Being a Christian in today’s culture does necessitate strength, but not stubbornness. This is not unique to our current moment. Every Christian in every culture in every generation has needed convictional strength to stand for biblical truth against the errors of their day.
The final point in this three-article series may be the most agreeable concept on the surface but the most controversial in practice. Convictional strength requires kindness. Let me first point out why this should be part of a Christian’s display of strength before moving to demonstrate how we can still miss be missing kindness.
Why kindness matters
Even the grumpiest Christian recognizes they should be kind. The Bible frequently mentions kindness as an attribute of God and as one that should be demonstrated by His people.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is constantly judging nations, including His own people, based on how they show kindness to others, most often specifically those being oppressed or in states of need. God Himself is described as showing kindness throughout the Old Testament and into the New. Paul says God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Ultimately, God has shown us His kindness in Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).
Paul’s letters make clear that kindness must be evident in Christians’ behavior. When Paul lists out the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, he includes kindness (Galatians 5:22-23). Christian love is to be kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). Paul says he and those who have served with him are an example to other Christians in their kindness (2 Corinthians 6:6). Those who belong to God are to “put on … kindness,” especially as they interact with other Christians (Colossians 3:12).
In Paul’s final days, he writes to Titus with guidance on the type of men who should be appointed as elders. Paul considered kindness is an overarching qualification for a pastor. Those who are to be leaders in the church should not be men who are “arrogant,” “hot-tempered,” or a “bully” (Titus 1:7). Followers of Christ must “be kind, always showing gentleness to all people” (Titus 3:2).
When Paul talks about communicating the Christian message in the midst of “human cunning” and “techniques of deceit,” he says we must speak the truth, but we must do so “in love” (Ephesians 4:15). When Paul gave instructions on how to act “toward outsiders,” he said the speech of Christians must “always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6). As followers of Jesus remove anger and the like from their lives, they are to replace it with kindness (Ephesians 4:32).
Most Christians probably recognize these verses and understand the calling to be kind. They recognize kindness as a fruit of the Spirit and understand it should be a characteristic of one following Jesus. But for some, it stays aspirational and never becomes actual.
So why aren’t we kind?
The previous section could seem like a laundry list of Bible verses, but we must establish the biblical commands and expectations of kindness before we can move any further. There is no point in discussing our lack of kindness until everyone agrees that, regardless of whether we actually are kind, we should be kind because the Bible calls us to be kind. There is no “Get Out of Kindness Free” card we can play because we hold to the right theological beliefs.There is no “Get Out of Kindness Free” card we can play because we hold to the right theological beliefs. Click To Tweet
Christians should be kind and in many ways, when speaking of the group as a whole, Christians are kind. It would be wrong to gloss of the real ways Christians display kindness to each other and their non-Christian neighbors. Yet, characteristics like “kindness” and “winsome” are derided among some groups. And we can see this new dismissal of those character traits most often online.
Our lack of kindness is frequently displayed on social media platforms, as they incentivize anger and aggressiveness. Numerous research studies demonstrate that we gain approval and followers on social media by attacking those on the “other side.” Regardless of the behaviors social media apps reward, Christians should be pursuing a higher calling of better character. Yet, we see Christians following the rageful crowd.
Too often you discover the angriest people on social media, those who spend their whole time on the platforms attacking and criticizing others, proudly proclaim themselves to be Christians. Many have “pastor” in their bios. One way some Christians mimic culture instead of Christ is by copying the acidic tone of social media and political talking heads.
As we become active participants in social media aggressiveness, the tendency is to find ways to excuse what we would recognize as wrong behavior in any other setting. For many Christians, we are tempted to redefine these attacks as defending our faith or standing up for truth. This is where convictional strength is replaced with mere stubbornness.One way some Christians mimic culture instead of Christ is by copying the acidic tone of social media and political talking heads. Click To Tweet
Stubbornness refuses to allow the possibility that I or anyone on “my side” could be wrong. And so, because I can never be wrong, all of my behavior is justified. If I’m angry, it’s because you deserve it. If I’m being dishonest about you or making false assumptions about your motives, it’s only because I’m defending truth and biblical standards. Our stubbornness refuses to allow us to recognize the disconnect.
Convictional strength can confidently assert that God is never wrong and His Word is always true, while allowing for the reality that I could be wrong in my interpretation and application of His truth. In fact, that’s a given, seeing as how I am not God. Recognizing that culture affirms some biblical truths while denying others and that no one group always gets it right, faithful Christians who display convictional strength must constantly evaluate their ideological positions in light of Scripture. We must always go back to the Bible to reaffirm our commitment to it, not the positions we attribute to it.
Convictional strength requires Christians be ready to oppose broader culture but also the subculture in which we’re most comfortable. That may mean speaking against your preferred political party. It may mean challenging the status quo of your social circle. This type of honest reflection cannot grow in a soil of stubbornness devoid of humility. You cannot learn self-critique when all you cultivate is self-defense.You cannot learn self-critique when all you cultivate is self-defense. Click To Tweet
In the midst of these temptations, God has given us two different solutions. First, He has promised to continue working until we fully reflect His image. Secondly, He has given us a church body that helps us in the areas where we are lacking.
This series has focused on those elevating stubbornness and lacking kindness. That is a temptation for many. Others, however, are tempted in the reverse direction. In an effort to avoid controversy or start arguments, they can fail to take strong stands for God’s truth. They may not want to outright deny biblical standards, but they want to soften them and make them more palatable for a modern culture. That is not the way of Jesus either.
The same Jesus who told the woman caught in adultery that He did not condemn her also told her to go and sin no more. Grace, forgiveness, kindness and love can coexist with truth, morality, standards and expectations. We know this because Jesus embodied them all. If you want to see convictional strength in action, all we have to do is read the Gospels. As in all things, Jesus is our model. May our lives reflect Christ more today than they did yesterday and on and on until we see Him face to face.
First post in the series: The Type of Strength We Need—and the Type We Don’t
Second post in the series: The Christian’s Need for Strength Is Not New