In Praise of Virtue

EXODUS 20 – 1 And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them… “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God… “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

GALATIANS 5 – 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Today as we come to worship we recognize Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and the values they promote.

The Boy Scout Law says a Scout is: Trustworthy / Loyal / Helpful / Friendly / Courteous / Kind / Obedient / Cheerful / Thrifty / Brave / Clean / Reverent.

The Boy Scout Oath or Promise says:                                                                             On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

The Boy Scout Motto is: BE PREPARED.

Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) explains that BE PREPARED means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your DUTY.

We applaud the virtues that are promoted by the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts.

And this morning I want to speak “in praise of virtue”, under three headings:

  1. Most of the world’s religions promote virtues that are remarkably similar. We believe this indicates our common origin as persons created in God’s image. (Genesis 1: 26, 27)
  1. We should seek to live by these virtues, building lives of integrity and godly character. And we should teach these virtues to our children. (Exodus 20:1-17) (Galatians 5:22-26)
  1. None of us can live fully virtuous lives. We fall short of moral perfection, but God still offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23; 6:23)

So let’s begin!

  1. Most of the world’s religions promote virtues that are remarkably similar. We believe this indicates our common origin as persons created in God’s image. (Genesis 1: 26, 27)

 

Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and Christians and even Atheists promote some of the same virtues.

The first century Pali Canon of Buddhism lists 10 virtues: Generosity, Proper conduct, Renunciation, Transcendental wisdom, Diligence, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, Loving-kindness and Serenity.

The 11th century Muslim scholar Al Ghazali wrote: “Declare war on thirteen enemies you cannot see – egoism, arrogance, conceit, selfishness, greed, lust, intolerance, anger, lying, cheating, gossiping and slandering…”

And in his “Manifesto for Atheists,” British atheist Alain de Botton has suggested “Ten Virtues for the Modern Age”: Resilience, Empathy, Patience, Sacrifice, Politeness, Humor, Self-Awareness, Forgiveness, Hope, Confidence.

Jews and Christians follow the Ten Commandments, which were read at the start of today’s message.

And Christians believe that the fruits of the Spirit (identified by St. Paul and also read at the start of the message) are virtues God wants to plant in each of us so we can achieve the potential for which we were created.

Some would say that, since all religions promote similar values, there must be little difference between them. Perhaps (they say) there are many roads that lead to God.

Traditional Christians (and I am one of those) respectfully disagree. We would say that the religions of the world represent the human longing for God, humans reaching out for God as best they can.

We would say that Judaism and Christianity represent God reaching down to humanity, reaching down to rescue and redeem us.

And, as traditional Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan. What began with Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses was brought to its full realization in Jesus Christ.

The reason almost all religions promote similar virtues is because all of us were created in the image of God. Even though God’s image in us has been broken because of sin, we still all see the value and importance of honesty / and patience / and fair play / and other virtues.

So, first, most of the world’s religions promote virtues that are remarkably similar. As Christians, we believe this indicates our common origin as persons created in God’s image.

  1. Then secondly,

We should seek to live by these virtues, building lives of integrity and godly character. And we should teach these values to our children. (Exodus 20:1-17) (Galatians 5:22-26)

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read about Joseph, son of Jacob. His brothers hated him and ultimately sold him as a slave into Egypt. Joseph became a slave in the house of Potiphar.

In Genesis chapter 39 Joseph was tempted to do evil. His master’s wife tried hard to entice him into sexual compromise. He strongly resisted her advances.

Many today would call Joseph a “Goody-Two-Shoes” because he resisted evil. Today (as often in the past) we live is a culture where many scoff at the righteous and call them “sissies” or (in Canada where I come from) “Dudley Do-Rights” for resisting temptations of the flesh and spirit.

Why not “live a little”? Why not “sow some wild oats”? Why not “try it, you’ll like it”?

This morning I want to stand against the idea that “real men” cannot be virtuous men. I want to stand against the notion that being a virtuous man is somehow sissified or weak or watered down.

Today I want to stand against the widespread notion that “Real Men” must be dabblers in unrighteous behavior. It is a lie of the evil one that goodness must be boring. It is a foul lie that there is more pleasure in unrighteousness than in goodness.

Men, our sons and grandsons need mentors in virtuous living. They need to see men who are truth-tellers. They need to see men who transparent about challenges and short-comings in their own lives, men who don’t hide behind the mask of machoism.

So, secondly, We should seek to live by virtuous lives, lives of integrity and godly character. And we should teach these values to our children.

  1. And third, None of us can live fully virtuous lives. We fall short of moral perfection, but God still offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23; 6:23)

So let’s begin with St. Paul’s words in Romans 3:23: “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Say it with me: “I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

None of us is faultless within ourselves. We think and say and do things that reveal our inner brokenness, our self-centeredness.

And three chapters later St. Paul says, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, dying in OUR place for OUR sins, God offers us eternal life as a free gift.

We cannot earn it by our good deeds or shining virtues. We cannot earn it by self-sacrifice, or pouring out our lives for others.

But we can accept eternal life as a free gift from God through His Son Jesus.

The band MercyMe has written the song “Flawless”:

No matter the bumps, No matter the bruises,
No matter the scars, Still the truth is
The cross has made, The cross has made you flawless
No matter the hurt, Or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain, Still the truth is
The cross has made, The cross has made you flawless.

There’s an equation that some of you have heard me use before. This equation helps us understand how God’s free gift works.

It’s not “Faith + Works = Salvation,” but rather: “Faith = Salvation + Works”…

So I urge you this morning: Put your trust in Jesus Christ. Receive God’s free gift of salvation through the cross. Allow God to build the character of Jesus into your life,more and more.

Allow the Holy Spirit of God to work in YOU, to build these virtues into YOUR life, for HIS glory.

And all God’s people said: AMEN!

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