A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians

By Cris Hernandez, Child of God

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I – Preparation

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

Chapter

1) Notes on Spiritual Growth            

2) Definitions 

3) All Human Needs Are Satisfied In Christ

4) Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage 

5) Understanding the Meaning of Virtue      

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

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

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

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

10) The Acquisition of Virtues:  How To

 

Part II – Pursuit

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

 Chapter

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

12) The Pursuit of Virtue:  Faith, Courage

13) Recognizing Virtue:  Discernment, Remembrance, Watchfulness                      

-The “D” test for discerning goodness from evil

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

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

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

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

18) Sharing Virtue: Justice, Dignity, Mercy  

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

20) Empowering Virtue: Charity, Generosity, Hospitality

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

22) The Fulfillment of Virtue:  Love

 

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

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

 

Introduction

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

I pray ye well.

 

Cris Hernandez

Child of God

email:  aprimeronvirtue@yahoogroups.com

 

 

Copyright Information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Chapter 22 – The Fulfillment of Virtue – Love

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Commentaries:

 

Love:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Chapter 21 – The Beauty of Virtue – Forgiveness, Kindness and Compassion

Forgiveness:  to pardon, to cease from exacting payment for a debt (monetary or personal offense) and foregoing all demands for recompense

Kindness:  beyond common politeness or customary courtesies, the otherwise unnecessary words or deeds shown another simply to give cheer, ease a burden, or provide a simple pleasure

Compassion:  sincere and sympathetic concern for the well being of others, especially towards those suffering bodily, emotional, mental, or spiritual ailments; the expressions of a merciful spirit

 

The beauty of virtue is beholding a vision of God (Mt.5:8).  We glimpse the awesome grandeur of God when we encounter the virtues of forgiveness, kindness and compassion.  We light up the world with the splendor of His loving-kindness when we practice them.  Holding them dear in our hearts combats the evil of their fleshly opposites that include the cold, shallow, hard-heartedness of vengeance, cruelty and indifference.  These virtues comprise a bright and colorful kaleidoscope-like menagerie of many other virtues.   In their beauty is the miraculous mystery of restorative healing powers.  Those who practice these virtues will exude an inner beauty more meaningful and lasting than any natural or contrived external appearance.  Forgiveness perpetuates loving and caring relationships by removing the obstacles that interfere with their continuance.  Kindness plants the seeds of goodness that replenish and restore hope.  Compassion is the spirit that moves a soul to take action to alleviate the many and various manifestations of pain, suffering and anguish.

 

Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness is a pardon for an offense.  To forgive another does not mean that the offense somehow becomes acceptable, nor does it convey the notion that there was no injury or harm.  Forgiveness involves taking into account all the injuries resulting from an offense and all the repercussions in their entirety, those currently known and those yet to be realized, and then pardoning the perpetrator from all penalties we might wish to exact as compensation.  We are to forgive all perceived offenses regardless of their legitimacy or the nature of the existence of the offender.  We forgive others, we forgive ourselves, we forgive the inanimate, and should we hold a grudge despite His perfection, we forgive God.  Anything that stirs anger or wrath is an occasion to practice the virtue of forgiveness (Eph.4:25-27).  Though our anger may be justified, another’s sin becomes our sin of omission when we disobediently fail to forgive as God has instructed (Mt.6:14-15).  It is no sin to be the victim of someone’s ungodliness, but if we do anything other than show the goodness of God to those who sin against us, we risk letting their sin motivate us to sin in return.

 

Forgiveness is personal and not to be equated with the customary penalties given to those who commit felonious crimes; foregoing the penal process under the guise of forgiveness compromises justice and honesty by failing to hold the guilty accountable.  Teaching accountability often motivates the offender to repentance and personal rehabilitation.  Incarceration also serves to prevent the creation of more victims by not allowing the serious transgressors to prey freely upon their community.  Forgiveness and prison time for felons are not contradictory, but complementary and collectively necessary as recourse for criminal behavior.

 

Forgiveness first requires the desire for goodness as its underlying motivation, then mercy to see it through to completion, and lastly a sense of justice that we might be at peace knowing that the debts we forgive others do not compensate for the enormity of our indebtedness to God for His forgiveness of our sins (Mt.18:21-35).  The internal struggles we encounter when attempting to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply, helps us to appreciate the depth of the compassion and mercy of God who forgives all our sins against Him.  Failure to forgive others as God has forgiven us expresses ingratitude and indifference towards God when placed against the backdrop of His forgiveness as demonstrated by the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross.  A habit of forgiveness, as it is with learning and practicing all virtues, spares us difficult life lessons designed specifically to highlight the hardness of our hearts and the need for His continual grace (Mt.19:8).   Our humble obedience to forgive merits His grace; the defiance of pride and exalting selfish concerns puts us in a position to be humbled by God (Pr.3:34, Mt.23:12, 1Pe.5:5, Jas.4:6).  The flesh can easily manufacture a host of rationalizations and reasons to withhold forgiveness from those who have done us harm, but none are valid in the presence of God.  Likewise, we must learn to accept forgiveness from God and others lest we exist in constant state of self-condemnation, hating ourselves, purposely isolating and excluding ourselves from receiving His blessings.  The inability to accept forgiveness begins a process of devaluing the sanctity of human life and invites a host of demons armed with self-destructive and self-penalizing behaviors such as insobriety, eating disorders, self-mutilation, indiscriminate sexual activity, recklessness and abusiveness towards self or others.  They come when souls consciously or sub-consciously believe they need to be punished for an offense and are unworthy of the good things life has to offer; accepting forgiveness extinguishes these thoughts.  Failure to accept forgiveness may be symptomatic of a perverse sense of pride and self-deception.  To believe a soul is unforgivable erroneously elevates the power and ugliness of sin above the power and beauty of God.

 

Without forgiveness, we are held in spiritual bondage, unable to grow, unable to approach the beauty of God, unable to let go of the past that we might enjoy a more rewarding present.  Without forgiveness, old wounds fester for a lifetime without ever healing properly; crippling our Christian walk and leaving obstacles in our path that continually interfere with our spiritual growth.  Without forgiveness, we persist in letting little irritations gnaw away at the quality of our most important relationships.  Without forgiveness, we compromise all manner of goodness and mercy that our spirit longs to experience, and do so simply because we fail to rid our lives of the leach-like demons of vengeance, hatred, avoidance and acute self-interest; demons that constantly regurgitate their foul bile into the streams of our thoughts and motivations.  Without forgiveness, we remove ourselves from a position to receive a multitude of His blessings because our Lord commands us to forgive, and lack of obedience always prevents us from rightly being in His will and intimately knowing His goodness.  Without forgiveness, our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical conditions collectively disintegrate due to the persistent anxiety and stress generated by stewing resentments and simmering hostilities (Ps.6, Pr.14:30).

In contrast, a life of forgiveness is one of peace.  Instead of the hostile and violent thoughts that accompany a lack of forgiveness, there are actions motivated by the goodness of God.  Forgiveness provides us freedom in that it allows us to let go of the past and make the most of our present, liberating us from the entanglements of sin, putting an end to potential lifelong tit-for-tat ungodliness and the habit of compounding another’s sin with our own.  When we live a life of forgiveness, searching our souls regularly and being on guard for when it is needed in the immediacy of the moment, we cultivate the goodness of God within us.  Forgiveness enriches our lives with healthy and loving relationships, removing the desire to ostracize ourselves or others, and eliminating the self-inflicted loneliness and isolation that accompanies a life lacking forgiveness.  By forgiving others, we acquaint ourselves experientially with our forgiving Father in Heaven as we begin to learn firsthand what it takes to forgive everyone of everything.  We are also freed from our ties to any unhealthy habits that serve to encumber our walk with Christ.  We are likewise freed from the burdens of guilt and remorse, past, present or ongoing.  Forgiveness removes the desire for revenge that gnaws away at any budding goodness within us.  Forgiveness soothes the emotional disturbances and mental anguish that can cause all manner of anxiety and personality disorders, from sleeplessness, depression, and twitches to suicidal thoughts, histrionics and anti-social traits.

 

To forgive someone, they need not be present.  To go to another and tell them we forgive them is to accuse them of an offense for which they may or may not be willing to accept culpability.  Such confrontation is not part of the forgiveness process.  To forgive someone, we define and delineate the offense, tally all the damage done without exaggeration, detail how it hurt us, and lastly, accurately record the repercussions, those already experienced and any potential fallout we may envision.  Then, with the help and grace of God, we pardon the offender, and from that moment forward, we cease to view that person as indebted to us.  Should we later find ourselves feeling resentments, ill will or open hostilities towards them, we simply remind ourselves that we have forgiven them, and cease the train of thought.  To heal a relationship wholly, all persons involved must be willing to own up to their transgressions, seek forgiveness and then be willing to make amends.  Not all relationships will be restored or preserved by our forgiveness alone and we must learn to accept this lest we fall prey to believing all failed relationships are our fault.  We forgive solely because God has forgiven us and has commanded us to do the same (Mt.18:21-22, Eph.4:31-32).  Though there are many benefits associated with forgiveness, any motivation other than a simple desire to please God only serves to pollute purity with self-serving intent.  Our obedience in forgiveness preserves the joy of life in His presence, perpetuates the flow of His grace and blessing towards us, and likewise frees us from bondage to a particular transgression.  By maintaining an attitude of forgiveness throughout the day, we learn to forgive as God has forgiven us, and learn to love the otherwise unlovable with an unencumbered, unburdened heart in the same manner as God loves us.

 

If we are honest with ourselves and have learned to own up to our shortcomings, we will know that there are times when we need to seek another’s forgiveness and make amends.  To believe otherwise compromises our integrity and our worship due to our disobedience and our failure to abide in the Truth (Mt.5:23-24, Rom.3:23).  Whenever we have wronged another, we have occasion to seek forgiveness and make amends.  To do so, we must be careful to confess only our transgressions and accept all blame for what we have done; we are always responsible for our behavior regardless of circumstances or another’s actions.  After simply stating what we hope to be forgiven for, we express our regrets and ask them to forgive us.  Merely saying, “I’m sorry” without specifically asking for forgiveness for our misdeed, doesn’t give others the opportunity to forgive us and we cannot assume that they have, or will in the future, if we don’t ask.  Also, when seeking forgiveness, we need to repent of the deed, specifically and generically, then be prepared to make amends for any harm we have done.  Whether the reparations require monetary or behavioral means, without this willingness the sincerity of our compunction is questionable.  Also, making amends is a powerful reinforcement of our identity as children of God, severing all links to past ungodliness, assisting in breaking sinful habits and becoming free of self-punishing behaviors.  Prior to approaching another to confess any serious wrongdoings, we should always consult our spiritual mentor since our intimate involvement undoubtedly prejudices our objectivity, creating the potential for compounding our sins and worsening the situation, especially when there are accomplices.  Should we have trouble owning up to our shortcomings or suffer from the unwillingness to seek forgiveness, we need to backtrack (see chapters 6 and 15), uncover the source of our rebellions and address these issues first.

 

We also need to learn how to forgive ourselves so that we might fully know the true healing power of forgiveness.  The need here is especially acute if a soul has come to Christ late in life or otherwise has many regrets concerning their past.  When we sin, we not only offend God, we hurt others and ourselves.  We can be blinded to the pain and damage we inflict due to a form of denial born of narcissism.  For instance, when we see someone else hurt another person, we are immediately able to categorize him or her as mean and hurtful.  However, when we’re the one inflicting the pain, the tendency is to rationalize our actions as being justified, and then cling to the lie that we don’t need to seek forgiveness.  However, God is not mocked, our conscience knows the truth and subconsciously we are classifying ourselves as a mean and hurtful monster, as one who is undeserving of the love of God, His goodness or His blessings.  When this happens, we then begin a cycle of self-condemnation, excluding ourselves from His presence and the good things otherwise available to us, and courting the demons that bring self-punishing and self-destructive behaviors.  To prevent this, we humbly learn to own up to our faults, repent of them, and in the same breath, forgive ourselves in the same manner we forgive others.  This is how we learn to be free of both sinful habits and the anguish of perpetual guilt.  Those who are unacquainted with self-forgiveness should start with relatively small and immediate issues, summoning faith and grace in obedience to His will.  Once we’re accustomed to the forgiveness process and understand the internal struggles and emotional issues associated with owning up to the ugliness of our sin, we then need to take a lifelong inventory of our transgressions.  We do this by specifically noting how our misdeeds have in turn hurt us, especially if they cause us to believe things about ourselves that are inconsistent with our identity as children of God.  Once the sin and repercussions have been tallied, we repent of them and thank God for His forgiveness, forgive others where need be, and likewise forgive ourselves.  This exercise, often done with age appropriate photographs to assist with our memories and historical perspective, has remarkable healing power in that it frees us from our past failings and allows us to conform more easily to the spirit of Christ within us presently.  When addressing our inventory of past transgressions, it helps to remember that God loves us unconditionally, without regard for our behavior.  Also, keep in mind that we are growing constantly and need to be able to separate the person we’re becoming from the person we’ve been in the past.

 

Now, while these exercises in forgiveness are fresh in the mind, pause and practice forgiving others and self.  If there is difficulty creating a list of offenses, begin with birth and segment life into five-year spans, and list the traumatic experiences from each age range.  Then discern where there may be a need for forgiveness in these events and proceed with the exercise.

 

Kindness

 

Kindness is like a spiritual gateway through which varieties of virtues are given means to flow.  Kindness is like the mast of a mighty sailing ship in that it supports the virtuous sails that provide the power to propel the craft.  Kindness is like the backbone of man, when it is compromised, the virtuous handiworks of his arms and legs cease to function.  Kindness is like an ever-flowing spring that provides the water of life for a multitude of living things that are our virtues. Kindness is like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day, tirelessly refreshing all who are touched by it without being given anything in return to replenish it.  Kindness originates from the power and energy of the Holy Spirit which flows through us, girding all our deeds with His goodness and mercy and willing sacrifice, giving life to humility, selflessness, charity, generosity and purity, all the while bringing the joy of hope to the thankful, praising God.

 

To exhibit kindness, is to summon the virtues of compassion, selflessness, faith, joy and charity, then channel them into an expression of His goodness and mercy, performed with simple and honest intent, with the purest of motives and without any expectation of results or returns.  Kindness affirms the dignity of others by surpassing and outshining all cultural and social norms of politeness, cordiality and etiquette.  Kindness likewise restores hope and offers encouragement to those worn down by the prevalence of the flesh.  Kindness negates fleshly traits such as selfishness, unruliness, rudeness, meanness, greediness, indifference, and self-centered thoughtlessness that if left unchecked, grow into the greater evils of cruelty, abusiveness, hostility and violence.  Kindness is a virtue that is always at our disposal.  There is not a lot of demonic activity against kindness.  Demons are not omniscient.  They do not have the discretion to differentiate the virtue of kindness from social pleasantries and niceties expressed in the flesh.  We can increase our productivity by taking any given situation and making it better with the application of kindness, and when we do, we are blest with a greater sense of accomplishment and of goodness.

 

Kindness is an action or gesture towards another that demonstrates the goodness of God.  It isn’t just being nice to someone, it is the heartfelt, sympathetic concern for another’s happiness and well-being, and the willingness to take an action for another’s benefit at one’s own expense; it is a willing sacrifice without thought of being paid back or rewarded in any way.  An act of kindness has the goodness of God and the benefit of the recipient as its only motive.  If this purity is corrupted in any way by contriving outcomes, posturing, guilt remediation, or scheming towards any particular end, the act ceases to be one of kindness and denigrates into self-serving manipulation.  Though we can’t control how our actions are perceived by others, if we practice kindness and make it our habit, our kind deeds will be spiritually uplifting for all involved; we will not make people feel like we’re trying to get something from them or otherwise make them suspicious of our motives.  To be kind, we will need to learn to be content with the joy of sharing the goodness of the Holy Spirit with others and with the sense of pleasing God.  We needn’t ignore that God rewards the faithfulness of His servants; however, we need to be careful not to let seeking rewards become our motivation lest we put the cart before the mule and stunt our spiritual growth with self-serving interests.

 

To learn to be kind we must be led by the goodness of God primarily.  To assist our progress, it helps to remember His goodness towards us when fatigue, sluggishness or insensitivity impedes our taking action.  If it isn’t already our habit, we will need to practice empathy; the analogy of “walking a mile in another’s shoes” is aptly applicable when learning kindness.  Then as we learn to see the world through another’s eyes, we will be better able to perceive what exactly their soul needs to replenish their spirit.  With this knowledge, we obtain the power to affect the mental, emotional and spiritual condition of the people around us in a good way.  We then have a choice to either brighten the world with an expression of His perfect goodness, or spread the blight of godlessness with sins of omission.  Without kindness, we allow indifference, selfishness, bitterness, or malice to overcome our innate spiritual goodness, grieving the Holy Spirit.   When we shortchange others the kindness we owe them as an affirmation of their dignity, we do so in defiance of our Lord and invite them to do the same to us.  We then begin compounding a downward spiral into ungodliness, creating stumbling blocks for the lost and dispirited, incurring His wrath.  The opposite is likewise true; one act of kindness can begin a chain reaction of kind deeds, supplanting their ungodly opposites all along our way and creating the potential to turn evil hearts back to God eternally.

 

Our ability to express kindness can also be used as a gauge to measure the quality of our spiritual condition as well as our ability to surrender to His divine will at any given moment.  When we are unwilling to be kind, we should search our hearts, discover the source of our rebellion, and do what is necessary to exterminate the demon.  An intentional lack of kindness is a form of disobedience.  Turning a deaf ear to His teachings on compassion embraces harshness and the demons of cruelty.  It likewise dishonors God with irreverence toward His Word and disgraces His creation when we fail to affirm the dignity of others by partaking of kindness.  Practicing kindness keeps us in a position to receive His blessings, while a hardened heart is prepared lessons designed to illuminate its poor spiritual condition.  Kindness cures hardened hearts by spreading the warm goodness of God that melts away the sinful bindings that inhibit its expression, enabling the way for greater expressions of forgiveness, mercy, and selflessness.

 

Compassion

 

From the Book of Proverbs (11:22) we read,

“As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout

So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.”

 

Since discretion is an essential element of all virtue, it follows that without discretion, there is no virtue, and without virtue, there is no beauty.  Regardless of a soul’s external features, there is no true beauty without virtue.  All manner of pleasant and pleasing physical appearance are negated when a soul lacks virtue.  Likewise, a soul not blest with an appearance that appeals to the flesh can nonetheless become beautiful by practicing virtue, especially the virtue of compassion that is easily perceived as beauty by our spiritual senses.   However, over time, the joy of virtue can mold the human form such that one develops a smile that glows bright enough to light up a room, adds a sparkle to the eyes that stir weary souls to life, and exhibits gestures that invite warm human interactions and friendships.   The opposite is likewise true, a lack of virtue, a lifetime of coping with sin, can lead to seemingly permanent expressions of bitterness and disdain, a countenance that repels and causes immediate discomfort in others.

 

Perceiving the beauty of compassion is as basic as our primal instincts of safety verses fear; compassion conveys the feeling of being in a safe haven.  It communicates the sense of being cared for, that our needs are being taken care of while we are able to rest and recuperate in the warmth and comfort of soothing goodness.  Whereas kindness plants the seeds of goodness all along the way (Mt.13:1-23), compassion aims to redress suffering (Lk.10:30-37) or meet the needs of others (Mt.14:13-21).  Whereas kindness can be expressed in simple words or gestures in passing, compassion requires an investment of our time, effort and means in order to restore an injured soul, to set right an injustice, or otherwise provide for the needs of others.  Compassion is the spirit within us that moves us to action when we see pain and suffering.  It understands and responds to pleas for mercy that are often expressed merely through tears or expressions of anguish.  It has a genuine desire to alleviate the effects of sin and instill goodness; its motives are pure.  Compassion has sympathy for the downtrodden, the waylaid, the destitute, the dispirited, the diseased, the lost, the dispossessed, the defeated, the victimized and the compromised, and can empathize with the thoughts and emotions that are common to all life’s sufferings.  The compassionate soul lives to alleviate these things by learning to heal, to teach, to protect, to encourage, to console, to provide, to forgive, to care, or to shepherd, and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of others.

 

Before we can even attempt to express compassion, we need to keep in mind the needs that are common to all human existence, learn to recognize how they’re not being met, and then be able to discern a course of action to address specific needs.  All human needs can be traced back to the generic needs of significance or security (ref. “The Search for Significance” by Robert S. McGee, © 1985, 1990 Rapha Publishing; Houston, Texas, USA), and this includes all their manifestations, whether they are physical, soulful, or spiritual.  We can learn to recognize them in others by first learning to recognize them in ourselves, by paying attention to our own wants and desires and how they vary in priority as our condition experiences the highs and lows common to life on Earth.  Once identified, we can then see how a particular need is either being satisfied or neglected, and on what level, body, soul or spirit.  Though God has already provided for all our spiritual needs, we often need help learning to recognize and receive His provision for us.  Physical needs, food, clothing and shelter, at first seem simple, obvious and all inclusive till we remember our body’s internals, the effects of accidents and illnesses, and the instinctual urges to bond and mate.  Soulfully, we can tend to another’s needs by quelling the primary threats of indifference, worthlessness, and rejection.

 

Compassion heals.  As God has provided the means for our salvation and as medical doctors learn to heal the body, compassion neutralizes the demons that haunt human souls.  This has become well evidenced and documented in observation of twelve step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous where all the participants are victimized by the same impediment to spiritual and personal growth.  Whether an addiction, a proclivity toward a particular vice, post-traumatic stress, or any other personality or anxiety disorders, the company of fellow sufferers who are able to show the greatest amount of compassion due to their shared experience, knowledge and understanding, best facilitates the miraculous healing powers of compassion.  Our physical eyes cannot see another’s demons; we cannot fully know the nature, size or strength of the demons that afflict another’s wellness unless we’ve done battle with it ourselves.  Non-combatants don’t know the amount of courage and perseverance required to overcome something they can easily dismiss.  Conversely, in a support group, fellow sufferers can help identify the common enemy, its traits, what it feeds on, what weakens it, and then share strategies on how best to overcome it.  Compassion requires unconditional acceptance of others and foregoes all appearances of judging or condemning another soul for their shortcomings.  Support groups also provide a safe place for a soul to make confessions without fear of retribution or recrimination.  This environment leads to further repentance of subsequent sins as participants learn to make a habit of self-scrutiny.  Confessions to non-combatants risk a lack of understanding and confidentiality, and can be potentially dangerous in that it introduces them to demons that they may not be prepared to fend off, creating the possibility of further contagion.  Twelve step groups also teach making amends and when possible, undoing the damage done with full restitution.  By practicing these principles, members learn to grow into the newness of a godly life that is productive and full of joy rather than continuing in the desperation and depravity of addictions and subsequent, ungodly, maladaptive behaviors.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit within us will stir compassionate thoughts; however, there are simple things we can learn to help facilitate obtaining this virtue and being more like Christ.  First, we need to practice being observant, attentive and well informed.  Not knowing what is going on in the lives of people around us can lead to unintentional insensitivity, and even callousness or crassness depending on another’s emotional vulnerability at any given moment.  Being well informed will not be confused with being a nosy, gossipy, busy-body if we ask questions out of concern and not curiosity, pray for blessings for the person being discussed, and then not repeat what we know unless asked by another compassionate soul who is likewise only interested in the well being of others.  When we keep abreast of other’s circumstances, we can do as Jesus did, and with a kind word or deed address the needs of others without requiring them to rehash a lot of information that may be difficult for them to share.  Should we have troubles of our own, selflessly caring for others not only helps relieve our own discomfort, it is a witness and testimony to the love of God in Christ Jesus who lives in us and provides for all our needs.  Then, as we witness God watering the fields of the evil and the good alike, we become able to express compassion toward those we like as well as those we don’t (Mt.5:44-48).

 

When expressing the goodness of God with compassion and kindness, or when performing a service for Him, a host of demons arrives with a proven set of strategies designed to knock the purveyors of goodness off their course.  As puerile as it seems, name-calling can be an effective weapon preventing good deeds and is often the demon’s first salvo aimed at the children of God.  Whether it is children calling each other “goody goods” or adults attaching labels such as “bleeding hearts” or “crusader”, we need to learn not to let these simple attacks deter us from the tasks God has given us to do.  Being called a “hypocrite”, “self-righteous” or “hateful” by an ungodly soul should not deter us in our obedience to God.  An easy way to deal with them is to simply acknowledge their perceptions and then take a stand as being on the side of good by explaining to them the potential evils of leaving the task undone.  Instead of being deterred by the simple assaults of our detractors, we should ask ourselves; “Is this task truly something God has given me to do?  Is the detractor pursuing evil or good?  Am I willing to endure persecution in my obedience to God?”  Our reply to these souls, who most likely don’t understand deeds motivated purely by goodness, can be our witness and testimony to the love of God, turning not only the situation away from evil and towards goodness, but also the hearts of the lost.

 

Demons will also attempt to magnify the challenges any given task presents in an attempt to overcome our goodness with annoying frustrations or a sense of futility.  At such times, remembrance of Christ and a variety of our lessons will defeat the demons and keep our focus on God in obedience.  Thankfulness, perseverance, purity, courage, patience, joy, self-control, or charity, or any combination of virtues applied to the situation with proper discernment, can be used to repel the attacks of these demons.  Another demonic foray that aims to rob us of the joy of pleasing God is to create false expectations that lead to disappointments when expectations are not achieved and the realization of failure leads to an array of feelings associated with disenchantment.  This can happen when we insist on our own sense of fairness, resent uncomplimentary but helpful feedback or critiques, or develop a martyrdom complex.  If we allow ourselves to think that everyone around us should be as concerned with the task God has given us to do, and that they should be willing to make the same sacrifices we do in order to complete our task, such thoughts will undoubtedly lead to resentments.  Instead of joy and peace in our service, we will be overcome by these common frustrations and be left with nothing but ill will to show for our efforts.  We can make ourselves out to be great martyrs worthy of adulation and hefty rewards if we allow the demon of pride to infect our humble obedience to the call of Christ.  If we are overly sensitive to criticism, unable to discern the constructive from the destructive or the caring from the malevolent, then our joy and thankfulness will indeed be replaced by resentments.  This also happens if we are unwilling to listen to any suggestion that we may have erred or that a better way is possible, feeling insulted rather than abiding in our dignity.  If we listen to these demons, we will be overcome by feelings of being under appreciated, become disgusted with another’s perceived lack of usefulness or paltry contributions, and then disparage and demean them in an attempt to lessen the damage to our fleshly self-image.  Among fellow Christians, this qualifies as judging another’s servant, and is exactly what St. Paul instructs us not to do in Romans 14.  Instead, we need to forgive the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, be an example of Christ ourselves, and encourage and assist others in their spiritual growth.  We can maintain our joy while in service to our Lord by refusing to entertain thoughts critical of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and by truly being thankful that God has deemed us trustworthy and capable.  It also helps to take an inventory of all the things that make it possible for us to be in a position to serve God.  A list that includes our eternal salvation in Christ, knowing God, life itself, our mental and physical talents that enable us to perform a particular service, and all resources available for our use; these are all things to be thankful for and not taken for granted.  Being thankful for all things at all times gives us joy instead of the misery that accompanies indulging in ingratitude, being critical or condemning others.

 

Demons attempt to squelch all expressions of goodness; however, their means are likewise limited by the extent the children of darkness are willing to go in pursuit of evil.  We must never forget that there are souls on this Earth that enjoy evil and consciously reject God rather than part with their perverse pleasures.  The self-serving and hedonistic pursuits of the flesh seem benign when compared to the sadists, masochists, and the violently controlling and abusive types.  These miserable people take pleasure in another’s pain, suffering, oppression, and distress so much so that they seek out ways to inflict such things upon others.  Should we fail to comprehend the full extent to which evil will go, we risk being completely stupefied with fear, overcome by their grotesqueness, collapse in a state of shock or otherwise rendered inert, and then be left suffering from posttraumatic stress.  Not only will we be unprepared to seek the grace of God in the moment we encounter unrestrained evil firsthand, afterwards the common result is the inability or unwillingness to be an uncompromising servant of God.  As Christians, we are targets for the demons because they can recognize the goodness of the Holy Spirit within us, and true to their evil nature, they crave to foul, soil, humiliate, abuse, maim, destroy or desecrate all that is good.  Such is the pleasure of the depraved and sadistic souls who never clean their spiritual house. They come to prefer the company of demons and become like stringed puppets in carrying out demonic whims.  We need to be prepared and know that they exist.  When we encounter extreme evil, we must remember and have faith in God, for His grace is sufficient to overcome all evil.  Then we seek the courage to act righteously.  Whether that means being still or an extreme intervention, God supplies the necessary grace in the moment.  Our part is to trust Him, to act in accordance with His will with the assurance that we do the right thing.

 

The world is full of unenlightened souls who put little or no effort into personal or spiritual growth.  Such people are prone to being motivated by personal vendettas, by petty jealousies, by the bitterness of lifelong disappointments, by sharing their pain by inflicting it on others, by a lusty greed for whatever they can get their hands on, and again, by the desire to ruin whatever joy and goodness they see in another’s life.  They are opportunists who seek to take advantage of another’s vulnerabilities, plotting complex schemes with covert and dishonest tactics.  What such people fail to realize is, whether by intentional denial or inability to figure it out, that the misery of their life is their own choosing, that their bitter harvest is reaped from the evil they sow.  These forlorn souls take pleasure in being spiteful, controlling, manipulative, disruptive, perverse, abusive, violent, unruly, or crass.  However, as children of God, we are not to indulge in any of their behaviors in return.  As difficult as it may be to exercise self-control in the presence of such malfeasance, we have been taught to love our enemies and do good things for those who mistreat us (Lk.6:27).  Lost, darkened and demented souls are in need of our compassion since they know neither the joy of salvation nor the beauty of kindness and forgiveness.  Though their actions may stir anger within us, we will need to recall that all souls are precious in His sight, practice forgiveness, and with proper discretion, treat the ungodly with compassion so that they might come to repentance and a saving knowledge of our Lord Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Forgiveness

Ps.32:1-6, asking forgiveness of God through confession and repentance, heals

Mt. 6:9-15, failure to forgive as God forgives is a sin of omission

Mt.18:21-35, God holds us accountable when we fail to forgive others as He forgives us

Mk.11:25, before asking God to pardon sins, we first pardon all whose sin infects us

Lk.17:1-4, anticipate troubles in relationships and always remain willing to forgive

2Cor.2:5-11, a lack of forgiveness gives opportunity for the schemes of demons

Eph.4:29-32, a lack of forgiveness compromises our virtue

Col.3:12-14, our forbearance of other’s shortcomings depends upon our ability to forgive

 

Kindness:   

Pr.11:7, a person who lacks kindness is treated with indifference

Pr.12:25, kindness gives us the power to encourage and gladden others

Pr.14:21, our ability to be kind reflects the quality of our spiritual condition

Pr.14:31, kindness honors God, oppressing the downtrodden is a disgrace that taunts Him

Pr.19:17, kindness towards the needy serves our Lord and He rewards these good deeds

Mic.6:8, with our knowledge of goodness our Lord expects us to be kind and just

Mt.18:5-7, lack of kindness can cause another to stumble and this angers God

Lk.6:32-38, the kindness we extend toward others is the measure of our blessings from God

Rom.2:1-13, failure to reflect the kindness of God invites the wrath of His judgment

Rom.11:22, kindness perpetuates blessings while hardened hearts learn of His severity

1Cor.13:4-7, kindness is recognizable in our expressions of love in the Holy Spirit

2Cor.6:1-10, service to God is marked by the ability to show kindness to persecutors

Gal.5:16-26, kindness is evidence of His lordship over us and the Holy Spirit within us

Eph.4:29-32, impurity, bitterness, anger, wrath and malice compromise kindness

Col.3:8-14, impartial kindness is a sign of our renewal in Christ and knowledge of Truth

2Tim.2:22-26, impartial kindness is a required virtue to be a servant God

Titus 2:3-5, reverence for the Word of God is made manifest through kindness

2Pet.1:5-9, failure to show kindness is symptomatic of ignorance or forgetfulness

 

Compassion:

Pr.11:22, exterior beauty is wasted when unaccompanied by inner beauty

Mt.9:18-38, the compassion of our Lord Jesus brings miracles of healing

Mt.14:13-21, the compassion of Jesus in tending to the physical needs of the people

Mt.15:32-38, the compassion of Jesus preemptively addresses the needs of others

Mt.20:29-34, the compassion of Jesus restores those who plead for mercy

Lk.10:30-37, Jesus instructs us to have compassion for strangers in need

Php.2:1-18, in Christ we find the humility that enlightens our world with compassion

Col.3:1-14, children of God have a heart of compassion for all

 

Commentaries:

 

Forgiveness:

On The Lord’s Prayer (Mt.6:12-13):

“Scripture reveals to us in these words that he who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with this neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for.  Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgment of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sin.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 302

 

“Wisely bear in mind that, if God acquits, no one can condemn (cf. Rom.8:33-34).  If you have been called [to serve God], do not worry about your past life, even if to some extent it has been soiled:  for it has been purified once more by God and through your own self-correction.  But afterwards be diligent and watchful, so as not to eclipse the grace.  Then if someone stupidly casts aspersions on your [service] because of your past, he will hear a voice from Heaven saying, ‘What God has cleansed, do not call unclean’ (Acts 10:15).”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 370-71 #51

 

“Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt.6:14).

This then is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.  But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.  Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul.  Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.  But this is not to the credit either of the devil, or of the person who tempts, or of the person tempted.  The devil, being maleficent, deserves our hatred, for he acts with no concern for our welfare.  The person who tempts us merits our compassion, not because he tempts us out of love but because he is deluded and oppressed.  The person tempted, finally, endures affliction because of his own faults, not on behalf of someone else.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 95

Kindness:

“True kindness allows to life a proper space and freedom of movement; it even gives and provides these, for only in this way can life grow and develop.”

“Kindness pardons, for it is magnanimous and releases the offender; it trusts and always allows life to begin anew.”

“Kindness can look beyond itself; it does not begrudge to others what it lacks.  In fact, it can even rejoice with others.”

“Kindness means that a person is well disposed toward life.  Whenever he encounters a living being, the kind man’s first reaction is not to mistrust and criticize but to respect, to value, and to promote development.”

“…in kindness there is strength – strength in proportion to its purity – and perfect kindness is inexhaustible.”

“Kindness requires patience.  Suffering returns again and again and demands understanding.”

“One other thing is required of kindness, some which we rarely speak: a sense of humor.  It helps us to endure things more easily.”

“A friendly laugh at the oddity of all human affairs – that is humor.  It helps us to be kind, for after a good laugh, it is easier to be serious again.”

“…we shall seek for kindness in the place from which all virtue comes; we shall seek for it in God.”

“If we could see God’s goodness, this abyss of kindness, we would be joyful all our life long.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 110-112;

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

 

Compassion:

“Compassion implies the most intimate sympathy with people who are suffering, despised, and marginalized.  Harsh judgments of others by any ‘paragon of virtue’ who invokes God, even the God our Lord Jesus Christ, reveal total shamelessness.”

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

 © 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 50

 

“Wherever compassion is missing, ‘works of righteousness’ are poisoned.”

“In the face of the suffering of heartlessly despised people, the compassionate person is shaken by sympathy and enlists to do something for them.  True sympathy urges us to action.  Active sympathy makes it clear that we are on the way to worshipping God as the supremely compassionate one and honoring Him in real life fashion.”

ibid. pg. 51

“The intellect is the organ of wisdom, the intelligence that of spiritual knowledge.  The natural sense of assurance common to both intellect and intelligence is the organ of the faith established in each of them, while natural compassion is the organ of the gift of healing.  For corresponding to every divine gift, there is in us an appropriate and natural organ capable of receiving it – a kind of capacity, or intrinsic state or disposition.  Thus he who purges his intellect of all sensible [physical] images receives wisdom.  He who makes his intelligence the master of his innate passions – that is to say, of his [passionate desires of the will] – receives spiritual knowledge.  He whose intellect and intelligence possess an unshakeable assurance concerning divine realities receives that faith with which all things are possible.  He who has acquired natural compassion receives, after the utter annihilation of [self-centeredness and self-adoration], the gifts of healing.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 217 # 33

Chapter 20 – Empowering Virtue – Charity, Generosity and Hospitality

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

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

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

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

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

Charity

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

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

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

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

Generosity

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

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

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

Hospitality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptural References:

 

Charity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generosity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospitality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentaries:

Charity:

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

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

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

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

Generosity:

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

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

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

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

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

© 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 106-7

Hospitality:

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

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

 

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

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

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

ibid. pg. 32-33 #85

Service:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Self-control

 

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

 

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

 

Patience

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gentleness

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Scriptural References:

 

Self-control:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patience:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patient endurance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gentleness: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Acceptance, stillness, dispassion: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Commentaries:

 

Self-control:

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

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

 

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

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

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

ibid. pg. 233 #94

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

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

 

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

ibid. pg. 367 #37

 

Patience:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Gentleness:

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

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

 

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

ibid. pg. 73 #47

 

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

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

 

Acceptance, stillness, dispassion:  

 

“Stillness helps us by making evil inoperative.”

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 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