Volume. XXXII, No. 23
Sunday, 03 December 2017

From the Pastor's Heart: Deadly Virtues (Part 2)

In Matthew 6, Jesus deals with a vice of hypocrisy. The source of hypocrisy is none other than a form of religious piety, such as almsgiving or charity, prayer and fasting, which are also religious virtues.  This is immediately troubling as it shows that it is not just evilness that can leads us to sin but virtues themselves.  The subject that leads to the sin of hypocrisy in this chapter was none other than virtues that we must all desire to have and practice.  What is wrong with charity, prayer, fasting, and possessions? Are they not all blessings from God?  Unfortunately, these virtues have the potential to lead to the vice of hypocrisy.  We are surprised and even shocked by such twists of religious piety.  If I can be more direct, there are those amongst us who are apparently pious. They give to charity, pray, and fast, but they are sinful, wicked, and evil hypocrites before the eyes of God.  What an irony it is!  They are good but bad.  They are virtuous but sinful!  
We must recognize that our religious virtues could lead us to deeper and weightier sins and evil.  How can this be possible?  This very question must be answered by understanding that the virtues themselves do not make us virtuous.  There is more to understand before we can practice virtues in the way God intended us to. This study implies a bit of a twist within Christian virtues.  It will teach us that virtues themselves cannot be an end of Christian piety, even though they are necessary for Christian life and character.  It also indicates that there are moments when virtues can become deadly vices, which deserve the Lord’s condemnation.  It should caution many of us including pastors, elders, deacons, and professors of the name of Christ, to be aware of the possibility of sinning against the Lord, though we demonstrate Christian virtues in our personal and public life. 

Virtues turned into vice
I must begin with some descriptions of the nature of this study with examples and illustrations.
(1)    The forefathers of faith noticed and observed this problem that we are going to study.  One of the church fathers, John Chrysostom once noted centuries ago that our virtues are as problematic as our sins.  “It’s just that our virtues are far more cleverly disguised and have a tendency to embolden us with the sin of pride, which is difficult to identify in the life of faith”.  In most cases, the most troublesome individuals in Christian churches are the ones who claim some sort of Christian virtues.  They claim to be strong men and women of faith, knowledgeable in the divine truths of God, to have strong convictions and to spend time for Bible studies and evangelism, etc.  Truly it is not a secret that the most problematic people in Christian churches are the ones who think themselves as spiritual and knowledgeable of the things of God.  It is no wonder that Paul cautioned the people who seemed to be noble Christians to be careful not to fall.  He also warned that knowledge might puff up some individuals.

(2)    The parables of Jesus.  We will be surprised to know that Jesus was often speaking to the religious people, instead of “sinners” through His parables.  The parables have a great power to speak to the foibles and failures of the faithful.  The parables rarely address those outside the household of faith, but, instead, challenge the believers’ sensibilities and values. The beliefs they hold so sacred and so dear, can become a barrier to God.  The result of hearing the Lord’s parables was that the most religious people of the day were upset with Jesus.  Jesus spoke to them about various kinds of virtues they held unto and rebuked them telling them that their virtues had become vices. 

There are many examples.
a)    Jesus told them about loving neighbours.  He used a parable of a good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37.  There are three individuals in the parable, a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.  The first two, priest and Levite, did not provide due cares to the person who was robbed and left half dead.  The priest and the Levite were not as good as a Samaritan whom they despised. Whatever the priest’s and the Levite’s definition of goodness was, their goodness was not a virtue but a vice, because their goodness caused them to despise the Samaritans.

b)    The matter of faith.  Faith is a virtue we must cultivate.  Peter exhorts us to grow in faith in 2 Peter.  However, the faith of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Scribes
filled their hearts to be evil to the extent to bring Jesus to the cross.  The infidel, ungodly Roman governor, Pilate wanted to spare the life of Jesus from the cross.  He did not know the name of God, but he knew that Jesus was innocent, but in the eyes of men and women of faith in God, Jesus was only a blasphemer, an unpardonable sinner.  In this case, their religion and spirituality were the culprits of their sins.  Their faith was not a virtue, but a vice. 

c)    The matter of righteousness.  Again, the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the Sadducees were in pursuit of righteousness.  Righteousness is a virtue.  However, this virtue became a weapon to murder Jesus.  According to their righteousness, Jesus was not righteous.  Paul says in Romans 10:1-4, “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”  We need to observe at least four peculiar lessons from this passage.  
i)    Man can be unrighteous even with their very best kind of righteousness.  Jews did not hate and kill Jesus because they wanted to be unrighteous, but righteous.  They killed Jesus according to their righteousness.  Righteousness is a virtue, but it became a vice.
ii)    The righteousness of God could be different from the righteousness of man, even if man is pursuing the path of righteousness.  Desiring righteousness does not lead man and woman to the righteousness of God.  Claiming to be religious or spiritual does not bring anyone to the righteousness of God.  
iii)    Man is expected to submit himself to the righteousness of God.  It indicates that man could put all his efforts to be righteous, while rejecting the righteousness of God.
iv)    Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.  In other words, a misconstrued notion of righteousness could hinder and keep us from having an ultimate relationship and fellowship with the Lord Jesus.

Misunderstanding Virtues

Virtues can be misconstrued and misunderstood to the extent that they could be vice themselves. 

(1)    When virtues are misunderstood, misapplied, or misused, they become barriers.  For example, love is a virtue.  Especially, the love of truth is a virtue, but oftentimes we see that professing Christians hate each other in the name of the love of truth.  They love truth so much that they hate fellow brethren who are washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  In such a case, a virtue of love becomes a vice to cause them to hate their brothers and sisters.  In my own opinion, Christians practice the most serious form of segregation on Sunday mornings.  Believers go on their own ways and hate others who are different from them in Christ.  To the contrary, 1 John 3:15 says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”  The Jews loved God so much so that they had to kill Jesus.  They recited Deuteronomy 6:4-5 every day: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”  The result of following these verses was to crucify Jesus.  Does it make any sense?

(2)    Virtues, when seen as an ultimate end or as principles that give us privilege or power, or that we protect for ourselves, can produce deadly outcomes.  When a person has been a Christian for a very long time, when he spends much time in prayer, gives much to the poor, missions, church ministries, fasts frequently for spiritual gain, he is inclined to consider himself more spiritual even unconsciously and subconsciously than other people who neither practice nor observe such religious duties.  Virtues themselves elevate him to be a man of position and authority in church, and he becomes a man of privilege and power.  It may not be his desire to promote himself in such ways, but others honour him and make him like that.  Then, he begins to claim his rights based on his virtues.  Well, Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes had the same experience, and they became hard men even to despise Jesus as a man of blasphemy.

More Lively Hope



- Kitchen renovations: Please do not enter kitchen area in Church Hall & stay away from hard waste in Rectory garden. Please come for Working Bee on Sat as there is much to do.  
- Thank you to those who helped with disposal of debris from kitchen renovations.
- Seniors’ Fellowship Lunch: Please confirm your attendance.
- Church Directory is being updated. Forms available at foyer. Church directory will only be distributed to those who have completed forms.
- An Afternoon of Carols & Special Items, next Lord’s Day, 2pm. Please invite family & friends.
- Non-designated offerings today will be given to IBPFM. Christmas Day offerings will go to Voice of Martyrs.
- Summer recess (Dec-Jan): No Maranatha Bible Study. No Adult Sunday School from next week.
- Bible Study Tour of Israel & Jordan, 9 – 21 Dec 2018, organised by Covenant B-P Church, Perth. If interested, please refer to notice board at foyer.
- Kitchen Duty helpers - This week: Team B. Next week: Team C.

Praise & Thanksgiving
- Completion of exams- Year 12 & university students.
- Safe labour and delivery.
- Journey mercies to all who have travelled.

- Healing to all who are unwell.
- Postnatal recovery.
- Journey mercies to all who are travelling.

A comprehensive prayer list is available at the Sanctuary foyer. Please take a copy for your personal or corporate prayer time.



© Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church
14 Bedford Square, Colonel Light Gardens, South Australia 5041