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 22 – The Fulfillment of Virtue – Love

Love:  the sacrificial nurturing and caring for another person, body, soul and spirit; the life of Christ within us expressed outwardly

Love is the fulfillment of virtue in that it encompasses and employs all other virtues.  If we have learned our lessons from the previous chapters, we already have all the necessary ingredients of love in our hearts (1Cor.13).   Here we learn to blend them all together into a single thought and expression.   Love singularly fulfills virtue with the fullness of God, leaving no quarter for any semblance of evil or sin.  Showing love is how we care for the needs of others, whether this means the basics of food, clothing and shelter, or the soulful needs for learning, growing and emotional support, or sharing the spiritual bread and water of life.  The fullness of love is expressed when we surrender our wills to our Lord and allow Him to live His life through us, for God is love (1Jn.4).

 

The love we speak of here is not to be equated with the romantic or erotic passions that are a part of the normal human desire to mate; the love we speak of here doesn’t require “to have and to hold” another.  Likewise, love is neither the extent to which another pleases us nor a mere bodily response to physical and emotional sensations.  Love is neither an excuse to sin nor does it legitimize ungodly, reckless behaviors that endanger self or others.  The love of God that we are to express to all souls, especially in our closest relationships, always upholds the virtues we have learned in the preceding chapters.

 

To love others means knowing the Truth of God and living life accordingly.  It is letting our knowledge of Truth govern all our interactions, drawing upon His wisdom to provide us with the answers as to how best to tend to life.  We also love by sharing Truth and wisdom with those we’ve been given to love.  Our fear of the Lord brings His presence into all our relationships, ensuring our conscience is in accord with His goodness while stripping away the fantasies and delusions that lead to a myriad of maladies that compromise healthy interaction.  As we grow spiritually and mature in our Christ-likeness, we learn of His wisdom.  Doing so gives us broader and deeper insights into our life choices which in turn leads to making godly and productive decisions that are more rewarding than their fleshly alternatives.

 

Our love for others is based upon our faith in God, His power and His provision; we needn’t be overcome by our personal shortcomings or difficult circumstances.  Our faith leads to a courage that gives us the ability to maintain our virtue and bring the goodness of God to bear upon any situation.   Abiding in the Holy Spirit, we have the power to act according to His will; we are blest accordingly.  In addition, to exercise the virtue of love is to practice remembrance and watchfulness, knowing that any given moment is an occasion to express the love of God and lay the groundwork for a more godly future.   We recall the goodness of our Lord, how He has cared for us in the past so that we might fully trust in Him in the moment, and in turn demonstrate His love by loving those around us.  Likewise, we practice watchfulness and are able to recognize the hand of our Lord in our current circumstances so that we might join in His work while avoiding the pitfalls and traps the demons use to lead us astray.  The pursuit of virtue develops our power of discernment such that we can more easily see the way of our Lord, learning to love others as He loves us and prevent succumbing to fleshly lusts and evil temptations.

 

Since our love has the Word of our eternal Lord as its foundation, we are blessed with an unshakeable stillness that fosters the trust of God and our fellows as we walk in His ways.  We become worthy of being entrusted with greater responsibilities that lead to even greater deeds with even greater rewards.  The peace of our Lord sates our souls with a sense of fullness and satisfaction, freeing us from trivial neediness or grotesque wantonness, allowing us to tend to all His creation with unsullied motives.  By abiding in the loving ways of the Holy Spirit, we become a beacon of light for lost souls in a darkened world, showing others His way, reaping love from teaching others these lessons.  As we see others being touched with His goodness, we in turn become acquainted with the encouragement of hope that lets us know all things are possible in Him and that there are always better things yet to come.

 

Our love for others is expressed with purity, cleansed from sin, free of self-serving motivations and without selfish, fleshly lusts; love is holy unto the Lord.  Its singularity of purpose and intent keeps us focused on God, undeterred by demonic distractions while caring for and providing nurture for those around us.  The absence of duplicity in our motives brings simplicity into our lives; we live free of the complications and chaotic consequences of sin.  Our expression of love will be honest, in accord with the Truth of the Word of God and without any traces of deception or delusion.  Our integrity will prevent our love from being compromised by worldly temptations, dire circumstances or mistreatment; it will be tireless and ever-present, not succumbing to frustrations, tedium, futility, fears, impatience, or any other irritant that might otherwise exhaust our souls.

 

Our love will be expressed with joy, for our hearts will know the goodness of our Lord and be gladdened.  We will enjoy the elation that accompanies praising and worshipping God in all that we do, being energized by His presence because pleasing the Lord is also our pleasure.  Our love will also be expressed with thankfulness, free of complaints, criticisms, and unnecessary characterizations, for such thoughts only serve to compromise our virtue by impugning our ability to give thanks to God in all things.  The absence of ingratitude in our lives leads to an absence of resentments; we will not isolate ourselves away from individuals and communal activities due to any ill feelings towards those around us.  Instead, we will abide in an appreciation of His blessings, beginning with life itself and including all the wondrous things that fill His creation, finding joy in our loving interactions with others, ever thankful for His saving grace.

 

Our love will be expressed with a humility that has the life of the incarnate Christ as its source.  Our inspired deeds will not be cause for self-aggrandizement, but rather be cause for giving thanks for His presence, His trust in us, and the talents and virtues He gives us that make it possible for us to create a trove of treasures in Heaven.  Our care and nurture of others will be done selflessly, for our love is enabled by the fullness and abundance of our life in Christ who has at His disposal everything we need.  We are His children and we have been given an inheritance of His Kingdom in the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we are empowered to give without thought of recompense, reward, or recognition since God exists without need for anything and our life is in Him.  Our love is an expression of His goodness, an outward manifestation of His indwelling righteousness that finds satisfaction in pleasing Him with purity born of total submission to His divine will.

 

Our love will extol the virtues of justice, dignity and mercy.  Abiding in Him, we will be motivated to ensure that justice prevails upon our every domain, that fairness and equality are upheld in deed and not merely in rhetoric or litigation of questionable worth.  We will be willing to hold the guilty accountable for their transgressions so that they may learn the error of their ways and come to repentance, thereby protecting the innocent, preventing the creation of more victims and abbreviating the perpetrator’s list of offenses.  Our words and actions will lovingly uphold and affirm the dignity of all human souls, recognizing that all are precious in His sight and are never devalued by the application of secular standards of worth.  Instead, being ever mindful of Christ’s love for us and the sacrifices He made on our behalf, we will share with others the same mercy He has shown us.  We give to the ungrateful, forgive the impenitent, serve the undeserving, respect the contemptible, share with the selfish, and teach the ignorant.  Ultimately, we love the unlovable as Christ first loved us.

 

Our love will be tempered with patience rather than being compromised by rash actions or quick tempers, and we will not express impatience even when harried by demons.  Our love is eternal, a constant in time, always on our agenda and is never importune when abiding in His will and exercising godly discernment.  We will learn to love with acceptance; meeting people where they are at and helping them grow from there, and do so without condemnation or criticism of their shortcomings, being mindful of our own need for His forgiveness.  We do not usurp the province of God; we teach Truth with gentleness, firmly trusting the Holy Spirit to communicate any necessary conviction of ungodliness.  We will learn self-control so that our love is not negated by thoughtlessness or impulsive reactions, but is preserved by the stillness of unshakable faith and an uncompromised trust in God.

 

Our love will be manifest in acts of charity, the giving of our means and ourselves wherever our Lord calls us to serve, returning to Him a piece of His bounty that He has entrusted to us.  The love in our hearts will compel us to give generously and joyfully, for we know that sharing His goodness with another may just be the warm introduction to God a lost soul needs to find their way home to Him.  Our love is shared with others with hospitality, being considerate and kindly, welcoming guests and not treating others as unwanted, obtrusive, or otherwise unworthy of our time or effort.

 

Our love will be a constant in all our relations because we have learned to forgive another’s shortcomings in the same manner God has forgiven us, completely and unconditionally.  Our love for others will shine with a godly kindness that cheers the disheartened, restores hope in goodness, and reorients the recipient’s heart toward the benevolence of God.  By loving others, we will learn of compassion and be moved to redress another’s suffering and pain, and learn of the miraculous healing powers God has made available to us when we live virtuously.

 

Love is all the above, twined and threaded into a single thought and expression, in obedience to His will, and with proper discernment, rightly balanced for the unique considerations of any given situation.  Love gives His will top priority and is willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of another.  Love has purpose, to please God, to spread goodness instead of evil, and to help the lost find their way home to Him.  By living love, we find the abundant life Christ said would be ours in Him (Jn.10:10).

 

God has given us a most wondrous example of the many aspects of love being expressed singularly in the salvation history and summarized in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  Let us now seek to understand His love by attempting to discern the components of love found in this verse and see the attributes of God that are the virtues we aspire to attain.   First, a word of caution; contrasting how God loves us against how we are to love God, and then against how we are to love one another, creates some difficulties due to the uniqueness of the Almighty; comparing the infinite with the finite certainly leads to unequal findings.  However, God has given us many examples and shown us how to love despite our shortcomings and limitations (Micah 6:8), and has likewise empowered us to do so (Acts 1:8).  To use the excuse, “I’m only human” may be true for the secular world, but for the children of God it is a lie because we have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit enabling us to commit acts of love worthy to present as gifts before the King.

 

By sending His Son into the world, we are given an unadulterated glimpse of His wisdom (1Jn.1).  With this insight, we develop a fear of our Lord with greater depth and appreciation.  We are also given the means to His knowledge and wisdom through the words and acts of Jesus.  The presence of our risen Lord in our lives enables us to love Him with a rock solid foundation of faith that leads to divinely inspired courageous actions or restraint tempered by self-control born of a godly conscience.  His plan of salvation also provides for us after His departure; at Pentecost He blessed us with the power of the Holy Spirit who now lives within us, allowing mankind to abide in His presence as Adam and Eve once did in the Garden of Eden, today on Earth and then eternally in Heaven.  The indwelling Holy Spirit helps us develop an ever-present spiritual awareness that leads to the virtues of watchfulness and remembrance of Him.  His presence brings peace and hope to souls ravaged by sin.  By pursuing purity made available though Christ, we come to know the serenity of stillness and the unspeakable beauty of Heaven while yet on Earth.  The love of God is expressed with such simplicity in John 3:16 that virtually no prior doctrinal teaching is required to understand it, and children are able to come to a saving knowledge of Him at very tender ages.  This verse challenges a soul to take a soul-searching self-assessment, the beginnings of honesty, of the ability to acknowledge Truth that leads to developing integrity based on knowledge of His Word.

 

The proclamation of the coming of Christ is cause for joy in Heaven and on Earth.  It gives His children much cause for thankfulness and praise as the glory of God shines with blinding brilliance in His presence.  In the perfect timing of His arrival, we see the patience of God in the many years He prepared the world by sending prophets as documented in the Old Testament books.  The Son of God coming down from Heaven to dwell among us is an act of humility on a scale that can only be understood as the love of God.  He likewise generously expresses the selfless and sacrificial qualities required to manifest goodness for the benefit of others.  His love shows us mercy because we were yet sinners when He died for us, demonstrating His acceptance of us despite our sinful state.  He affirms our dignity by saying we are worth all that Christ sacrificed and achieved for our sakes (Rom.5:8).  His charitable plan likewise provides the means for our forgiveness.   His ultimate sacrifice, dying for all our sins, upholds the justice of God, for the lawful penalty of sin is the agonizing death of total separation from God, a death His mercy makes unnecessary for any human soul to suffer. Instead, the hospitality of God invites us into His home of many rooms that Jesus now compassionately prepares for us (Jn.14:2).  In the meantime, Jesus tells us to “Go and do the same” (Lk.10:37) with the gentle assurance that He is with us always, “even till the end of the age” (Mt.28:20).

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Love

Mt. 5:43-48, Jesus instructs us to love all souls with perfect virtue

Mt.22:36-40, Jesus teaches us to love God above all things and then one another

Lk.6:27-38, Jesus tells us to love others unconditionally as our Father in Heaven loves us

Lk.10:25-37, Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors with mercy and compassion

Jn.14:15-21, Jesus says our love for Him will help keep us attuned to God

Jn.15:9-17, Jesus commands us to follow His example in loving sacrificially

Rom.12:9-21, our love is zealous, energetic and humble in overcoming evil with virtues

1Cor.13:1-13, if our love isn’t rightly motivated then all our service is corrupt

1Jn.3:16-24, if we love in Truth, our hearts will be stirred to action by our virtues

1Jn.4:7-21, our love for God and others identifies us as children of God abiding in Him

 

 

Commentaries:

 

Love:

“When the intellect begins to perceive the Holy Spirit with full consciousness, we should realize that grace is beginning to paint the divine likeness over the divine image in us.  Artists first draw the outline of a man in monochrome, and then add one color after another, until little by little they capture the likeness of the subject down to the smallest details.  In the same way the grace of God starts by remaking the divine image in man into what it was when he was first created.  But when it sees us longing with all our heart for the beauty of the divine likeness and humbly standing naked in its atelier, then by making one virtue after another come into flower and exalting the beauty of the soul ‘from glory to glory’ (2Cor.3:18), it depicts that we are being formed into the divine likeness; but the perfecting of this likeness we shall know only by the light of grace.  For through its power of perception the intellect regains all the virtues, other than spiritual love, as it advances according to the measure and rhythm which cannot be expressed; but no one can acquire spiritual love unless he experiences fully and clearly the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  If the intellect does not receive the perfection of the divine likeness through such illumination, although it may have almost every other virtue, it will still have no share in perfect love.  Only when it has been made like God – in so far, of course, as this is possible – does it bear the likeness of divine love as well.  In portraiture, when the full range of colors is added to the outline, the painter captures the likeness of the subject, even down to the smile.  Something similar happens to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness:  when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed in the beauty of the likeness.  Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom.13:10).  In this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love, and in the perfection of love it finds its own fulfillment.”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 288 #89

 

“If, as St. John says, ‘God is love’, then ‘he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him’ (1Jn.4:16).  But he who hates his neighbor, through this hatred, is separated from love.  He, then who hates his brother is separated from God, since ‘God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.’”

St. John of Karpathos (7th C.), The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 321

 

“Perfect love… loves all men equally.  It loves the good as friends and the bad as enemies, helping them, exercising forbearance, patiently accepting whatever they do, not taking the evil into account at all but even suffering on their behalf if the opportunity offers, so that, if possible, they too become friends.  If it cannot achieve this, it does not change its own attitude; it continues to show the fruits of love to all men alike.  It was on account of this that our Lord and God Jesus Christ, showing His love for us, suffered for the whole of mankind and gave to all men and equal hope of resurrection, although each man determines his own fitness for glory or punishment.”

St. Maximos Confessor (7th C.), The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 60

 

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