Volume. 32, No. 24
Sunday, 10 December 2017

From the Pastor's Heart: Deadly Virtues (Part 3)

The final point we considered last week was: 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.  Unfortunately, it has become a reality in many Christian churches and organizations.  People can be elevated to the position of authority by simply doing something (like financial contributions) or showing something (like prayer eloquence, or observances of religious duties).  Without true spirituality, their external and visible virtues make them important figures in Christian ministries, but, in reality, they are detrimental to the purity, holiness, and life of Christian churches.  I desire to consider this lesson continually.
Let us consider the example of the prodigal son.  A righteous and good father had two sons.  One of them was a prodigal who demanded his father to give him an inheritance in advance.  He was a rude and despicable man.  After he left his father’s home, his life went downhill and he was not able to keep his wealth and lost everything. He became a despised and hungry servant sharing his life with swine.  He realised his wrongs and his mind was restored.  He decided to return home with a repentant heart.  His father welcomed him.  However, this welcoming and caring gesture his father had shown him made the other son totally angry. Even though he had never demanded his inheritance in advance, or left his father’s side. He had never disobeyed or displeased his father.  All of them were commendable features of this son, and he was different from the prodigal son.  He was the non-prodigal son.  He was good and virtuous in many ways.  However, all his goodness led him to misjudge his father and he could not join the joy of the rest of the household on that day.  He was a virtuous man and felt that he must be honoured because of his virtues, or goodness.  He was angry with his father.  His virtues made him judgmental and critical toward his father and produced vices. 
These disparities are more evident in our culture today. Many people value goodness as its own end like the righteous son.  They are like the Pharisee in Luke 18: 11b-12, who said, “. . . God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess”. All his good traits suddenly became instruments of defiling him before the presence of God.  Others see goodness as a gift of God, who is the giver of all good gifts.  There is no doubt of it.  However, a problem is that we may be virtuous by displaying qualities of virtues and still be evil in the eyes of the Lord.  All attributes we find from the Pharisee’s prayer are good and virtuous.  He was neither an extortioner, nor unjust, nor an adulterer.  He fasted twice a week and gave his tithes, which were good.  Nonetheless, we must notice that the Lord is not commending but rebuking him.
Virtues masquerading as the ultimate goal
Virtues all too frequently masquerade as the ultimate goal of the Christian life.  As St. John Chrysostom once observed, “Where virtue is, there are many snares” (Homily 1, The Works of St. Chrysostom, Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff, Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1889, 9:342).  John Scotus, an Irish theologian and poet of the ninth century, once wrote, “No vice is found but within the shadow of some virtue” (John Scotus, quoted in Henry Bett, Johannes Scotus Erigena, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925). 
Many people feel it too difficult to accept these lessons.  However, these lessons are necessary, if we are to embrace the abundant life that Jesus talked about.  Matthew 6:1 says, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”  Charity or Almsgiving is a virtue we must cultivate.  However, how we cultivate it or how we practice it must be carefully considered. There are people practicing the virtue of giving, by which they commit a sin of hypocrisy.  Isn’t it terrible?  Likewise, we may sin against God while praying and fasting.
Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the potential dark side of virtues. They can be the allure of self-righteousness. The adherence to unyielding rules, demonstrations of hatred in the name of witness, and the subtle self-serving ends faith and virtue can lead to.  Jesus asked His followers to beware practicing their faith as a show.  If I go a bit further, I can say that Christian religion must be defined more than an assent to a set of beliefs.  It must be a life of Christ within us.  Wesley noted that the faith of many was no longer a life-giving grace but a deadly virtue.  Faith had become belief without showing the love of Christ moved to action.  Many of the religious leaders of Wesley’s time wouldn’t allow him to preach from their pulpits. 
Looking unto Christ turning away vices
It is the Lord’s desire for us to be like Him.  When Jesus walked across the pages of human history, people - astonished by what He did and what He said - exclaimed, “. . . Never man spake like this man!” (John 7:46b).  And it is appropriate to add, “Never has anyone lived like this Person!”  Jesus was, and is, the very Son of God with the power and the life to transform and empower our lives.  During His years in the flesh, Jesus called out His disciples and said, “Follow me.”  That call had specific and immediate content, and it had specific and immediate results.  Thus, those disciples left their nets and other business activities and literally followed Jesus.  They travelled with Him.  They listened to what He taught.  They watched what He did.  And they tried to do things the way Jesus Himself did them.  They were His students, His apprentices in the life of the Spirit.  Jesus, alive and among His people today, calls to us exactly as He did to those disciples so long ago, saying, “Follow me.”  Though we are following Him without physically touching Him or hearing His voice, the basic principle and pattern of following Him is the same.  We are purposed to be like Jesus.  Christlikeness is the ultimate end, not virtues themselves.  Charity giving, praying, or fasting is not the ultimate end, but Christ Himself.  When we finally do and say as the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be like Him.  Till we reach that goal, we will need to continue to grow in His grace and knowledge.
Jesus warned His disciples to be aware of themselves and their attitudes as well as false teachers and their destructive teachings.  While it is true that Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  He also asked them to live in faith as an expression of loving God and neighbour.  Right confession is important, but this confession must be followed by producing fruits.  One of the striking instructions of Jesus is found in Matthew 18:3, “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  Simple trust and obedience to the Lord with childlikeness will deliver us into the kingdom of God.  A further consideration comes from Luke 18:15-17, “And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”  This is fascinating on many levels:
(1) it overturns our sensibilities and the high value we place on maturity and adulthood.  We typically equate faith with understanding or learning, but Jesus associated little children with the kingdom of God;
(2) it reminds us that often we are like those “mature” disciples who see God’s work as reserved for older people; and
(3) finally, the teaching creates a stir because Jesus welcomes the many - even those who lack deeper understanding like little children - into the family of God.  We must be aware of our character and childlikeness by imitating Jesus. 
Your Pastor

More Lively Hope



- An Afternoon of Carols & Special Items: Please come and stay back for Afternoon Tea, and to help with fellowship with visitors and clean up.
- Kitchen renovations: Please do not enter kitchen area in Church Hall & stay away from hard waste in Rectory garden.
- Thank you to those who helped at Working Bee.
- Church Directory is being updated. Forms available at foyer. Church directory will only be distributed to those who have completed forms.
- Thanks to cheerful givers at last week’s offering to IBPFM. Please note that Christmas Day offerings will go to Voice of Martyrs.
- Flower Roster for 2018 is now being prepared.
- 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.
- Watchnight Service: please prepare testimonies to share.
- Kitchen Duty helpers - This week: Team C. Next week: Team A.


- Healing (post-surgery)
- Postnatal recovery
- Journey mercies
- Cambodia Missions in January.
A comprehensive prayer list is available at the Sanctuary foyer. Please take a copy for your personal or corporate prayer time.

Praise and Thanksgiving
- Sumptuous Seniors Fellowship lunch.
- Journey mercies



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14 Bedford Square, Colonel Light Gardens, South Australia 5041