What Virtues Are You Aiming At?

Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” 
William James

The above quote from William James is similar to what the Apostle Peter wrote some 2000 years before, when he said… “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love”  2 Peter 1:5-7

Living the Christian life is never easy, but it’s not impossible! 
Notice that the end result is ‘brotherly affection with love.’ What is that? This combination is not redundant, it marks two things that mature Christian character creates. The first is a love for the household of faith. Peter uses the word Philadelphia,’ literally brotherly love. Jesus said His followers would be known for the love we have for one another (John 3:35). This is a true love for fellow believers. Second, he adds the term ‘agapan’ meaning a general love for people, which is the second greatest command according to Jesus (See Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus intensifies that quite a bit in the sermon on the mount when He commands His disciples to ‘love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:43). Then why is it much of our conversations and social media seem to reflect just the opposite? If someone mentions something against your favorite politician there is often great vitriol that all too often ends in division and strife. Now there are probably many reasons why we don’t carry out the commands of our savior consistently, and of course our selfish, sinful hearts are a great place to start, but I want to relay two things from the 2 Peter passage that may also contribute to our inconsistency.

First, we simply don’t reflect much on the things that shape these Christian virtues in our lives. One of the skills and habits that we moderns have seemed to have either jettisoned or lost is the patience and perseverance to become what we want to become. We want good character, without any work, like it is magic. We just don’t become the person in verse 7, without working our way through verses 5 and 6. To love the radical way(s) we are called to love, it may take more than trying to be a nice person. Second, verse 9 gives us a hint; we have become myopic people who only see what is in front of us, and have failed to remember the great love with which Christ demonstrated to us on His cross. When the cross of Christ becomes small in our hearts, the love of Christ becomes small in our actions and habits. If we desire to become the fruitful Christians we want to be, it’s going to take an eye check to see what we have been blinded to, and a heart check to see what lies at the end of our passions and desires.   But in spite of our inconsistency, there are two truths we can hang our hope on; first, God has graciously given us what we need to develop these virtues (See VV. 3-4), and second,if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (V.8). Now that is some great promise!

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