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.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Humility

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Selflessness

 

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

 

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

 

Goodness

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Scriptural References:

 

Humility:

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

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

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

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

Pr.15:33, God honors the humble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Selflessness: 

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

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

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

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

 

Goodness: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Commentaries:

 

Humility:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Selflessness:

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

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

 

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

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

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

 

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

ibid. pg. 157

 

Goodness:

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

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

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

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

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

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

 

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

ibid. #7

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

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

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