Summary: This sermon introduces this series, The Core Virtues of the Christian Life, which is based on the Fruit of the Spirit by recognizing our need for virtues that define our character as Christians.
There is a lot of talk today about core values, especially in the business world. Companies, churches, and even individuals are spending time to determine what is most valuable to them. Once these values are established, the values define the boundaries of how they do business. Churches are defining their core values so that they can focus on God’s purpose for their existence. People are defining their core values so that they have a framework out of which to make decisions.
When we think of values that define the boundaries or characterize a person’s life, I believe values are a good place to start. However, for the values to become qualities of character, they must become virtues.
There isn’t much emphasis on virtues in our society today. We are living in the wake of a movement to remove the training in virtues from our schools and places of work. While there continues to be much talk about morality, without virtues to support morality, morality in and of its self will eventually fall flat. Virtues are the qualities of character that provide the basis for morality. So, instead of defining our core values for our lives, we need to define the core virtues that will guide our behavior, our decision-making, and our relationships.
In a article titled "Teaching the Virtues", Christina Hoff Sommers, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Clark University tells this story.
Not very long ago, I published an article called "Ethics without Virtue" in which I criticized the way ethics is being taught in American colleges. I pointed out that there is an overemphasis on social policy questions, with little or no attention being paid to private morality.
I noted that students taking college ethics are debating abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, DNA research, and the ethics of transplant surgery while they learn almost nothing about private decency, honesty, personal responsibility, or honor. Topics such as hypocrisy, self-deception, cruelty or selfishness rarely came up. I argued that the current style of ethics teaching, which concentrated so much on social policy was giving students the wrong ideas about ethics. Social morality is only half of the moral life; the other half is private morality. I urged that we attend to both.
A colleague of mine did not like what I said. She told me that in her classroom she would continue to focus on issues of social injustice. She taught about women’s oppression, corruption in big business, multinational corporations and their transgressions in the Third World - that sort of thing. She said to me, "You are not going to have moral people until you have moral institutions. You will not have moral citizens until you have a moral government." She made it clear that I was wasting time and even doing harm by promoting bourgeois morality and the bourgeois virtues instead of awakening the social conscience of my students.
At the end of the semester, she came into my office carrying a stack of exams and looking very upset.
"What’s wrong?" I asked.
"They cheated on their social justice take-home finals. They plagiarized!" More than half of the students in her ethics class had copied long passages from the secondary literature. "What are you going to do?" I asked her. She gave me a self-mocking smile and said, "I’d like to borrow a copy of that article you wrote on ethics without virtue."
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul is building a case for salvation by faith rather than salvation through religious law. In chapter five, he contrasts what life looks like when it is lived by the values of sin and the values of the Spirit. Let’s read what he wrote.
Galatians 5:16-26 (NLT)
16So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. 18But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.
19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, 20idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.