A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians

By Cris Hernandez, Child of God

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I – Preparation

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  (Gal.2:20)

Chapter

1) Notes on Spiritual Growth            

2) Definitions 

3) All Human Needs Are Satisfied In Christ

4) Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage 

5) Understanding the Meaning of Virtue      

6) The Beginning of Spiritual Warfare; Knowledge of Good and Evil

7) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 1- Obedience

8) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 2- Knowing and Pleasing God

9) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 3- Preparing for Heaven

10) The Acquisition of Virtues:  How To

 

Part II – Pursuit

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”  Job

 Chapter

11) The Foundations of Virtue:  Fear of the Lord, Knowledge, Wisdom

12) The Pursuit of Virtue:  Faith, Courage

13) Recognizing Virtue:  Discernment, Remembrance, Watchfulness                      

-The “D” test for discerning goodness from evil

14) An Attitude of Virtue:  Peace, Abiding Prayer, Stillness, Hope 

15) Perpetuating Virtue:  Purity, Simplicity, Honesty, Integrity       

16) The Pleasure of Virtue:  Joy, Thankfulness, Praise      

17) The Essentials of Virtue:  Humility, Selflessness, Goodness

18) Sharing Virtue: Justice, Dignity, Mercy  

19) Virtue and the Human Will:  Self-Control, Patience, Gentleness

20) Empowering Virtue: Charity, Generosity, Hospitality

21) The Beauty of Virtue: Forgiveness, Kindness, Compassion

22) The Fulfillment of Virtue:  Love

 

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation” 

Herbert Spencer as quoted in “Alcoholics Anonymous” © 1939, 1955, 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

 

Introduction

            The purpose of this book is to encourage and to challenge fellow Christians to a life of greater intimacy with God.  The study of virtues is the means to this end.  This book defines virtues as the characteristics of God, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that we can aspire to obtain as part of our own being.  To know virtue experientially, is to know God, and to know Him as if He were a flesh and blood companion of many years whose personality and characteristics are familiar and recognizable enough to be emulated.  To study virtues is to learn the ways of God such that His workmanship is readily discernible in us, in others, and in the world around us.

 

Hebrews chapter 4, verse 12 describes the Word of God as a razor sharp, double-edged blade that easily slices the meat off the bone.  In that spirit, this book aims to be a stiletto, a dagger that is just long enough, just narrow enough, and so very pointed, that it slides easily through the protective rib cage and goes straight to the heart.  Thus slain by His Word and crucified with Christ (Gal.2:20), a death to self that we might be alive in Him, the work of separating the flesh from the spirit can begin.

 

The pursuit of virtue is presented here as an exercise in spiritual growth.  Spiritual growth means increasing our awareness of the presence of God in our day-to-day lives while conforming our ways to His, from the core of our being outward.  Prior to examining individual virtues, spiritual growth issues will be reviewed in detail, including specific “how to” recommendations.  It is imperative that we prepare our hearts in humility and submission as well as being well practiced at confession and repentance prior to our attempt to learn virtue.  Since God is the goal of our pursuit, it is best understood upfront that encounters with God can be very humbling experiences.   His awesome holiness is so overwhelmingly powerful and pure, all our impurities and ungodliness become grotesquely obvious to us as we near Him.  First, our imperfections are exposed and then our faithless bravadoes and facades are completely stripped away from us, for no unclean or impure thing can exist in His presence.  Akin to being naked, defenseless, and completely humiliated, our flesh will want to grab familiar garb and lean on comfortable crutches rather than let go of worldly ways so that our spirit may move freely toward God.  We need to be prepared for this encounter or we will be no less devastated than Isaiah (Is.6:5) when confronted with the ugliness of sin which dwells in our flesh (Rom.7).  Prior to studying virtue and having a more intimate, intense relationship with God, we as Christians, as children of God, need to be fully assured that God loves us.  We need to know with conviction that Christ has provided the means for the forgiveness of our sins (1Jn.1:9), and that in Christ we are wholly acceptable to God and welcome into His presence, worthy of His blessings (Eph.4:20-24, Gal.4:4-7).

 

With the threat of devastation to our self-image now looming, the question as to why we should pursue a study of virtues begs to be answered.  Many reasons could be given here as to why Christians should be acquainted with the virtues, but the primary reason is unity with God.  Unity with Him is the ultimate purpose of this life God has given us; it is how we honor Him best.  Virtue puts our lives in accord with life as God intended it to be.  The resulting harmony of His purpose and our intent added to the indescribable joys and pleasures we experience as we grow in nearness to God, the source of all goodness, makes this endeavor the most rewarding life pursuit option available to us.   Also, part of the beauty of this pursuit is that it can be done while pursuing other life interests, and as long as the ways of God are given top priority, all other areas of life become richer, fuller, and more rewarding.  As Jesus said, His yoke isn’t burdensome or weighty (cf. Mt.11:28-30), and the pursuit engenders the fullness and abundance of life Christ promised (Jn.10:10).

 

Our study of virtues isn’t merely a discourse on individual virtues and love isn’t just presented as the supreme virtue.  Though Jesus clearly teaches us the supremacy of love in Mt. 22:35-40, the focus here is more in line with verse 40, where Jesus says that love is the fulfillment of the law  (also see 1Pe.4:8;  Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14;  Jas.2:8).  In this work, love is presented as the fulfillment of all virtues and as the supernatural life of Christ as expressed through us.  Presenting the interdependency of virtues and expressing the need for them to grow together, may be a new approach to some readers.  The study of the component virtues provides the building blocks, or stepping stones, that need to be in place as we are learning to love.  Two things to note here, first, this work is not meant to be merely a source of information or read as a mental exercise.  Virtues must be lived in order to be learned, and this requires practicing their expression as we tend to the daily circumstances of our individual lives.  Secondly, our pursuit of virtue equates to the pursuit of God, for God is love, and since God is eternal and infinite, it is important to understand that we will never in our time on Earth be finished with this pursuit.  As humbling as this can be, to believe otherwise may lead to unnecessary frustration from our perpetual failings, or worse, giving up the pursuit altogether.

 

The pursuit of virtue also involves spiritual warfare, for there is no way to grow spiritually without combating the demons.  Demons can be understood as any obstacle that prevents a soul from being wholly united with God and His will, as the rebellions and temptations we face when we attempt to surrender fully our human will to His divine will.  The Bible portrays demons as the legions of fallen angels who are loyal to Satan, having both intelligence and purpose (Mt.12:25-27; 2Cor.2:10-11; Eph.6:11-13; Rev.12).  Their aim is to defame God and desecrate all that is sacred.  They especially hate Christian souls who have a sincere and strong desire to worship God and honor all that is His.  Demons operate using the powers of suggestion and persuasion to communicate with human souls.  They tempt the children of God into acting outside of His will.  They easily influence ungodly souls who are not even aware that demonic suggestions are not their own ideas and therefore unable to separate evil notions from their own thoughts.  The greater their influence over a soul, greater is the soul’s potential for committing acts of heinous evil.  This work aims to prepare us for this battle by first revealing the demon’s tactics and then explaining how to overcome their assaults.  Lack of preparation here can likewise have devastating results.

 

The author is a firm believer that unity in Christ and expressing the love of God are far more important than strict adherence to the doctrines that serve to divide His disciples.  Accordingly, an effort has been made to walk lightly around theological issues, choosing certain words that are less likely to be the cause of theological debate, while defining others within this text so that the reader knows the author’s intended meaning (2Tim.2:14).  For example, “unity” will be used frequently; “salvation”, “theosis”, “justification” and “sanctification” are used sparingly.   It is the author’s prayer that the purpose of this text, for us all to grow in nearness and likeness to our Lord Christ Jesus, not be compromised by our doctrinal differences.  As Christians, we all read the same book; therefore, the Bible is liberally referenced in this text as an inerrant and authoritative source of Truth.  Again, it is the author’s prayer that any current differences in our understanding and application of scripture not become an impediment to our pursuit of virtue.  The author also invites the readers to read around, or translate into their own framework of beliefs, any statement herein that is a matter of doctrinal interpretation in order to keep from dismissing the intent of the text altogether.  Likewise, if the author’s definitions don’t match the reader’s definition, the reader is invited to switch the pairings of words and their definitions throughout the text.  Giving priority to meanings instead of demanding that a particular word convey the same theological concept for all Christians is one way to keep from compromising our unity in Christ.  The author prays for your indulgence for the rewards of virtue are great.

 

Also, please do not take the aforementioned warnings lightly, learning to live in the spiritual realm has inherent dangers, whether from agitating the demons or from adverse reactions to encounters with the holiness of God.  To proceed without proper preparation is analogous to getting married without first being willing to make a faithful commitment, or having children without first being willing to put aside selfish, self-serving ways in order to rightly provide for them.  Lack of preparation here can be similarly painful and harmful to self and others. It is quite intentional that the first 10 chapters of this book all concern preparation for the 12 that follow.  It is also recommended that this undertaking not be done alone, the use of a mentor is highly recommended, as is having someone to provide feedback and compare notes.  Before proceeding, a few more specific precautions:

  • Do not compare yourself or your progress to others, you will either become smug and conceited, or disillusioned and defeated; learn to be satisfied with simply pleasing God.  Comparing ourselves to others always leads to sinful pride or an erroneous sense of inadequacy.
  • Do not believe any suggestion that the pursuit of virtue is futile, unrewarding or unfulfilling, all such suggestions are from the demons and are contrary to the Word of God.
  • Keep your primary focus on Jesus and the examples of the saints who have gone before us, do not dwell on your successes or failures; again the result is either pride or frustration.
  • As we grow spiritually and learn to recognize the goodness of God more readily, it should become easier to compliment and encourage others as we learn to live our lives in the fullness of His love.  Likewise, ungodliness also becomes more apparent.  Do not succumb to self-loathing or the temptation to point out the failings of others, and do not lose heart when those who were once esteemed begin to appear all too human.

 

The author would also like the reader to understand that these lessons were originally prepared so that the author could learn about virtue.  The author does not claim to be a “paragon of virtue”, but rather a soul who came to Christ as an adult and has had to unlearn a wealth of sinful habits in order to learn of virtue.  There are many un-referenced sources in this work because the author pursued many topical studies prior to formulating the idea of writing a book.  These sources include books, magazines, preachers on the radio and television, pastors and priests during worship services, classes, friends, and so on.  One last note; the scripture passages following the chapter texts contain lessons to be learned as taught to me in my personal travels and studies, they aren’t meant to be literal or condensed translations.

 

I pray ye well.

 

Cris Hernandez

Child of God

email:  aprimeronvirtue@yahoogroups.com

 

 

Copyright Information:

King James Version (KJV):  public domain (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible)

New American Standard Bible (NASB*):  © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

New International Version (NIV):  © Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

(* Unless otherwise noted, scripture passages quoted within this text are from the NASB)

The Philokalia: (Vol. I © 1979 The Eling Trust; Vol. II © 1981 The Eling Trust; Vol. III © 1984 The Eling Trust; Vol. IV © 1995 The Eling Trust; Vol.V unavailable to the author)

Concerning scripture contained within quotes taken from The Philokalia, “All Biblical passages have been translated directly from the Greek as given in the original Philokalia.  This means that quotations from the Old Testament are normally based on the Greek Septuagint text.”   (from the translators of the Philokalia)

Note:  text within the quotes from the Philokalia and elsewhere contained within brackets “[example]” is from the author.

 

The author extends his appreciation to all his teachers whose thoughts are contained within this text as well as to those who supported him while these lessons were being prepared.

 

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Chapter 20 – Empowering Virtue – Charity, Generosity and Hospitality

Charity:  to provide for the needs of others without thought of repayment

Generosity:  the joyful spirit of giving freely of one’s self and one’s means

Hospitality:  honoring others by providing for their needs and serving them; making guests welcome; being courteous and considerate of others

Service:  contributing to the needs of the saints or the ministries of our Lord

The theme of this chapter is giving to others, our means, our time, and of our selves.  The collective expression of the virtues of charity, generosity and hospitality exude the graciousness of our Lord who said the children of God would recognize one another by their fruits (Mt.7:16).  When we affirm the dignity of others by attending to their needs; whether they know our Lord or not, they will know they have been touched by the extraordinary presence of goodness, giving them a chance to see the reality of God.  Though an ungodly soul will most likely need help understanding the living expression of the gospel, merely being a recipient of His grace can soften their hardened hearts and make them more receptive to hearing the gospel message.  Unselfishly attending to another’s need is a gospel seed of great potential.  Concerning our witness to others as ambassadors of Christ, St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times… and if necessary, use words”.  Being charitable towards others is to share a portion of the bounty of God that has been entrusted to us.  Generosity is the endearing spirit that compels us to give amply to others our time, our energy, or our trove of possessions.  Being hospitable honors both the deserving and undeserving without distinction, with kindness and consideration towards guests in our home or those we meet in public.  Service is the fulfillment of our responsibilities towards the ministers and ministries of our Lord.

Charity

A self-serving life is a sign of the flesh while charity is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work within us (1Cor.3:3).  The “jealously and strife” St. Paul speaks of here comes from a lack of thankfulness associated with being in want, want of more, and not being content with the provisions and blessings God has already deemed fit to entrust to us.  Hoarding money and things while neither giving nor sharing our time, our efforts, or our virtues, does nothing to engender a life full of His blessings and rewards.  Selfishness is the root of discontentment that comes from wanting more; it is also the ungodly source of motivation that leads to gathering more at the expense of others.  This is not to suggest that the children of God will never find themselves in need, for in order for one person to learn to give, there must be another who is willing to receive.  We must all learn to do both, for it is sinful pride that causes a soul not to accept charity, and greed that keeps us from giving to others.  May we be blest with all seasons (Eccl.3:1-10) so that we will learn our lessons presently and become fully prepared to meet our Lord (see the Parable of the Marriage Feast, Mt.22:1-14).  Also, being in need teaches us compassion for the needy that helps develop a more charitable heart.

Charity only occurs when answering a call from our Lord (Lk.18:19,2Cor.8:3-5); our response is a measure of our trust in Him and a sign of obedience.  Like the man who turned over his donkey and colt to the disciples merely upon hearing the words “The Lord has need of them” (Mt.21:1-11), we should likewise be willing to return to our Lord what He requests from us.  We give in obedience, and we are rewarded accordingly.  However, we are not to seek rewards or attempt to barter with our Lord by giving things away in hopes of receiving something else.  For the needs and wants in our own lives, we are to present our requests to our Lord in prayer and listen for His answer and instruction; we should also remember to ask Him if there is something we must do before He can answer our prayer.  For example, when praying to marry or have children, it would be prudent to ask the Lord if there is anything to do or learn prior to being entrusted with the intimate care of another soul.  We should likewise be prepared to hear our all-knowing Father in Heaven deny a request that is contrary to His will, not in our best interest, or otherwise harmful to others.

Charity also includes our benevolence, our kind words or an extra measure of patience we extend towards others, whether strangers or family, friend or enemy, younger or older, the thankful or the ingrates.  The greatest gifts we give are those given in service to our Lord.  Our natural talents are best used in service to Him as well.  As we grow spiritually, our willingness to exert ourselves and expend our resources in His service requires energies that need to be drawn from the well of living water.  His well never goes dry and His living water sates all thirsting (Jn.4:7-14).  Our angst over giving beyond what comes natural to us will lessen as our souls conform to the likeness of our Lord who gave His life for us.   Greediness, selfishness, the fear of loss, and the anxieties associated with extending ourselves for the benefit of others, will fade as the worries of the flesh give way to the glories of our Lord.

Charity has many expressions.  We begin by giving money or things, progress to giving our time, and grow into giving the best we have to offer, our virtues (Mt.23:23).  Kindness towards a stranger, patience with children, wisdom in tense moments, hope for the despondent, companionship for the abandoned, courage for the fearful, encouragement for the forlorn, guidance for the lost, and dignity and justice for everyone, these are just a few examples of how we are to be charitable with our gifts from God.  In doing so, we follow the instructions of St. Paul, reorienting the hearts of lost souls back to God by serving them according to their need (1Cor.9:22-23).  Learning to be charitable also means trusting God in His provision for us and valuing our treasures in Heaven more so than our comforts here on Earth (1Cor.10:32-33).  Our giving may involve making sacrifices in order to answer His call.  The flesh will rebel against charity; it’ll stir anxieties within us suggesting that our gifts are better kept to ourselves, that we’ve already given enough, or that giving them to others is wasteful or futile.  We’re not to heed these demons.  We are to have courage and be obedient to the call of our Lord.  However, this is not to suggest we give money to every charlatan whose speeches tug on our heartstrings or give ourselves to every cause while neglecting priorities at home.  The virtue of discretion is not to be abandoned, it needs to be learned and practiced so that it may properly govern all our actions.  We are ever responsible for how we expend our talents and resources (Mt.25:14-30).

Generosity

Generosity is the joy of giving that accompanies charity.  It is born of gratitude and remembrance, for all our blessings are gifts from God.  They are entrusted to us for the moment.  Our talents and our means are His provision for our care; we are likewise to use them in worship, in service, and in caring for others.  It is a graceful spirit that comes upon us when we fully trust in His providential care, donating and sharing our blessings without anxieties or fears.  We recall that blessings multiply when shared and God rewards the sacrifices made in obedience to His call.  The spirit of generosity is purely motivated by the goodness of God.  It is free of any schemes predicated upon anticipated results or returns, therefore it requires discretion and self-examination to ensure that our gifts are not tainted by self-aggrandizement, guilt remediation, or plotting outcomes.  When giving is done with purity, our motives will be above reproach and we will become known for our graciousness and giving.  Conversely, we are not to compromise another’s generosity by unnecessarily questioning their motives.  Such attempts to sate the suspicious tendencies of our own flesh are most likely the result of ungodly jealousy or envy.

Learning generosity may require practicing abstinence from indulgences and treats we customarily afford ourselves.  This is to be done only after we have given ourselves to God in totality (Deut.6:5) and are truly seeking to follow the example of Christ in His journey to the cross (Lk.9:23-24).   As with learning any new behavior, initially it may feel awkward, unnatural or forced.  As long as our expression is in obedience to the call of God, these feelings are the rebellions of the flesh that oppose the yearnings of the Holy Spirit within us Who seeks to be known.  However, if we learn to appreciate the results of our giving rather than focusing on the sacrifices generosity requires, we will learn the joy of giving and then the selfish ways of the flesh will abate.  Again, we are not motivated by seeking results, but rather by obedience, for not all recipients of our gifts will be grateful.  Some minds are so darkened they are just plain oblivious to goodness, they become unable or unwilling to acknowledge their blessings or gifts with any show of appreciation.  Such ungodly souls will withhold expressing thankfulness as a form of rebellion against goodness.  Being an angel to another soul, especially if they are ungrateful, will require that we learn to be compassionate when the body is tired and when our emotional reserves are spent.  Doing so is evidence of progressing beyond the natural abilities of our flesh and into the living realm of the Holy Spirit, drawing upon and being refreshed by the living water of our Lord (Jn.4:10, 7:38).

Learning to appreciate the joy of giving will empower our willingness to express other virtues.  Generosity is itself empowered by maintaining an attitude of prayer and worship, of abiding in the Holy Spirit, and an ever-present willingness to obey all that our Lord commands.  Such a state invites the presence and power of our Lord.  For it is only when we are fully immersed in His love for us, comfortable with our identity as children of God, wholly aware of our security in His hands and able to freely acknowledge His acceptance of us and our actions, that we are able to expend ourselves for another’s benefit as our Lord Christ Jesus did for us.  When we understand that our virtuous deeds create treasure in Heaven, then we can act in faith with the full assurance that what we give to others is the accumulation of wealth and not an expense, and begin to learn of the generosity of Christ.  We will afford goodness to those who only know meanness, patience for those who have no time for us, dignity for those who don’t know the preciousness of their own life, forgiveness for those who think they don’t need it, and love for those whose hearts are barren.  Here we are reminded that the acquisition of virtue is not primarily about learning noble behaviors, it is about learning how to live in the presence of God and fostering an intimate relationship with our living Lord by allowing Him to live His life through us.  Experiencing the life of Christ by watching our own hands and by hearing our own voice as they function in accordance with the will of God, is to know the joy and fulfillment of being a living member of the body of Christ.

Hospitality

Hospitality is compassion born of empathy with eyes that see as God sees, impartial, loving and merciful.   At the core of its expression is the affirmation of the economy of God, that all souls are worthy of His blessings and due our just consideration.  Its outward expressions include the social conventions of cordiality, politeness, manners, and etiquette.  In its simplest form, hospitality can be understood as being nice to people in public and as a host who is warm and friendly when welcoming guests into their home.  However, for those whose natural inclinations lean toward being anti-social, learning hospitality requires learning to draw upon many virtues; goodness, humility, selflessness, dignity, mercy, patience, gentleness, kindness, and the impartiality of justice; all these must be practiced while learning hospitality.  The demonstrable ability to share a wealth of virtues in varied circumstances may explain why St. Paul stresses hospitality as a necessary quality to consider when choosing church leaders (1Tim.3:1-7,Titus 1:5-9).

As we learn to express the virtue of hospitality, we are growing spiritually and learning to live as God intended.  We are being restored to the sanity of humanity’s pre-fallen state, developing the mental and emotional health of righteousness.  We will likewise come to know the peace of our Lord and live with an unsullied conscience, free of semi-conscious guilt and the subconscious self-loathing that leads to a variety of psychosomatic illnesses such as sleeplessness, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders and self-destructive behaviors.  Also, by living according to Truth and acknowledging ultimate realities in our daily affairs, we become an example for others, teaching His way in all that we do (Titus 2).  We need to be patient with ourselves as we learn to serve those around us, yet be willing to combat the ungodly habits of the flesh that suggest it’s beneath our dignity to wait upon others.  Like all virtues, it takes practice.  Experience will teach us that the ways of God are more beneficial and rewarding than any inhospitable fleshly tendencies we possess or any rancor we may desire to express towards unruly strangers or unwanted guests.  Expressing or venting ill will may afford us a perverse sense of pleasure in the moment, but it stymies our growth, and hinders or hurts others.  It also leaves an ungodly odor and all who are exposed to this malodorous stench have to deal with it until the air is rightly cleared with our redress.  God knows what each of us needs in order to be healed of our reeking sins.  He also knows how to heal each of us individually.  In His time, He will prioritize and bring to our attention the issues we need to address, healing our unique flesh patterns that compromise our virtue.  We need to be willing to heed His direction, following the steps He prescribes while being attentive to the gentle nudging He gives us when our behavior runs askew of His perfect will for us.  He will prioritize; we needn’t expend all our time rehashing our many faults and failings, or obsessing over an ungodly habit.   He will lead us along paths of righteousness for His namesake and His glory, our part is to be willing to say “yes” to our Lord, and follow where He leads (cf. Ps.23).

The spirit of hospitality is summed up in the words of Jesus, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt.7:12).  Jesus likewise said, “’Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Mt.25:40).  Remembrance of these teachings when greeting either strangers or familiar guests is how we learn hospitality.  Likewise, from the parable of Jesus we know as the “Good Samaritan” (Lk.10:30-37), we are taught that our hospitality is not to be limited to those we know and like, and neither should it be tainted by our complaints nor our estimation of another’s worthiness.  We are to welcome strangers, travelers and immigrants, showing them the same courtesies we would appreciate if we were in their predicament (Ex.22:21, Lev.19:33-35).  However, our best efforts should be extended toward the emissaries of God, ensuring that our ministers of the gospel and our missionaries, and all whose vocation is in service to our Lord are kept well.

The virtue of service means contributing towards the needs of the saints and ministries of our Lord.  All souls not engaged in a full time vocation serving our Lord should support those who are (Rom.12:6-13, 2Cor.9:8-15).  When prompted to action by the Holy Spirit, anything we do to help is considered service.  We are to look diligently for the hand of God at work, and then when we discern His handiwork, we are to ask Him in prayer if there is a contribution for us to make and then be willing to follow where He leads us.  We should all be aware of our unique talents and abilities as well as our weaknesses and limitations, and be willing to use our talents in the manner our Lord directs us.  Our talents should be well worn from use and polished with care, not hidden away for safekeeping (Mt.25:14-30), and the gifts we expend not accounted for as losses, but as deposits into the treasury of Heaven.  As important as time spent in labor and money for materials are to any work, they are never a substitute for virtue; we should always monitor the condition of our own souls to ensure we are rightly motivated by the love of God.  Restitution may be required when seeking forgiveness, but it is not meant to be a substitute for either charity or service.

As with all giving, the primary obstacle most souls need to overcome when learning service is selfishness.  Also, remember that the sense of either futility or waste is a demon known to interfere with giving.  Other pitfalls to beware when serving are feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or fraudulence.  Our Lord equips us for service, and it is not our estimation of ourselves that we are to rely on, but rather have faith in His.  Our Lord is wholly sufficient and capable of all things, and since the Holy Spirit indwells all His children, we are likewise empowered when we act in faith.  Also, it isn’t a question of our credentials, for without Christ, no one deserves to partake of what is sacred for all are condemned (Jn.3:16-21).  However, since Christ is in us and we are in Him, feelings that suggest we are unworthy fakes are not to be entertained; in Christ, we are forgiven and made whole (1Cor.6:9-11).  God empowers us to do what He wants us to do, our part is to be willing to trust and obey.  On the other hand, if there is persistent, lingering, habitual sin in our lives, not just memories of times past, we will need to excuse ourselves from certain tasks if there is a possibility we may tarnish His work or harm His children.  Again, discretion and consultation are required to determine if the desire to serve is an answer to His call or an evil temptation conspired to the detriment of the gospel message and demise of precious souls.

In the Epistle to the Ephesians (please read Eph.4), St. Paul outlines the importance and purpose of service.  Our service is when we employ all we’ve learned about walking with our Lord and cultivating a personal relationship with Him while abiding in the Holy Spirit, and then begin the equally important work of building up the body of Christ here on Earth.  The church is the spiritual body of Christ, the community of the souls who are children of God.  Christ is the head, and we comprise the parts needed to fulfill all its purposes and functions.  Despite the fragmentation that has occurred in the physical church since Christ first graced us with the fullness of His presence, we are united in Christ and must humble ourselves in obedience to His cause when spreading the gospel message and while combating the influence of evil wherever it lurks.  We do so in love and in Truth, forgiving the misgivings of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the same manner Christ has forgiven each of us.  To the glory of God, amen.

Scriptural References:

 

Charity:

Pr.11:24-25, God rewards unselfish souls by entrusting them with greater abundance

Mt.5:38-42, Jesus teaches us to be charitable and not obsessed with possessions or gain

Mt.6:1-4, giving is best when seeking only to please the Lord

Mt.7:9-12, dignify others by giving them good things

Mt.10:40-42, our greatest gifts are those given in service to Him and His servants

Lk.14:13-14, God will repay us for showing honor and being gracious toward the needy

Rom.12:1-8, instruction to expend our gifts and talents liberally and cheerfully in service to God

Rom.12:17-21, being wronged isn’t cause to commit evil in return; share goodness only

1Cor.15:58, service to our eternal Lord need not have limits for it is never in vain

2Cor.9:6-11, the blessings we receive are proportional to those we give in service to God

Gal.6:7-10, only when we abide in the Holy Spirit do we receive spiritual blessings

Generosity:

Deut.15:7-11, God commands us to give generously; do so joyfully, without scheming

Ps.37:21, the righteous are both gracious and generous towards others

Ps.112:5, the truly gracious and generous soul has just motives that withstand scrutiny

Pr.22:9, being generous toward the needy brings blessings from God

Is.58:6-7, forsaking self-indulgence frees us of the selfishness that inhibits generosity

Mt.10:8, we are to share with others the many talents and blessings God gives us

Mt.20:1-16, another’s generosity or blessings should not stir envy or suspicion in us

2Cor.8:1-5, we must first give ourselves to God before we can rightly give to our Lord

1Tim.6:17-19, we are to teach generosity, humility, and trust in God not money

Hospitality:

Ex.22:21, do not to oppress strangers from foreign lands, rather show compassion

Lev.19:9-10, our excess is to be used to provide for the needy and strangers

Lev.19:33-35, the Law says to treat aliens as natives and treat them fairly and justly

Mt.25:31-46, we are to treat all the children of God as we would treat Christ our brother

Rom.12:9-13, St. Paul teaches us to serve the servants of God and to practice hospitality

1Tim.3:1-7, consider the gift of hospitality when selecting church leaders

Titus 1:5-9, again St. Paul instructs us to select hospitable church leaders

1Pet.4:7-11, we are to be in service to others and hospitable without complaining

3Jn.1:5-8, we are to support evangelists and missionaries hospitably

Service:

Mt.6:19-21, contributions to the church are deposits in the treasury of Heaven

Lk.11:42, contributions to the church and its work are never a substitute for virtue

Lk.12:35-40, we are to serve our Lord with diligence, ever listening for His call

Rom.12:1-8, we have all been equipped with talents and our Lord has tasks for us all

2Cor.9:12-15, we have His promise of grace to empower us and to provide the means

Eph.4:11-13, our church goals are unity, quality, quantity, and Christ-likeness

Eph.6:5-8, we are to serve our secular bosses obediently while abiding in the will of God

1Pe.5:1-4, those rightly motivated in their service are rewarded with a crown of glory

Commentaries:

Charity:

“The Lord will demand from us an account of our help to the needy according to what we have and not according to what we have not (cf. 2Cor.8:12).”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 274 #66

“He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs.  He gives equally to all according to their need…”

St. Maximos Confessor (7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 55

Generosity:

“Generosity is a sign of gratitude.  It speaks of inner freedom.  Everything that we are, that we can do, and that we have is precious; it blesses us and liberates us insofar as we can recognize and honor it all as a gift from the love of God.

Many rich and clever people are wretchedly off because they overlook or downright deny the actual interior dimension of life, the dimension of the gift.  The rich man who makes Lazarus search for a few paltry crumbs (Lk.16:19-31) is a poor wretch, a poor devil.  The rich person who boasts of superfluous possessions slanders God by implying that ‘so far nobody has ever given me anything’.  God is blasphemed as a ‘nobody’.

If we really sense and honor the brilliance of all our wealth and power in the presence of God, the giver of everything good, then we will not cling to it.  We will not misuse these riches and capacities for our own self-aggrandizement and false self-assurance.  We are not practicing some sort of idolatry; we are and we will be evermore generous, free to give and to receive.

For generous persons, all their possessions, capabilities, and possibilities become a treasure stored up in heaven, as they serve the needs of others, honor them, and make them happy.”

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

© 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 106-7

Hospitality:

“You also have the example of how the widow of Zarephath gave hospitality to the prophet (cf.1Kings 17:9-16).  If you have only bread, salt or water, you can still meet the dues of hospitality.  Even if you not have these, but make the stranger welcome and say something helpful, you will not be failing in hospitality; for ‘is not a word better than a gift?’ (Ecclus.18:17).”

Evagrios the Solitary (5th C.); ThePhilokalia Vol. I, pg. 32

 

“When we receive visits from our brethren, we should not consider this an irksome interruption of our stillness, lest we cut ourselves off from the law of love.  Nor should we receive them as if we were doing them a favour, but rather as if it is we ourselves who are receiving a favour; and because we are indebted to them, we should beg them cheerfully to enjoy our hospitality, as the patriarch Abraham has shown us.  This is why St. John, too, says: ‘My children, let us love not in the word or tongue, but in action and truth.  And by this we know that we belong to the truth’ (1Jn.3:18-19).”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic 9th C., Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 32 #84

“Accepting the task of hospitality, the patriarch used to sit at the entrance to his tent (cf. Gen.18:1), inviting all who passed by, and his table was laden for all comers including the impious and barbarians, without distinction.  Hence he was found worthy of that wonderful banquet when he received angels and the Master of all as his guests.  We too, then, should actively and eagerly cultivate hospitality, so that we may receive not only angels, but also God Himself.  For ‘inasmuch’, says the Lord, ‘as you have done it to one of the least of these My brethren you have done it to Me’ (Mt.25:40).  It is good to be generous to all, especially to those who cannot repay you.”

ibid. pg. 32-33 #85

Service:

“Those who because of their spiritual immaturity cannot yet commit themselves entirely to the work of prayer undertake to serve the brethren with reverence, faith and devout fear.  They should do this because they regard such service as a divine commandment and a spiritual task; they should not expect reward, honor or thanks from men, and they should shun all complaint, haughtiness, negligence or sluggishness.  In this way they will not soil and corrupt this blessed work, but through their reverence, fear and joy will make it acceptable to God.”

St. Markarios of Egypt (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 294-5, #24

Chapter 19 – Virtue and the Human Will – Self-Control, Patience, and Gentleness

Self-control:  exercising one’s will to avoid sin; the ability to pause momentarily and consider the goodness of God before taking action as opposed to acting on impulse; prudence, moderation, self-restraint, sobriety, propriety

Patience:  willingness to wait without emotional disturbance and without forcing one’s will upon circumstances or others; intentionally allowing time for exercising faith rather than acting in haste; waiting faithfully without anxieties for the hand of God to move; seeking divine discernment prior to making decisions or taking actions

Patient Endurance: steadfast, serene pursuit of holiness despite all distractions or shortcomings

Gentleness:   having a firm foundation of faith that is not easily shaken or perturbed; maintaining purity of heart and godly motivations when temptations arise; absence of self-serving anger or wrath; prevailing over the incendiary events that would otherwise lead to ungodly motivations and behaviors

Acceptance:  the ability to perceive circumstance and events as neither agreeable nor disagreeable, but rather receiving all as being sent or allowed by God and therefore possessing the potential for greater good for all those who love Him

Stillness (dispassion):  the ability to abide in the Holy Spirit despite demonic attacks or chaotic circumstances; the ability to diffuse the aggravating aspects from irritations and remain undisturbed while addressing life events; the ability to adapt to people and situations without denial or judgment, allowing the current status to be the starting point for the work of God; level headed; being in tune with the Holy Spirit; impartial but not indifferent toward the world around us

 

 

We have thus far spoke of the human will in terms of surrender, of using our power of choice to subject our decision-making processes to the lordship of Christ, choosing His will rather than acting on our own desires.  Here we learn of the virtues that help our human will conform to the will of God.  Self-control, patience and gentleness empower our human will with goodness from God so that we are able to act in obedience and avoid sin.  Recall that the human will is exercised with every decision we make; willpower is acting in human fortitude and continence while willingness and surrender means freely giving God authority over our decision-making processes.  Self-control is ever necessary in that it precedes all other virtues whenever we have time to think before acting.  Patience is the willingness to refrain from acting on base passions while maintaining our emotional saneness when aggravated by irritants.  Gentleness is the understanding that God is ever-present and in control, and applying this knowledge such that we do not become upset or dispirited when circumstances become difficult.  Instead, we maintain our hope in His goodness and abide in His love.  Together, these three virtues give us means to express kindness and compassion rather than succumb to outbursts of the flesh.  They are with us all the moments of our lives; self-control in the immediacy of the moment, patience for the duration of the temptation, and gentleness as the continuous, unperturbed stillness of grace from times past into eternity.

 

Self-control

 

Self-control should be the most short-lived virtue yet the most frequent aside from the pervasiveness and all-inclusiveness of love itself.  Self-control occurs in the brief moments between impetus and action; it assumes circumstances that require its use and it gives us just enough time for our thoughts to ascend to the heavenly realm, to commune with the Eternal instead of succumbing to patterns of mindless and base reactions or demonic suggestions.  Self-control is momentary mastery over the body, especially the tongue.  Self-control is a prelude to all expressions of virtue since all actions above mere instinct require time for our mental processes to access our knowledge, exercise discretion and remember the lordship of Christ Jesus.  Self-control would be indistinguishable from willpower if it persisted, but properly used, it gives way to other virtues as soon as the transition can be made safely, without progressing from temptation to sin.  Therefore, self-control is an integral component of spiritual warfare, giving us the time to don “the full armor of God” (Eph.6:10-19) in our battles against the preponderance of evil and its attempts to infiltrate our souls or infect others through us.

 

Self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we use as a spiritual defense mechanism to preserve our holiness.  It is likewise needed to further the sanctification of our bodies and souls so that our spirit isn’t subject to the capricious assaults and temptations the demons hurl at us.  Self-control is essential in preserving our dignity because it is our first line of defense against the degradations of sin born of impetuosity.  Self-control keeps our thoughts, words and deeds in the spiritual realm by not letting the body or soul dictate decisions, keeping us aloft in the Holy Spirit instead of condescending to the flesh.  Self-control is a spiritual blessing that gives us the power to uphold our morals and ethics instead of succumbing to the lustful cravings of our bodies or the base passions of souls; fleeting desires that inevitably prove to be detrimental as they run contrary to the ways of God.  The earlier in life that we learn self-control, the less likely we will develop sinful habits that compromise our ability to control our own will.  Learning to say “no” to temptations when young helps prevent losing the ability to say “no” to sin altogether, a state which is symptomatic of addictions, obsessions and psychosis.  However, if the freedom of choice is lost, it can be regained though intense spiritual effort and methodical growth; a restoration process normally requiring help from others unless one is blest with a miraculous healing.  Learning self-control, like all virtues, takes practice.  To make it a habit, we learn to pause for reflection and prayer before acting.  Doing so likewise requires a sincere desire to choose the ways of God instead of contenting ourselves with sating the desires of the flesh.

 

Patience

 

Patience begins as self-control ends; it assumes circumstances that call for its practice.  Protracting self-control becomes willpower and willpower is not desirable because it precludes reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, as we begin to practice self-control we should likewise learn to follow through by immediately acknowledging our dependence upon His grace and pray for patience.  Patience is recognized as giving priority to our trust and hope in His Word instead of letting trying situations cause an abrupt end to abiding in His peace.  Self-control overcomes the outburst; patience prevents the tirade following the momentary disturbance (see chapter 4 “Stages of Sin”), allowing us time to reorient ourselves towards God and consciously reestablish our abiding in Him before responding.  Patience gives us time to seek His wisdom and exercise discernment so that we do not compound an already difficult situation with our own sin.  Patience gives us the option of choosing to stay in His will, to bring His peace, beauty and compassion into our world instead of giving way to our own lowly expressions of the flesh.  By engaging life’s irritants and temptations with the goodness of God, we can turn trying times into spiritually productive opportunities for others and ourselves.  When situations call for patience, we are being given a chance to practice our virtues and learn new lessons in the ways and depths of the love of God.  Patience can turn an ungodly predicament into a glorious moment showcasing the goodness of God; therefore it is an essential element of any Christian ministry.

 

While exercising patience, a variety of other virtues may need to be practiced in order to share our abundance of life in the Holy Spirit.  For instance, if suffering an injustice is the cause of our disturbance, bringing the influence of godly justice to the situation can quickly send the demons fleeing, whereas inflicting our own fleshly sense of self-restorative justice invites a host of self-serving demons into the fray.  When we seek our own way and abandon the virtues patience affords us, our motivations will appear to others as anger, worry, disdain, disgust, wrath, bitterness, malice, or vengeance.  None contributes to the glory of God; none furthers the cause of the gospel or invites His goodness.  Without patience, sin is a virtual inevitability as we regress to creating more situations that exacerbate the need to exercise self-control.

 

Habituating patience prevents creating regrets.  By practicing patience, we avoid the tendency toward sins born of passions and agitations, thereby eliminating the power source behind the behaviors that compromise and strain our relationships.  We are to fellowship with other Christians and light the pathway to God for all peoples.  Without patience, our pure intentions will be overcome by common frustrations, resentments and callousness, and all these impede our ability to share the love of God.  Learning patience allows us to love others with the continuity born of abiding in the Holy Spirit, an uninterrupted growth that leads to a bountiful harvest of His fruits.  Practicing patience helps us reap the rewards of healthy and mutually supportive relationships.  When there are lapses in our patience, we should thank God for the beautiful recourse we have by seeking forgiveness and forgiving others.

 

When tempted to lose our patience, remembrance restores our trust in His providential care as we recall the fact that God makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rm.8:28).  His goodness is for all His children, not just select individuals; patience gives the mercies of God time to integrate into the fabric of our lives whereas impatience is outside the will of God and therefore counter-productive to goodness.  We need to remember that God is eternal and meets our needs, and us, in the moment; with patience we understand that goodness will prevail eventually and eternally.  Patience brings an eternal perspective to our immediate circumstances, allowing us to see the eternal rewards of goodness rather than getting lost in the intensity of trying moments and succumbing to the carnal desire of the flesh.  Sins of passion, the source of many lifelong regrets, tend to take us down multiple paths of self-degradation simultaneously.  There is the shame and guilt resulting from the deeds themselves, as well as a compromised self-image from being the kind of person who does such things.  It is hard to think well of ourselves when we habitually fail to keep our relationships healthy, wholesome, supportive, affirming and sin-free.  Acting on impulse or expressing impatience devalues others by failing to respect their dignity.  Whether using someone to satisfy selfish needs or venting frustrations at another, it can be excruciatingly painful when God brings these ungodly motivations to our attention (cf. 2Sam12:1-23).

 

Patient endurance is a steadfast patience that outlasts wily demonic schemes.  It is a long-term patience, providing continuity of grace from one temptation or trial on to the next until there is a resolution.  It maintains hope while seeking His mercy and grace.  Remembrance of Christ and His patience with us when we tarry to repent or forgive, gives us an example to follow.  Such remembrance also provides motivation to share with others what He has so mercifully given us.  Patient endurance leads to purity by consistently bringing the goodness of God to bear upon the people and the circumstances of our lives, progressing in the work of God rather than always starting from scratch.  By abiding in the Holy Spirit and building upon past efforts, patient endurance acts as a bridge that traverses the torrents of sin as we progress along the path to the abundant life Christ promised us.

 

Gentleness

 

Gentleness means having a firm faith that allows us to remain unperturbed and unshaken under difficult or stressful conditions.  To be gentle, we must be willing to part with all demeaning, hostile, violent, or irreverent motivations.  In the letters of the New Testament, when gentleness is spoken of, it is frequently used when giving instruction on how to correct or counsel others.  When we are called upon to counsel another, we are to be gentle, exercising both tact and diplomacy.  Also in these passages are lists of behaviors that are contrary to gentleness or otherwise negate this virtue.  These lists can be used to gain a better understanding of what it means to be gentle by outlining what we must avoid to learn gentleness.

 

In Galatians chapter five, gentleness is included as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Prior to this reference there is a long list of behaviors that are contrary to virtue.  These “deeds of the flesh” are “immorality, impurity, sensuality, envying, drunkenness, carousing”, and “boastful, challenging one another, envying one another”.  From Colossians chapter three, we add “passion, evil desire, greed” and “anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech” to our list.  From 1 Timothy 6, we learn that conceit, evil suspicions, “morbid interest in controversial questions”, and strife all compromise gentleness.  Then in 2 Timothy 2, we extend this list to include haughtiness in our speech, “worldly and empty chatter”, jealousy, succumbing to “foolish and ignorant speculations” or “selfish ambition”, or being quarrelsome.   In 1 Peter 3, we are instructed to avoid “returning evil for evil or insult for insult”.  When we are free of all these motivations and behaviors, we can then begin to practice the virtue of gentleness.

 

Gentleness is the virtue we must learn prior to attempting to correct or counsel our brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we allow gentleness to be compromised by anything listed in the previous paragraph, our attempts to help others will most likely be rejected in both the short and long term.  Gentleness firmly asserts correct teaching without asserting our personal feelings, proclivities or preferences upon another.  Gentleness likewise negates any belittling of another with insulting, shaming, or self-promoting words.  It likewise prepares us to remain unperturbed when our efforts to share the gospel are countered with irreverence, rebuttals, or personal attacks on us.  Gentleness replaces all manner of anxieties and inner turmoil when we keep our focus on the example of Jesus in remembrance of His Word.  When practicing gentleness, our motivations will be seen as compassionate and sincere attempts to enlighten and care for others.

 

Learning acceptance removes the hindrances that compromise the virtue of patience while its practice leads to stillness.  Acceptance employs remembrance to disconnect whatever fleshly cause and effect patterns we’re accustomed to using.  As normal as it may seem to us to get upset, angry or agitated by common irritations, the causality factor is a learned response that can be replaced with acceptance.  To do so, we thankfully remember the goodness God has shown us, recall our higher calling and bring to bear the great power of the Holy Spirit upon our circumstances, restoring peace within ourselves first, then outwardly toward others.  Trying circumstances are great learning opportunities and act as a gauge of our progress; pressure squeezes us and brings out things that calm days don’t, and then by reflecting on our responses, we can measure our growth or check our immediate spiritual condition.  Acceptance avoids classifying events or circumstance as either good or evil, and does so without excessive elation or anxiety that might otherwise be customary.  Instead, we try only to discern what God would have us do in the moment while trusting that His grace will overcome as we abide in His love.  Acceptance is born of our knowledge of God and from understanding His plan for us as revealed in scripture.  We recall our great inheritance in Christ and contrast that with the puniness of our momentary discomfort.  Acceptance acknowledges the economy of God and trusts in His provision, placing greater value on His blessings than the acquisition or loss of material things, or our level of comfort or suffering.  By doing so, we can gracefully accept success and failure, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, and do so without compromising our virtue.

 

Acceptance is a virtuous alternative to the stresses, anxieties and worries that erode the quality of our relationships.  Acceptance is contrary to the ambitions of jealousy, envy and greed, and therefore eliminates the troublesome situations and sins born of these selfish motivations.  Acceptance gives others the same leeway to err that we so nonchalantly give ourselves, and in doing so we witness the affirming love of Christ and humbly remember He has shown us the same indulgence.  Acceptance understands that everything and everyone doesn’t have to be exactly to our liking in order to be righteous and good and in the will of God.  Acceptance is mindful of the fact that God is control so that when things don’t go as anticipated, we understand there may be lessons to learn or issues of greater importance than our individual likes and dislikes.  Learning acceptance gives us the ability to maintain our prayerful abiding, the peace of our Lord, our stillness.

 

Stillness is a heavenly calm, a dispassionate state of prayer characterized by being totally engrossed and absorbed in the presence of God and having all conscious awareness solely focused on Him.  Stillness is also the ability to disconnect the cause and effect relationship between the irritants in our lives and the disturbances they produce.  For example, the sound of a baby crying; many people find the loud, continuous wailing a source of agitation, but to a parent of small children, the clamor becomes a routine reminder of a child’s need for love and attention, invoking warm thoughts of caring for one’s own small child.  We can look at bothersome adults the same way, needy people crying for love and attention.  We, as children of God, whose lives are wholly sated in the abundant life of Christ, needn’t be agitated by such outcries, but rather, out of His love for us, be kindly toward everyone without becoming distraught over whatever is being asked of us or when targeted by malice.   Learning how not to become agitated by another’s selfish, inconsiderate or unruly behavior is necessary for learning how to love the otherwise unlovable (Lk.6:35).  To do so, we need to remember that God alone is the source of all the love and affirmation we need, that His justice will prevail over whatever indignities we suffer on His behalf, and that we reap wondrous rewards when sowing His blessings in submission to His will.

 

Ongoing stillness requires godly discernment, acquiring the ability to assess immediate circumstances with an eternal perspective, and using this understanding to subordinate temporary satisfactions and comforts for the greater good of pleasing God.  The desire to do this comes from understanding our righteousness in Christ; from knowing our spirit has been born anew in the Holy Spirit, replete with the desires and the means to express goodness in word and deed.  In Christ, we also have the willingness and desire to forsake ungodly temptations lest sin spoil the warmth and fullness that comes from abiding in His love.  Likewise, we have full confidence in God to supply all our needs.  When we remember how He provided for Moses’ people for 40 years in the desert, we should have no doubt that He can and will provide for our needs as well (Ex.16).  As we progress in stillness, as our peace in our Lord becomes more pervasive, we should take note of our progress.  We should notice fewer outbursts of anger, fits of worry, lusts for gossip, or any other fleshly tendencies.  When we become aware of this, we should express our thankfulness to God.  In these moments, we also see the difference between flesh and spirit, and by contrasting the fruits of each, we learn to appreciate a life lived according to His grace.  Seeing His effects on the circumstances and people around us, we rightfully acknowledging that apart from Him, nothing so good is even possible.

 

Prolonged stillness leads to purity, for purity is the goodness of God without any interruptions or corruptions.  The chaste and reverent behavior of stillness helps bring errant spouses back to the ways of God (1Pe.3:1-2).  Painful as it may be to see our closest loved ones stray from goodness, we only follow them if we forget about acceptance and succumb to the temptation of forcing our own wants and desires upon them.  Instead, we trust in God and abide in His goodness.  Should the question arise during such a crisis as to whether or not we are in the will of God, here again, we may need the assistance of another to help us rightfully discern our own motives due to our intimate involvement.  However, if we lose our stillness, we are assured of acting in the flesh and not the spirit.  The same actions can have markedly different results depending on whether or not we are trusting God in the moment and abiding by His grace.  Others see our stillness in our gentle resolve and are likewise soothed.  Stillness serves to negate the power of temptations in us so that we might avoid perpetuating the path of another’s sinfulness (or our own), essentially tripping the traps of demonic schemes and rendering them totally ineffectual, clearing the way for the grace of God.

 

Scriptural References:

 

Self-control:

Ps.19:13, David prays to keep his self-control and not to be overcome by sinful habits

Ps.32:9, self-control is governed by wisdom and discernment

Ps.40:9, when worshipping God, David gives precedence to praise over self-control

Pr.10:19, speech governed by self-control is a sign of wisdom

Pr.25:28, without self-control we have no defense against temptations

Pr.29:11, self-control is a sign of wisdom; an unrestrained temper identifies the foolish

Pr.29:18, self-control requires knowledge of God and leads a soul to godly happiness

Mt.5:37, instruction to control speech, to be direct and concise with responses and inquiries

1Cor.7:5-9, marriage is recommended for all who lack the self-control to remain celibate

1Cor.9:24-27, learning to control bodily desires helps us overcome temptations

Gal.5:16-26, the fruit of abiding in the Holy Spirit gives us self-control

1Thes.5:4-8, full days while sleeping full nights leads to sober, self-controlled living

1Tim.2:15, virtues are preserved by self-restraint

2Tim.3:1-5, self-centered souls who lack self-control are to be avoided as evil

Titus 1:7-9, self-control is a quality necessary for church elders and deacons

Titus 2:2-8, self-control as sensibleness, temperance or reverence; sign of maturity

Jas.1:26, immoderate speech signifies the absence of true faith

Jas.3:1-12, control the tongue to control the body

1Pet.1:13, instruction to practice sobriety and self-control in obedience

1Pet.4:7, use the remembrance of death’s nearness to remain self-controlled and sane

1Pet.5:8, to emaciate devilish influence, stay alert and practice self-control

2Pet.1:5-11, self-control allows us to be useful and fruitful as disciples of Christ

 

Patience:

Ps.25:1-5, those who wait for our Lord will have nothing to be ashamed of

Ps.37:1-9, waiting patiently for the Lord without fretting allows us to enjoy His blessings

Ps.40:1-3, the restoration of souls comes by waiting patiently upon our Lord

Ps.147:11, our Lord shows favor towards the faithful who wait patiently for His mercy

Pr.19:11, taking time for discernment prevents angry haste and allows for forgiveness

Pr.20:22, we are delivered from evil when we wait for God instead of avenging ourselves

Is.40:27-31, be mindful of the power of God who gives us strength; wait for His justice

1Cor.4:5, patience means not condemning others and trusting in Christ to execute justice

1Cor.13.4-7, love requires both patience and patient endurance

2Cor.6:3-10, Christian ministry requires both patience and patient endurance

Gal.5:16-26, patience is a gift that comes from abiding in the Holy Spirit

1Thes.5:14, St. Paul instructs us to be patient with everyone

2Tim.2:24-26, have patience towards adversaries in hope that they come to repentance

Jas.5:7-11, like the prophets of old, be strong and wait patiently upon our Lord

2Pet.3:8-9, our Lord has shown us great patience waiting for our repentance

 

Patient endurance:

Lk.21:12-19, patient endurance through trials is the way to the abundant life in Christ

Rom.8:22-25, our hope in Christ means patiently enduring while awaiting our reward

1Cor.9:11-14, financially supporting gospel ministers helps them endure

1Cor.10:13, patiently endure temptations until God shows a way out of it

2Cor.1:3-7, the greater our need for patient endurance, the greater comfort He provides

2Thes.1:3-4, thank God for those who endure hardships in the furtherance of the gospel

2Tim.4:3-5, fulfilling Christian ministry requires soberly enduring attacks on the Gospel

Heb.12:1-11, remember Christ when enduring either persecution or godly discipline

Jas.1:2-4, enduring trials with joy leads to a more perfect and complete faith

1Pet.2:20, patiently enduring persecution with virtue merits commendations before God

 

Gentleness: 

Ps.18:31-46, the gentleness of God sustains us through all trials

2Cor.10:1-7, Christ is gentle; as He is so also are we in our battles against the flesh

Gal.5:19-26, gentleness is the fruit of abiding in the Holy Spirit and contrary to the flesh

Gal.6:1-2, gentleness is required when correcting or reproving others

Eph.4:1-7, gentleness begets loving tolerance and preserves unity and peace

Php.4:4-9, instruction to let gentleness replace anxious desires

Col.3:1-17, gentleness is contrary to evil desires that evoke that wrath of God

1Thes.2:1-7, leaders should desire gentleness over selfish ambitions or selfish ways

2Tim.2:15-26, gentleness helps lead others to repentance and freedom from evil snares

Jas.3:5-18, gentleness is a sign of understanding and wisdom

1Pet.2:13-24, gentleness is the right response to those in authority

1Pet.3:1-9, gentleness is precious to God; it is a godly example that wins souls

1Pet.3:13-22, reverent gentleness is our defense against intimidation and slander

 

Acceptance, stillness, dispassion: 

Ps.23, David’s song of serenity, stillness and fearlessness in the presence of our Lord

Ps.37:5-9, be still in the righteousness of our Lord; forsake the angst of envy

Ps.46:10, cease striving for things and remember the providential care of God

Ps.51:10-13, enjoy the steadiness that comes when the worries of sin are absent

Ps.112, stillness comes from trusting God and knowing our inheritance is eternal

Pr.17:27, verbal restraint and stillness come from understanding the ways of God

Pr.23:4-5, instruction not to be anxious concerning the acquisition of wealth

Is.32:17-20, righteousness brings stillness, security, enlightenment and a quiet confidence

Zeph.3:16-17, a pronouncement of the stillness to be had in our Lord

Rom.8:28, loving God brings goodness to all things and negates angst over circumstances

Rom.14:1-4, accept fellow Christians without contempt for their shortcomings

Rom.15:1-6, accept those weak in faith; offer encouragement and praise God together

Rom.15:7-13, we are to accept our brothers and sisters in Christ as He has accepted us

1Cor.2:11-15, our acceptance is to be done in Truth using godly discernment

Eph.4:29-32, keep pure hearts and exude grace so that no lack of acceptance is shown

Col.3:5-11, accept and affirm fellow Christians with dignity; be free of malice

1Thes.4:9-13, St. Paul instructs us to make stillness our ambition in loving one another

Heb.10:32-36, remember our great eternal inheritance and gracefully accept trials

1Pet.3:1-6, exhibiting the grace of stillness helps bring the errant to repentance

 

Commentaries:

 

Self-control:

“Self-control is common to all the virtues, and therefore whoever practices self-control must do so in all things.  If any part, however small, of a man’s body is removed, the whole man is disfigured; likewise, he who disregards one single virtue destroys unwittingly the whole harmonious order of self-control.  It is therefore necessary to cultivate not only the bodily virtues, but also those which have the power to purify our inner man.  What is the good of a man keeping the virginity of his body if he lets his soul commit adultery with the demon of disobedience?  Or what is the good of a man controlling gluttony and his other bodily desires if he makes no effort to avoid vanity and self-esteem [sinful pride], and does not endure with patience even the slightest affliction?  At the judgment what crown will he deserve, when a just reward is given only to those who have accomplished works of righteousness in a spirit of humility?”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 266 #42

 

“The person who courageously closes his senses by means of the deliberate and all-embracing practice of self-control and patience, and prevents sensory form from entering the intellect through the soul’s faculties, easily frustrates the wicked schemes of the devil and turns him back, abased, along the way by which he came.  The way by which the devil comes consists of material things which seem to be needed for sustaining the body.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 204 #79

“A perfect man is one who by means of self-control fights against temptations subject to his will, and who endures with patience trials that are contrary to his wishes.  And an entire [whole] man is one whose practice of the virtues is completed by spiritual knowledge, and whose contemplation does not remain without practical effect.”

ibid. pg. 233 #94

“‘Break the arm of the sinful and evil man’ (Ps.10:15), by which I mean the sensual pleasure and evil from which all vice arises.  Break it through self-control and the innocence born of humility, so that when your actions are assessed and judged, no sin will be found in you, however rigorous the search.  For our sins are eradicated once we come to hate what causes them and to do battle against it, repairing earlier defeat with final victory.”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II,  pg. 359 #4

 

“Let chastity be as dear to you as the pupil of your eye, and then you will become a temple of God and His cherished dwelling place.  For without self-restraint you cannot live with God.  Chastity and self-restraint are born of a longing for God combined with detachment and renunciation of the world; and they are conserved by humility, self-control, unbroken prayer, spiritual contemplation, and freedom from anger and intense weeping.  Without dispassion, however, you cannot achieve the beauty of discrimination [discernment].”

ibid. pg. 367 #37

 

Patience:

“The saints are full of goodness, compassion, kindliness and mercy.  They manifest the same love for the whole human race.  Because of this they hold fast throughout their lives to the highest of all blessings, humility, that conserves other blessings and destroys their opposites.  Thus they become totally immune to vexing trials and temptations, whether those due to ourselves and subject to our volition, or not from ourselves and beyond our control.  They wither the attacks of the first type through self-control, and repel the assaults of the second type with patient endurance.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 282-3 #92

 

“When you have been given faith, self-control is demanded from you; when self-control has become habitual, it gives birth to patient endurance, a disposition that gladly accepts suffering.”

St. Thalassios (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 329 #64

 

“May God save us from punishment by giving us the strength patiently to endure whatever terrible things befall us.  Endurance is like an unshakable rock in the winds and waves of life.  However the tempest batters him, the patient man remains steadfast and does not turn back; and when he finds relief and joy, he is not carried away by self-glory:  he is always the same, whether things are hard or easy, and for this reason he is proof against the snares of the enemy.  When storms beset him, he endures them with joy, awaiting their end; and when the heavens smile on him, he expects temptation – until his last breath…  Such a person knows that nothing in life is unchangeable, and that all things pass.  Thus he is not troubled or anxious about any of them, but leaves all things in the hands of God, for He has us in His care (cf. 1Pet.5:7); and to Him belong all glory, honor and dominion throughout the ages.  Amen.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11thC.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 224

 

Gentleness:

“‘Learn from me’, He said, ‘for I am gentle and humble in heart’ (Matt.11:29).  Gentleness keeps the soul’s incensive power [passion] in a calm state; humility frees the intellect from conceit and self-esteem [sinful pride].”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, 62 #80

 

“Certain things stop the movement of the passions and do not allow them to grow; others subdue them and make them diminish.  For instance, where desire is concerned, fasting, labour, and vigils do not allow it to grow, while withdrawal [time spent alone with our Lord, or “quiet time”], contemplation, prayer and intense longing for God subdue it and make it disappear.  The same is true with regard to anger.  Forbearance [acceptance], freedom from rancour, gentleness, for example, all arrest it and prevent it from growing, while love, acts of charity, kindness and compassion make it diminish.”

ibid. pg. 73 #47

 

“In this way God’s grace, our universal mother, will give us gentleness, so that we begin to imitate Christ.  This constitutes the third commandment; for the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the gentle’ (Matt.5:5).  Thus we become like a firmly-rooted rock, unshaken by the storms and tempests of life, always the same, whether rich or poor, in ease or hardship, in honour or dishonour.  In short, at every moment and whatever we do we will be aware that all things, whether sweet or bitter, pass away, and this life is a path leading to the future life.  We will recognize that, whether we like it or not, what happens happens; to be upset about it is useless, and moreover deprives us of the crown of patience and shows us to be in revolt against the will of God.  For whatever God does is ‘wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen.1:31), even if we are unaware of this.  As the psalm puts it: ‘He will teach the gentle how to judge’ (Ps.25:9) or, rather how to exercise discrimination [discernment].  Then, even if someone gets furious with us, we are not troubled; on the contrary, we are glad to have been given an opportunity to profit and to exercise our understanding, recognizing that we would not have been tried in this way were there not some cause for it.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11thC.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg 94-95

 

Acceptance, stillness, dispassion:  

 

“Stillness helps us by making evil inoperative.”

St. Mark the Ascetic (5th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 128 #30

 

“If you wish to be in control of your soul and body, forestall the passions by rooting out their causes”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 310 #64

 

“You will not be worthy of divine love unless you possess spiritual knowledge, or of spiritual knowledge unless you possess faith.  I do not mean faith of a theoretical kind, but that which we acquire as a result of practicing the virtues.  You will achieve true compunction only when through self-control and vigil, prayer and humility, you have withered the propensity to sensual pleasure congenital to the flesh and have been crucified with Christ (cf. Gal.2:19-20), no longer living the life of the passions but living and walking in the Spirit, filled with the hope of heavenly glory.”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 367-8 #39

“In addition to voluntary suffering, you must also accept that which comes against your will – I mean slander, material losses and sickness.  For if you do not accept these but rebel against them, you are like someone who wants to eat his bread only with honey, never with salt.  Such a man does not always have pleasure as his companion, but always has nausea as his neighbor.”

Ilias the Presbyter (12th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 39 #49

 

Chapter 17 – The Essentials of Virtue – Humility, Selflessness, and Goodness

 

Humility:  submission to the value system of God in all things; characterized by:

  • acknowledgment that the value of a human soul is solely determined by God, although He blesses His children with different talents, abilities and qualities, all souls are precious to Him
  • willingness to put another’s needs and concerns before one’s own
  • performing all good deeds solely for the love of God without thought of any immediate recognition, reward or praise from others; being satisfied and comforted solely by knowing that one has pleased God;  selfless, sacrificial service to God and man;  having a servant’s heart
  • giving credit where credit is due, being thankful for all one’s blessings (talents, strengths, possessions, abilities, etc.); ability to praise another’s talents, blessings, and achievements without jealousy or envy; ability to encourage and assist another’s spiritual growth without thought of self
  • willingness to perform any task in obedience to God, from menial to strenuous, either low or high profile, either controversial or mundane, and doing so without thought of self
  • uncompromised exaltation and praise for God who is Lord of All, right reverence for God, meekness especially in the presence of God as well as in our relations with others
  • purity, gentleness, simplicity, peacefulness, dignity, prayerfulness, and reverence in one’s demeanor and mannerisms;  courteous and polite, acknowledging and affirming another’s worth to God in all interactions, acknowledging the dignity of all souls
  • ability to accept one’s saintliness and sinfulness simultaneously without either denial or pride
  • fear of God, discernment in Truth without compromise
  • absence of pride, arrogance, self-promotion, attention seeking, conceit, self-centeredness, and without attitudes of superiority in regards to one’s life, abilities, or ideas
  • absence of violence, contempt, ill will, vengeance, or condemnation in dealings with others
  • ability to accept criticism without reprisal, or injustice without retribution;  hearing criticism  with acceptance, tolerance, patient endurance, and temperance, ever deferring to God as judge
  • evidence of the grace of God at work on one’s soul, that spiritual battles are being won

 

 Selflessness:  without concern for one’s self, unselfish; ability to put another’s well-being ahead of one’s own concerns; self-sacrificing

 

Goodness:  approved by God and characterized by godliness; the righteousness of God within us expressed outwardly; thoughts and behaviors that are pleasing and acceptable to God; beneficial and having worth in the divine economy; expressions of purity; all deeds that result from being filled with the Holy Spirit and submissive obedience to His divine will; divine beauty; manifestations of His grace

 

In this chapter, we look at the basic and indispensable elements of being virtuous.  This is not to suggest that any of the virtues already discussed are dispensable, for without a firm foundation in place, we would not even be able to approach the loftier heights of godliness.  The virtues of humility, selflessness and goodness are essential in the sense that when they are compromised, their opposing vice wrecks any semblance of virtue already established.  There is no place in the virtuous soul for the conceit of pride, the filth of ungodliness, or the wantonness of the selfish.  Without humility, we lose God as our motivation.  Without selflessness, we serve ourselves instead of serving God and others.  Without goodness, we lose the presence of God altogether.

 

Humility

 

To be humble is to understand and accept our place in the divine economy of God.  Each of us is unique, but we are all just one among a countless number.  Each of us has unique talents, gifts and abilities, but none of these is to be used by us to determine our worth; determining the worth of souls is the sole province of God and we are all precious to Him.  He created us all and we are all likewise loved by Him.  Each of us has a role to fill with tasks ordained by God, but the work of our Lord will go on when it’s our time to go and be with Him; none of us need see ourselves as indispensable.

 

The beauty and goodness of humility can be seen more clearly by looking at the traits that compromise it, and then imagining a soul without such vices.  Humility properly reveres and respects God and His dominion, eliminating any pretense of our being in control, an arrogant sort of rebellion that laps the fringes of outright blasphemy.  The humble soul is not a braggart or boaster and does not allow sinful pride to control their speech with words of self-promotion, self-elation, and self-exaltation.  Humility allows a soul to defer their place to another rather than becoming incensed over perceived indignities; there is graciousness and gentleness instead of hoggish self-interest.  The humble soul doesn’t suffer the need for recognition and praise from others, and therefore isn’t prone to ostentatious, outlandish or grandiose behaviors.  Fanaticism, taking dares and thrill seeking are summarily eliminated.  Humility understands that all souls are precious to God and that human worth is not determined by the things of the flesh (Php.3:1-11); all notions and emanations of superiority as well as haughty attitudes and mannerisms, disappear.  Humble souls are thankful for their blessings, accepting of their station in life and harbor no need to complain or be bitter over perceived injustices or inequities.

 

Humility itself has an elusive character, for as soon as we claim to have it or become satisfied with our progress, it is gone.  To develop our humility, let’s first review the list in chapter 10; the implications of the spiritual growth suggestions should take on a weightier tone since we’ve progressed in our appreciation of virtue.  Likewise, more intense introspection needs to be done to secure the true motivations of our hearts and align our desires with the ways of God.  With greater self-scrutiny comes the need for a greater willingness to claim our shortcomings, our misguided motivations, and our resulting ungodly behaviors.  In addition, a greater courage is needed to forsake our newly uncovered habits of the flesh and adopt the ways of our Lord.  Often the crux dividing humility from its many opposing vices is determined by our value system.  We need to ask ourselves, are we willing to surrender our rights, accept less than what we think we are due, or suffer indignities for the sake of obedience to God and the preservation of our virtue?  When we are challenged or threatened, remembrance of Christ as our most holy example and then entrusting all our concerns to Him is how we learn to make God our first priority.  When we consider ourselves and our concerns as the most important determinants in our decision making, when we value our comforts and ourselves too much to endure anything for any reason other than what serves and pleases us, when our wants and desires outweigh the Truth of God and all eternal concerns, we can be assured that our virtue is being compromised.

 

To learn to put God first and value the eternal more than the temporal, we need to be secure in our identity as children of God and likewise derive all sense of self-worth from God.  Only when we truly know who we are in Christ can we persevere through the unfriendly trials an ungodly world inflicts upon Christians.  Without an identity firmly founded in Christ, our motivations are often based on making a statement about ourselves in acts of self-preservation or promotion.  Furthermore, when our motivation is to establish an identity or protect a self-image, we’re probably not seeing ourselves as mere children of God.  On the contrary, we are attempting to base our identity on the fantasies and delusions of the flesh.  This compromises our virtue and is a poor witness of gospel Truth; in order for others to see Christ in us we have to know with certainty that we are in Him.  Also, if we allow our sense of self-worth to be determined by people and things instead of God, we subscribe to a sense of self-worth subject to the fickle and capricious ways of the secular world that ultimately destroys the peace of our Lord within us.  When a child of God replaces godly dignity with temporal things such as careers, possessions, mental or physical capabilities, heritage, conquests, and the like, the resulting sinful pride becomes an affront to God.  These misconceptions beg to be destroyed so that matters of more importance may be allowed to progress, that being our relations with God and our acquisition of virtue.  The greater our reliance upon the flesh in determining our identity and self-worth, the greater is our potential for personal devastation when such things are compromised or lost altogether.  It is the nature of the flesh to expire; nothing of the flesh is taken up to be with God.  As hard as it might be to let go of the flesh and humbly adopt an identity solely based on our birth as children of God, making this decision has glorious results and is a full-sized step towards a joyful and abundant life in Christ.  Also, aside from being rewarded for our obedience when we do so, we also spare ourselves immeasurable grief by not having to learn these lessons the hard way through trials and providential disciplinary actions.  Lastly, when God holds our identity and dignity in His hands, neither our circumstances nor other people can take them from us, and we are far less likely to allow our walk with our Lord to be compromised by the insults and indignities an ungodly world aims at Christians.  To be an effective witness for Christ, we cannot spend our energies defending ourselves from attacks on our flesh.

 

Humility requires self-scrutiny that in turn requires the virtue of discernment [discrimination] if the results are to be at all meaningful and helpful.  Without, the habits of the flesh are not likely to be discovered.  It is embarrassingly easy to fool ourselves and even more shameful when we attempt to pass our delusions onto others.  For instance, seeking to be esteemed by our fellows by using ourselves as the good example when in communal prayer only serves to negate our virtue in the moment and our rewards in eternity (Mt.6:1-4).  This isn’t meant to discourage a good report that serves as both a good example and encouragement to others.  We just need to remember to keep our focus on God when doing so by merely mentioning our deeds in obedience while expounding on the blessed results and expressing thankfulness for being a trusted servant.  We should emphasize the awesome works of the Holy Spirit that have been our privilege to behold and be wholly content knowing we have pleased our Lord without seeking undo attention for ourselves.  Another aspect of self-examination is to determine whether we are fully surrendered to Him in the moment.  A quick spot check has been known to help with this determination.  All we need do is pause a moment and ask ourselves this question, “If the Lord had something else for me to be doing at this time, would I be able to stop what I’m doing and do the task my Lord has called me to do?”  When living in the flesh, the call of our Lord always seems to come at an inopportune time, or be deemed impractical or unprofitable.  Another way to determine if we are operating in the flesh or the spirit is to look at the results.  If our motivations result in behaviors consistent with manifestations of the flesh, we have lapsed from the spirit and into the flesh.  Conversely, if we see fruits that we can attribute to the Holy Spirit, we very likely are abiding in Him (cf. Gal.5:16-23).  Note, results are not meant to indicate whether we were successful in the completion of any particular task given us.  We have either obeyed or disobeyed Him.  Determining whether outcomes are right or wrong is the sole province of God.  Our abilities are too limited to make such judgments definitively.  Our part is to trust in Him and obey the direction of our Lord.  The results we speak of consist solely of our motivations and how we conduct ourselves in the moment.  Should it appear the text has digressed, let us just be reminded that humility requires intense introspection.  Such introspection requires critical discretion based on Truth and this can only be done in total submission to His authority.  Subordinating our human will to His divine will is how we rightly respond to the convictions and callings the Holy Spirit impresses upon our conscience.

 

Selflessness

 

In discussing humility, we’ve already touched on many of the basic elements of selflessness by outlining what we need to do to put others before ourselves.   We discuss selflessness by itself in order to emphasize its criticality in determining virtue from non-virtue; when acting on unselfish motivations, we lean toward virtue.  Jesus clearly states this when we says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt. 16:24).  To deny ourselves is to forego what is rightfully ours, to abstain for the sake of Christ, or to make sacrifices for the sake of others.  We do this by humbly acknowledging the greater good of God over our selfish, self-serving motivations.  Though we must be well ourselves before we can be of service to God, it’s not often that circumstances are so dire that we risk fatal consequences when putting the needs of others before our own.  Note; the wellness spoken of here is all inclusive of our physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual health.  We should also be the able to distinguish service to God from imposing requests from others.

 

Selflessness negates greed and affirms the economy of God.  The economy of God places God, His will for us, and virtue, ahead of all other considerations. Quite simply, we cannot put God first if our first consideration is always for ourselves.  We are to entrust our care and our concerns to God, then trust and obey Him.  To put God first, we must know our motivations, and to know our motivations again requires introspection.  Unexamined and blind obedience is for the childlike mind, and though this is the best approach early in our Christians lives (Mt.18:2-4, Mk.10:15), we are not to abandon our mental faculties in our pursuit of a greater faith.  Rather, we should learn and grow in our understanding of the economy of God instead of roiling in the folly of secular reasoning (Mt.16:26, 1Cor.3:1-3).  However, conversion to Christianity requires an act of pure faith because the doubting, secular mind refuses to accept what can’t be demonstrated or logically and scientifically proved; human intelligence is not the source of faith, God is.  Once the seed of faith has been planted, we are to cultivate its growth (Mt.13:1-23, 31-32), and nurture a more mature faith (1Cor.13:9-11).  A critical aspect of spiritual growth integral to selflessness is learning to be content with what we have (Mt.20:1-16, Lk.3:14).  By tracing back the source of any discontentedness we may harbor, introspection will unearth the fault within us that robs us of our joy in Christ.  Whether the source is envy or greed, an infringement upon our rights or possessions, perceived injustice or inequality, being disappointed or betrayed by others, nothing should be cause to compromise our virtue.  We are to love our enemies and be content in all things, knowing the peace of our Lord.  By shining the light of Christ on the source of our shortcomings, we can then replace them with virtues, and align our thoughts and deeds with the will of God.  In so doing, we thwart the demons, causing them to flee by using their malevolence as motivation for goodness, bringing us closer to God and knowing a greater faith.

 

Goodness

 

Goodness means God is present for only God is good (Lk.18:19).  It is by learning about God and from knowing Him that we are able to discern goodness from evil.  The collective human experience is so inundated with erroneous concepts of good and bad, of right and wrong, we need to be extra cautious with this virtue in order to appreciate its depth in Truth.  Overexposure, inane familiarity, and the preponderance of secular expressions, all serve to profane the use and meaning of what is good.  As we learn of goodness, our task will be to rid ourselves of its secular concepts and applications, then restore its eternal meaning and implications along with the reverence, wonder, magnitude and beauty of goodness.  Learning to equate what is good with God and godliness should likewise help us to free ourselves of sinful impurities; this manner of self-correction is also a way to practice the virtue of remembrance.

 

As Christians, as surely as the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we harbor the goodness of God wherever we go (1Cor.6:19).  Learning virtue is as much about allowing the fullness of His holiness into our lives, as it is learning to express His goodness outwardly.  Our goodness is the light Jesus tells us to shine for all to see so that we might glorify God (Mt.5:16).  By extolling the goodness of God through our undefiled speech and rightly motivated actions, we develop a greater intimacy with God and an appreciation for the beauty of His ways as we learn what is pleasing and acceptable to Him.  Our spiritual discernment likewise improves as we practice watchfulness, heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit our conscience perceives, ever leading us toward goodness and away from evil.

 

The virtue of goodness brings many beautiful things into our lives.  When we show goodness to others and they respond to our good intentions, we may be privileged to see the seeds of godliness take root and have the opportunity to participate in another’s spiritual growth.  To see a vile sinner being cleansed of sin, to see their lives sanctified and restored by the Holy Spirit, is a truly miraculous and wondrous sight to behold.  Goodness radiates the power of His presence and the conviction of absolute Truth.  It frees the addict from their obsession whether it is alcoholism, gambling, homosexuality, promiscuity, power (dominance, controlling), pornography, gossip, drugs, violence, thievery, or idleness, or whatever compromises a soul’s freedom.  Goodness, when learned and appreciated early in life, can prevent the adoption of sinful habits altogether.  Doing so also gives the seeds of goodness a longer life to grow, producing fruits upon fruit and an abundant life of many harvests.  An affinity with nature and all creation develops as we grow in goodness since all creation is His and it bears the attributes of the Creator (Rom.1:18-20).  Our role as caretakers of the Earth, of the lands and seas and the creatures within, becomes a part of our thoughts as we pursue goodness (Gen.2:15).  Our relationships will likewise flourish when nurtured with goodness since aligning our motives and concerns with the ways of God is how He meant for our lives to be, sinless and in accord with His will for us.

 

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and show them goodness (Lk.6:27-36).  We are likewise to pray for those who persecute us (Mt.5:44).  Should we have difficulty obeying these teachings that are so contrary to our fleshly human nature, it helps to remember that God desires none be lost but rather all come to repentance (2Pe.3:9).  We are not to return evil for evil or take an eye for an eye as we see fit (Mt.5:38-42).  We are to be motivated by the goodness of the Holy Spirit instead of pleasing ourselves.  We’re not to sate the ravenous desires of our flesh for vengeance, retribution or exacting our own sense of justice.  We are to allow the loving light of our Lord to shine on the darkness of sin with the hope of illuminating the pathway out of hell for a lost soul.  We tell others that with God all things are possible and that the abundant life in Christ is likewise available to them.  By showing the lost goodness, by showing them loving-kindness and forgiveness, by letting them meet God in our expression of His will, we may be blest with a glimpse of the joy of Heaven when a lost sinner repents (Lk.15:7).

 

Partaking of the work that pleases God is our privilege and an eternal treasure.  Reflecting the goodness of God has many rewards for us as well.  The flesh mainly considers physical features when determining beauty and thereby judges many a soul to be unattractive in some way, when in Truth, those who share in the goodness of God and let His light shine for all to see, are the ones who possess real beauty.  A physical appearance that appeals to the flesh is not truly beautiful without virtue (Pr.11:22).  Men of integrity who take to heart their responsibilities as husbands, fathers and as leaders, and women who cherish their roles as wives, mothers and being supportive, because of being true to the order God decreed, are never to be considered ugly, offensive, or otherwise deficient.  God created both masculinity and femininity and each reflects the beauty of the Creator.  So do we when we remain true to our created gender, surrendering our will and desires to God, allowing Him to shape our spiritual development from whatever characteristics we were given at our time of conception.  In the economy of God, again, contrary to the prevalent value system in the secular world, roles do not determine human worth.  Also, it is a false secular notion that says being true to one’s gender limits fulfillment in life, for we find abundance and fulfillment in Christ alone.

 

Like the magnificence of a colorful sunset, the beauty of goodness has such a warm countenance that it attracts many to pause a moment just to behold and absorb its serenity.  When we exude the goodness of God, we can expect pained and troubled souls to be drawn to us as they seek relief from their sufferings.  They will want for themselves what is ours in Christ.  As the crowds flocked to Jesus in search of a better life, when hurting souls sense the Holy Spirit in us, they likewise seek the same qualities of goodness.  However, like the brilliance of the sunrise that causes those who prefer their ungodliness to remain veiled in darkness, some will curse the light that exposes their unsavory and vile deeds.  We can be hated for our goodness when our light causes others to feel the guilt, shame, or foulness that accompanies a life of sin and separation from God.  Being good to souls consumed by semi- or sub-conscious self-loathing, to heap burning coals of goodness upon their sin-sickened heads (Rom.12:20), we may just provide the glimpse of Truth or taste of the Heaven that fractures a hardened heart into repentance.  And they, like us, can know Christ and then begin to build upon the talents given to them at birth.  Be they meager or mighty, by applying polish and tending with care, the gifts of the Holy Spirit will produce a life that is a worthy gift to lay before our King.  For faith moves the mountain of sin, dislodges the bad habits, allows the antisocial to become hospitable, changes meanness into loving-kindness, and the miser becomes charitable.  As children of God, we are the purveyors of the wealth of goodness of all creation and of the abundance of life in the Holy Spirit; we are to share the bounty (Lk.3:7-11).

 

Scriptural References:

 

Humility:

Ps.18:27, God upholds the humble and humbles the proud

Ps.25:9, our Lord teaches the teachable and reveals to the humble what is right

Pr.3:34, God contends with the mockers in kind while giving grace to the humble

Pr.11:2, humility leads to wisdom while pride brings dishonor and shame before God

Pr.15:33, God honors the humble

Pr.22:4, God rewards the humble with richness of life

Mic.6:8, to be with God we walk humbly, enjoying kindness and preserving justice

Mt.5:5, God rewards the humble (gentle) with a great inheritance

Mt.11:28-30, our Lord Christ Jesus draws us to Him with gentleness and humility

Lk.1:46-49, the example of His humble servant Mary

Eph.4:1-6, walk in a manner worthy of God, humbly, gently, and patiently seeking unity

Php.2:1-4, unity of spirit and purpose are made possible with humility and selflessness

Col.2:16-23, false humility, like legalism and false piety, have no place in Christ

Col.3:12-14, humility as a component of love which bonds the children of God in unity

Jas.1:21, to rightly hear and receive the Word of God requires humility

Jas.3:13-16, jealousy, selfishness and arrogance are contrary to wisdom from above

Jas.4:6-10, God opposes the proud but exalts and gives grace to the humble

1Pe.3:8-12, we are to bless lost souls with sympathy, kindness and humility

1Pe.5:5-7, be humble and without anxieties and trust our caring Lord to provide

 

Selflessness: 

Mt.16:24-27, disciples of Christ deny self and bear their burdens faithfully

Lk.12:32-34, do not hoard assets, instead be charitable and amass riches in Heaven

Lk.10:30-37, an example of a servant’s heart and tending to the needs of others

Jn.15:9-17, love one another as Christ loves us, bearing all costs in obedience to Him

 

Goodness: 

Gen.1, the beauty of creation that God declared to be good and entrusted to mankind

Ps.16.2, without our Lord there is no goodness in us

Ps.31:19, our Lord has abundant goodness to give to those who take refuge in Him

Ps.34, a psalm that contrasts those who seek goodness from those who indulge in evil

Ps.92:1-4, thanksgiving and praise as examples of goodness

Ps.111:10, obedience enlightens our understanding of goodness

Ps.112:4-5, goodness is bestowed upon the generous; the charitable are justified

Pr.2:1-9, an outline of the path towards goodness

Pr.3:27, instruction not to withhold goodness from deserving souls

Pr.13:2, godly speech fosters goodness in return

Mt.5:14-16, Jesus tells us to let our goodness that glorifies God shine for all to see

Mt.7:17-20, the children of God display goodness; an ungodly soul cannot

Mt.12:33-37, goodness comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit

Mt.13:24-30, 36-43, on Earth, the evil and the good coexist and grow together

Lk.2:10-14, proclaiming the coming of Christ is good news

Lk.6:27-35, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and show them goodness

Lk.6:35-38, show goodness and mercy regardless of recipient’s worthiness

Jn.10:11-18, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep

Rom.12:21, we are to overcome evil with goodness

Gal.5:22-23, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit in us

Php.2:12-13, it is for His goodness and pleasure that God teaches His children His ways

Col.1:9-14, good works teach us about God and expand the influence of His kingdom

1Tim.4:4-5, when rightly aligned with God in prayer, all things are good

1Tim.5:25, goodness shines brightly for all to see while evil can’t be hidden forever

1Tim.6:17-19, instruction to do good, to be generous, and to share

Titus 3:1-11, St. Paul contrasts goodness with ungodliness; do good deeds and be fruitful

 

Commentaries:

 

Humility:

“God has freed us from bitter slavery to tyrannical demons and has given us humility as a compassionate yoke of devoutness. It is humility which tames every demonic power, produces in those who accept it every kind of sanctity, and keeps that sanctity inviolate.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 117 #15

 

“Since salvation comes to you as a free gift, give thanks to God your saviour.  If you wish to present Him with gifts, gratefully offer from your widowed soul two tiny coins, humility and love, and God will accept these in the treasury of His salvation more gladly than the host of virtues deposited there by others (cf. Mk.12:41-43).”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 369 #45

 

“The substance of wealth is gold; of virtue, humility.  Just as he who lacks gold is poor, even though this may not be outwardly apparent, so the spiritual aspirant who lacks humility is not virtuous.”

Ilias the Presbyter (12th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 38 #40

 

 

Selflessness:

“The presence of the passion of avarice reveals itself when a person enjoys receiving but resents having to give.  Such a person is not fit to fulfill the office of treasurer or bursar.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 95 #76

 

“Herein we find the mysterious dialectic of the person: the more a person seeks himself, the more he slips away from himself.  The more important he considers himself, the more insignificant he becomes.  The vain, calculating person who lives only for himself thinks that he is attaining a fuller, stronger selfhood.  In reality, he is becoming interiorly crippled because he never moves in that free space which only unselfishness creates.  As we depart from ourselves and give our attention to the other, to the work, or to the task, the true self awakens and grows.  A person is more truly himself the more freely he leaves himself for the other person with whom he is dealing or for the task that confronts him.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 156,

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

 

“Whenever a person, in opposition to God, clings to his soul, he loses it, but when he gives it to God, he finds it.  Man gives his soul to God in every act of obedience to God’s holy will and, at the same moment, God gives it back to him, and the soul has become more truly itself than it was before”

ibid. pg. 157

 

Goodness:

“The mystics speak of the ‘birth of God in man’.  This is a mysterious phrase about whose ultimate meaning we shall not speak here, but one thing we can understand immediately: God wishes to enter into man, to find a place in him and assume a human form, here in this person who is generically one among countless others, but personally is unique; that is, he is himself.

There is a resemblance to God in all things.  Everything expresses Him, each according to its own kind, and this expression of God constitutes its basic created nature.  But God wishes to express Himself in a man in a special way, in each person according to his particular character.  This is the inmost core of what we call ‘personality’, a reflection – if we may be permitted this comparison – of the Incarnation of the eternal Son.  The real, essential Incarnation took place in Christ, but by His grace, which confers His image, God wishes to enter into every person and express Himself in him, and in everyone in a special and unique manner.  Every believer should be an expression of God.  The foundation is laid in Baptism, in the ‘new birth of water and the Holy Spirit”, as we learn from the nocturnal conversation of the Lord with Nicodemus [Jn.3:1-20].  And every act of the believer in doing the will of God constitutes a step in that direction.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 156-157;

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

“The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 53  #4

 

“Since the soul is more noble than the body and God incomparably more noble than the world created by Him, he who values the body more than the soul and the world created by God more than the Creator Himself is simply a worshipper of idols.”

ibid. #7

“Demonic thought consists in a conceptual image compounded with passion.  One thinks, for example, of a human being, but this thought is accompanied by mindless affection, that is to say, but the desire for a relationship not blessed by God but involving unchastity; or else it is accompanied by unreasoning hatred, that is to say, by rancour or spite.  Again, one thinks of gold avariciously or with the intention of stealing or seizing it; or else one is roused to hatred and blasphemy against God’s works, thus causing one’s own perdition.  For if we do not love things as they should be loved, but love them more than we love God, then we are no different from idolators, as St. Maximos says [cf. Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 53].  But if, on the other hand, we hate and despise things, failing to perceive that they were created ‘wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen.1:31), we provoke the anger of God.

Angelic thought, finally, consists in the dispassionate contemplation of things, which is spiritual knowledge proper.  It is the mid-point between two precipices, protecting the intellect and enabling it to distinguish between its true goal and the six diabolic pitfalls that threaten it.  These pitfalls lie above and below, to the right and left, and on the near side and on the far side of the intellect’s true goal.  Thus spiritual knowledge proper stands as though at the centre, surrounded by these pitfalls.  It is the knowledge taught by those earthly angels who have made themselves dead to the world, so that their intellect has grown dispassionate and hence sees things as it should.  In this way, the intellect does not go above its true goal out of pride or self-esteem [narcissism], thinking it understands things merely through its own power of thought; nor does it fall below its true goal, prevented by ignorance from attaining perfection.  It does not veer to the right through rejecting and hating created things, or to the left through mindless affection for them and attachment to them.  It does not remain on the near side of its true goal because of its utter ignorance and sloth, nor trespass on its far side, lured by the spirit of meddlesomeness and senseless curiosity that arises from contempt or maliciousness.  Rather, it accepts spiritual knowledge with patience, humility and the hope that is born of a deep faith.  In this way, through its partial knowledge of things the intellect is led upwards towards divine love.  But, even though it possesses some knowledge, it is aware that it is still ignorant; and this awareness keeps it in a state of humility.  Thus through persistent hope and faith it reaches its goal, neither hating anything completely as evil, or loving anything beyond measure.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 134-135

 

Chapter 16 – The Pleasure of Virtue – Joy, Thankfulness, and Praise

Joy:  the elation that overcomes the soul when the spirit acknowledges being in the presence of God; being full of praise for God; being filled with the Holy Spirit; the pleasurable state of being resulting from right relations with God and being forgiven by God

Thankfulness:  expressing appreciation to God for all aspects of one’s life; neither taking one’s blessings nor disciplinary learning circumstances for granted or with indifference; absence of disdain for any aspect of life; continual remembrance and mindfulness of indebtedness to God for His mercy, His provision and His gifts

Praise:  worship; acknowledging God as God, as Lord of all, with adoration, reverence, awe, thanksgiving, joy, remembrance, longing, zeal, glory, exaltation, psalmody, giving, sharing, and submission; all things done while abiding in a state of grace; that which is done specifically in service to our Lord such as evangelization, counsel, participation, teaching, nurturing, caring, helps, and the like

The Christian life is not meant to be devoid of pleasure, it is meant to be lived knowing the pleasures of joy.  Our Lord has given us ample cause for having a heart full of joy through all our days.  There is even joy in sorrow when we learn to be more thankful for His blessings rather than being consumed by the grief of impoverishment when suffering a loss.  There is a season for everything during our life under the sun (Eccl.3:1-8).  In remembrance of His merciful grace, we can have joy simply in life itself, even when pain is pervasive, because we can be thankful for the full spectrum of emotions and sensations God has wondrously created for us to experience.  We can learn to be wholly thankful for our blessings rather than succumbing to bitterness and rage when they pass.  It is because of the awesome beauty and immense pleasure of His blessings that make their loss so painful in the first place.  Nothing that is physical lasts forever, therefore we should learn to appreciate the eternal, the spiritual, and remember God as the source and creator of all our blessings.  Our pleasure in His blessings correlates to the pleasure we will have when we enter fully into His presence.  Likewise, in the passing of His blessings, the end of one season and the beginning of the next, we experience death, the absence of His presence.  From death, we learn an even greater appreciation for His blessings and come to comprehend the implications of an eternally lost soul more fully.  Our life on Earth is often allegory to the eternal, and yet we now see only in a mirror dimly (1Cor.13:12).  To comprehend the immensity of joy in Heaven, and conversely, the agony of Hell, we can only speculate using our imagination.  However, when we are immersed in the virtues of joy, thankfulness and praise, we bring Heaven to Earth and get a taste for the blessedness of the divine pleasures to come.

Joy

 

            If not for sin, life on Earth would be one of pure pleasure in the presence of God.  If we were capable of only partaking of what is good, we would know only the joy of His presence.  However, the flesh is ever stained with sin and therefore we must pursue God primarily and let pleasure be the result not the objective.  As we progress in virtue, we learn of goodness, we learn to forsake evil for good, and we learn the pleasures of goodness that is the abundant and joyful life in Christ (Jn.10:10, 15:10-11).  The emphasis in life on obtaining pleasure while avoiding pain often equates to one of good versus evil.  Only God is good, and there is pleasure in the goodness that pleases Him.  Conversely, we invite pain when we choose the evil that is contrary to God.  However, as long as we have the capacity to derive superficial and perverse pleasures from evil, we cannot simply equate pleasure with goodness.  Likewise, the dearth of sin that surrounds us prevents associating a specific pain with a particular transgression one to one for all occasions with absolute certainty.  We should first recognize goodness before allowing ourselves to take pleasure, and we are supposed to take pleasure in the wealth of goodness God has provided us in all His creation.  It is how life was meant to be in the Garden of Eden (Gen.1:26-31).  We express gratitude for His blessings when we partake of the gifts God provides for our pleasure.  Enjoying the goodness of life and the fruits from His garden is likewise a manner of praising Him as we acknowledge the Giver and are thankful.

It is certainly by design that joy, thankfulness and praise are so intricately intertwined, for the cord they form is the pleasure used to bind us to God and to His way for us.  If beholding God were painful instead of a pleasure, we’d all be running for Hell in a self-deprecating, self-destructing mode.  Sadly, this is exactly what happens to many abused or gospel-ignorant souls whose vision of God has been warped by misattributing to God the evil cruelty mankind collectively commits or otherwise permits without redress.  In the scripture passages below, it is important to note how frequently these virtues are paired together.  Here we see that there can be little joy in our lives if we fail to praise God with thanksgiving.  The greatest joy we can ever know is being fully in the presence of God.  God created us to know Him; Adam and Eve were fully in His presence before the fall from grace.  God has since provided the means to restore human souls to a similar pre-fallen state of grace, restoring mankind’s ability to be in His presence.  His provision, our salvation, is Christ Jesus; we come to Him initially offering confession and repentance, seeking forgiveness for our sin.  By His redemptive and atoning work on the cross, we have forgiveness of our sins, our rightness before God restored.  Being free of our sin is certainly a cause for joy in itself, but the result of our cleansing process also allows us to approach God and taste the pleasure of being in His presence.  The joy of our restoration is reason to praise God and be thankful, and doing so in turn brings joy.  However, we are also to have empathy for the sorrows of our Lord and be acquainted with His grief caused by the sins of mankind.  We are not to turn a blind eye towards the ugliness of sin, nor wag a finger or tongue in an expression of disgust towards those whose lives are consumed by sin.  To have the mind of Christ, we must also experience the pain of knowing a precious human soul is lost and condemned (Jn.3:17-19).  Then regardless of circumstances, be willing to testify to the truth of the gospel in word and deed, and pray that our humble efforts might help return the lost sheep to the Shepherd, turning our sorrows again into joy.

Our joy in our Lord is one of thankfulness for the many blessings He bestows.  Our joy is the warmth and comfort that fills our souls when we praise the Almighty in all His magnificent glory.  Our joy is the sense of elation and spiritual uplifting that comes from right relations with God and having unhindered access to our heavenly Father.  Our joy is the sense of peace we have from knowing we are in His hands; that He loves us, provides for us, and tends to our well-being in all our circumstances.  Our joy is the stability we know by basing the foundation of our lives on His everlasting Word, of having our identity resolutely ensconced as children of God and knowing our names are eternally written in His book of life (Rev.20:15).  Our joy is the sense of purpose that comes with abiding in Truth and knowing that our lives are precious to God.  Our joy is the wonder of His revelation and the ability to behold the beauty of all His creation.  Our joy is the life of Christ in us, and our life in Him, for He saves us from death and the depravity of sin.

Our joy is also the absence of the many agonizing situations sin produces that righteous living totally negates.  The unpleasant consequences of living after the flesh are replaced by the pleasures that come with bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:16-26).  The reverse of the joys listed in the previous paragraph is what robs a life of joy.  Neither the ingrate nor the fearful, neither the unrighteous nor the hostile, neither the unstable nor the fatalist, neither the blasphemer nor the spiritually blind, will ever know the pleasure of life that is the joy of living in the presence of our Lord.  Likewise, we as children of God need not know the feelings the ungodly are intimately acquainted with due to their state of sin and resulting sinful lifestyles.  Futility and frustrations, purposelessness and insignificance, wantonness and insecurity, are all states of being contrary to life as children of God. Though it isn’t necessarily unusual for us to experience these feelings temporarily, we have recourse in Christ and the provision of God to be free of them and have joy instead.  We should likewise be thankful for the many unpleasant circumstances and corresponding ugliness we are spared from experiencing because we walk with Him instead of with evil.  The painful consequences of sin, the guilt and recriminations, the wrecked relationships and ruined gifts, the wasted talents, the pain inflicted and returned, are all things that squelch the joy out of life and need not permeate the lives of His children.

Thankfulness

To live a life of joy, all we need do is learn to be thankful and to praise God regularly.  Sounds simple enough, but the pervasiveness of the flesh presents us with a myriad of potential pitfalls capable of diminishing our willingness to do so.  Taking an exhaustive inventory of our blessings can help keep us from becoming ungrateful or taking them for granted.  This list can also be used as a prayerful reminder when difficult circumstances narrow our vision.  The intent here is not to trivialize anyone’s suffering or pain, nor short-thrift anyone’s legitimate grieving processes following losses, but rather, through it all, be willing to remember the bottom line; we are spiritual beings, all things of this world will pass, and we will one day be with God in Heaven wholly and eternally.  In time, the magnitude of His saving grace will help us rise above the circumstances that impugn our ability to be grateful, and we can then return to praising God with thanksgiving, restoring our joy in our Lord.

Praise

Praise has many forms.  In the broadest sense, all activity done while our will is fully surrendered to His divine will can be considered praise.  In a narrower sense, praise can be equated with worship, the more formal, traditional, and intentional acts instituted by God for us to express reverence and adoration for Him.  Praise is born of acknowledgment of Truth, that our Creator is Lord of all.  Praise is likewise acknowledging the ultimate and infinite attributes of God; His eternal and inexhaustible power and love.  Praise is to be pure, so we should free ourselves of sinful impurities before seeking to praise God (Mt.5:23-24).  Praise is expressed with thanksgiving, so we need to learn to be thankful for all things in order to praise God rightly.  We praise God by building churches, preaching His gospel, being godly parents, and serving others in the name of our Lord.  We praise God by loyally upholding His Word, keeping His commandments, and being obedient to His call.  Praise is raising our arms high in the air as we exalt His name and surrender our souls.  As His servants, we praise Him with the attitude of our body by bowing, kneeling or prostrating appropriately before the Lord God Almighty. Praise expresses the joy we have from knowing God, and brings us more fully into His presence that we might know a greater joy.  Praise is the speaking, singing, cheering, laughing, listening, giving, dancing and the praying that we do to honor and celebrate our Lord.  Praise is the ongoing melody of life in the Holy Spirit.

Scriptural References:

 

Joy:

Ps.16:11, acknowledging the joy of being in the presence of God

Ps.21:1-6, an expression of joy and thankfulness for the blessings of God

Ps.51, joyful praise following repentance and receiving the forgiveness of God

Ps.94:19, recognizing and receiving the providential care of God brings joy amidst angst

Ps.100, joyful thanksgiving and praise for all the goodness our Lord bestows

Pr.10:28, there is joyful hope for the righteous ones of God

Pr.12:20, those who know and teach the peace of our Lord have joy as their reward

Mt.13:44, the joy of heaven is worth giving up all our worldly wealth to attain

Lk.1:11-17, preaching the gospel of Christ in the Holy Spirit brings joy

Lk.2:8-12, the presence of our Lord is cause for joy

Jn.15:9-12, the joy of our Lord comes from obediently abiding in His love

Jn.17:13, Jesus reveals that His message brings joy to the world

Ac.13:46-52, preaching the gospel brings joy to those who speak and to those who hear

Rom.1:18-32, contrasting the results of ungodliness to the joy of being with our Lord

Rom.14:16-18, those who partake of the goodness of God have joy in the Holy Spirit

Rom.15:13, our faithful hope in God brings joy in the Holy Spirit

Gal.5:19-23, contrasting life in the flesh against the joys of being filled with the Holy Spirit

Heb.12:1-3, Christ endured the cross for the joy to come

Jas.1:2-4, the testing of our faith is cause for joy in that it helps us to grow

3Jn.1:4, the joy of St. John is to see the children of God walking according to Truth

Rev.19:4-9, a vision of our eternal joy rejoicing in the activity of Heaven

Thanksgiving:

Ps.9:1-2, giving thanks to God

Ps.69:30, praising God with thanksgiving

Ps.98, thankful praise for everything our Lord does for His children

Ps.105:1-7, thanksgiving in remembrance of what our Lord has done for His people

Ps.107:15-22, giving thanks for the mighty and wondrous deeds He does for His children

Ps.136:1-9, giving thanks to God for the everlasting love and mercy He bestows upon us

Mt.15:32-38, Jesus teaches us to thank God for all our blessing that we may remain blest

Mt.18:9-14, a parable to teach proper thanksgiving for His mercy and our forgiveness

Mt.26:26-28, Jesus teaches thankfulness for His body and His blood

Rom.1:8, St. Paul’s example to be thankful for the furtherance of the gospel

Eph.5:1-12, be thankful for His grace instead of indulging in frivolity or filth

Eph.5:15-21, be wise not foolish, be filled with the Holy Spirit, give praise and thanks

Col.1:9-14, in remembrance of our redemption, walk worthily with joy, praise and thanks

Col.2:5-12, in Christ we are made whole, our faith in Him is expressed with gratitude

Col.4:2, St. Paul instructs us to be devoted in prayer with watchfulness and thanksgiving

1Thes.3:6-12, in joyful prayer we are to be thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ

1Thes.5:16-18, forever rejoicing and thanking God is His will for us

Rev.7:11-12, a vision of the eternal thanksgiving before God

Praise:

Ps.28:7, praise expressed in thankfulness

Ps.68:3-4, praising and rejoicing in appreciation of righteousness

Ps.95:1-7, joyful praise and thanksgiving for the awesome power and glory of our Lord

Ps.106:1-5, discerning souls praise God for His goodness and His gifts

Lk.10:17-21, praising God for our place in Heaven and our powers in Christ

Lk.19:35-40, the coming of our Lord is cause for irrepressible praise

Lk.24:44-53, praising God for the completed work of Christ on the cross

Rom.12:9-13, St. Paul teaches that we are to rejoice (give praise) for our hope in our Lord

2Cor.1:8-11, St. Paul’s praise (thanksgiving) in blessed service to our Lord despite hardships

2Cor.8:1-2, the praise of giving results in a joy that leads to even greater giving

Phil.4:4-7, praise God always; allow all to see our joy, peace and thankfulness

Col.3:12-17, praising God by living as Jesus taught with songs and thankfulness

Rev.4:5-11, a vision of the eternal praise (worship) for our Creator

 

 

Commentaries:

Joy:

“…when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God, then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him, and is no longer troubled or anxious.  Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks; and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gifts of grace it has received.  And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness, and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.

Slowly the man emerges from the tears of distress and from the passions, and enters fully into the state of spiritual joy.  Through the things that bring him pleasure, he is made humble and grateful; through trials and temptations his hope in the world to come is consolidated; in both he rejoices, and naturally and spontaneously he loves God and all men as his benefactors.  He finds nothing in the whole of creation that can harm him.  Illumined by the knowledge of the God he rejoices in the Lord on account of all the things that He has created, marveling at the care He shows for His creatures.  The person who has attained spiritual knowledge not only marvels at visible things, but also is astounded by his perception of many essential things invisible to those who lack experience of this knowledge.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 261

Thankfulness:

“Providence has planted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through this experience that all such blessings are produced through the workings of divine power.  This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by nature and not by grace.  If we did this we would be using what is good to produce what is evil:  the very things which should establish knowledge of God unshaken within us will instead be making us ignorant of Him.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 212 #12

 

“God has done all things for our benefit.  We are guarded and taught by the angels; we are tempted by the demons so that we may be humbled and have recourse to God, thus being saved from self-elation and delivered from negligence.  On the one hand, we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean health, prosperity, strength, rest, joy, light, spiritual knowledge, riches, progress in all things [productivity], a peaceful life, the enjoyment of honors, authority, abundance and all the other supposed blessings of this life.  We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger.  On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessing in the age to be; and by these so called hardships I mean such things as illness, discomfort, tribulation, weakness, unsought distress, darkness, ignorance, poverty, general misfortune, the fear of loss, dishonor, affliction, indigence, and so on.  Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.

Thus God in His unutterable goodness has arranged all things in a marvelous way for us: and if you want to understand this and to be as you should, you must struggle to acquire the virtues so as to be able to accept with gratitude everything that comes, whether it is good or whether it appears to be bad, and to remain undisturbed in all things.  And even when the demons suggest some pride-provoking thought in order to fill you with self-elation, you should remember the shameful things they have said to you in the past and should reject this thought and become humble.  And when they again suggest to you something shameful, you should remember that pride-provoking thought and so reject this new suggestion. Thus through the cooperation of grace and by means of recollection, you make the demons cast out the demons, and are not brought to despair because of their shameful suggestions, or driven out of your mind because of your own conceit.  On the contrary, when your intellect is exalted, you take refuge in humility; and when your enemies humble you before God, you are raised up through hope.  In this way until your last breath you will never become confused and fall, or through fear succumb to despair.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 173-174

Praise:

“What is meant by the worship of God?  It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect when we are praying to Him: neither sensual pleasure as we bless Him, nor malice as we sing His praise, nor hatred as we exalt Him, nor jealousy to hinder us as we speak to Him and call Him to mind.  For all these things are full of darkness; they are a wall imprisoning our wretched soul, and if the soul has them in itself it cannot worship God with purity.  They obstruct its ascent and prevent it from meeting God; they hinder it from blessing Him inwardly and praying to Him with sweetness of heart, and so receiving His illumination.  As a result the intellect is always shrouded in darkness and cannot advance in holiness, because it does not make the effort to uproot these thoughts by means of spiritual knowledge.”

St. Isaiah The Solitary (4th or 5th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 24-25 #13

“In reverence, man refrains from doing what he usually likes to do, which is to take possession of and use something for his own purposes.  Instead he steps back and keeps his distance.  This creates a spiritual space in which that which deserves reverence can stand erect, detached, and free, in all its splendor.  The more lofty an object, the more the feeling of value which it awakens is bound up with this keeping one’s distance.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 58; Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

“The basic act of this reverence is the adoration of God.  It expresses the true nature of man most perfectly, especially if the body also performs the act in bowing.  It must give us pause to note that this attitude is so very inconspicuous in religions life.  Usually we find only petition or thanks, and less frequently, praise; adoration scarcely ever appears.  And yet it is so essential.  ‘I adore God’ means I am aware that He is and that I stand before Him; that He is the one who essentially is, the Creator, and that I am His creature; that He is holy and I am not, and that I adapt myself with heart and mind to the Holy One who confronts me.  Adoration is truth in act.”

ibid. pg. 64

“Praise God, from whom all blessing flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen”

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) as quoted in “The Baptist Hymnal” #253,

Convention Press © 1991

Chapter 14 – An Attitude of Virtue – Peace, Prayerful Abiding, Stillness and Hope

 

Peace:  being content as opposed to being driven by passions; having a desire for God that is being satisfied as opposed to having unquenchable worldly desires and insatiable lusts.   An absence of anxiety, consternation, confusion and inner turmoil; a relationship with God based on knowing His total acceptance of us that is a result of righteousness in Christ; the absence of shame, remorse, guilt, insecurity, spiritual unfitness, or any aversion to coming into His presence; the harmonious relations with others that result from being at peace with God

 

Prayerful Abiding:  continual communion with God in prayer; intentional and uninterrupted state of surrendering the human will to the divine

 

Stillness:  being at peace with God; quietude, without movement, having all mental activity focused on God as opposed to the senses.  The absence of thoughts and desires contrary to the will of God; the comfort and security that results from being wholly absorbed in His presence; tranquil and prayerful; constant communion with God, being open to God and listening for the prompting of the Holy Spirit; the absence of passions and worldly anxieties.

 

Hope:  knowledge, trust, and remembrance of His providential care at all times and in all circumstances; the believer’s assurance of right standing before God; actively anticipating being in the fullness of His eternal presence by living presently as if in Heaven.  The anticipation of the second coming of Christ; Christ’s victory over the evil of this world and His promise that we can do the same; the power that enables a believer to live each moment in His eternal presence rather than seeking satisfaction in temporal gratifications

 

In our pursuit of virtue, maintaining a godly attitude is as important as balance is to walking.  Likewise, a godly disposition should begin to feel more normal and natural as we grow spiritually, and only become a conscious necessity when there is risk of losing it.  Our identity as children of God means we have all the goodness of God within us by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Just like cows don’t quack and ducks don’t moo, ungodliness is not part of our identity.  As Christians, we forsake any identity or self-image based on the flesh along with their resulting ungodly behaviors. Therefore, it is only natural to let our mental state and physical actions reflect the truth of our identity; we are the holy and beloved children of God (1Cor.6:19-20).  Spiritual growth, the pursuit of virtue, is the attempt to bring our bodies and souls into alignment with the truth of our spiritual identity.

 

At this juncture, let’s bring to mind St. Paul’s instruction to “take every thought captive” (2Cor.10:3-7) and that in Christ, we are new creatures, and are no longer to derive our identities from the flesh (2Cor.5:16-21).  Our identity is determined by birth not activity.  Being a Christian means being born anew in spirit and becoming a child of God (Jn.1:12, 3:1-6).  In the flesh, we are our parent’s child, but the flesh also tempts us to adopt false identities as determined by such things as occupations, education, income, social status, physical abilities, appearances, traditions, past actions, nicknames or organizations (Phil.3:2-10).  Life foundations based on something other than Christ are temporary; we are assured of losing them someday; nothing of the flesh goes with us to Heaven.  When we allow our identity to be determined by something other than our spiritual rebirth, we set ourselves up for mental and emotional devastation when they expire.  Learning to cope with these transitions apart from Christ only serves to strengthen our flesh and deny our spirit.  Losing a job or retiring, growing old and losing mental and physical abilities, going from being popular to being unpopular, losing material possessions or physical beauty, these are all potentially devastating but normal life events.  However, when our identity is firmly based on the eternal instead of the temporal, we may be disturbed for a season but our life foundations remain intact.

 

Now, let us also address our feelings.  We can read books, look up the scriptures, and learn of our perfect righteousness in Christ.  We can know that in Christ we are totally acceptable before God, forgiven of our sins, that God loves us and actively cares for us, and that we are sacred temples of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, we all have the potential for feeling dirty, unworthy, unforgiven, unloved, abandoned, fretful or insecure, and because such feelings exist, many of us are prone to giving them credence while ignoring the Truth.  If or when this happens, it needs to stop.  To be free of these ungodly emotions, we need to understand that though certain feelings do indeed exist, they are not the Truth.

 

Feelings are the result of perceptions.  Our perceptions are formed from our thoughts, and our thoughts are based on our beliefs.  To clarify, the chain of events is; 1) beliefs, 2) thoughts, perceptions and interpretations of events based on beliefs, 3) decisions and actions, and 4) feelings (see “The Four Spiritual Laws” by Bill Bright, © 1965, 1995 Campus Crusade for Christ at http://4laws.com/laws/english/flash/ and http://www.campuscrusade.com/fourlawseng.htm to http://www.campuscrusade.com/Now-That-You-Have-Received-Christ.html). When our feelings are contrary to what we know about our life in Christ, we need to reexamine our beliefs and discern whether or not we truly believe what we have learned from scripture.  We must ensure we are not just giving His Word an intellectual nod of affirmation without making Truth an integral component of our personal belief system.  Scripture must be foundational to all our thought processes and intentionally used to override contrary worldly input in order to experience righteous feelings.

 

To align our feelings with the Truth, we need to be willing to take every thought captive, compare it to scripture, then discard the rubbish and hold fast to the Truth.  It takes practice, and initially it can be a constant struggle to weed the impurities out of our thoughts.  The effort requires much faith and courage, for old thoughts are like old friends; we tend to lean on them like crutches and look to them for comfort.  These fleshly thought patterns keep us in familiar habits and routines while deterring us from vaulting out into the unexplored realms of greater faith and reliance upon God.  However, if we are to have the peace of the Lord in our hearts, we must apply Truth tenaciously and actively eradicate the contradictions that bind our godly spirit to our worldly flesh (please read Heb.4:11-12).  We do this by maintaining an attitude of hope, by abiding in prayer, and learning to be still, being sure of our acceptance before Him such that we are unperturbed by distractions or difficulties.

 

Peace

 

Jesus says the peace of our Lord is unlike the peace the world seeks (Jn.14:27); the virtue of peace is not merely the absence of external conflict between nations or individuals.  The peace of our Lord is an internal peace that comes from knowing His Word and His promise, from knowing that no matter what may come during our day, He loves and cares for us.  Even when we breathe our last, we will continue to be with Him.  The peace of our Lord is built upon our secure standing as His children.  It is the absence of doubt, condemnation, and confusion in our relationship with God.  The consternation of doubt is replaced by singularly trusting in His Word as Truth and exercising faith in our beliefs by acting upon them courageously.  The anxiety of condemnation is replaced by our assurance of our right standing before God in Christ Jesus, an unwavering hope in our eternal communion with Him.  All confusion and chaos resulting from the multiplicity, duplicity and relativity of secular ways, leaves us as we learn to subordinate our human will to His divine will for us, and learn to walk according to His ways in our pursuit of virtue.  When we hold fast to these thoughts, we will know the peace of our Lord.

 

We can learn of God by determining what He is not.  An example of the positive approach is to say, “God is good”, and by so doing, we limit our knowledge of God to our concept of goodness.  The negative approach is to say, “There is no evil in God”; whereby we eliminate evil characteristics and leave our understanding of His goodness open to infinite possibilities (see Chapter 2 Definitions of “cataphatic” and “apophatic”).  We can likewise understand the peace of the Lord by delineating what it is not, or what is absent when His peace is present.  There is the absence of the anxiety of guilt and condemnation because we know Christ forgives our sins.  There is the absence of fears and anxieties associated with our mortality because we know Christ prepares us a home in Heaven (Jn.14:2).  There is the absence of turmoil from the consequences of sin because we choose to live righteously.  There is the absence of nagging insecurities associated with feelings of inferiority or worthlessness because we know that we are His children, precious to Him and loved unconditionally.  There is the absence of worries and apprehensions that come from not knowing what the future brings because we trust in His providential care and firmly believe that He makes all things work to the good for those who love Him.  There is the absence of frustration and futility from attempting to control situations and people because we have peace in knowing that God is Lord of all.  There is the absence of life draining negativity and pessimism because we know that Christ has overcome all the evil in the world and in Him, we will too.  As His children, we rejoice in our salvation.  Glory be to God!  Amen.

 

Continuing, in our personal relationships with other souls, the peace of the Lord is marked by the absence of various hostile, violent activities or feelings.  Our love of God, love for His creation, and acceptance of the fact that every soul is precious to God, all keep us from baselessly being abusive toward others.  Instead, we share with them the peace and love of God.  Also, since we have been taught to follow the example of Christ and forgive others, our peace in the Lord is marked by the absence of roiling desires for vengeance, the constant snarling of bitterness and resentment, and without the petulance of demanding that others treat us in a particular way.

 

As difficult as obtaining the peace of God may sound in the preceding paragraphs, it isn’t so much something we strive after, as it is the result of a life of abiding prayer.  A life marked by continuous prayer, of ever acknowledging our presence before our Lord and our ongoing conversational communion with Him.  It is a life lived in submission to His Lordship; a life of remembrance, being ever mindful of His powerful and unfailing love for us as demonstrated by the cross of Christ.  Ours is a life of intentional gratitude for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us, emphasizing forgiveness, righteousness, justification and salvation that are ours in Christ.   When our thoughts are consumed by all the goodness of God that surrounds us, we can quit striving after what is already ours in Him, and be at ease sharing His peace with those around us.

 

Prayerful Abiding

 

Abiding requires keeping an open ear to God as well as maintaining a state of total surrender of the human will to the divine.  Jesus used the parable of a vine and branches to illustrate how we are to abide in Him (Jn.15:1-11).  Jesus is the vine that supplies life to the branches.  Our human souls are the branches that need His life in order to live.  When we are alive in Him and He in us, we bear the fruit of the vine, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and among these many fruits is the on-going, abiding peace of our Lord (Jn.14:24-26).  This abiding, as the parable suggests, it is a natural outgrowth of our relationship with Him and is a virtually effortless activity, one that with practice, can become a prevailing attitude lived out daily with minimal conscious effort.  However, let us not underestimate the activity of the demons that seek to divert our focus from God.  They manifest themselves in our thoughts and in the words or actions of others with the diabolic intent of cutting off our communion with God.  If we fail to practice watchfulness, our peace and our abiding prayer can end with outbursts from our flesh, and do so with a potential rippling effect that disturbs the peace of those around us.

 

Stillness

Stillness can be described as both a life lived in abiding prayer and a state of serene beauty arrived at by practicing prayerful meditation.  A life of stillness is characterized by the absence of manifestations of the flesh (Gal.5:19-21), instead, thoughts, words and deeds are all expressions of His goodness alive within us.  Stillness comes when there is nothing hostile toward God within us, nothing to disturb or grieve the Holy Spirit.  Stillness is continuity of faith from one moment to the next, one situation to the next, regardless of the external circumstances.  Stillness occurs when the prayerful praise and worship of a life lived in submission to His lordship persists without interruption.  Like the peace of our Lord, stillness can be the result of abiding in prayer.  The peace of the Lord is our serenity while the soul tends to the events of the day, whereas stillness is focusing the soul on the spirit and is an expression meant for God alone.  As such, stillness requires conscious effort to keep the mind free of invasive thoughts pertaining to our physical state and external circumstances.  It is our “quiet time”, being alone with God and giving Him our pure, undiluted attention.  Such singular focus does indeed require practice, and our lessons on remembrance and watchfulness should prove useful in the pursuit of stillness.

 

There are many ways to pray and we will not delve into the variety of styles or merits of each since such things are closely tied to our previous religious training and background.  However, a study of stillness would not be complete without mentioning one particular prayer known as “The Jesus Prayer”.  The words to the prayer are, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” (variations allowed), and it is meant to be prayed in repetition.  Some speak of repeating it silently and continuously during all their waking hours, of using this manner prayer to maintain a prayerful state and remaining focused on God.  Of course, these monks did not engage in secular occupations or have homes with children.  However, such prayers can be in the background of our thoughts like a song being unconsciously replayed in the mind.  From these wise teachers we learn that by continually calling upon the name of Jesus (Rom.10:13), worshipping Him by acknowledging Him as the Son of God (Jn.3:16-21), and pleading for His mercy (Jude 1:20-21), we have the hope to be saved from the turmoil of this world, knowing both the peace of our Lord and stillness.  Jesus teaches persistence in prayer and prayers of singular intent in Luke 11:5-10 and in the parable on prayer in Luke 18:1-7.   Praying for the mercy of God is most appropriate at all times and in all circumstances, for God already knows our situation, our needs and our desires, and the Holy Spirit ever intercedes on our behalf to compensate for any deficiencies in our prayers (Rom. 8:26-27).  Those who humbly plead for the mercy of our Lord are abundantly blessed (Mt.15:22-28, 17:14-18, 20:29-34).  Jesus likewise instructs us to be watchful and attentive when we pray (Mt.26:40-41), the practice of stillness is not meant to be a prelude to sleep; it is a pathway to greater intimacy with God.

 

 

Hope

 

St. Paul reminds us that today we see in a mirror dimly, and that a day will come when we see the fullness of His revelation face to face (1Cor.13:9-13).  This is the hope that we are to carry with us through all our circumstances, regardless of whether our day is filled with pleasantness or sorrows, for we will one day be wholly with God and share in the wonders of His glory.  Contemplation of His glory, such extreme magnificence and overwhelming holiness and power, boggles the mind with wonder and awe as we approach the fringes of His infinitude.  In the story of Job, despite all his grievous loses and interminable sufferings and miseries, it was being in the presence of God that consoled Job, enlightened his diminished perspective, restored his attitude to one of reverence for God and his appreciation for the eternal (Job 38-42).  In Heaven, there is no evil and no dying.  Whereas on Earth, there is plenty of both and none of us is immune to them.  There is no safety net to prevent us from experiencing pain and loss; instead, God has given us the hope of being with Him, and the many unknowns we face here can become part of the adventure we know as the abundant life in Christ.  He is with us always (Mt.28:20).  He makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28).  We are ever in His caring hands, none will be snatched from His hand (Jn.10:27-29).  Though tribulations tempt us to narrow our focus such that all we see is our immediate situation, with watchfulness and remembrance, our joy can be restored because in Christ we have hope.  By leaning on Him in this way (life under Heaven), we can likewise overcome the potential for adverse reactions to the many trials we all experience in this life in the flesh that is “under the sun” (Eccl.1-3).  Christ has promised to return and has given us instruction to pray and to keep our faith strong in the interim (Lk.21:34-36), therefore we are motivated to maintain an attitude of goodness and continue in the work of the Lord joyfully in light of our hope in Him.

 

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Peace:

Ps.4:8, we rest without anxieties knowing we are blest and secure in His providential care

Ps.85:9-10, fear of the Lord brings the saving grace of God, resulting in peace

Pr.16:7, by pleasing God we can mend adversarial relationships and live in peace

Is.32:17, abiding in righteousness results in peace

Is.57:2, being at peace and restful sleeping are the result of walking in His ways

Lk.2:29-32, the salvation found only by receiving Christ into our lives, brings us peace

Jn.14:27, Jesus says He gives us peace

Jn.16:33, in the world we have tribulation; in Him we have peace and overcome trials

Rom.5:1-5, knowing our right standing before God in Christ gives us peace and hope

Rom.8:5-8, life lived in the fullness of the Holy Spirit is one of peace

Rom.14:16-18, the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

Gal.5:17-25, life in the Holy Spirit produces peace

Eph.2:11-18, in Christ we have peace and communion with God the Father

Col.1:19-23, in Christ we are reconciled to God that we might have peace in Him

2Tim.2:22-26, the pursuit of virtues as opposed to seeking to satisfy lusts, brings us peace

Jas.3:13-18, abiding in the wisdom of God instead of the ways of the world brings peace

 

Prayerful Abiding:

Jn.15:4-10, Jesus says to abide in Him as branches draw their life from the main vine

1Thes.5:16-18, pray without ceasing, rejoice in the Lord and be thankful always

Col.2:6-7, St. Paul instructs us to walk in the Lord, to be in Him as we go about our day

1Jn.2:24-27, St. John tells us to abide in the Word of God, in His eternal life

 

Stillness:

Ps.37:7, rest in the Lord and do not to fret over other’s ill-gotten gains or sinful pleasures

Ps.46:10, trust in the power of the Almighty and have no anxieties for He is Lord of all

Ps.116:7, remember the many blessing He has bestowed upon us and let our souls be still

Ps.131, instruction to rest securely in the Lord as young children cling to their mothers

Mt.6:28-34, do not fret over food or clothes, instead seek God first and He will supply

Gal.5:24, our crucifixion in Christ stills the passions and anxieties of the flesh

1Thes.5:16-18, instruction to be constant in our praise and worship

Heb.12:12-17, root out all ungodliness in order to be free of defiling troubles

 

Hope: 

Ps.40:1-4, we are blest by God when we look to Him to hear our pleas

Ps.94:19, beseeching God in our distress and being consoled

Ps.130:7, our hope is in our Lord who loves and redeems us

Rom.5:1-5, we have been justified before God, we exult in the hope of the glory of God

Rom.8:22-25, hope as the expectation of redemption that is to come

Rom.12:10-13, instruction from St. Paul to rejoice in the hope of things to come

Rom.15:12-13, hope is in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit

Col.1:24-27, Christ in us is the hope of glory

1Tim.6:17, instruction not to put our hopes in the things of this world

Titus 2:11-15, our hope is in the coming of Christ, motivating us to purity and good deeds

1Pe.1:13-21, keep hope focused on the coming of our Lord and be holy; abstain from lust

1Jn.3:1-3, we have the hope of seeing Him and being like Him, undefiled and pure

 

Commentaries:

 

Peace: 

“He who through practice of the virtues has succeeded in mortifying whatever is earthly in him (cf. Col.3:5), and who by fulfilling the commandments has triumphed over the world of the passions within him, will experience no more affliction; for he will have already left the world and come to be in Christ, the conqueror of the world of the passions and the source of all peace.  He who has not severed his attachment to material things will always experience affliction, since his state of mind depends on things that are naturally changeable, and so it alters when they do.  But he who has come to be in Christ will be totally impervious to such material change.  That is why the Lord says, ‘I have said these things to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will experience affliction; but have courage, for I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).  In other words, ‘In Me, the Logos of virtue, you have peace, for you have been released from the swirl and turmoil of material passions and objects; in the world – that is, in a state of attachment to material things – you are afflicted because of the successive changes of these things.’  For both he who practices the virtues and he who loves the world experience affliction, the first because of the toil which such practice entails and the second because of the futility of material things.  But the affliction of the first is salutary, that of the second corrupting and destructive.  The Lord gives release to both:  in the case of the first He allays the toil of ascetic practice with the contemplation attained through dispassion, and in the case of the second He rescinds attachment to corrupted things by means of repentance.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 162 #95

“In a similar way each of us faithful is attacked and led astray by the passions; but if he is at peace with God and with his neighbor he overcomes them all.  These passions are the ‘world’ which St. John the Theologian told us to hate (cf. 1 John 2:15), meaning that we are to hate, not God’s creatures, but the worldly desires.  The soul is at peace with God when it is at peace with itself and has become wholly deiform [godly, Christ-like].  It is also at peace with God when it is at peace with all men, even if it suffers terrible things at their hands.  Because of its forbearance it is not perturbed, but bears all things (cf. 1Cor.13:7), wishes good to all, loves all, both for God’s sake and for the sake of their own nature.  It grieves for unbelievers because they are destroying themselves, as our Lord and the apostles grieved for them.  It prays for the faithful and labors on their behalf, and in this way its own thoughts are filled with peace and it lives in a state of noetic contemplation and pure prayer to God.  To Him be glory through all the ages.  Amen.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 260

 

Abiding Prayer:

“Prayer is called a virtue, but in reality it is the mother of all virtues:  for it gives birth to them through union with Christ.”

St. Mark the Ascetic (5th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 128 #35

“It is through unceasing prayer that the mind is cleansed of the dark clouds, the tempest of the demons.”

St. Hesychios the Priest (9th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 193

 

“‘Pray without ceasing’ [cf 1Thes.5:17], that is, be mindful of God at all times, in all places, and in every circumstance.  For no matter what you do, you should keep in mind the Creator of all things.  When you see the light, do not forget Him who gave it to you; when you see the sky, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, marvel at these things and glorify their Creator; when you put on clothing, acknowledge whose gift it is and praise Him who in His providence has given you life.  In short, if everything you do becomes for you an occasion for glorifying God, you will be praying unceasingly.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 173

 

“Abiding in Jesus is not a work that needs each moment the mind to be engaged, or the affections to be directly and actively occupied with it.  It is an entrusting of oneself to the keeping of the Eternal Love, in the faith that it will abide near us, and with its holy presence watch over us and ward off the evil, even when we have to be most intently occupied with other things.”

“Abide In Christ” by Andrew Murray © 1979 Whitaker House pg. 88-89

 

Stillness:

“…a state of inner tranquility or mental quietude and concentration which arises in conjunction with, and is deepened by, the practice of pure prayer and the guarding of the heart and intellect.  Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him”.

The Philokalia Glossary

“Stillness and prayer are the greatest weapons of virtue, for they purify the intellect and confer upon it spiritual insight.”

St. Thalassios (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 311 #67

“Stillness is an undisturbed state of the intellect, the calm of a free and joyful soul, the tranquil unwavering stability of the heart in God, the contemplation of light, the knowledge of the mysteries of God, consciousness of wisdom by virtue of a pure mind, the abyss of divine intellections, the rapture of the intellect, intercourse with God, an unsleeping watchfulness, spiritual prayer, untroubled repose in the midst of great hardship and, finally, solidarity and union with God.”

Nikitas Stithatos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg. 125 #64

 

Hope:

“Hope is the strength of the two pre-eminent gifts of love and faith, since hope gives us glimpses both of that in which we believe and of that for which we long, and teaches us to make our way towards our goal.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 170 #26

 

“Hope is the intellect’s surest pledge of divine help and promises the destruction of hostile powers”.

ibid. pg. 201 #68

 

“The return to God clearly implies the fullest affirmation of hope in Him, for without this nobody can accept God in any way at all.  For it is characteristic of hope that it brings future things before us as if they were present, and so it assures those who are attacked by hostile powers that God, in whose name and for whose sake the saints go into battle, protects them and is in no way absent.  For without some expectation, pleasant or unpleasant, no one can ever undertake a return to the divine.”

ibid. pg. 202 #71

 

“He who wishes to inherit the kingdom of heaven, yet does not patiently endure what befalls him, shows himself even more ungrateful than such a child.  For he was created by God’s grace, has received all things of this world, awaits what is to come, and has been called to reign eternally with Christ, who has honored him, in spite of his nothingness, with such great gifts, visible and invisible, to the extent even of shedding His most precious blood for him, not asking anything at all except that he should choose to receive His blessings.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 226

 

 

 

Chapter 13 – Recognizing Virtue – Discernment, Remembrance, and Watchfulness

Discernment: (or “discrimination”) the spiritual gift that gives the ability to determine what is from God from what is not

Remembrance:  to remember God and the wondrous things He has done, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; keeping the mind focused on the eternal and heavenly places, not just the temporal

 

Watchfulness:  spiritual alertness and sobriety, vigilance and attentiveness towards one’s thoughts and imaginings, consciously embracing all virtues and ever being mindful of Truth; an attitude of continually learning godliness to foster spiritual maturity and steadfastness

 

Some may find it odd that the chapter on discernment is placed after wisdom and before humility, for there is no wisdom without discernment, and discernment is born of humility.  Again, the reader is asked to see the pursuit of virtue as circular in nature, having no definitive starting point and having no end.  However, unlike just going in circles as a dog futilely chases his tail, each revolution in our pursuit adds to the depth and breadth of our understanding as we grow and mature spiritually.  Though it is hard not to see these chapters as sequential building blocks, these three virtues that enable us to perceive the goodness of God are placed as near to the front as possible so that we might better comprehend the lessons to come, then as we proceed, hopefully we will have enough exposure to the overall concept of virtue to be able to appreciate the topics at hand in greater depth.  Together, the three virtues of this chapter cover the expanse of time and intersect the eternal.  Remembrance recalls past teachings, events and experiences to remind us of what we need to know in the moment.  Watchfulness looks forward to ensure that our present steps inspire a godly future.  Discernment launches our thoughts into the heavenly realms and brings to bear the eternal Truth of God into the moment.

 

Discernment

 

Simply to say discernment is the ability to determine what is from God and what is not belies the magnificence of this virtue.  Discernment has boundless applications for it’s at the core of every virtue, of every right thought and every right action.  It is powerful in that it gives a soul the ability to spot the enemy, to shine the light of God into the otherwise hidden recesses where the demons lurk, rooting them out and dispelling their influence.  It enables us to transcend the natural world and see objects, events and ideas from an eternal perspective.  With discernment, we develop keen ears that are attuned to the voice of God in any given circumstance, in any discussion or debate.  Its application is wisdom, transcending time through the ability to connect consequences with actions be they virtuous, valorous, vain, vulgar or vice.

 

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul speaks of discernment as a gift of the Holy Spirit, as a manifestation of His presence in the ministry of the church body, and of different members being blest with particular gifts for the common good.  Though he says each member has a different function, the chapter concludes with him saying that we are to “desire the greater gifts”, dispelling any notion that might arise that suggests discernment is not for everyone.  As a gift, its abilities are extraordinary, making wise the simple.   As a virtue, we cultivate His presence and abide in the Holy Spirit.  Our pursuit of knowledge of God leads us to Him.  Saturating our souls with the revelation of His Word gives clarity to our perceptions of God.  Our continual obedience fosters His ongoing presence in our lives, developing within us a wholesome familiarity with God and purity.  By abiding in the Holy Spirit, we enhance our ability to recognize where He is and where He wants us to be.  Discernment requires the fear of God and the willingness to subject all our thoughts and all our ways to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit.  We must be willing to expel all thoughts contrary to Him in deference to, and in reverence of, the Almighty.  Only by humbly bowing before the King, surrendering all that comprises our lives to Him, do we begin to be blessed with the perceptive powers of discernment, leaving the linear plane of the senses and commingling aloft with the heavenly host.

 

Remembrance

 

Both remembrance and watchfulness accompany godly discernment.  Remembrance is the background setting from which the dramas of our lives unfold, while watchfulness is attentively waiting for the cues that determine our next action.  As we read these words, the setting of our life is very likely a comfortable chair in the home.  As we go about the business of our day, situations and people come and go, and our physical setting changes regularly as we move about the world.  However, St. Paul informs us in Ephesians 2:4-7 that God has “…made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” Therefore, for the children of God, He is in us and we are in Him and He is in Heaven, so in Truth the setting for our lives is always Heaven.  The backdrop of our lives is ever the glory of God and the company of all the heavenly hosts.  Remembrance brings to mind all we know about the Eternal and the moments in time when the Eternal interceded in history, especially of Jesus and the sacrifices of His life and death.  Remembrance is a virtue that softens our hearts and enables us to make similar sacrifices for others by recalling the mercy and love God has shown us in Christ Jesus.  When we remember the example of Jesus and are truly thankful for the gifts of revelation, forgiveness, redemption, sanctification, righteousness, and salvation that are ours through Him, we are more inclined to be willing to be patient, kind and compassionate towards those whose life direction intersects with ours.  With remembrance, we are motivated to show others the life of Christ with our words and deeds, to love them sacrificially so that they might be likewise blessed with the goodness of God through us.  With remembrance comes the courage to act righteously, knowing that we are securely in Him and mindful of His providential care for His children.  With remembrance, we are humbled before God and correctly ascribe to Him all that is His, keeping us from displays of selfish pride, foul lust, or irreverent idolatry.

 

Watchfulness

 

Watchfulness, in a complementary way with remembrance, is the virtue we use to keep ourselves under the direction of our Lord.  Acting as our own sentry and listening for further instruction from the Holy Spirit, we guard our hearts from all that is contrary to Truth, disallowing any manifestation of evil to enter into our lives.  We are to be ever on alert, watching out for the wiles of the devil that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe.5:8).  If we are not on guard, the demons will pollute our thoughts and turn our devotions into mindless ritualistic practices of self-indulgence that serve no purpose other than to make us feel good about ourselves.  Legalism creeps in whenever we act on our own instead of in humble submission before God.  Watchfulness helps us prevent beliefs contrary to Christ from entering into our lives by keeping His Word in our conscious thought processes.  When we are soberly alert to the Holy Spirit, temptations that serve to distract us from the way of God can be quickly identified and dismissed rather than being allowed to fester, grow and become sin.

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Discernment:

Deut.1:9-18, discernment is a necessary virtue of leadership and wise counsel

Deut.32:20-39, discernment enables a soul to see the consequences of their actions

1Sam.3:7-9, discernment is being able to recognize the voice of our Lord

1Sam.25:2-38, discernment knows what is ours to do from what is the province of God

2Sam.14:17, discernment is the ability to determine what is good from what is evil

1Ki.3:6-15, discernment is a necessary virtue for being a judge, for administering justice

1Ki.4:29-30, discernment as an integral component of wisdom

Ps.119:65-67, discernment comes from obedience to God

Pr.1:2-7, discernment provides understanding and further development of virtues

Pr.2:1-8, discernment leads to a virtuous life that God protects

Pr.10:9-14, discernment as perceptiveness that prevents folly and its consequences

Ezk.44:23, instruction to teach discernment so as to tell the holy from the profane

Dan.5: the power of discernment enables Daniel to read the writing on the wall

Mt.16:2-4, Jesus instructs us to use discernment to recognize signs from God

1Cor.12, discernment (distinguishing spirits) as a gift of the Holy Spirit

Phil.1:9-10, discernment necessary for being clean and pure

Heb.5:13-14, spiritual maturity accompanies discernment

1Jn.4:1-6, St. John teaches us how to test the spirits to discern if they are from God

 

Remembrance:

Deut.7:12-19, remembrance of God, and what He has done, allays our paralyzing fears

Deut.8:1-14, remembrance as thanksgiving for His blessings and as a deterrent to pride

Deut.9:7-8, remembrance of God discourages sinful ways

Deut.24:17-19, remembrance of God and His blessings as the basis for being virtuous

Judg.8:33-35, failure to remember God leads to idolatry and lack of virtue

Neh.9:16-17, lack of remembrance leads to stubbornness and arrogance amid ungodliness

Ps.77, remembrance is a source of conviction leading to repentance and His security

Ps.103, a song of remembrance, thanking God for blessings and a vigorous, full life

Eccl.12:1, remembrance of God in our youth prevents regrets in our later years

Is.17:10-11, lack of remembrance reaps grief

Is.46:8-13, remembrance of God is to rest assuredly (have peace) in His omnipotence

Jer.23:35-36, lack of remembrance leads to trusting in the words of men instead of God

Ezek.16:42-43, lack of remembrance displeases and angers God; precedes His discipline

Lk.22:19, Jesus instructs us to remember Him and His works with the breaking of bread

Jn.14:25-26, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit of God will bring us to remembrance

 

Watchfulness:

Ex.34:12-16, be on guard against concessions to the idolatrous, secular mind

Deut.4:23-28, lack of attentiveness leads to idolatry, destroying souls and nations

Deut.6:10-19, be mindful of Him and His blessings; possess goodness by destroying evil

Deut.15:7-10, instruction to look for opportunities to share His blessing with others

Ps.59:9, to be strong, keep watching for the Lord

Pr.4:10-15, watchfulness keeps us in the ways of God, avoiding the calamities of iniquity

Pr.4:18-23, watchfulness brings fullness of life and steadfastness in His ways

Pr.7, being inattentive to the Word of God leads to falling victim to the snares of sin

Pr.8:30-36, watchfulness moves us closer to God and brings fullness from His blessings

Jer.17:21-22, command from God to be mindful of caring for that which is sacred

Hab.2:1, watchfulness is minding the promptings and conviction of the Holy Spirit

Mt.16:6, Jesus instructs us to keep a watch out for legalism and false worship

Mt.26:40-41, Jesus instructs us to remain on watch in prayer to avoid temptations

Lk.11:34-36, to avoid darkness, watchfulness is needed to see things in His light

Ac.20:28-31, St. Paul says to be on guard against those who pervert the Word of God

2Pe.3:1-9, remember the Word of God and uphold Truth until His coming

2Jn.1:8, watchfulness is needed to avoid digressing in the ways of our Lord

 

 

Commentaries:

 

Discernment:

“Discrimination:  a spiritual gift permitting one to discriminate between the types of thought that enter into one’s mind, to assess them accurately and to treat them accordingly.  Through this fight one gains ‘discernment of spirits’ – that is, the ability to distinguish between the thoughts or visions inspired by God and the suggestions or fantasies coming from the devil.  It is a kind of eye or lantern of the soul (Mt.6:22-23) by which man finds his way along the spiritual path without falling into extremes; thus it includes the idea of discretion”

The Philokalia Glossary

 

“…the gift of discrimination [discernment] is nothing worldly or insignificant. It is the greatest gift of God’s grace.  A [Christian] must seek this gift with all his strength and diligence, and acquire the ability to discriminate between the spirits that enter him and to assess them accurately.  Otherwise he will not only fall into the foulest pits of wickedness as he wanders about in the dark, but even stumble when his path is smooth and straight.”

St. John Cassian (360-435); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg.98

 

“Everything, however, demands discrimination [discernment] if it is to be used for the good; without discrimination we are ignorant of the true nature of things.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 119

 

 

“Discrimination [discernment] is characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does.  Spiritual insight is characterized, first, by awareness of one’s own failings before they issue in outward actions, as well as of the stealthy tricks of the demons; and, second, by knowledge of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in sensible creation.”

ibid. pg. 158-159

 

“For without discrimination [discernment] nothing good is ever done, even though to the ignorant it appears to be altogether good; for what is done without discrimination will be either untimely, or profitless, or disproportionate, or beyond the strength and knowledge of the person doing it, or faulty in some other way.”

ibid. pg. 234

 

“To study and recognize the power, action and special flavor of each virtue and vice is not within the competence of everyone who wishes to do so; it is the prerogative of those who practice and experience the virtues actively and consciously and who receive from the Holy Spirit the gifts of cognitive insight and discrimination [discernment].”

St. Gregory of Sinai (14th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg. 231 #91

 

 

Remembrance:  

“…when remembrance of God is absent, there is a tumult of the passions within us.”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic (9th C. ?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 34 #92

 

“The blessed remembrance of God – which is the very presence of Jesus – with a heart full of wrath and a saving animosity against the demons, dissolves all trickeries of thought, plots, argumentation, fantasies, obscure conjectures and, in short, everything with which the destroyer arms himself and which he insolently deploys in his attempt to swallow our souls.  When Jesus is invoked, He promptly burns up everything.  For our salvation lies in Christ Jesus alone.  The Saviour Himself made this clear when He said: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #22

 

Watchfulness:

“Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart.  In this way predatory and murderous thoughts are marked down as they approach and what they say and do is noted; and we can see in what specious and delusive form the demons are trying to deceive the intellect.  If we are conscientious in this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare.”

St. Hesychios the Priest (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 163 #6

 

“Watchfulness cleanses the conscience and makes it lucid.  Thus cleansed, it immediately shines out like a light that has been uncovered, banishing much darkness.  Once this darkness has been banished through constant and genuine watchfulness, the conscience then reveals things hidden from us.  Through the intellect it teaches us how to fight the unseen war and the mental battle by means of watchfulness, how we must throw spears when engaged in single combat and strike with well-aimed lances of thought, and how the intellect must escape being hit and avoid the noxious darkness by hiding itself in Christ, the light for which it longs.”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #24

 

 

 

Discerning Truth

 

The “D” Test for Discerning Goodness from Evil

 

This list is provided as a learning tool to help us grasp the basics of discernment.  Always think spiritually first, soulful (mind, emotions, will) second, and physically last.  This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, for God is infinite and His creation vast.

 

 

“D” words for testing positive, as being from God

 

Dear:  precious, heart felt, affirming dignity (Ps.116:15, 139:17, Mt.13:45-46)

Decisive: serves to settle dispute (1Chr.17:14, Eze.13:1-11)

Deep: profound understanding of Truth (Ps.92:5,107:24, Is.55:8-9)

Definitive: conclusive, final, serving to define (Gen.1, Rev.4:11)

Delight:  joyful pleasure (Ps.37:4-11, 94:19)

Devoted: consecrated unto the Lord, loyal, committed (Lk.6:13, Ac.6:4, Rm.12:10)

Dignified:  affirms the worth God gives every soul (Jn.3:16)

Direct: straight, clear and without dilution (Is.40:3-5, Mt.5:37, Lk.3:4-5)

Discipleship:  instruction in the ways of our Lord (Pr.8:33, 1Tim.4:6-11, 6:18)

Divine: godly in nature (2Pe.1:1-11)

 

“D” words for testing negative, or not of God

 

Deceptive:  misleading, lack of honesty

Defaming:  slander or libel, absence of integrity

Defeatist:  resigned to lose, absence of courage

Defiant:  challenging the ordained authority of God, failure to fear the Lord

Defiling:  to corrupt or make foul, absence of purity

Defraud:  to cheat or swindle, lack of integrity and justice

Delinquent: neglecting responsibilities, lacking watchfulness

Delusion:  having beliefs contrary to Truth, the absence of wisdom

Demeaning:  insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Demented:   false perceptions, lack of knowledge

Demonic:  of demons, fiendish, having an evil nature, contrary to goodness

Denial:  refusal to acknowledge Truth or facts, lacking discernment

Depravity:  moral corruption, absence of goodness

Depreciating:  to devalue someone, lacking dignity and justice

Depressing:  causing gloom, an absence of joy and hope

Derisive:  ridicule, mocking, lacking mercy, kindness and compassion

Derogatory:   to belittle or slight, insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Desecrating:   disrespect or abuse toward sacred things, failure to fear the Lord

Desperate:  hopelessness, recklessness, motivated by despair, lack of hope

Despising:  to regard with contempt, absence of forgiveness and peace

Destructive:   motivated to destroy or ruin people or things, lacking compassion

Desultory: aimless, without purpose, lack of remembrance

Detrimental:  harmful, causing injury, hurtful, lacking selflessness

Devious: underhanded, indirect, lacking honesty and integrity

Diabolic:  satanic, wicked, evil, cruel, absence of goodness and kindness

Dirty:  unholy, unclean, the absence of purity

Disdainful:  to reject with scorn, lacking compassion

Distorted:  warped, misshapen or perverted, lacking knowledge and wisdom

Distracting:  to lose original focus or to divert, lacking watchfulness

Distraught:  harried, worried, anxious, crazed, absence of hope, joy and peace

Divisive:  creating discord or dissension, absence of faith

Dreadful:  distasteful, shocking, lacking gentleness

Dreamy:   prone to fantasy, absence of self-control

Driveling:  senseless chatter, absence of watchfulness and wisdom

Dubious:  to cause doubt, lacking in faith

Duplicitous:  deliberate absence of clarity and honesty, lacking simplicity