What would you say are the most important virtues for Christians to cultivate today? Believe it or not, but this is a question I have been wrestling with for some time. This post is not meant to downplay any Christian virtue, or to claim that some are not needed. Christians are certainly called to be like Christ and to exemplify all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-21). Rather, my goal is to ask what virtues are most critical today in light of our current cultural milieu.
I would welcome your thoughts and critique, but here is my conclusion (in advance): In light of our secular culture that increasingly considers classic Christian beliefs extreme, irrelevant, and sometimes even dangerous, the most pressing virtues for Christians to cultivate are courage and kindness.
The Case for Courage
Courage has arguably been cheapened in our culture. We think it’s courageous to speak out on a particular subject on Facebook. We think it’s courageous to tweet our support for a candidate or social cause. While these things are fine in themselves, and sometimes even helpful, Christians need to embrace a much more radical kind of courage—the kind of courage we see in Jesus, the apostles, and many other leaders throughout church history.
Consider the apostles of Jesus. They were threatened, imprisoned, jailed and even threatened with their lives. And yet on behalf of the apostles, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The apostles feared the judgment of God more than they feared the opinions of men. In fact, as I demonstrate in The Fate of the Apostles, they so deeply believed in the resurrection that they valued faithfulness to God above their own comfort. They were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, rather than compromise their convictions.
While faithfulness to Jesus doesn’t presently cost Christians their lives in the West, the temperature is being turned up. And the cost is getting greater. If this story is correct, pastors may even be imprisoned for preaching biblical truth within the church.
I have no interest in overstating the cost of following Jesus in America today. After all, compared with much of the world, we still have remarkable freedoms. And my prayer is that we can maintain them. But it would be foolish to dismiss genuine threats to religious freedom and what they mean for individual Christians who are trying to faithfully live out their convictions in the private and public lives. I have personally met many Christians torn between their professions (bakers, photographers, pastors, etc.) who need to make a livelihood, but who also want to faithfully live out their deepest religious convictions.
Here are some questions we all need to consider: Will we stand courageously for our faith, like Daniel, even if it costs us our jobs, relationships, and freedoms? What are we doing now to cultivate courage, so if challenges come, we are ready to be faithful to Jesus?
The Case for Kindness
As important as courage is today, it is not enough. Courage must be balanced with kindness. Scripture is filled with commands for believers to be kind:
“Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9).
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
Christians are to be kind both to fellow Christians and to outsiders. Why are we to be kind? Simple: because God first demonstrated kindness to us. Ultimately, God’s kindness is what draws us to Him in repentance: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Kindness is different than niceness. Kindness is not merely saying nice things to people, but exhibiting generosity and friendliness. Kindness involves being truly gracious with others, even if they hate us. Jesus demonstrated this kindness by asking God the Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. The kindness of Jesus drew the attention of those watching (Luke 23:26-48). And by God’s grace, our kindness might as well.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
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