving instruction on how to show chrestotes to others. We aren’t supposed to be kind and giving so we can show off to others. We aren’t supposed to make a big spectacle of our kindness.

Instead, we should be discreet in our kindness. Our giving may not need to be anonymous in every instance, but it should not be a grand gesture on our part. I would say our kindness should not be something done as a calculated maneuver, but more of an instinctive response performed without ceremony.

The instruction from Jesus is one of those many sayings that appear to be impossible – like the camel through the eye of a needle. How can a person’s left hand not know what the right hand is doing? How can any part of a human body be doing something that the whole body is not aware of.

It is impossible.

It is impossible, that is, unless you look at this expression in light of tying shoelaces. I could say that when I tie my shoelaces my left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Why? Because it is an automatic thing. I just do it.

This may be part of what Jesus means in this teaching. Perhaps we should be generous and kind in our giving, not to get rewards in the form of praise and thanks, but because it is just an automatic thing we do. Our acts of kindness should not be something we plan out so that it nets the biggest response, but something that comes naturally.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Examine your attitude in responding to those in need. Is it an automatic thing or a calculated response?

Chrestotes 4

Luke 8:40-56

Physical illness and injury can be a devastating experience to most people. When your body seems to fail you it is difficult to maintain hope, to keep believing that everything will work out. Knowing someone going through the struggles of poor health can leave us feeling helpless, that there is nothing we can do.

But in fact we can offer kindness to people who are struggling.

Today’s passage actually contains two stories of Jesus offering healing. Who comes to Jesus? What is the problem? As Jesus is going to the home of Jairus, who comes up behind Jesus? What happens? What does Jesus say to her?

What news do Jesus and Jairus hear before they arrive at the house? How does Jesus react? What does Jesus do with the girl? What instructions does Jesus give in verses 55 and 56?

With the woman who has experienced bleeding for twelve years, the very presence of Jesus provides healing. Yet, Jesus makes a comment to her in verse 48 – “Your faith has healed you.” This sentiment is brought up again when Jairus hears that his daughter is dead. Jesus tells him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

We cannot offer the type of miraculous healing that Christ has given. And there are so many who tell those who are sick that their illness, or inability to be healed, equals a lack of faith. But we can offer chrestotes to those we know who suffer, not by insisting that they have faith, but by having faith ourselves. If we can spend time with them exhibiting our own confidence and trust in God, then this can be an act of kindness that gives encouragement without words.

In dealing with the little girl, Jesus not only brings her back to life, he tends to her physical needs. He instructs the parents to get her something to eat. Making certain that she has the comforts of a good meal is an example of chrestotes shown to the girl. It is a sweet, gentle gift beyond the miracle of healing.

We can offer chrestotes to those who suffer by working to ensure that they have the physical needs and comforts they may desire. We can’t offer miracles, but we can offer kindness in small gifts of tending to another – providing a blanket, a soft pillow, a special food – anything that may improve their physical situation.

Chrestotes does not involve major miracles. Instead it involves gentle hands providing small gifts.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Visit someone in the hospital, in their home, or in a retirement community and bring them something that will give them joy.

Chrestotes 3

Matthew 10:40-42

On our way to class in Delaware, Ohio last summer, my friend and I stopped at Wal-Mart to get some supplies. Among other things, I found a box of chocolates (the ones wrapped in gold foil), and in appreciation for helping us find what we were looking for, I gave one of the chocolates to an employee.

Caught up in the fun, I gave one to our cashier, then one to another cashier, and another. Then one went to a fellow customer and one went to the greeter. I left the store with only a few chocolates but an incredible warmth from sharing simple kindnesses.

In chapter 10 of Matthew Jesus is sending out the disciples to be in their own ministry for a while. And so the bulk of this chapter is instructions for these twelve. Jesus concludes with today’s reading. Those who receive the disciples receive who else as well? What do you think a prophet’s reward might be?

Jesus sums up all of his instruction with the promise that those people who receive the disciples will be blessed. His final comment is that anyone who gives as small of an act of kindness as giving a cup of water to a child will be rewarded by God.

The point seems to be that acts of chrestotes need not be profound or earth-shattering. Welcoming an evangel receives blessings. Listening to a prophet receives blessings. Even a cup of water given in kindness nets blessings from God.

Why is that? Well, Jesus explained that if you receive – that is, welcome and listen to and obey – the one he has sent, then you are also welcoming, listening to and obeying Jesus. And if you do all that with Jesus, you are doing it with God, because God sent Jesus and Jesus sent the disciples.

But it is also because you have an attitude of chrestotes – a gentle, sweet kindness. You are willing to be kind and giving, even in little things, things that can be overlooked.

This receives blessings from God. This fills our spirit with goodness and holiness. It is the simple and small things – small acts of goodness – that make the biggest difference sometimes.

We can’t overlook the bigger efforts for God’s kingdom, certainly, but not everyone is called and equipped for big efforts. All of us are capable of showing kindness in some way, and all of us are called to exhibit this chrestotes in all things.

DAILY CHALLENGE: The next time you are in a check-out line, ask the cashier which bottled drink they prefer and then buy them one to be enjoyed on their break.

Chrestotes 2

Deuteronomy 24:19-21

One of the hardest things for me to do is share a dessert, especially if it is chocolate. Even when the serving size is far too big for what I need, I am greedy in my attitude, wanting it all for myself. In that sense I am poor at showing chrestotes.

The Book of Deuteronomy offers many rules, regulations, and guidance to living a godly life. In this passage specific guidelines are made for being kind to others who are in need.

What are people NOT to do in the three harvests mentioned? Who will benefit from this? What will God do?

No specific amounts are listed in this passage from Deuteronomy. If you are skilled at harvesting it is possible that you will leave very little behind. There may not be much that remains after you have finished.

But the amount is not what is important. The intention is important. The idea is that we shouldn’t be greedy in what we get or what we have. Don’t go back over the fields or the branches or the vines a second time to gather up every little scrap. Take what you want, but be kind and leave something behind.

This practice was meant to offer kindness – chrestotes – to those in need. The poor, the stranger, the foreigner, the widows all then had an opportunity to receive the benefits of a kind attitude. It was an act of sweet and mellow giving. It did not require a large sacrifice. It simply required a good attitude.

We may not be farmers (and even today’s farmers rarely have people wandering through their fields gathering what is left). We may not raise olives or own a vineyard, but we do have something.

Spare change dropped in a container to benefit the underprivileged can be an act of chrestotes. Old, but useful clothing or old, but useful furniture donated to homeless shelters or soup kitchens can be an act of chrestotes. The item or amount is not what is important. The attitude is.

Large contributions given to help out good causes are admirable, but don’t overlook the small gestures of sharing with those in need.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there something you can live without that can be offered in an attitude of chrestotes to someone who may need it?

Chrestotes 1

2 Corinthians 8:10-12

Preparing to go to Haiti to help at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, we have been raising funds for our trip and gathering needed items to give to the orphanage. Some people have been overwhelmingly generous, presenting checks of large amounts. Others have given smaller amounts, and some have given contributions of items.

It is easy to be impressed by the big numbers, but every amount is a good amount because it is being given in kindness. All the gifts, large and small, are given with an attitude of sacrifice.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul tells them of the giving attitude of the church in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Now he has advice for Corinth. What two things did the church do in the past? What should they do now? Why?

This week we are looking at another aspect of the fruit of the Spirit – kindness. The Greek word is chrestotes (cray-STO-tays) and carries with it the meaning of goodness expressed in sweetness and mellowness. It implies a very gentle and free giving, giving which expects nothing and wants nothing in return. It is a giving that wants only what is best for the one who receives.

Many people are willing to give and share, to support others and help out. But often that giving is done with an expectation of some sort of reward. This is NOT chrestotes.

Some people do not give because they feel that what they have to offer is not good enough or sufficient. This is NOT chrestotes.

Those who have helped support the mission effort of our church have displayed chrestotes. The gifts are given in every amount and in many forms. The gifts are given with the full intention of helping others in need and expecting absolutely nothing in return.

As Paul has pointed out, the amount is not what is important. The attitude and intention is important. He reminds those in Corinth that not only were they first to give in the past, they were the first who WANTED to give. He points out that “if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable.”

As we examine our own attitude of chrestotes, of kindness, we must look to our motivation and willingness to give – whether that is money, service, prayer or attention. To express kindness we must give with a willing attitude, not concerned with the amount. We must give freely, not expecting reward.

Finally, the chrestotes must be given – the intention and attitude must be followed with the act of giving. This is chrestotes.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is your attitude in offering kindness? Is it reluctant because of what you are offering? Does it expect recognition, or is it given with the best of intentions?