As the word "unreasonable" is open to misunderstanding, the matter may be more accurately put by saying that each one of these Christian or mystical virtues involves a paradox in its own nature, and that this is not true of any of of the typically pagan or rationalist virtues. Justice consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man and giving it to him. Temperance consists in finding out the proper limit of a particular indulgence and adhering to that. But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.
G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, Heretics, Chapter Twelve, Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson, (Barnes & Noble Inc., 2007, p. 83).
Are these virtues indeed paradoxical? How do we develop them?
How do we really change? Whether it
is a New Year’s resolution or some other commitment, how do we make it
something that does not just vanish right after it is made, another casualty to
our attempts at self-improvement? We need the power of God and we need
discipline, not just one but both. Our attempts to change based on our own will
power are feeble and generally fail. But God generally does not change us
automatically, but puts us through a process where we have to respond step by
step to His working in us.
Now God is at work in all those who
are genuine Christians (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10),
but we are called to respond to that work (Galatians 5:16; Colossians 2:6,7;
Ephesians 5:18). We do this by trusting in God’s power and not our own
(Zechariah 4:6; Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6). There are also things that
feed His working in us: study of the Word (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 5:11-14; 1
Peter 2:1,2), prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6,7), and
the fellowship of other believers (Hebrews 10:24,25; Ephesians 4:15,16;
Proverbs 27:17). Now these things can come back again to discipline, but
sometimes we need to start with the disciplines that feed the soul before we go
on to exercise discipline in other areas. But it makes a difference what our
attitude is here. If we see these things merely as religious duties, they can
easily become tedious and of little help to us. But if we recognize we need
these things to build ourselves up to obey God, it gives us a different
Our response needs to be motivated
by our love for God (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Titus 2:11-14) based
on what He has done for us (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16-18; 1 Peter 2:24,25). Also,
it is important to understand from the outset who we belong to and to respond
based on that (1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 12:1,2; Matthew 16:24,25). C. S.
Lewis says there are three types of people in the world. There are those who
ignore God and do what they want to. There are those who try to do what is
right, but treat God like the tax collector and try to give Him as little as
possible so they will have something left for themselves. Then there are those
who give everything to God and allow Him to do what He wants with them. Given
this, before we proceed we need to ask whether the changes we want to make are
changes God wants us to make. God is not our servant who we use to accomplish
our purposes. Then we need to persevere in the process of following after what
God wants to do in our lives (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy
4:7,8). Even when we stumble and fail, we need to trust God to pick us up again
and put us back on the path. For only then will we truly change.
There are some sins that seem so innocent, but really are
not. Christians have lists of the big sins, the ones that you better not be
caught doing. But gossip is one that can slide in under the rug. After all,
there are so many magazines in the supermarket devoted mainly to gossip. We can
have this curiosity about what is going on in other people’s lives. And this is
something that it is very easy to slip into. We can use various excuses. We are
just sharing prayer requests or expressing concern, and it can become an excuse
to gossip. But what does God really think of this?
Gossip is something that stirs up strife and dissension
(Proverbs 16:28; 26:20). And stirring up strife and dissension is one of the
things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19; 20:3; 26:17). We pass something along, and
it results in alienating people from one another and ends up in fights and
divisions. And this can happen even if it was not our intent. We say something
to pass along a good story or to satisfy people’s curiosity, and it ends up
going to someone who is hurt or angered by it. It also can have a negative
effect on us (Proverbs 18:8; 26:22). At best, it can give us a negative outlook
on life. At worst, we can become hurt or angry, possibly over something that is
not even true or is blown out of proportion. And if we find that someone is
prone to gossip, we find we cannot tell them anything for fear they will spread
it all over (Proverbs 11:13; 20:19). And we need to be able to trust each
other. How can we encourage one another if we do not to dare to admit anything
to each other forfear it will be passed
on (James 5:16; Hebrews 10:24,25; Galatians 6:2)?
Often, what is passed on is false and a lie (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs
10:18; 12:19-22), or at the very least it is one-sided (Proverbs 18:17; 25:8-10).
Even if what is being said is true, that is not the way to deal with it. There
is a point where love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8; Proverbs 10:12).
But if there is something that needs to be corrected, it should be done by
confronting the person directly (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; Jude 22,23). However,
spreading things around to other people can end up ruining the reputation of a
person , often a person who does not deserve it. Even if a person is genuinely
guilty, it can be a roadblock to repentance and reconciliation.
Now God forgives sin (1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13; Romans
8:33,34). And we need to turn to Him for power to overcome our sinful tendencies
(2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 5:16; Philippians 2:13). But we need to
recognize gossip as not just a minor peccadillo, but a serious sin that we need
to deal with.
God calls for us to help those who are poor, oppressed, or
in need (James 1:27; Deuteronomy 15:11; Proverbs 22:22,23). This is a clear and
basic Christian duty. But it becomes more complicated when it comes to dealing
with those in need in other parts of the world. It is hard for us in the United
States to even imagine the kinds of circumstances in which people in otherparts of the world are forced to live. It is
also easy to be so overwhelmed by the need that we do nothing. And It is easy to be so overwhelmed by guilt that
we do nothing. In my opinion, major guilt trips are not at all helpful. We end
up beating ourselves over the head and becoming depressed, but at the end of
the day nothing really changes. It is better to calm down and ask what thing,
even if it is a measured and perhaps inadequate thing, can I do to help? Is
there some luxury I can forego or something I can give up to help people in
other places obtain the necessities of life?
But the need is so great we can ask if we are doing any
good. We are not God and cannot take the burden of the world on our shoulders.
But if we do something to help just one person, we have helped that person.
When Paul took his offering for the saints in Jerusalem, he told them to lay
aside what God had put on their hearts (2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:5-11; 1
Corinthians 16:2). Now it is obvious he is urging them to generosity, even
advocating an idea of bringing about some degree of equality. But he wants the
giving to be voluntary and even cheerful. There is no specific amount given.
Merely that they are to give themselves to God first and follow what He lays on
their hearts. There is no idea that they can solve all the problems, merely
that they should contribute to the solution. The giving seems to be as much for
the spiritual benefit of those who give as the material benefit of those who
But we may ask, how much is enough? I do not know the answer
to that. But I think it is more important to start by doing something. I do not
think we are required to live in cardboard houses because people do in other
parts of the world. But sometimes asking how much is enough can be a way of
drawing some kind of limit so we do not have to consider doing anything
further. The example here is Jesus, who gave His life that we might live (2
Corinthians 8:9). I do not believe that God calls all of us in all cases to
give to this degree. We do not have the ability. But it is the standard. And I
do know we need to be open to what God wants us to do.