Christian Virtue and Society

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote a column, so I thought I’d start back with the first of a series of articles on what the Bible calls the “Fruit of the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:22-23, the Apostle Paul lists nine virtues that should define all good and upright people’s lives. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines virtue as “a particular moral excellence,” which is an academic way of saying that a virtue is a standard by which we determine good and acceptable behavior. We use virtue to govern our own personal lives as well as that of our community. We have personal standards that we set for ourselves, and we have collectively agreed upon norms for the way interact with one another. Both are necessary for a healthy society. 

Author C.S. Lewis used an example of a fleet of ships sailing in formation to explain the importance of virtue and moral rules “for running the human machine.” He wrote: 

“The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order…You cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions, they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order, they will not be able to avoid collisions.” 

In short, Lewis’s argument is simple. For human society to function properly, we all must be concerned with the general purpose of human life, the way we are to live in harmony with one another, and the presence of consistent behavior within each of us individually. If any of these three is missing long-term, societal collapse is inevitable. 

As a Christian, I am convinced that the Bible gives the most comprehensive and cohesive plan for us to use as we chart the human course. There is a unified purpose for all of us – to glorify our Creator by loving him more than we love anything or anyone else (Matthew 22:37-38). There is an overarching principle that governs our interactions with one another – to love each other as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39) – as well specific applications of this principle in our daily lives. And there is a path for us to follow to ensure that we keep ourselves in good working order by living morally consistent lives – die to ourselves so that we can live for Jesus (Matthew 16:24-25). 

I plan to discuss this plan in more detail in the coming weeks by highlighting the nine virtues of Galatians 5:22-23. Until then, let me ask you a question. If the God of the Bible created the world and us in good, shouldn’t we, at least, consider applying his wisdom to our personal and collective lives? 

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