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

 

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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 15 – Perpetuating Virtue – Purity, Simplicity, Honesty, and Integrity

Purity:  clarity of vision in pursuing God who is holy and pure; the total absence of any adulteration of the indwelling Holy Spirit; absolute cleanliness and absolute goodness; godly perfection; communicating the Word of God without dilution, pollution, or compromise

Simplicity:  having only the single desire to please God as one’s motivation

Honesty:  knowing and pursuing Truth; communicating Truth in word and deed; being just and fair in interactions and dealing with others so as to affirm their dignity; the absence of deceit

Integrity:  steadfast commitment to honesty and Truth; uprightness; consistently being fair and just; devout, devoted

Upright:  continual commitment to living a virtuous life in the presence of God

Steadfast: firm loyalty to the ways of God, an unchanging desire to be with God; fortitude

 

The further along we proceed in our pursuit of virtues, we should see more overlap in their expression, and more intricacy in their interdependence.  Let us pray now neither to lose attentiveness nor become weary in our pursuit as we experience repeated thoughts cast only in new shades of meaning.  Let us continue without contempt for redundancy, for the portrait yet lacks many brush strokes; there is a variety of colors yet missing.  The circle representing our pursuit of virtue is still just an open loop; our first revolution is incomplete and there is much left to cover before encompassing an understanding of the love of God.

 

Chapter 12 on faith and courage used the analogy of being the wheels on which our pursuit of virtue rolls; similarly, this chapter can be seen as the lubricant on the axels that allows those wheels to spin in perpetuity.  Some virtues seem to have their moments; others seem to be constants.  Though infinite in nature, some we seem able to grasp, or at least be at peace with our progress for a season, while others always seem to leave us grasping.  Need it be said that we should neither be wholly satisfied with our progress nor should we fail to celebrate our successes with joy and thankfulness.  Although our individual experiences in pursuit of virtue need not be the same, when the virtues of purity, simplicity, honesty and integrity are spoken of collectively, the fact that this pursuit is never ending becomes a comforting thought rather than having a laborious or futile tone as when first introduced as a journey without end.  While we contemplate the holiness of God and the example of Jesus while in this body of flesh, then add these virtues to the list of characteristics we as children of God are to possess, the road ahead no doubt seems long.  However, the beauty along the way gives our trek a warm and inviting presence, arousing our desire to draw nearer to the visions we now behold of an abundant and virtuous life.

 

Purity is dependent upon a right relationship with God made possible through Christ Jesus and allows us to see beautiful visions of God that keep us wanting to grow nearer to Him.  Simplicity keeps us focused on God.  Honesty simplifies our thoughts so that we do not lose our focus on His priorities.  Being cognizant of integrity binds our efforts together into a cohesive, continuous whole which helps prevent compromising our virtues.

 

Purity

 

In our pursuit of virtue, our movement toward greater intimacy with God and our spiritual growth, though there are many contributing elements, purity is what best encapsulates all that is needed to grow nearer to God.  With purity, the stumbling blocks impeding our way are removed so that we might progress toward Him.  With purity, the fog that clouds our eyes and befuddles our thoughts begins to dissipate such that we begin to see God more clearly.  With purity, the din of distractions is quieted, allowing the Word of God to be easily absorbed into our souls.  With purity, the aromas of the goodness of God and the wondrous joys of His presence are partaken of more freely.  However, for all the picturesque language used here to illustrate purity, the means of obtaining it are rather direct and concrete, and have been listed previously in chapter 10.  Item number six from the list, regular housecleaning, is of particular importance.  Learning to recognize our own shortcomings, the willingness to claim them followed by the desire to be free of them, is what is most needed to pursue purity.  In other words, practice confession and repentance, perform any necessary restitution, and humbly learn the way of forgiveness, both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness to others.  A habit of dispelling ungodly temptations is likewise needed.  A pitfall to be wary of as we progress in the ways of purity is to become disproportionately sensitive to the shortcomings of others and proudly take it upon ourselves to point out the faults of those around us.  Jesus instructs us to be clean ourselves before attempting to help others with their shortcomings (Mt.7:1-5).  We should be motivated by compassion for another’s well being, not on a crusade to eliminate another’s sin while overlooking our own shortcomings.  Similarly, St. Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens and gently help restore our brother or sister who succumbs to temptation only after examining ourselves (Gal.6.1-5).  For every occasion that the Lord calls us to assist another with their failings, there may well be a thousand different convictions from the Holy Spirit we are to address in ourselves first.  Anyone who spends more time addressing another’s failings than their own has succumbed to the pitfalls of self-righteous pride and false piety, and instead of being virtuous, has become a trivially trite and pesky meddler.

 

Purity is an internal quality of cleanliness and holiness, a godliness that originates only from the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, emanating an aura of goodness that is recognizable to both the godly and ungodly alike.  To the godly, such visions create longings to be closer to God and have greater possession of His goodness.  To the ungodly, it stirs a maddening lust as the contrast between purity and filth becomes unbearably obvious, rousing the unfettered demons and provoking an insatiable desire to mar and sully that which exposes their ugliness.  It is a venomous jealousy that rationalizes soiling another in an attempt to improve one’s perception of self (Jn.3:19-21, Ac.5:16-18, Jas.4:1-10, 1Pe.5:8, 1Jn.3:1-13). Therefore, purity must be protected wherever it exists, and nurtured to maturity wherever its seeds have been planted (Mt.7:6, 1Cor.6:15-20).

 

Purity gives the children of God visions of the Eternal that the ungodly can neither see nor comprehend.  Such visions color our world with fullness and beauty, with rightness and understanding, and with warmth and comfort.  Glimpses of the hand of God in everyday situations and events occur with greater frequency as we progress in our pursuit of purity.  The hand of God, the handiwork of His providential care, becomes more evident more often as purity clears the fog of the flesh and godly discernment begins to govern our perceptions.  When a heart is pure, the Word of God will come to life as part of our understanding of the world around us.  Children are no longer just kids, but a wealth of scripture verses instructing us in their precious care and remembrances of our own relationship with our Father in Heaven.  The people around us become our brothers and sisters in Christ, equally loved by God and our eternal cohabitants in Heaven.  Similarly, our eyes will see illustrations of the Word of God coming to life in events, circumstances and relationships.  We will see the lessons of biblical stories relived in our daily lives.  However, our observance of His Living Word is not to be passive, but interactive.  We are called upon to live out what we have learned and interject His Word back into our surroundings by taking action in accordance with the Truth.  By acting on faith in this way, our own actions become experiential lessons that reinforce our trust in His Word.  When we humbly submit to His Lordship, we step into His presence and become united with God.

 

Preserving our purity causes otherwise mundane interactions to become an occasion to experience the ecstasy of being in His magnificent presence.  However, the pursuit of purity also puts us in the arena of spiritual warfare as combatants.  Our displays of goodness stir the demons to spew their foul bile upon our godly intentions, but our desire for purity should motivate us not to return evil for evil.  Instead, we choose to maintain our vision of God by infusing His goodness into all our circumstances, defeating the wicked demons and causing them to flee in fear and humiliation.

 

Simplicity

            To most of us, trying to remember everything scripture teaches us at any given moment would be a daunting and laborious chore, and the large volume of mental activity could potentially paralyze us into inactivity.  Furthermore, due to the corruption of our flesh that seeks to sate personal preferences and selfish desires, we’re so prone to jumbling priorities and misapplying lessons that our expressions of true virtue are ever in danger of disappearing altogether.  However, God knows us and is well aware of our propensity for complication and losing focus.  As timely as the teachings of Jesus concerning simplicity were in His day (Lk.10:38-42), the need for simplicity in the lives of all the children of God is never outdated, and very likely intensifies as we take on the weightier issues of world around us today.  The Law of God and the gospel of Christ Jesus clearly teach us that we are to love God first and foremost, and as a corollary, love our neighbors as ourselves (Deut.6:5, Lev.19:17-18, Mt.22:36-40).  We are to love others as God loves us and as an expression of our love for God and for all His creation.  When we recall that Jesus taught us that the Law of God depends solely upon loving God and others as ourselves, and when we allow its application to override all other considerations that we are prone to contrive, we practice the virtue of simplicity.  Should we ever get lost along our way or otherwise become unable to discern the Word of God in a particular situation, simplicity is the virtue that will restore our spiritual senses so that we may again see His hand and hear His voice. All we need do is search our hearts, examine our motivations, remove all the selfish and unclean thoughts, and then beseech God in prayerful remembrance of the example of Christ, asking how we might express His love in the moment.

 

Honesty

 

Self-examination requires the virtue of honesty.  Honesty is the awareness of Truth and adherence to truth combined with the absence of the intent to deceive.  It is very easy to lie to ourselves for the sake of protecting a favorable self-image, telling ourselves we are things we are not simply for the sake of feeling good about ourselves.  However, God sets the standard and God is the judge, and we are to subject our opinions of ourselves to the Truth of God.  The truth is, we all have shortcomings and there is always room for improvement (Rom.3:23).  Just to give this thought a quick nod of affirmation without delineating our shortcomings is contrary to the pursuit of virtue.  If we fail to be honest with ourselves, we lose our credibility, essentially nullifying any potential to be a witness for godly virtue.

 

There are two categories for being honest to be discussed here.  The first is adherence to Truth, abiding in the Word of God.  The second is adherence to truth, correctly relating facts and abstaining from intentional deception.  Being honest with the Truth is to bring our perceptions in line with the Word of God, forsaking fantasies and imaginations in order to be free of ungodly delusions.  A teaching on being honest with Truth comes from 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.  In addition, if we believe we are of greater worth to God than other souls, we are harboring a belief contrary to scripture (Rom.5:8).  If we believe that someone doesn’t deserve to be shown the love of God because of some shortcoming we may perceive in them, our belief is again contrary to scripture (Jn.3:16).  If we attempt to discount our own shortcomings because they somehow seem less offensive than the ones we discern in others, we partake in lies and deceptions that are likewise contrary to the Word of God (Jn.8:1-11).  To overcome these failings, we pray for the willingness to learn the ways of self-examination and to have the ability to accept the Truth of God as it pertains to each of us individually.

 

Adherence to truth means being honest with people, doing so affirms their dignity and simplifies the interactions of relationships.  Despite the variety of selfish and self-serving reasons we may use to deprive others of the truth, contriving stories complicates matters and is a way of conveying the message that someone is unworthy of the truth.  Unworthy in that the decision has been made for them that they can’t handle the truth, or do not deserve to know it.  The complications arise when we attempt to manipulate other’s thoughts and actions; one lie requires more lies to sustain it.  Also, covering up the truth with stories may require telling different people different things, and puts a person in a position to have to remember every version of every story they ever told and who it was told to.  Manipulating others with stories and lies is contrary to faith, primarily because dishonesty is ungodly, but also because it is an attempt to usurp the providence of God by arrogantly attempting to impose one’s will upon others.  However, let’s not deny that there are situations where withholding facts may be more loving than inflicting the pain that accompanies them.  Navigating our way through these situations is best done with the assistance of a trusted guide since we are apt to be blinded to our own underlying motivations, especially if we are likewise experiencing pain and are seeking a means of alleviating it.  The greater our vested interest in a situation, the greater the potential for improperly discerning our true motivations.  Should we find ourselves in a situation where our honesty seems compromised, our perception of His will for us is likely to appear muddled and clouded with fog, but this is not cause to proceed in a muddled fog.  The way of God is light, if we lose sight of His way all we need do is hold our ground, remain mindful of His Word, seek prayerful guidance, practice simplicity, seek counsel from a trusted confidant, and be patient until the fog clears.  When it does, we can then proceed with a clear conscience.

 

Integrity

 

Integrity fosters trust from those around us as we become known for our honesty and fairness.  Integrity is the virtue that enables a soul to be a trusted servant of God.  Integrity is born of our internal purity while its external expression in turn preserves purity.  Integrity is the constancy of honesty and Truth, uprightness in demeanor and steadfast steps in the ways of our Lord.  Integrity is our living loyalty to the gospel message despite the tolls exacted by the many antagonists who seek to persecute Christ and those influenced by His goodness.  Integrity requires perseverance and courage, and this strength of character can only be attributed to the grace of God.  It is a grace bestowed when we are willing to do our part and take a stand against the scourge of ungodliness.  Such willingness comes when we decide to make the love of God our first priority with full knowledge that it costs us everything we would otherwise claim to be ours alone.  All our possessions must be surrendered to the care and governance of God.  Not merely material possessions or wealth, but also our loved ones, our thoughts, our actions, and our inalienable rights.  When we choose obedience to God over self-interests, we surrender everything pertaining to our lives.  To illustrate, if we feel a need to defend our dignity when persecuted with insults, we are choosing self-interest over the expression of love of God if we do so without concern for the perpetrators or respond to them with any form of ungodliness.  Likewise, we may be called upon to sacrifice our right to life in defense of others when evil is moved to violence against the children of God.  Integrity is not blind or mindless obedience.  Integrity sees both the evil and the good, and the consequences of each is understood when decisions are made.  However, choosing goodness and righteousness is always the foregone conclusion when pursuing the virtue of integrity.

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Purity

Ps.18:26, our purity allows us to see the purity of God

Ps.19:9, purity comes from fear of the Lord and lasts eternally

Ps.24:3-5, purity allows us to enter the presence of God and brings His blessings

Ps.51:7-14, as God cleanses us of sin and ungodliness, we learn the joy of His salvation

Ps.73:1, a pure heart brings the goodness of God into our lives

Ps.119:9, instruction from the Word of God guides us in keeping our ways pure

Pr.21:8, the conduct of the pure is upright

Mt.5:8, purity gives us visions of God

Mt.5:48, purity as all encompassing perfection in the Lord

1Cor.4:2-5, purity as a clear conscience that avails itself to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit

2Cor.6:1-10, purity is required for an unblemished ministry

2Cor.7:1, be free of all defilements, perfecting holiness in the fear of God

Php.1:9-11, knowledge and discernment are required in order to be pure (blameless)

Php.2:14-16, grumbling and arguing compromise the purity of our service to our Lord

Php.4:8-9, maintaining our purity brings the peace of the Lord

1Tim.1:5, St. Paul teaches that the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart

2Tim.2:20-23, purity allows us to be useful in our service to our Lord

Heb.10:19-25, cleansed by the blood of Christ we may draw near to God in purity

1Jn.1:8-10, first acknowledge sinfulness before confession and being cleansed

 

Simplicity:

Lev.19:18, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves

Deut.6:5, we are to love God with all our heart and soul

Mt.6:28-34, Jesus teaches to seek God first and trust Him to provide

Mt.22:35-40, Jesus teaches that loving God is most important, followed by loving others

Lk.10:38-42, Jesus tells Martha, despite all her activities, that only one thing is necessary

Jn.5:30, Jesus explains that He seeks solely to do the will of the Father

1Cor.13:13, St. Paul teaches that love is the greatest virtue

 

Honesty:

Lev.19:35-36, the Law of God instructs us to be honest in our business practices

Deut.25:15-16, unfair business practices are an abomination with ungodly consequences Zech.8:16-17, the Law commands us to speak the truth; He hates dishonesty and perjury

Mt.5:37, Jesus teaches us to answer with either a “yes” or a “no”

2Cor.10:5, St. Paul teaches us to be free of fantasies for they are contrary to Truth

Col.3:9, St. Paul teaches us not to partake of the evil practice of telling lies

Jas.5:12, do not swear by Heaven or Earth, but answer with “yes” or “no”

 

Integrity:  

Pr.10:9, integrity secures our ways while those who pervert His ways can’t hide

Pr.11:3, integrity is a guide, dishonesty and treachery destroy those who practice them

Mt.22:16, Jesus sets example of being true to God and impartial towards men

2Cor.1:12, the witness of St. Paul includes his integrity

Titus 2:6-8, uphold sound doctrine, practice virtue, and be an example above reproach

 

Uprightness:

Ps.7:10, God protects the upright and holds them dearly

Ps.119:7, uprightness is an expression of gratitude as we learn of the goodness of God

Ps.140:13, uprightness is being mindful of being in His presence with thankfulness

Pr.2:7-9, God provides the upright with wisdom and discernment and protects the godly

Pr.3:31-32, uprightness leads to intimacy with God

Pr.11:6, uprightness spares us the calamities of sinfulness

Pr.14:11, the upright will flourish, the wicked will be destroyed

Pr.15:8, God enjoys the prayers of the upright, false worship is an abomination to Him

Pr.15:19, the way of the lazy has many barriers, the path of the upright is clear

Pr.21:8, purity is foundational to upright behavior

Pr.21:29, uprightness leads to confidence in our ways before our Lord

Is.26:7-10, uprightness born of remembrance of the majesty of God

Is.57:1-2, uprightness brings the peace of our Lord

Titus 1:7-9, St. Paul lists the necessary qualifications of the upright (just) church elder

Titus 2:11-12, by the grace of God we live uprightly, in remembrance and in hope

 

Steadfastness:

Ps.51:10-12, steadfastness born of longing to be in His presence; willingness to repent

Ps.112:5-7, steadfastness as trusting in God and not succumbing to worldly fears

Ps.119:5-6, steadfastness spares us the shame of disobedience

Is.26.3, steadfastness brings the peace of our Lord

1Cor.15:56-58, our victory in Christ over death enables us to be steadfast and faithful

Col.1:19-23, being steadfast in our hope in Christ and His Word keeps us upright

Heb.6:16-20, our steadfastness has God as its surety

1Pet.5:9-11, steadfastness as having well-established habits in the ways of our Lord

 

Commentaries:

 

Purity:

“We should zealously cultivate watchfulness, my brethren; and when – our mind purified in Christ Jesus – we are exalted by the vision it confers, we should review our sins and our former life, so that shattered and humbled at the thought of them we may never lose the help of Jesus Christ our God in the invisible battle.  If because of pride, self-esteem [elevated sense of self-worth], or self-love [narcissism] we are deprived of Jesus’ help, we shall lose that purity of heart through which God is known to man.  For, as the Beatitude states, purity of heart is the ground for the vision of God (cf. Mt. 5:8).”

St. Hesychios the Priest (9th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg.171 #52

 

 

“If we preserve, as we should, that purity of heart or watch and guard of the intellect whose image is the New Testament, this will not only uproot all passions and evils from our hearts; it will also introduce joy, hopefulness, compunction, sorrow, tears, an understanding of ourselves and of our sins, mindfulness of death, true humility, unlimited love of God and man, and an intense and heartfelt longing for the divine.”

ibid. pg. 181 #113

 

 

“Purification of heart, through which we acquire humility and every blessing that comes from above, consists simply in our not letting evil thoughts enter the soul.”

ibid. pg. 196 #193

Simplicity:

…simplicity is nothing more than an act of pure and simply charity, having only one aim and end, which is to acquire the love of God; and our soul is simple when we have no other aim in all that we do or desire.”

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622); “The Art of Loving God” pg. 105;

 Sophia Inst. Press © 1986

 

Honesty:

“All relations of men with each other, the whole life of the community, depend on faithfulness to truth.

 

“What forms the bridge [the bonding of souls in a trusting relationship]?  The facial expression and gestures, the bearing and actions, but, above all, the word.  The more reliable the word, the more secure and fruitful the communication is.”

 

“…we have two elements which must accompany the desire for truth if the complete virtue is to develop:  consideration for the person addressed and courage when truth-telling becomes difficult.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 16, 17;

 Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

Integrity:

“…a person of integrity [does not] take advantage of people.  Integrity shares knowledge with others rather than hoarding it for personal gain.”

James S. Bell Jr. and Stan Campbell; “A Return to Virtue” pg. 122,

Northfield Publishing © 1995

“When we think of integrity, we think of someone who is honorable and trustworthy – a person who keeps their word and guards their reputation.  To be called a man or woman of integrity is a high compliment.  Such a person knows the difference between right and wrong and diligently pursues doing right, no matter what the obstacles.  Jesus provides the best example of a man of integrity; He was not swayed by outer influences but lived a life above reproach.  Integrity comes not just from the pursuit of right living, but the pursuit of God, which leads to right living.”

Elaine Wright Colvin and Elaine Creasman;

“Treasury of God’s Virtues” pg 155, Publications International, Ltd. © 1999

 

Chapter 11 – The Foundations of Virtue – Fear of the Lord, Knowledge and Wisdom

Fear of the Lord:  reverence and awe for God; the recognition of His supreme authority that leads to obedience to His Word; to hate evil

Knowledge:  awareness of Truth learned from the revelations of His Word; the experience gained by living according to Truth and abiding in the Holy Spirit

Wisdom:  understanding Truth, seeing as God sees; the application of knowledge

 

As we begin our pursuit of virtue, let us be reminded of the circular nature of this pursuit.  Though we begin here, there is no definitive starting point, and no ending point to signify completion of our task.  How we individually come to pursue the goodness of God is unique to each of us.  We begin with these three virtues because they seem the most foundational for our purposes here, while all that follow are predicated upon an appreciation of these even though we can hardly speak of these without alluding to those that follow.  Likewise, on subsequent readings, our understanding of the virtues discussed in the chapters ahead will undoubtedly give us a greater appreciation for the virtues we introduce here.  We commence with the fear of the Lord which elevates God to His rightful place in our hearts, then onto knowledge which distinguishes Truth from all manner of deception, and then learn of wisdom which rightly divides the holy from the profane.

 

Fear of the Lord

 

Fear of the Lord has many facets.  Among them we find reverence, awe, humility, obedience (pursuing goodness while abstaining from evil), and being paralyzed in fright.   This is not to suggest that we fear God as we would lions, tigers and bears whose intent is to eat us for dinner, nor fear Him as a cruel punisher of misdeeds who just waits to zap us with lightning bolts upon our next misstep.  No, God loves us and disciplines us as needed for the benefit of our spiritual growth, and our fear is more akin to respect for the immensity of His power and acknowledgment of our puniness and feebleness before Him.  Like standing at the edge of a great precipice or on ground quaking from an erupting volcano, this type of fear is instinctive and born of our vulnerability and powerlessness before that which is immensely greater than we are.  However, unlike the forces of nature that are obvious, God is spirit and the flesh of humanity has the capacity to ignore Him.  The children of God choose to fear Him.  Those who choose to defy God or reject His revelation, incur the terror of His wrath in ignorance.  Furthermore, we neither profane His providential care by attributing it to luck or coincidence, nor do we fail to see God as Lord of all.  We believe God is all knowing, all-powerful and ever-present.

 

Initially, our fear of the Lord is acknowledging His being, followed by the realization of His power, and then an appreciation of the implications of His omnipotence, omniscience, and presence everywhere at all times.  The initial fear may not be much more than the admission that God exists and therefore the rules of life are not determined by us; an acknowledgement that God is the final authority of creation, not man.  This may come from observing creation, noting the order and detailed design, and then deciding there is a Creator whose beautiful handiwork is certainly neither arbitrary nor random.  Or, maybe on a personal level, we notice that we cannot selfishly mistreat others without subjecting our conscience to various anxieties and emotional stresses.  Then from this awareness of innate moral influence, become conscious of God.  Regardless of how the fear of God originates, without acknowledging the revelation of His Word, there is only speculation.  Both the Truth of God, and how a person should respond to Him, remains hidden until we are educated by revelation.  Therefore, knowledge of God from revelation is required to develop our fear of God righteously and in Truth.

 

As we learn to fear God from the revelation of His Word, we are confronted by His holiness; a totally nebulous concept in the secular world for there is no meaning or application of holiness apart from God.  Occasionally in nature, we may experience something so beautiful, so wondrous, so awe inspiring, so delicate, so intricate, so captivating, so rare, so unique, so undefiled, so intimate, and so pure that we may get a small taste of what it means to partake of His holy presence (witnessing childbirth seems to have this effect on many souls).  However, without fear and knowledge of God the insight is lost in the ignorance of holiness.  As children of God, we enter into His presence and are in the midst of His holiness whenever we abide in prayer.  We sense His presence more keenly when we enter into sacred places.  At these times, the filth of our sin and our failures before God become all too apparent to us.  God is holy; unclean things can not exist in His presence.  However, from the revelation of scripture, we learn that God has provided for us and that we must accept His provision in order to be with Him.  Accepting Christ Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior is to receive the gift of reconciliation that God offers to all human souls (Jn.3:16-17).  In Christ, we are forgiven and cleansed of our sin; in Christ, we have the righteousness of God that allows us to enter into His presence; in Christ, we are redeemed and restored and able to live in communion with Him (1Cor.1:30-31, Jude 1:24-25, Eph.4:24).  May our praise be to God for His infinite mercy.

 

When God created the heavens and the Earth, He declared that it was good (Gen.1-2).  The imprint of His holiness upon all creation causes our conscience to be disturbed when we violate its natural order.  Responding to this innate sense of right and wrong by drawing closer to God, by desiring to act in accordance with His ways, is to fear God.  Ignoring one’s conscience and all manner of revelation is to rebel against God and is indeed sinful.  Ignorance of His holiness likewise leads to the degradation and depravation that accompanies partaking of evil.  Whether the deeds of the godless seem large, small or of no consequence, they all are contrary to God and impede the way of salvation, therefore they are all equally guilty of promoting evil.

 

To fear God is to hate the evil caused by willful or mindless ignorance of Him and His commandments for us.  As children of God, we are not to partake of evil, not as individuals and not as a collective society; evil has no place in His kingdom.  The fear of God means obediently abstaining from that which is offensive to Him and from that which is contrary to the order of His creation.  God has commanded us to love Him and to love others as we love ourselves (Mk.12:28-31).  To love God is to obey His commandments (Jn.14:15).  His commandments are always right and best for us and have many practical benefits (Hos.14:9).  Not only are we blessed for doing so, we are also physically, emotionally and spiritually healthier when we do not corrupt the intentions of God.  Disobedience grieves our spirit which causes stress and anxiety in our souls which in turn depletes the body.  This downward spiral is further exacerbated by the immediate consequences of sin and the inherent risks associated with ungodly behavior.

 

Though we may harbor sinful attitudes or dwell on sinful thoughts, outwardly sin is most often expressed in our relationships.  When we fail to let God rule our hearts by failing to be caring and nurturing toward others, we sacrifice the peace of God and invite corruption.  On the personal level, sin is manifest in abusive and broken relationships.  On a larger scale, monstrous acts of evil may occur, such as mass murders or mass suicides.  At such times, the existence of God is often questioned by those who fail to acknowledge the evil in their own hearts and likewise fail to recognize it in the world around them.  The question is often asked, if God is a loving God why do such things happen and why is there such human suffering?  These things exist because we let them exist.  We may not be able to stop hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts, or murders and rapes, but as the Christian keepers of the Earth, we have the means to keep our own hearts pure, evangelize lost souls, come to the aid of victims or move them out of harm’s way, and then bring justice to the perpetrators of evil.

 

Knowledge

 

Knowledge of God enables us to make decisions rightly in accord with Truth.  Knowing and believing Truth provides us with the basis for making sane decisions based on our accurate perception of reality, for reality is living according to Truth.  Likewise, the opposite is true, failure to acknowledge Truth lends towards a life of fantasy and delusion where decisions are made by a mind that is out of touch with the reality of God and therefore less than wholly sane.  God is Truth, and Truth is absolute, not relative.  God gave man free will and it can be used to believe or disbelieve Truth; all belief systems contrary to the Word of God are fictitious and summarily invite the ungodly consequences of sin.

 

To learn of God we read His Word and receive instruction from our Christian teachers.  When we encounter a teaching from scripture that is contrary to our beliefs, we are to forsake our false belief and conform to the Truth.  For instance, say a person believes in reincarnation, then reads the Bible and discovers that every soul is unique and has only one physical life in which to find their way home to God (Heb.9:27).  Such a person should immediately disbelieve reincarnation and all subsequent thoughts and replace them with the Truth of His Word.  Failure to do so means continuing to live outside reality by believing things that are not Truth.  Wrong beliefs lead to wrong thoughts.  Wrong thoughts lead to faulty decision-making processes that in turn result in ungodly behavior and ungodly lives.  People create for themselves situations of mayhem, disorder, disagreeableness, tension and discontent whenever there is friction between one’s framework of thoughts and the reality of any given situation.  The discord results in unhappiness, distress, and mental disturbances that are the precursors of even more serious consequences.  When left uncorrected, these things progress to beliefs that are even more convoluted and behaviors that are even more bizarre.  Mental illness is often the result for those unable to cope with the constant stress of being out of touch with reality.  In contrast, being spiritually healthy by believing and acting on Truth, results in an inner peace from being in harmony with God and the natural order of creation.  Though the world around us is fraught with chaos, in Christ we have peace (Jn.14:15-27,16:31-33).

 

The habit of forsaking beliefs contrary to Truth while adopting Truth as the basis of our decisions, leads to experiential knowledge of God.  Such knowledge comes from the testing of our faith, by making decisions based on His Word and His ways, ways that run contrary the ways of the world and our own flesh.  As we part with the crutches, props and cosmetics that we use to make ourselves measure up in the secular world, the first steps are expected to be a bit wobbly.  Forsaking the secular value system and replacing it with the priorities of God is difficult initially, but as we proceed and accustom ourselves to new ways, we grow stronger in our faith and our convictions.  Our ability to trust God encompasses more and more areas of our lives as we realize for ourselves the joys of walking with God.  We come to know firsthand that He loves us and has our best interest in mind; we see otherwise awful things produce good things because of loving Him, and we learn of virtue as we behold His benevolence and mercy.

 

Wisdom

 

By adopting Truth as our belief system, we begin to see as God sees and come to make decisions in accord with the will of God.  Understanding the world around us in light of revelation and responding to it in a righteous manner, is wisdom.  Wisdom is born of communion and union with God.  It is a gift bestowed from the blessed presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is the fullness of God made manifest in our humble circumstances.  It is the joy and peace born of experiential knowledge of goodness and of righteousness.  It is the freedom and exhilaration from cleanliness and purity as opposed to the burdens of sin and filth.  It is oneness with God in His eternal splendor and partaking of all the beauty of creation with His blessing.  It is our life’s ultimate ecstasy to be in the presence of His holiness, His power and His glory.  The more we cultivate our openness to God, the greater our awareness of His presence.  Our ability to behold Him then grows as we learn to live according to His wisdom.

 

By living in His presence, we begin to see manifestations of the eternal in the day to day, and to see the spiritual implications of our physical existence.  As Jesus used the common sites of His day as the settings for the parables that teach us of Heaven, our lives likewise become an allegorical representation of eternal Truth.  Parenting is no longer just interaction between fathers, mothers and children, but a fertile source of learning about the love of God for His children from firsthand experience with our own children.  Outside the home, our interactions with others are no longer mundane business or social affairs, but opportunities to express and bring to Earth the eternal Kingdom of God.  All of life is seen and understood as being in the presence of our living Lord (Mt.12:28, Lk.17:20-21).  Passing segments of time are no longer seen as mere, short-lived circumstances, but rather as opportunities to traverse the eternal with an expression of virtue or the accountability for a sin of omission.

 

As we learn to live in His presence and abide in His ways, we get to know God from personal experience.  We will watch Him live His life through us and learn to recognize Him internally in our hearts and externally in our circumstances.  Our experiences should reinforce what we learn of Him from our biblical studies.  This involves acting contrary to the ways of the world, for the ways of God are foolishness to those who primarily seek money, power, fortune, fame, pleasures, or other such worldly trappings that prevent a soul from seeking God as one’s first priority (1Cor.1:18-24).  We express the wisdom of God that is ours in Christ when we learn to recognize both our temporal motivations as well as the eternal implications of any given decision, and then choose to act in accordance with the ways of God.

 

Scriptural References:

 

Fear of the Lord as hating evil:

Pr.8:13, the fear of the Lord is to hate evil

Pr.23:17, instruction to fear the Lord always and not to envy sinners

Mal.3:5, judgment to befall those who do not fear the Lord

 

Fear of the Lord as source of knowledge leading to wisdom:

Job 28:28, fear of the Lord is wisdom to forsake ungodliness

Pr.1:7, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge

Pr.2:1-5, pursuit of wisdom means learning to fear God and gaining knowledge of Him

Pr.9:10, the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom

Is.33:6, fear of the Lord as a treasure; He is the source of knowledge and wisdom

 

Fear of the Lord in the presence of Holiness: 

Ps.19:9, clear thinking (clean and pure) comes from fearing the Lord

Is.8:9-22, instruction to fear the Lord and revere His holiness

 

Fear of the Lord in light of His Judgments: 

2Chr.19:7-10, the fear of the Lord is to govern our relationships with others

Lk.12:4-10, Jesus teaches that fear of the Lord is more important than worldly concerns

2Cor.5:10-11, fear the Lord in preparation for our total accounting before God

1Pe.1:17-19, fear the Lord, be mindful of Him in all things, He holds us accountable

 

Fear of the Lord as obedience

Deut.10:12-13, instruction to fear God, walk in His ways and love Him

Ps.111:9-10, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and a result of obedience

Is.50:10, fear of the Lord as obedience

 

Fear of the Lord in awe of His Power:

Josh.2:23-24, Jer.5:22, Mt.14:26-28, fear of the Lord as being in awe of His power

Lk.9:30-36, the awesome wonder of the Transfiguration

Rev.1:17-18, fear of the Lord expressed as falling prostrate in His presence

 

Fear of the Lord concerning His Providential Care (dealing with non-believers/evil):

2Chr.17:10, non-believers’ fear of the Lord causing them to avoid children of God

Mk.4:39-40, fear of the Lord as trusting in His power to overcome worldly fears

 

Fear of the Lord and quality of life: 

Ps.33:18-19, fear of the Lord endears us to God bringing His blessings

Ps.34:7, fear of the Lord brings the protection of angels

Ps.115:13, God blesses all who fear Him

Pr.10:27, fear of the Lord engenders long life

Pr.14:27, fear of the Lord causes a man to avoid things harmful or fatal

Pr.15:16, peace of mind from fearing God as opposed to the turmoil of ungodliness

Pr.22:4, the rewards for humility and fear of God are honor and a rich, full life

Pr.23:17, fear of the Lord is contrary to envy, covetousness, and want

Pr.29:25, fearing man instead of God is an impediment to holiness

Ac.9:31, peace with others from fearing God

 

Fear of the Lord as reverence:

Ps 22:23, fear of the Lord as reverence expressed in praise and exaltation

Rev.14:6-7, instruction to fear the Lord and worship Him being mindful of His power

 

Fear of the Lord and its power to redirect the human soul toward godliness:

Mt.10:28, Jesus teaches us to fear God and not men

Lk.5:8-11, a demonstration of the power of God leads to lives being redirected to Him

 

Fear of the Lord personified:

Lk.1:46-55, the Magnificat of Mary

 

Knowledge of God:

Rom.1:21-32, ungodliness is the result of forsaking knowledge of God

2Cor.10:5-6, instruction to forsake worldly speculations and believe in Christ

Col.1:9-12, walking with God leads to knowledge of God and virtuous deeds

2Tim.2:24-26, instruction to teach Truth so others may escape insanity and condemnation

2Pet.1:2-4, knowledge of Truth leads to godliness and partaking of His divine nature

 

Wisdom:

1Cor.2, the wisdom of God is ours in Christ

1Cor.3:18-20, the “wisdom” of man is foolishness in the presence of God

Eph.3:1-19, the application of knowledge and wisdom leads to understanding

Col.1:25-29, completeness in Christ from wisdom

Col.4:5, wisdom as our witness

Jas.1:5, prayers for wisdom will be answered

Jas.3:13-18, wisdom manifest in demeanor of goodness and gentleness

 

Commentaries:

 

Fear of God:

“The first good which actively affects us, namely fear, is reckoned by Scripture as the most remote from God, for it is called ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps.111:10;  Prov.1:7; 9:10).  Setting out from this towards our ultimate goal, wisdom, we come to understanding, and this enables us to draw close to God Himself, for we have only wisdom lying between us and our union with Him.  Yet it is impossible for a man to attain wisdom unless first, through fear and the remaining intermediary gifts, he frees himself completely from the mist of ignorance and the dust of sin.  That is why, in the order established by Scripture, wisdom is placed close to God, and fear close to us.  In this way we can learn the rule, and law of good order.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 220#41

 

Knowledge:

“The spirit of knowledge is a grasping of the commandments and the principles inherent in them, according to which the qualities of the virtues are constituted.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 219#39

 

Wisdom:

“The spirit of wisdom is ascension towards the Cause of the higher spiritual principles inherent in the commandments, and union with it.  Through this ascension and union we are initiated, in so far as this is possible for human beings, simply and through unknowing into those inner divine principles of created beings, and in different ways we present to men, as if from a spring welling up in our heart, the truth which resides in all things.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 219 #39

 

“We ascend step by step from what is remotest from God, but near to us, to the primal realities which are furthest from us but near to God.  For we begin by abstaining from evil because of fear, and from this we advance to the practice of virtue through strength; from the practice of virtue we advance to the discrimination [discernment] conferred by the spirit of counsel; from discrimination to a settled state of virtue, which is cognitive insight; from the settled state of virtue to the spiritual knowledge of the divine principles inherent in the virtues; from this knowledge to a state of understanding, that is, to the transmuted state in which we conform to the divine principles of virtue that we have come to know; and from this we advance to the simple and undistorted contemplation of the truth that is in all things.  From this point of vantage, as a result of our wise contemplation of sensible and noetic beings, we will be enabled to speak about the truth as we should.”

ibid. pg. 219 #40

 

Chapter 9 – The Purpose of Studying Virtues Part 3 – Preparing for Heaven

Biologically speaking, death is a fact of life.  For children of God, physical death is the passageway from conscious life on Earth to life in the fullness of Heaven.  In Heaven, we will partake of eternal life without the hindrance of the flesh and without the corruption of sin.  The will and the power of God is so overwhelming in His full presence there will be no questions and no doubts about what is right and what is wrong.  However, to prevent awkwardness resulting from unfamiliarity, lack of preparation and ignorance, we are to learn the ways of Heaven while here on Earth (Mt.22:1-14, 25:1-30).  Doing so likewise gathers treasures in Heaven which will be our gifts to lay before Him, there to enjoy for all eternity.

 

Heaven is the home of God.  There are “house rules”, “cultural norms”, or “family traits” that pervade.  All who enter are required to know and honor the ways of Heaven.  Showing up unprepared is simply not a good thing.  Jesus speaks of the importance of being prepared in the parable of the wedding feast (Mt.22:1-14), the parable of the ten virgins (Mt.25:1-13), the parable of the ten talents (Mt.25.14-30), and the parable of the watchful servants (Lk.12:35-48).  God has given each of us a portion of talents, may they be polished with care and worn from use when the day comes to make an accounting.  Those who use their talents to grow in the ways of our Lord, gathering up treasures in Heaven, will on that day present these gifts before the King and be blest by our Lord accordingly.  Showing up empty handed and having little or no gift to present, seems an inappropriate way to spend such a glorious day of celebration as when God receives His children home.

 

Our time on Earth is therefore a time of preparation.  Learning and practicing the virtues is how we prepare for Heaven.  All deeds done while abiding in the Holy Spirit are good deeds, for whenever we surrender our will to His divine will, we allow the goodness of God to shine through us, creating treasure in Heaven.  Whatever we do in our own strength, in the flesh and apart from God, isn’t a good deed because apart from Him, we can do nothing good since only God is good (Jn.15:5, Lk.18:19).  The same deed can be done and be of goodness at one time, while not of goodness at another.  The determinant factor is not the deed, but the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

To determine whether we are operating in the flesh or in Him, we can check our attitudes, motivations, and expressions.  If our attitude reflects the merciful and forgiving love of God and the wholesome desire to do good, most likely were are abiding in Him.  If we are consumed with bitterness, resentments, irritations, fears, insecurities, frustrations, or weariness, or motivated by rebellions, vengeance, malice, hostility, hatred, wantonness, lust, violence, perversity, or neediness, then we reflect the symptoms of the flesh.  If we are inspired and energized by the prospect of doing good and pleasing God, then most likely we are abiding in Him.  If we lack the desire to please God or to practice virtue, we are operating in the flesh and have succumbed to motivations that are self-serving, self-gratifying, self-rewarding, self-promoting, and in general devalue God and others in order to have one’s own way, to do things one’s own way, or be on one’s own time schedule.  Being self-centered is a poor witness for Christ and tends to repulse the lost.  Our outward expressions reflect our inner attitudes.  If we are abiding in Him then His goodness will emanate from within, and people will be drawn toward us as a source of life in the same way the masses flocked to Jesus in order to quench their neediness (Jn.4:7-42).  Again, to get out of the flesh and into Him, we surrender, subordinating our human will to His divine will, and become willing to endure whatever comes our way while being obedient to the will of God.

 

The pursuit of virtue prepares us for Heaven by teaching us how we will be (or act) in Heaven as well as helping us be free of our fleshly traits that have no place in Heaven.  When Jesus taught us how to pray, he commanded the will of God be done on Earth as in Heaven (Mt.6:10).  In Heaven, our food is the life giving bread of our Lord, and we are likewise to draw our sustenance from Him while here on Earth.  We are to trust God to provide for us and to fulfill our needs for significance and security.  Jesus also prayed for us to not be led into temptations, but rather be delivered from evil (Mt.6:13).  We do this by identifying our fleshly and sinful habits, repenting of them and then replacing the evil with the good, purifying our souls.  The virtues we learn to practice today will accustom us to the ways of God so that we will be prepared when we come fully into His presence in Heaven.  St. Paul speaks of the kingdom of God as being “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom.14:17-18).

 

Scriptural References:

 

Mt.5:16, the practice of virtue glorifies God and is partaking of life in Heaven

Mk.8:34-38, questioning the saneness of forsaking the eternal for short-term gain

Lk.12:32-34, what we hold most dear indicates our primary focus, eternal or temporary

Jn.6:48-51, food for the body which dies verses food for spirit which lives eternal

Jn.6:63, the Spirit is life-giving, the flesh is profitless

Jn.17:1-5, Jesus speaks of eternal life as knowing and glorifying God

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

1Cor.6:9-11, contrasting the identifying traits of the children of God verses the flesh

Eph.3:8-21, St. Paul speaks of the fullness and abundance of life which is in Christ Jesus

Jas.3:13-17, St. James contrasts earthly ways to heavenly ways

1Jn.3:2-3, St. John speaks of purifying ourselves in preparation for Heaven

1Jn. 4:7-8, St. John teaches that to know and express love is to know God

1Jn.4:16-17, if we have love in our hearts, we should rest assuredly in His saving grace

 

Commentaries:

 

“All who are members of the household of faith, bond-slaves of the Master, stewards of the mysteries of grace, must be found serving each other in things of the Divine Kingdom, and together living and laboring as unto the King.”

Herbert Lockyer (1886-1984) “All the Parables of the Bible” pg. 270,

© 1963 by Herbert Lockyer

 

Chapter 8 – The Purpose of Studying Virtues Part 2 – Knowing and Pleasing God

            “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth…  God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen.1:1, 31).  Please take a moment and read Genesis chapters one through three.         

 

            God created everything such that it pleased Him.  Man was created to know God.  To know God is to acquaint ourselves with as many of His attributes and His ways as we can comprehend so that they are readily recognized.  To please God is to utilize one of the many ways God has provided for us to worship Him.  It is not inaccurate to say that the purpose of life (in a biological sense) is to live life (spiritual life in communion with God).  God is the source of all life and therefore has no need of anything; He does not have a need to be known or to be pleased.  It is to our pleasure and well being that we fulfill the intent of the gift of life He has given us, to know and to please God.  As we do so, we rightly glorify God who is wholly deserving of our worship and praise.  

 

            God created man in His image, meaning man is spirit and has a triune nature.  We understand God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit; likewise, we are soul, body and spirit.  Man was originally created in full communion with God, righteous and living fully in His presence.  As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they died.  Communion with God was broken.  They fell from the presence of God and they were cut off from the life giving breath God originally breathed into mankind.  No longer did they dwell in the fullness of life with God.  Immediately they became needy, becoming insecure and lacking in significance.  Their concern for being naked before God is evidence of their lack of security in that they felt a need to do something in order to be acceptable to God.  The way they tried to shift blame upon one another when confronted by God, is evidence of their lack of significance as they attempted to restore their sense of worth by absolving themselves of responsibility for wrongdoing.  The fallen state of the first human beings has been inherited by all subsequent souls. 

 

            Pondering the immensity of their loss, of life before the fall and the pain of the immediate consequences of the original sin, can help us to appreciate what Jesus has done for all mankind and the magnificence of what is available to us if we choose to draw nearer to God.  Jesus came to restore what had been lost in the Garden of Eden.  He came that man might again have life in abundance (Jn.10:10) and be restored to righteousness and be able to enter fully into the presence of God (Heb.4:16).  Praise God!  With this gift, we are to pursue virtue which is glory and praise to God (Phil.1:8-11).  In so doing, we create a life of harmony by unifying our thoughts and actions with the original intent of God in creation.  Our desire to please God our Father should be as natural as any child’s desire to please their parents.  It is an expression of our love for Him in response to His love for us, and an expression of gratitude for the many blessings He eternally bestows.

 

            To please God is to be obedient to God.  To be obedient to God is to please God.  These deeds are definitely not exclusive of each other, as motivations they are exceptionally complementary.  The difference between the two is the direction in which the blessings flow.  Obedience brings blessings from God to us.  Pleasing God is our way of blessing Him in that we return to Him the goodness of our lives.  We do so out of gratitude and reverence for God with joy and praise, replacing the stench of our sin with the warm aroma of righteousness (Lev.23:18).  To align our beliefs and motivations with our actions in a godly way requires a conscious effort.  First, we need to be aware of our current motivations.   Next, be willing to contrast our thoughts and attitudes against what Jesus has taught us in His Word, and against the heroic examples of the saints who have gone on before us as, and also against lessons learned from mentors.  Then, we must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to have access to our heart, allowing His ways to become our ways by forsaking all unholy or impure thoughts and motivations that are hostile toward the goodness of God.  Lastly, acting in full knowledge that we are in Christ and Christ is in us, proceed in accord with the Holy Spirit, surrendering our will to the divine will of God and following His instruction.  Doing so affirms our identity as children of God while not doing so is evidence of deception, rebellion and sin in general.    

 

            Acting contrary to the ways of God is the hypocrisy of not aligning behavior with identity; we are children of God, not children of wrath.  In Christ, we possess all the goodness of God, and all we need do is be willing to let it be expressed outwardly.  Our identity is in Christ, we are the family of God.  As His children, we are to be like Him because we are born anew in His Holy Spirit.  When we fail to act in accordance with our identity, we pretend to be something we’re not (unrighteous when in Christ we have the righteousness of God) and succumb to hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy isn’t merely saying one thing and doing another; it’s being righteous but acting as if it were not so.  Our failure is our sin.  Trying to shift blame by pointing an accusatory finger at others, only serves to avoid owning up to one’s own sin.  We are always responsible for our own behavior.  Others may aggravate or instigate, but we are still responsible for our response.  The standard of behavior that is acceptable to God and preached from the gospels is perfection.  Spiritually, we have the perfect righteousness of Christ in us (1Cor.1:30) and are thus qualified to carry the gospel message in word and deed.  Therefore, it is not hypocritical to teach and preach the gospel despite having shortcomings.  In the flesh, which is not a Christian’s identity, no one is qualified. 

 

            Those who reject our Lord put themselves at odds with God (Mt.12:30).  All such souls can be considered “anti-Christ”, for everything they espouse is contrary to the way of Truth.  Their words are perverse, delusional, and evil.  In all they do or say, they mock the suggestion that all souls should strive to be pleasing to God.  Unbeknownst to them, they grieve their own spirit with resentments, hostilities, anger, and self-loathing, for God is not mocked (Gal.6:7).  Should such souls die without repentance, they pay the ultimate penalty of eternal damnation.  While on Earth, the consequences for sin are many and varied.  Constant opposition to the nature of creation as God meant it to be, robs a person of the peace that only comes from resting in the arms of God.  The more adamant the rebellious soul becomes, the further they progress in ungodliness as their sins become ever more grievous.  A life of depression, of various personality or anxiety disorders, is meant for the ungodly, not His saints.  Active rebellion often leads to suicide.   Such souls prefer to put an end to their self-imposed misery rather than own up to mistakes and repent of their sinful ways.  The misery of sin is bitterness, isolation, a cold heart, a sense of inadequacy, worthlessness, futility, lack of fulfillment and a pervasive fear of what lies ahead or beyond the grave.   God has ordained creation so that we reap what we sow.  All that is good is from God and goodness fulfills while evil leaves a soul destitute.  Hell is the abyss of eternal damnation for those who fail to repent of their evil.  It is characterized by the complete absence of goodness; no creativity, no life, no joy and no peace.  There is also plenty of that here on Earth as well for those who choose not to please God.  

 

Scriptural References:

 

Mt.3:16-17, the obedience of Jesus followed by God the Father being pleased

Jn.17, identity as children of God and separating the godly from the worldly

Rom.8:5-14, secular attitudes are hostile toward God; the ways of God bring peace

Rom.12:1-2, as an act of worship, forsake secular ways for the ways of God

Rom.14:16-18, abiding in righteousness pleases God; also earns respect of our fellows

Gal.6:8-10, we reap what we sow, either eternal blessings or further corruption

Eph.5:6-14, learn to discern goodness from evil to know how to please our Lord

1Tim.2:1-4, godliness and dignity as being pleasing to God

 

Commentaries:

 

“Our greatest ambition must be to see the crucified Christ always before us, His life and death, what efforts He demands of us.

            Seek nothing beyond this.  It will please the divine Master.  His real friends ask only for those things that will enable them to fulfill His commissions.  Any other desire, any other quest, is but self-love, spiritual pride, and encirclement by the devil.”

Dom Lorenzo Scupoli (16th C.?); “The Spiritual Combat”, pg. 23 as printed by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., © 1945 by The Newman Bookshop

 

“The practice of performing all of our actions solely from the intention of pleasing God may be difficult at first.  With the passing of time it will become familiar and even delightful, if we strive to find God in all sincerity of heart, if we continually long for Him, the only and greatest Good, deserving to be sought, valued, and loved by all His creatures.  The more attentively we contemplate the greatness and goodness of God, the more frequently and tenderly our affections will turn to that divine Object.  In this way we will more quickly, and with greater facility, obtain the habit of directing all our actions to His glory.”

ibid. pg. 30

 

“In particular, we must never forget that His majesty is infinitely worthy of our service, a service motivated by a single principle of love, whose only object is His will and desire.”

ibid. pg. 32

 

Chapter 6 – The Beginning of Spiritual Warfare – Knowledge of Good and Evil

 

            There are but two prevailing powers of influence.  One is God; God is Light, God is Truth, and God is the source of all that is good.  The other power is that of evil, of darkness and deception, the antithesis of all aspects of goodness.  Reality is actively living in accordance with the Truth of God; all other thoughts are fantasies or deceptions designed to rob God of what is rightfully His, that being the portion of our worship that acknowledges God as Lord of all.  Anything that cannot be identified as emanating from God is contrary to God (Mt.12:30).

 

The world is full of deceptions that possess the power to lead us astray.  One example of this is to fail to acknowledge the existence of evil.  This leads to questioning both the existence and goodness of God.  This often occurs when evil possesses a soul into committing heinous acts that horrify and stun the masses.  However, the truth is that God makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28).  Rather than being deceived by demonic schemes that defame God, we are to remain faithful and ever remember that His goodness will ultimately prevail over all manifestations of evil (Ps.110:1, Is.42:13, Jer.5:22, 1Jn.5:4, Rev.17:14).

 

Some other common deceptions include:

1)      giving credence to luck, fortune, serendipity, charms, chance and superstitions (as opposed to His blessings and providential care)

2)      astrology, voodoo, horoscopes, tarot cards, “crystal balls”, witchcraft, paganism, nature worship, and cultic religions,  (the pursuit of powers and knowledge that are not from God, or any belief system that denies the deity of Christ Jesus)

3)      beliefs based on ghosts or non-angelic spirits (cavorting with demons masquerading as deceased human souls)

4)      the occult (actively taking sides with Satan to one’s own eternal demise).

 

Participation or belief in any of these deceptions listed above is cause for repentance, but this list is not all-inclusive nor does it address our internal issues (obsessive, compulsive traits or addictions).  We should practice identifying any power that we allow to influence us and determine its source.  Then, if the power is not from God, stop believing in it and cease seeking or submitting to its influence and power.

 

Any Christian previously unaware of the information in the preceding paragraph is likely to have cause for repentance at this time.  The bulleted items below are designed to assist us with proper repentance.  Since repentance requires that we acknowledge our mistakes, misgivings and faults, those unaccustomed to self searching and introspection are also likely to experience a painful blow to their self-image (a “bruised ego”) or feel insulted, or possibly even dejected, rejected, fearful, depressed, unworthy, ugly, repulsive or foul.  None is the proper response to the conviction the Holy Spirit communicates to us (refer to Chapter 1 item 1 of spiritual growth list).  An offense taken at the suggestion of sinfulness is indicative of narcissism and pride.  Pride (when used as a measure of self worth) is never a virtue.  It is contrary to the virtue of humility.  Pride can lead to suicidal thoughts when a soul would rather die than acknowledge its behavior as being sinful.  Choosing pride over virtue prevents one from admitting to erroneous beliefs or ungodly behaviors, effectively blocking all paths to forgiveness and restoration with God or our fellows.  It also causes a soul to go into denial rather than allow its love of self to be compromised.  When our beliefs are firmly based on the foundation of Christ, we know that our acceptance before God is not based upon our individual deeds or talents, but rather on the completed work of Christ on the cross.  Our worth as His creations as being precious unto Him is likewise verified by Christ’s humbling and willing sacrifice on our behalf, we need not attempt to ascribe any greater worth to ourselves than this.  To believe we are somehow diminished if we acknowledge our shortcomings, is to deny Christ, for in Him we are righteous (acceptable) and justified (not under the condemnation of sin) (Rom.3:19-28, Rom.5:1-11, 1Cor.6:9-11, Gal.2:11-21, Titus 3:3-11).  It also requires a great deal of denial to think we have nothing to confess, and such denial is contrary to Truth and moves us further down the stages of sin, effectively stymieing our progress towards virtue.

 

Spiritual growth means learning to recognize our shortcomings and having the resolve to grow up and out of them.  This can’t be done if a soul is unwilling to claim them, preferring to avoid the growing pains by skipping the spiritual exercise of acknowledging convictions, confessing sins, repenting and performing restitution.  An analogy often told that might help us to separate our being from our behavior is to consider little children and the messes that they make.  Do we love them any less because of their mishaps and mistakes?  Absolutely not!  Such are the means to grow and learn, and the messes are expected because of their lack of years, knowledge and experience.  God sees us similarly.  He does not love us any less because of our failures, we are to learn and grow from them, and then leave them behind as we grow closer to God.

 

            Spiritual warfare is a daily, ongoing battle between good and evil in the theater of our human will.  The decisions we make are either in accord with the Truth and the will of God, or they are not.  Therefore, every decision is important and every decision has implications.  We are either moving toward God or toward darkness.  We are either in His will and in a position to receive His blessings, or we are outside His will and at risk of incurring the consequences of sin.  In addition, this warfare is not only personal, but has implications beyond our ability to comprehend in entirety.  An analogy (not meant for extrapolation) to illustrate the unknown future impact of our decisions:  consider each decision as a domino in a line of standing dominoes with divergent paths representing either the will of God or the way of darkness.  Choosing to be in the will of God either continues a blest line, or starts a new and blessed one while ending a pathway of evil.  Likewise, choosing ways contrary to God either continues an evil path, or ends a blest line while beginning a pathway of sin.  The oft-quoted phrase used to rationalize sin, “I’m not hurting anyone”, is totally bogus, there are always further implications and repercussions and it denies the damaging effects of sin upon themselves.

 

A greater appreciation for the magnitude of personal decisions should not paralyze a soul into inactivity.  In Christ, we have the righteousness of God.  As we abide in Him, we walk in Truth, and we trust Him to keep our paths enlightened.  Our part is to be attentive and follow where He leads.  As we tend to our daily activities, the Holy Spirit may prompt us to action or avoidance.  Should we act contrary to His will, He will convict us of sin.  In between His promptings, we are to trust in the righteousness of Christ within us and walk assuredly as His children.  The righteousness of our behavior is ongoing and not compromised by daily activities born of personal preference (as long as none is sinful).  Consider the analogy of life as a game of soccer.  The coach teaches the players the rules of the game and its strategies, conditions and trains the players for all aspects of the game.  Then he fields the players in the best positions to use their talents and abilities in achieving victory.  Once the game begins, if there is need for further instruction, the coach will convey the message while the game proceeds.  An infraction against the rules draws a whistle that stops play while the issue is addressed.  God is our coach who has prepared us for living the life of Christ “on Earth as in Heaven”.  We are the players who are supposed to use our knowledge and talents to the best of our abilities to His glory.  Should there be further instruction or an infraction, we are to trust the Holy Spirit to inform us so that we may learn and improve.  Our part is to be attentive and be ever willing to obey His instruction.

 

We should also be aware of the fact that spiritual warfare expends our energy.  Though our spirit is empowered by the infinite energies of the Holy Spirit, our body and soul will experience fatigue after confrontations with demonic influence.  Being tired can lead to greater vulnerability if we fail to stay on guard, so we need to be prepared.  Many may already be aware of this experience if after any prolonged stressful situation when every moment a new thought arises that tempts us away from the peace of our Lord, then later we find ourselves tired, listless, and in need of rest despite the lack of physical exertion.  Another aspect of spiritual warfare to prepare for is the demon’s tendency to use the people around us as their spokesperson.   When we are confronted with decisions with moral implications, it isn’t unusual for us to hear words encouraging us to compromise our virtue.  Whether they come from a known detractor taunting us, or someone we hold dear who has been deceived into offering ungodly advice, we must remain on guard against all notions contrary to Truth.  We do so by taking every thought captive and comparing it to the Truth of the Gospel (2Cor.10:5).

 

The following list outlines the components of spiritual growth.

 

1)      Know who you are, a Christian’s identity is in Christ

  • we are children of God; identity is determined by our spiritual rebirth in Christ
  • man is a 3 part whole; a spirit that has a soul and contained within a body
  • life as defined in the Bible is of God and therefore eternal, and God meets all our needs (what is required to sustain life); what we require for living  is a sense of significance and security

 

2)      Understand a Christian’s righteousness in Christ

  • based on completed work of Christ on the cross, not performance, behavior or ability
  • we are wholly acceptable and loved by God just as we are, nothing we do makes us any more, or any less acceptable to God
  • we never need to feel unsuccessful, unworthy, unloved or unlovable, defeated, insecure, inadequate, unforgivable, fearful, condemned, or depressed in our relationship with God

 

3)    Know the role of repentance in the life of the Christian

  • understand what it means, and appreciate its implications (joy, peace in Christ vs. not)
  • know how to repent:  simply turn from self to the ways of God, be willing to do so whenever convicted of sin; if unable to do so, be willing to seek counsel, pray for and accept help and continue seeking Him
  •  know when to repent:  when the Holy Spirit points out an ungodly thought or deed
  • maintain attitude of willingness to repent of anything at anytime

 

4)    Determine to grow and to follow Christ in total submission

  • to begin, a decision must be made to follow Him without any reservations or qualifications
  • take every thought captive, weigh all thoughts and attitudes against the Word of God
  • be prepared to do battle with demons and self, know our defenses (Truth, righteousness, knowledge, faith) and our weaponry (the Word of God) as revealed in Eph.6:10-17
  • Trust in God, not self; abide in Him and learn the ways of brokenness
  • the object of our pursuit is the love of God and our goal is Christ-likeness

 

The following diagram is a simple illustration to demonstrate the importance of believing the Truth of God and being free of delusions.  In our daily lives, we are confronted with a variety of situations requiring us to make decisions and respond.  Making choices is the activity of our will.  The input we use in making these decisions is based on our belief system.  Processing our beliefs isn’t always done consciously, so those new to spiritual growth must learn to hear their own thoughts and understand the importance of acting in accord with Truth.  For those accustomed to making decisions based on feelings or gut reactions, it will take some practice to filter through all the noise and static and only process beliefs based solely on Truth.  Once we learn to apply Truth to our mental activities, our thoughts should become able to discern good from evil.  We then base our decisions on choosing the ways of God and steering clear of evil influences.  The results are godly behaviors that produce feelings and emotions that reflect the goodness of God, choosing the joy and peace of abiding in the Holy Spirit as opposed to the ugly and chaotic consequences of sin.

 

 

 

Beliefs – How they Affect our Actions and Feelings

 

Situation that requires making a decision

                                           +————————————————-+

↓                                                         ↓

                                Truth of GOD                                         False Beliefs

↓                                                         ↓

Godly Thoughts                                  Ungodly Thoughts

↓                                                        ↓

Godly Behavior                               Ungodly Behavior

↓                                                         ↓

Godly Feelings/Emotions              Ungodly Feelings/Emotions

Scriptural References:

 

On our Christian identity:

Jn.1:10-13, to become a child of God, receive Christ

Jn.3:16, believe in Christ to have eternal life

Jn.17:3, eternal life is to know God

Jn.20:31, believers have life in Christ

Rom.6:4, believers have newness of life in Christ

Rom.6:23, eternal life is a free gift of God in Christ Jesus

Rom.8:9-11, we belong to Christ and our spirit is alive because of His righteousness

Gal.2:20, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us

Col.3:3-4, Christ is our life

1Thes.5:23, we are sanctified and preserved entirely, spirit, soul, and body

 

On our Righteousness in Christ:

Rom.3:22, righteousness of God through faith in Christ

Rom.5:17, receive the gift of righteousness through Christ

Rom.5:21, grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ

Rom.8:31-35, Christ paid the penalty for our sins; no need to fear condemnation

Rom.10:4, in Christ, righteousness no longer based on keeping the law

1Cor.1:30, in Christ we have righteousness

2Cor.5:21, righteousness of God from being in Christ

Gal.2:21, if righteousness is based on keeping the law, then Christ died needlessly

Phil.1:9-11, through Christ we are filled with the fruit of righteousness

 

On Repentance:

Mt.4:17, Jesus teaches us to repent of our ungodliness

Mk.6:7-12, apostles teach repentance and freedom from demons

Ac.2:38, St. Peter preaches repentance in order to receive the Holy Spirit

Ac.8:22-23, St. Peter instructs repentance to be free of bitterness and bondage to iniquity

Rom.2:1-10, rewards of repentance opposed to the tribulations and wrath of evil deeds

2Cor.7:8-10, godly sorrow leads to repentance and preservation of His blessings

2Tim.2:22-26, repentance as coming to one’s senses and escaping demonic deception

 

On Spiritual growth and submission to God:

Mt.4:19, Jesus calls us to follow him

Mt.5:48, Jesus teaches us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect

Mt.16:24-26, Jesus teaches it is necessary to put our ways aside in order to follow him

Mt.19:21, Jesus teaches that practicing virtue is to gather treasures in Heaven

Lk.14:27, we must tend to our spiritual responsibilities in order to follow him

Lk.14:31-33, Jesus teaches to have victory in him, we are to surrender all that is ours

Jn.10:27-28, Jesus says we will hear His call and never be snatched away from Him

Jn.12:26, as we serve and follow Jesus, we grow nearer to Him and are blest

2Cor.10:3, do not to engage in spiritual warfare in the flesh

2Cor.10:5, destroy all notions not from God

Eph.6:10-18, instructions on how to fight demonic deception and temptations

Col.2:8, do not let the ways of the modern world distract the teachings of Christ

Col.2:20-23, submit to Christ, not to the ways of man or to a religion of mere rules

1Tim.1:5, the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and faith in God

Heb.12:9, submit to the instruction and discipline of God our Father

Jas.4:7-10, instruction to yield to God and to fight evil

1Pet.2:9-11, St. Peter says we are primarily spiritual beings and at war with the flesh

Jude.1:16-21, instruction to remain faithful and examples of fleshly behaviors to avoid

 

Commentaries:

 

“To each virtue there is an opposing vice; hence the wicked take vices for virtues.”

St. Thalassios (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 312 #89

“He who asks to receive his daily bread (cf. Mt. 6:11) does not automatically receive it in its fullness as it is in itself: he receives it according to his own capacity as recipient.  The Bread of Life (cf. Jn.6:35) gives Himself in His love to all who ask, but not in the same way to all; for He gives Himself more fully to those who have performed great acts of righteousness, and in smaller measure to those who have not achieved so much.  He gives Himself to each person according to that person’s spiritual ability to receive Him.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 150-151 # 56

“The person who has surrendered himself entirely to sin indulges with enjoyment and pleasure in unnatural and shameful passions – licentiousness, unchastity, greed, hatred, guile and other forms of vice – as though they were natural.  The genuine and perfected Christian, on the other hand, with great enjoyment and spiritual pleasure participates effortlessly and without impediment in all the virtues and all the supranatural fruits of the Spirit – love, peace, patient endurance, faith, humility and the entire truly golden galaxy of virtue – as though they were natural.  He does not fight any longer against the passions of evil, for he has been totally set free of them by the Lord; while from the blessed Spirit he has received Christ’s perfect peace and joy in his heart.  Of such a man it may be said that he cleaves to the Lord and has become one spirit with Him (cf. 1Cor.6:17).”

St. Markarios of Egypt (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 294 #23

“Many [Christians] are not aware how the demons deceive the intellect.  Being naïve and undeveloped, they tend to give all their attention to the practice of the virtues and do not bother about the intellect.  They move through life, I fear, without having tasted purity of heart, and are totally ignorant of the darkness of the passions within.  Such people, unaware of the battle about which Paul speaks (cf. Eph.6:12) and not imbued with personal experience of true goodness, regard as lapses only those sins which are actually put into effect.  They do not take into account the defeats and the victories that occur on the plane of thought, for these, being internal, cannot be seen by natural sight and are known only to God our judge, and to the conscience of the spiritual contestant.”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 30 #37

 

“Nothing is more foundational to your freedom from Satan’s bondage than understanding and affirming what God has done for you in Christ and who you are as a result.  We all live in accordance with our perceived identity.  In fact, no one can consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with how he perceives himself.  Your attitudes, actions, responses, and reactions to life’s circumstances are determined by your conscious and subconscious self-perception.  If you see yourself as the helpless victim of Satan and his schemes, you will live like his victim and be in bondage to his lies.  But if you see yourself as the dearly loved and accepted child of God that you really are, you will live like a child of God.”

Neil T. Anderson “The Bondage Breaker” pg. 42,

© 1990, 1993 by Harvest House Publishers

“It is critical that Christians understand their vulnerability to demonic influence.  Those who say a demon cannot influence an area of a believer’s life have left us with only two possible culprits for the problems we face:  ourselves or God.  If we blame ourselves we feel hopeless because we can’t do anything to stop what we’re doing.  If we blame God our confidence in Him as our benevolent Father is shattered.  Either way, we have no chance to gain the victory which the Bible promises us.  In reality we are in a winnable war against principalities and powers from the defeated kingdom of darkness.  But their lies can gain a measure of control if we let them.”

ibid. pg. 174