Virtue Topical Study

<p><font color="#0077c8"><span style="font-size: 28px;"><b><span class="heading-lg">Virtue in Scripture</span></b></span></font></p><ul><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Levitucus 19:9-10</a>, leave the&nbsp;edges of your field for those who need it</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Deuteronomy 16:18-20</a>, puruse justice</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Isaiah 1:7</a>, &quot;Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.&quot;</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Amos 5:23-24</a>, &quot;Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.&quot;</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Matthew 5:16, 43-45</a>, love your neighbor and pray for your enemy</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Matthew 22:37-39</a>, the two greatest commandments</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Romans 12:9, 1-16</a>, bless those who persecute you</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Galatians 5:22-23</a>, the fruit of the spirit</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Philippians 4:8-9</a>, &quot;Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable. . .&quot;</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="">Colossians 3:9-15</a>, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience</span></li></ul><p><font color="#0077c8"><span style="font-size: 28px;"><b><span class="heading-lg">Reflections about Virtue</span></b></span></font></p><p><span class="body-copy">A virtue is a disposition, that is, a tendency, an inclination. We might add that it is a relatively settled inclination &mdash; not a hit-or-miss, off-again-on-again inclination. A virtuous person is consistently bent toward pleasing God. It&#39;s her habit. It&#39;s her nature. It&#39;s who she is.</span></p><p><span class="body-copy"><strong><span class="heading-sm">Not an abstract goal</span></strong></span></p><p><span class="body-copy">In her thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds, the virtuous person strives to please God. Here it&#39;s important to see that pleasing God isn&#39;t an abstract or arbitrary goal. Scripture reveals concretely what pleases God: being generous to immigrants, for example, and being kind to widows, orphans, and the oppressed &mdash; but never as a substitute for seeking justice for them. Justice is the foundation of our outlook toward others, and especially others who are troubled. Kindness and compassion toward them sit on top of justice for them. The virtuous person weeps with those who weep, and, more impressively, rejoices with those who rejoice. (Rejoicing with those who rejoice is impressive because it crucifies envy.) The virtuous person displays not only compassion and a hunger for justice, but also kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and gratitude. She keeps her promises. She rings true wherever you tap her. She embodies faith, hope, and love</span></p><p><span class="body-copy">When, inevitably, she lapses in her virtues, the virtuous person confesses the lapses and strives again for wholeness, aware that even her failures may be used by God to instill a sense of her sheer dependence on God.</span></p><p><span class="body-copy"><strong><span class="heading-sm">Virtues as gifts</span></strong></span></p><p><span class="body-copy">The virtuous person sometimes looks at his virtues as gifts, the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, some human beings appear to be born with a kind heart, or to be gifted with one at an early age. But other times, the virtuous person will accept that virtues are his calling. According to Colossians 3, we are to &quot;clothe ourselves&quot; with compassion, kindness, humility. Now we&#39;re talking about sheer obedience practiced till it becomes habit, and then character, and then our destiny. C. S. Lewis says somewhere that it&#39;s a lot easier to pray for a boring person than to visit him. The virtuous person will strive to do both, aware &mdash; with a kind of self-irony &mdash; that parts of his own personality aren&#39;t actually so fascinating either.</span></p><p><span class="body-copy">But should a Christian actually strive for virtue? Isn&#39;t such striving dangerous? What if focusing our attention upon Christian virtues should lead us away from faith in Jesus Christ and into an obsession with our own spiritual hygiene? What if we lose interest in the fruit of the Holy Spirit and get fascinated with fluffing up our little virtues and tucking in our little vices? What if we end up trying to graft a Ben Franklin program of self-improvement onto a confession of the grace of Jesus Christ?</span></p><p><span class="body-copy">In this connectio<span class="body-copy">n a Christian might easily fear what Emil Brunner feared when he wrote The Divine Imperative: if we talk a lot about virtues, we may begin to think of them as our possession. We may begin to think of them as merit badges. It&#39;s then only a step or two into the heresy of self-justification. The point is that justification by grace can begin to look remote when we are huffing and puffing to be good. So how might we think of virtues in union with Christ so as to remove any misunderstandings of them as self-improvement projects and encourage a healthy sense of virtuous living as a form of covenant faithful</span>ness?</span></p><p><span class="body-copy">First, let&#39;s acknowledge that a Christian&#39;s virtues derive from the sanctifying Spirit, whose secret work bears fruit within (and without) the church. Lov<span class="body-copy">e, generosity, peace, and the patient ability to put up with people who drive us nuts &mdash; these are gifts deserving quiet gratitude, which is itself one of the choicest of divine gifts and one of the most powerful generators of joy, which is another fruit of the Spirit. For the whole run of life &mdash; beginning, growth, flowering, dying in peace &mdash; a Christian depends on the gracious imagination, energy, impetus, nudging, wooing, chastening, and modeling of God. All human virtue is born and grows up in the cradle of God&#39;s grace.</span></span></p><p><span class="body-copy">Still, we may cultivate virtues. That&#39;s what obedience is all about. But we do not sow them. Sowing is a work of God&#39;s Spirit. Similarly, we may mortify our old vices (&quot;crucify&quot; our old self), but the following resurrection of our new self with its virtues is a work of God&#39;s grace.</span></p><p><span class="body-copy">Second, let&#39;s say that the object of a Christian&#39;s faith is Jesus Christ clothed with the gospel.&quot; That f<span class="body-copy">ollows is that the Christian person&#39;s virtues arise in the context of this same faith that binds him to Jesus Christ. For example, his gratitude &mdash; his blended sense of blessedness and non-entitlement &mdash; arises from faithful recognition of God&#39;s benevolence to him. A grateful Christian cannot repay God for redemption. But like good children of good parents who want to pass on healthy home life to their children, a grateful Christian can direct the energy from his gratitude out toward others.</span></span></p><p><span class="body-copy">An additional point to ponder: in such contexts <span class="body-copy">as Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, and Romans 12, Paul exhorts those who are &quot;one body in Christ&quot; to adopt virtues appropriate to building their communal unity. Union with Christ is ipso facto union with others, and a more perfect union with them will take a lot of virtue on the part of the members. Thus Paul counsels humility not particularly because the humble person will then find others more interesting and human life more engaging than one who is curved in on himself, but because Christians need to respect each other&#39;s dignity and each other&#39;s complementary gifts in order to function as a healthy body. Paul exhorts forgivingness not particularly because the person who drops her (justifiable) anger against an offender will then be able to get a night&#39;s sleep (though true enough and worth noting), but because we can&#39;t have a reconciling community unless those who have been forgiven by God believe, and act on their belief, that it would be superbly fitting for them to forgive each other</span>.</span></p><p><span class="body-copy">Finally, to practice virtues in union with Christ is to represent the image of God. Com<span class="body-copy">passion, patience, humility, and the rest of the virtues compose not the ambition of spiritual entrepreneurs, but the vocation of godliness by people elected to follow it. Perhaps there are a number of ways to image God. One of them is to live in communal love. So, in the &quot;renewal of the image&quot; passages in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3, Paul writes to churches that are divided or in danger of division and calls them to renew the image of God by such means as telling the truth, working hard so as to have something to give to the poor, and adopting a tenderhearted attitude toward sinners. The idea is that to do these things is to be like God. To act like this is to act like God. For an ordinary Christian in an ordinary Christian community it should be an awesome thing to consider that every time she acts kindly toward a truly obnoxious person, she is imaging God. And she is both expressing and strengthening her union with Christ.</span></span></p><p><span class="body-copy"><span class="heading-sm"><strong>Part of the Gospel</strong></span></span></p><p><span class="body-copy">Considerations of this kind h<span class="body-copy">elp us to see the virtue sections of Scripture in the same way we see the church, namely, as a part of the gospel and not a mere addendum to it. The reason is that these sections present us with the counsels of grace by the God of grace who knows how life flourishes in union with Christ and wishes to share the recipe. God&#39;s commands orient us to covenant living and tell us how to make it sing. It&#39;s part of Karl Barth&#39;s enduring spiritual genius to have seen this truth and to have insisted upon it. God&#39;s command is &quot;the form of the gospel&quot; that invites &quot;joyful participation&quot; in good life with God and each other. God&#39;s call to compassion is itself compassionate. When we refuse God&#39;s commands, it&#39;s grace we are refusing. It&#39;s freedom we are refusing. We think we are refusing a bad death &mdash; the death of our auto</span>nomy &mdash; but we are actually refusing a good death &mdash; the death of our sinful self. This is the only death that leads to resurrection and life. <span class="body-copy-sm">(Barth, <em>Church Dogmatics, II/2 </em>(Edinburgh, T. &amp; T. Clark, 1957), 579, 581.)</span></span></p>