Are Christian virtues just for sissies, wimps, and other losers? Or are they the most reasonable way for all of us to live? Let's check it out.
Jesus is the embodiment of virtue. He's our example. We are to become “little Christs" imitating what he did. He wants to make us over until we are perfect. Following Christ's lead, these are the virtues we are to embrace: charity, courage, faith, humility, justice, knowledge, wisdom, obedience, perseverance, faithfulness, prudence, and temperance. These Christ-like traits are to become an intrinsic part of our new character.
Some of the words such as charity, prudence, and temperance have either changed meaning over time or are no longer part of our current vernacular. A brief explanation of each may help. We will take them in alphabetical order starting with . . .
In its wider application, charity covers a large part of Christianity: compassion, kindness, good deeds, encouragement, forgiveness, gentleness, hospitality, love, mercy, and tolerance. Here is what the scriptures tell us about charity.
Paul exhorts us to compassion and kindness in Colossians 3:12, Galatians 5:22, and Ephesians 4:32. Peter urges compassion in 1 Peter 3:8. Growing in brotherly kindness, Peter tells us, will keep us from complacency and unproductive service. (2 Peter 1:6-8)
In his Sheep and Goats narrative, Jesus says, in so many words, our deeds are our destiny. Those who attend the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the sick, and those in prison will be rewarded with the kingdom and eternal life. Those who do not attend to the ones who need help are damned to eternal punishment. (Matthew 25:31-46)
Likewise, the hero in Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable was the one who acted with mercy. (Luke 10:30-37) And in case anyone missed his point, Jesus says, “The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angles, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. " (Matthew 16:27)
Good deeds remains a predominant theme throughout the New Testament. Jesus advocates them in Matthew 5:16, 16:27, Mark 9:41, Luke 6:38, and 14:13-14. Paul commends charitable acts in Acts 20:35, Romans 12:13, 2 Corinthians 8:12, and 9:6-7, and Philippians 2:4. The writer of Hebrews does the same in Hebrews 13:16.
We are to encourage one another. Paul prompts us twice: 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and 5:14. And the writer of Hebrews advises it on three occasions: Hebrews 3:13, 10:24, and 10:25.
Jesus commands us to forgive each other. In perhaps one of the most chilling statements of the scriptures, Christ says: “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. " (Matthew 6:14-16)
To illustrate the command for forgiveness, Jesus tells the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. The servant was unable to pay the king ten thousand talents which was due him. The king ordered the servant and his family to be sold to repay the debt. He pleaded for mercy, and the king relented canceling the debt and let him go.
But the servant went out and found another servant who owed him a relatively small debt. The first servant demanded payment. His debtor pleaded for mercy. However, the first servant refused and threw him into prison. Other servants told the king what had happened. The king turned the first servant over to his jailers to be tortured until he paid all he owed. (Matthew 18:21-35)
Jesus concluded this parable saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. " (Matthew 18:35)
Jesus practiced what he preached; he forgave those who were crucifying him. (Luke 23:34) Stephen followed suit and forgave those who were stoning him. (Acts 7:60)
In three of his letters, Paul urges us to be gentle: Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:1-2, and Philippians 4:5.
Peter, Paul, John, and the writer of Hebrews all praise hospitality. See: 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, 3 John 5-8, and Hebrews 13:2. One of Paul's requirements for a widow receiving assistance from the church is that she shows hospitality. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John spoke frequently on love. Love, we find, is the very essence of Christianity, the power that motivates all the other virtues. One of the most moving passages in all the Bible is 1 Corinthians chapter 13, Paul's tribute to love. It reads like poetry.
Shortly before his crucifixion, Christ addressed his disciples: " A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. " (John 13:34-35)
Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. " (Matthew 22:37-40)
Jesus: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. " (Matthew 5:44-45)
Love is the key, the essential ingredient. Paul says it in Romans 13:8-10 and Colossians 3:14; Peter says it in 1 Peter 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:7; and John makes the same observation in 1 John 3:14, 3:18, 5:2-3, and 2 John 5-6.
Jesus advocated the virtue of mercy on three occasions including the beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. " (Matthew 5:7) The other references are Matthew 9:13 and Luke 6:36. Paul too encouraged mercy in three passages: Romans 12:14, 12:17, and Colossians 3:13. James issues the stern warning that judgment without mercy will be shown to those who have not been merciful. (James 2:13)
Perhaps the most popular of Jesus’ quotes is on the subject of tolerance. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. " (Matthew 7:1-2)
Many of Paul's statements repeat Christ's plea (and warning) for tolerance: Romans 14:1-4, 14:5, 14:10, 14:13, 15:7, 1 Corinthians 4:5, and Colossians 3:13.
In general, we are to accept our fellow Christians. We should never be petty or looking for faults. Certainly we must not get into the habit of condemning others. Nevertheless, some things are not to be tolerated. We are to be constantly on our guard against false prophets, false teachers, and what they say. (2 Peter 2:1) Paul gave the Galatians this memorable warning: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:8)
We are also to draw distinctions between right and wrong and between good and bad people. Jesus told us not to give dogs what is sacred or throw pearls to pigs. (Matthew 7:6)
Paul cautions us not to even associate with fellow Christians who are *** immoral, or greedy, or slanderers, or drunkards, or swindlers. (1 Corinthians 5:11) And he told the Corinthians to expel a certain man from among them. (1 Corinthians 5:1-3) As for those who start controversies, arguments, or quarrels, they are to be warned twice. After that have nothing to do with them, Paul advises. (Titus 3:9-10)
Nor should we tolerate idlers. If a man doesn't work, says Paul, he should not eat either. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
Both Jesus and Paul tell us not to permit the church to go astray with *** misconduct. The man Paul ordered to be expelled from the Corinthian church had sex with his stepmother. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5) Jesus himself warned the church at Thyatira to repent of their *** immorality. (Revelation: 2:18-22)
What of those outside the church? There too we are to use discretion. Paul: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. " (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Again it is Paul who offers us an appropriate summary: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. " (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)
What should Christians tolerate? We all have flaws and quirks. Paul tells us to overlook them; we are to love our fellow Christians in spite of their rough edges. Then again, there is a point at which we must draw the line. Those who teach or preach false doctrines are not to be tolerated. Likewise, we cannot allow the church to be discredited, corrupted, or divided by fellow Christians. And immoral people outside the church should be avoided.
Charity under its broader meaning encompasses a large portion of Christian ethics: compassion, kindness, good deeds, encouragement, forgiveness, gentleness, hospitality, love, mercy, and tolerance. These are not nice options. We are ordered to acquire these qualities.
John Wayne once defined courage as being scared to death and saddling up anyway. Do you consider Christianity - a religion for wimps? Then consider Revelation 21:8. “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the *** immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. "
If we take that at face value, God has no more use for a coward than he does for a murderer. Both of them are damned. Christianity calls for courage. We are promised hard times ahead. See John 16:33, 1 Peter 1:6-7, 4:12-16, Acts 14:22, and 2 Timothy 3:12. We are simply told to take up our cross and follow Christ. (Matthew 16:24) It takes guts to live like a Christian.
The writer of Hebrews provides us with the definition: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. " (Hebrews 11:1 KJV) Again, the writer of Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. " (Hebrews 11:6)
Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. " (John 11:25-26)
Paul: “We live by faith, not by sight. " (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Paul: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord, ’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. " (Romans 10:9)
John: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. " (John 20:30-31)
Faith, like charity and courage , is essential.
Humility is the fourth virtue. Jesus give us two beatitudes and two parables on the subject. He tells us “the poor in spirit" and the meek’ are the blessed ones. (Matthew 5:3 and 5) And he vividly contrasts a humble tax collector with a proud Pharisee. (Luke 18:9-14) The second parable regarded taking the least important seat at a wedding feast. (Luke 14:7-11)
Jesus concludes both parables with this caveat: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. "
Jesus again advocates humility in Matthew 20:25-27 and Luke 18:17. Paul does the same in Romans 12:3, 12:16, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, Galatians 6:3, and 6:4-5, Ephesians 4:1-2, and Titus 3:2.
James tells us to humble ourselves before the Lord, and he will lift us up. (James 4:10) Paul, in addition to his other quotes on humility, says we should not do anything because of selfish ambition or conceit but in humility we are to consider others better than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
The whole concept of humility seems rather quaint nowadays. All too often, we see the opposite: arrogance, conceit, and pride. Humility? Many today associate it with losers, those with low self-esteem, or maybe an inferiority complex. If you've got it, flaunt it. That's the prevailing attitude of our times. Mohammad Allie popularized it. Our culture embraced it.
Even so, sooner or later reality kicks in and we come face to face with our own frailties. Of what do we have to be proud? our looks? our bodies? our intelligence? our possessions? or our accomplishments? Do not all end in age and death?
Humility before God should not be difficult to understand. It's nothing more than common sense when we consider our respective positions. He's the creator; we are the created. He's in charge. We live and die at his pleasure, and we spend eternity wherever he sends us. Isn't it obvious? Humility is the only reasonable attitude when we come to understand our true relationship with God.
But what of humility towards each other? Here I will venture a guess. We don't really know what makes other people tick. We don't have an inside track on their hopes, their problems, their sacrifices, or what God thinks of them. For that reason we should refrain from comparing ourselves to other folks. We are told to treat them as we want to be treated. That's our job. God will judge them. That's his job.
Justice carries with it the meaning of being fair, impartial, honest, and upright. Cicero defined it: “To give everyone his due. "
Jesus had much to say on justice. He pointed out to the teachers of the law that justice along with mercy and faithfulness were three of the more important matters of the law. (Matthew 23:23) He warns of God's justice: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you. " (Matthew 7:2)
He also gives us the golden rule for human justice: “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. " (Matthew 7:12)
Two of Jesus’ beatitudes concern justice: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. " (Matthew 5:6) And: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. " (Matthew 5:10)
In dealing with others, Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, and James tell us we must be fair, impartial, honest, and upright. See Matthew 5:20, Luke 3:13, 3:14, and 16:10, Romans 13:7 and 13:8, 1 Timothy 6:11, Ephesians 4:25, and James 2:1-7 and 2:9.
Justice is not an option, neither are knowledge and wisdom.
For conclusion - See Christian Virtues Part Two of Two
Jerry Boone, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, United States email@example.com Mr. Boone is a sailor, author, and webmaster of http://merechristianity.us His works include: Mere Christianity. us and SAFETY LINE - EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN, an apologetic study published 1998.