Our Good Crisis #6: Value or Virtue?

In Chapter 5 of Our Good Crisis, Dodson explores the concepts of value and virtue. I have to admit, I had never thought much about the difference. His words prompted my own search for meaning.

If you work in an organization, you most likely have spent some time either formulating, developing or training in identifying the company’s vision and mission. To write those statements, the company has to be clear about what they value.

My favorite grocery store has two values:

  • H-E-B was founded on the unwavering belief that each and every person counts.
  • What you do matters.

Our church lists eight values –

  • The Gospel
  • Expository Preaching
  • Worship
  • Praying Together
  • Biblical Community
  • Missional Living
  • The Local Church
  • Biblical Generosity

Values drive success, but virtues forge character.

Jonathan Dodson, Our Good Crisis

Values are popular in our culture. And they are not wrong. But they can mask issues relating to virtue.

What are virtues and how are they different from values?

To understand virtue, we start with God. He is our standard for goodness, moral perfection. “God has bestowed upon us, through his divine power, everything that we need for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue.” (2 Peter 1:3 NTE) God is holy, just, good, and He calls us to live that same standard when He says, “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16 NIV)

Virtues are character traits that enable us to contribute positively to society, to support human flourishing, and to walk justly with our God. Theological virtues might start with Paul’s exclamation, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love!” (1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1a).

Others might turn to the Apostle Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit for defining virtues. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 NET

Historically, Plato introduced four cardinal virtues – characteristics that are not dependent on religion but are philosophically accepted as moral standards. He taught that anyone, everyone could develop prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. Prudence is defined as the ability to reason rightly, to know the difference between right and wrong. Justice is understanding the rights of all, and ensuring that they are treated rightfully. Temperance, of course, is restraint, controlling our physical desires to live a moral, upright life. It can also be related to modesty, in physical attributes as well as in pride. Last the cardinal virtue of courage can be also called fortitude. With courage we overcome fear, identify what needs to be done to maintain justice, and gives us the strength to follow through. Obviously for the Christian, these cardinal virtues found in philosophy are also the work of the Spirit in our lives. (Richert, 2020)

As you might imagine, there are a wide variety of lists of virtues. Some say there are hundreds. There is a “virtues project” that identified 52 virtues; the organization is worldwide, exists across all cultures, and promotes the study of virtues to raise a gentler, kinder generation.

But let’s stick with just the basics, 3, 7, 10, 12 virtues – love, honesty, sexual morality, compassion, trust, kindness, faith, hope, charity, justice, responsibility and courage … these do forge character.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

2 Peter 1:5-8

What happens then, when we substitute the
idea of valuing something for virtue.

It can be a subtle difference. Here is one example: It’s common to hear in some circles, “We value transparency.” Until recently, I would have equated transparency with honesty. But I don’t any more. Interestingly you can value transparency without being honest.  You can be transparent about your dishonesty, about your deceitfulness, or lack of integrity. Transparency is the soft skill.  Honesty is about facts, truths.  Transparency is about your perception of those truths. So to hold to a value, doesn’t necessarily develop character.

More troublesome are examples where we say we value scripture but ignore the parts that we like to explain away. Or we say we value church but do not serve. Or we value holiness, but harbor secret sin. Or we value all people, but are not willing to serve the poor.

We “value” much but if we were to take stock
against Biblical virtues, how would our values hold up?

This has been convicting to me, maybe to you? What we value is derived from our core beliefs. The call today is to believe God. And quite possibly to examine the imbalances in our lives.

Conviction leads to repentance and joy. I am so thankful for the power of the Spirit to shine the light of scripture in our lives, and His invitation to be holy.

In wrapping up, I am reminded that Jesus said the greatest commandment is love. The Apostle Paul followed up with the greatest of the three theological virtues is love. What if we focused on the virtue of love this next week? Compare our values to God’s standard of love. How might that make a difference in our relationships?

Father, you do not convict without also inviting us to repentance, to restoration, to enjoying favor and fellowship with you. Would you search us, know us today, Lord? In what ways do our values not align with your desire for us to be holy? Guide us into truth. May you alone be glorified!

What are the many, varied ways you are called to love today?
How do your values align with Godly virtue?

So let our lips and lives express
The holy Gospel we profess;
So let our walks and virtues shine,
To prove the doctrine all divine.

Thus shall we best proclaim abroad
The honor of our Savior God;
When the salvation reigns within,
And grace subdues the power of sin.

Our flesh and sense must be denied;
Passion and envy, lust and pride;
While justice, temperance, truth and love
Our inward piety approve.

Religion bears our spirits up,
While we expect that blessed hope,
The bright appearance of the Lord,
And faith stands leaning on His Word.

That sacred stream, Thy holy Word,
That all our raging fear controls:
Sweet peace Thy promises afford,
And give new strength to fainting souls.

Isaac Watts

Dodson, J. K. (2020). Our good crisis: Overcoming moral chaos with the Beatitudes. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, an imprint of InterVarsity Press.

Richert, Scott P. (2020, August 28). What Are the 4 Cardinal Virtues? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/the-cardinal-virtues-542142

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