Three Christian virtues I should have paid more attention to when young: are godliness, kindness and faithfulness.
When I look back over my 56 years of being a Christian, I rather cringe when I reflect on some of my attitudes and priorities I had when younger. Much as would love to go back and remonstrate with my younger self, that is impossible and the best I can do is to share my wisdom with the next generation and, even better, to be an exemplar of those virtues I now see as having been neglected.
I recoiled when my first hit when googling “godliness meaning” was “the quality of being devoutly religious” because that was such a turn off and the very reason why (I once thought) godly was not the thing to be, since religion sucks. The next hit was a lot better: “the reverent awareness of God’s sovereignty over every aspect of life, and the attendant determination to honor him in all one’s conduct”, which struck me as the thing I should have always wanted to be and rather than being a recipe for a sad and unfulfilled existence, as popular culture would have us think, it is quite the opposite and ties in with the response to the question “what is the chief end of man?” found in the Westminster Confession, to which the answer was: “man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”. Godliness is related to many other named Christian virtues, such as holiness, which means to be “set apart” that is generally connected with God’s perfection. The opposite to living a godly life is living a sinful one. While we live in a day when sin is downplayed or even promoted, those who seek to live godly lives would find this abhorrent. Godliness can also be associated with the nine fruits of the Spirit: Faithfulness, Self-Control, Patience, Goodness, Gentleness, Joy, Kindness, Peace, Love. Interestingly, two of these are the very virtues I should have paid more attention to when I was a youngster, not that they are more important than the other seven, but they were neglected. It may not always seem that way and it is not what the world tells us “but godliness with contentment is great gain” 1 Timothy 6:6.
Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, considerate, respectful, courteous etc. and in my experience, in my formative years, was not one at the fore of those qualities one was encouraged to go after, compared with others, also worthy, that were. I suspect, given my fundamentalist leaning background that kindness was a virtue that tended to be associated with those dastardly liberals and their wishy-washy views on practical theology. There were many other worthwhile things that were deemed important, such as getting a good education, developing a career, becoming financially secure, but often there was a selfish element. While being kind can have selfish intent, e.g. if we are kind to other people, they may be kind to us; kindness if widely practiced, especially to those who are unlikely to be in a position to repay one’s kindness, is often done so without expectancy of getting a reward. It seems to me that opportunities for showing kindness are unlimited; while one often has to go out of one’s way to show kindness, it needn’t be that way and opportunities arise all the time to show kindness. As I look back on people I have interacted with during the course of my life, while not necessarily the case at the time, those who impressed me most were the kind people. When some years ago our church closed and we had to find a new one to belong to, the church we chose (and remain members of) we did so because we saw as did our young son at the time, kindness in action.We live in crazy times. Many disagreeable things happen around us, and no wonder people are anxious and angry. But there is also a lot of kindness around, sometimes by those we deem least likely, including those who don’t profess Christian beliefs. May it be we are among the kind people, who are so because they see no right alternative. “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” Ephesians 4:32.
As I say, my background is a fundamentalist one. As a young Christian in a church where people knew their Bibles and professed its teaching to be the most important things in their lives, it was a cause for bemusement that the Lord appeared to be moving in other churches, including those less biblically sound, but not my one. I well recall confronting the elders with this observation (which remains valid incidentally) and being put in my place. I was told it was more important to be faithful than successful and that included being true to the scriptures and doing one’s duty, like regularly attending meetings and taking part in church activities, irrespective if fruitful. This rather pushed faithfulness down in the order of my list of important qualities. All these years on, I have come to revise my list of priorities, having seen many a spectacular Christian fall by the wayside and those who have plodded along (like the tortoise who raced against the hare) still going strong. While it is true that some faithful types can be frustratingly set in their ways, refusing to respond to what is important, this cannot detract from their resolve to be faithful despite what else was happening and what others think. Their mantra was typically to do what needed doing, without ostentation, as best and as thoroughly as they could, even at the cost of being considered boring and unwilling to adapt. I can think of no greater accolade than that which was given at the end of one of Jesus’ parables: “well done, thou good and faithful servant” Matthew 25:21. May it be that way with us who choose to be faithful.
Writing about the passing on of the proverbial baton to the next generation has been rather an obsession of mine. I have written along such lines at least twice in my blogs: “Lessons I would like to pass onto the next generation” and “Passing on wisdom learned the hard way to the young”. Of course there are other virtues, one of which is meekness, which is one of the virtues of the King who is coming to reign. The Preacher, passing on his wisdom in the Book of Ecclesiastes, understood better than any how short and unpredictable life was and is why he could counsel at the end: