Just as in rearing a child one can be either too lenient or too strict, so every virtue has two kinds of corresponding vices (in downwards spiralling degrees). The prime object of this study is to point out the Royal Rule of Ethics (James 2. 8), which is fulfilled in loving the other as oneself.
The twelve virtues given previously come more or less in order of time and importance. As a child one is accustomed to eat and drink in healthy proportions (Temperance). One is encouraged to explore the world and made aware of the danger of cars and strangers (Courage). One is taught to carry out small tasks in the right way (Caution and Prudence). At school one is educated (Essential Knowledge). A youngster learns esthetics, that is acquires a taste for matching colors and shapes in clothing, furniture and so on (Art).
At an early age one also gathers a certain insight to distinguish between foolishness and seriousness (Wisdom). In games, stories and friendships one becomes aware of fairness (Justice). Sooner or later one begins realizing that actions are ethically motivated, either to play up oneself or to edify one another (Humility). And gradually one acquires a lifestyle of sharing (Generosity); or one falls into highrolling or avarice.
And last but not least come Faith, Hope, and Love ("Let the little children come unto Me!"). In our youth most of us come into contact with religious concepts. We hear something about God. In a lot of cases this is mainly a matter of the mind. People are persuaded of something or they are not, mentally that is. They may be atheists, deists or whatever. Among all those only the monotheists are philosophically correct. But even most of them are wrong. For it is not enough to just believe that God exists. Our hearts must enter into a living relationship with our Creator. We must have hope both for our earthly lives and for eternity.
But how can our hope be sure unless we have it from God Himself how to get to heaven? We must therefore study His Word. There He reveals all the important truths. One may call the Bible God's letter to us, in which He declares His Love. He tells us there that Christ offered Himself up for our sins. We cannot pay for them ourselves. For God is so holy that just--what is in our eyes--one little mistake implies the total rejection of His divine Person. That rejection culminated in the crucifixion.
In accepting Christ's sacrifice we take the most virtuous step. Conversion implies all virtues. It takes prudence, wisdom, justice and love to acknowledge that our heart's greatest sin is to be so proud so as to reject God. But yet He is our Creator and daily Benefactor.
The Human Constituents
Adam and Eve, before their fall, were completely innocent. They simply did not know what evil is. Their hearts did what is right instinctively. Their relation with God was natural, spontaneous and perfect. With us that cannot be the case. We have to learn through trial and error. James (ch.3. 2) says: "For we all stumble many times." And Peter exhorts us to add virtue to our faith (2 Pet.1. 5).
The question arises what is virtue. In 2 Peter 1. 3 and 1 Peter 2. 9 the word is used to denote God's power and perfections. In Philippians 4. 8 it denotes human power or excellence in ethical behavior. Hebrews 5. 14 says: "The solid food (as over against the pure breast milk of simple doctrine) belongs to the matured, who through habit have trained their faculties to distinguish between good and evil." A virtuous person is able to do just that.
To perceive the difference between truth and corruption in fine matters, in the grey areas so-called, is not easy. But we can follow guidelines. If you are rather safe than sorry you must pay great attention to all aspects of life. In case of the human being that means one must keep the body (and its five senses) and the mind, on the one hand; and the soul and the spirit, on the other hand: in exact equilibrium. To overaccentuate one side is to neglect the other one. Like symmetries God created both our material and immaterial parts. We must honor both and preserve a healthy balance. A weak person is feverishly drawn to one side. It is because he wants to idolize it.
The Bible, however, makes clear that we must love all parts of our being. "For nobody ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it . . .(Eph. 5. 29)." "Be renewed by the spirit of your mind (Eph. 4. 23)." "He that gets wisdom, loves his own soul (Prov. 19. 8)." ". . . he that controls his own spirit is better than he that takes a city (Prov. 16. 32)." "Preserve your heart more than anything that is to be guarded, for from it are the sources of life (Prov. 4. 23)." People have idolized, neglected, or despised any of these constituents of the human being. The point is to give them the right place. The above order ranks them in increasing importance.
The Spiritual Battle of the Mature Christian
Thus a maturing christian lands in the deadlock between dead orthodoxy and revolutionary progress, between dogmatic traditionalism and uprooting modernism. However a living faith is well rooted in God's eternal, unalterable principles, but also knows how to reach the heart of contemporary man. Peter (1 Pet. 3. 15) says that we must be ". . . prepared at all times to give a defense to anyone that asks you for an account concerning your hope."
Now you have christians that rain mainly fire and brimstone upon the world. They do not even reach the mind of the man in the street, let alone his heart. They are too ignorant to appreciate the concerns of their fellowmen. They sit on an island and are ignored. But you have also christians who understand the world so well that they lose sight of the essential message of Christ. They are good sympathizers, but not at all good soul winners. In the end both types lose out. In most cases, unfortunately, they do not supplement one another. They rather destroy each other.
A grave warning must be sounded here, though. Many have thought that they attained to a happy medium. But all they produced was a compromise between truth and dead orthodoxy on the one hand, or between truth and modernism on the other hand. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10. 32, 33: "Become unoffending to Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God; just as I also try to please ALL people in ALL things, not seeking my own advantage but that of the masses." And in 1 Corinthians 9. 22: "I have become ALL things for ALL people that by all means I might save some." This can only be done if one has a great understanding of the truth. Else one is bound to please only one side.
The Christian, then, faces a never ending battle. The danger therefore is to grow lax or rigid, to fall into a kind of legalism of countless thou-shalt-nots, under the pretense of faithfulness, or to become weak under the cloak of broadmindedness.
The End of the Matter is to Persevere in Love for Christ and one's Fellowman
The end of the matter is that ". . . He must always increase, but I must always decrease (John 3. 30)." Our hearts, which love to play God, must learn humbleness and Christ's Person must be valued more and more. He is the Savior and perfect human example, both fully God and man in one person. Keep studying Him. Keep on listening to Him and you will grow along as you discover new things!
If your interest has been aroused still more, click here to study a bit of theory in ethical theology .