Aug. 3, 2021
According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). They are counter to and often inhibited by the vices of envy, vainglory (pride), sloth, avarice (greed), anger (wrath), gluttony, and lust.
Virtues and vices are not personality traits; instead, they are the result of our habits. These habits transform us from the inside out, one decision and action at a time. Thankfully, habits can be changed, but they are not changed through passivity. Change requires a willingness that is intentional, tenacious, and consistent. By familiarizing ourselves with the seven virtues—and their opposing vices—we can develop new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.
The first virtue we will consider in this seven-part series is kindness.
Put simply, kindness is the disposition of being considerate, service-minded, and concerned for others’ well-being, without desiring or expecting anything in return. This virtue is discussed and commended throughout Scripture. Paul talks about kindness in almost all of his letters to the early church. He commands them, “Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). In addition, Paul says that we should, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
In the 2015 film adaptation of Cinderella, Cinderella’s mother charges her daughter to “Have courage and be kind.” This simple piece of advice is very insightful. Kindness requires courage because it goes against the current of a self-centered world. And the best examples of courage require kindness because they involve being considerate and aware of the needs of others.
Cultivating the virtue of kindness is challenging precisely because it immediately confronts our human desire to be seen and noticed. Our culture is a conditional one—we give so that we can take. But kindness requires us to give with no expectation of getting anything in return. It requires denial of self for the benefit and building up of others.
Kindness is often inhibited by the vice of envy. In her book Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung makes the distinction between covetousness (jealousy) and envy, noting:
The covetous person delights in acquiring the thing itself, while the envier delights in the way redistribution of goods affects her and her rival’s respective positions. Thus, it gives the envier satisfaction to see her rival’s good taken away, even if she herself does not acquire it as a result.
Envy is a result of the habit of not loving one’s neighbor. To love is to will the good of another, but to envy is to delight in another’s demise. Proverbs 14:30 warns, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” Envy destroys one’s own soul.
In today’s society, envy is encouraged through the proliferation of social media and a culture of comparison. As we become more self-centered and desire recognition and praise, we begin to idolize our success at the expense of another individual or group’s failure. Kindness refutes these impulses by pursuing peace and healing with one’s neighbor. Moreover, kindness recognizes that retribution will not heal or satisfy any past pain, but by serving and considering one another, we will restore unity.
The first step to cultivating the virtue of kindness and overcoming the vice of envy is, as W. H. Auden wrote in his poem Many Happy Returns, to “love without desiring all that you are not.” Scripture consistently praises the virtue of kindness. When we implement habits into our lives that encourage this virtue, we will be transformed more into the image of Christ.