Virtues are good guideposts, but it’s wise to check all cultural and personal values with the word of God. His wisdom is trustworthy and sound, a constant and reliable filter for virtuous character development.
God created each of us uniquely in His image (Psalm 139:13-14). Some have a natural bent towards certain virtues, while other virtues need to be matured and monitored. For example, some people have more humble personalities, but a warped humility can lead to a crippling lack of confidence.
Some virtues aren’t even virtues at all. They’re actually vices – bad habits that typically don’t align with a high standard of morality. These evil practices aren’t always obvious and easy to avoid because our enemy is crafty and deceitful. One of his most effective tactics? Confusion. The following seven vices can be easily confused as virtues.
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“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Healthy competition honors Christ. By keeping our focus on Christ, we can be sure we aren’t idolizing anyone or anything more than Him. Hard work is essential for reaching the full potential of our talents and passions, but competitiveness which places our talents and passion before Christ is misplaced. Competition that stems from comparison, jealousy, and envy do not typically yield the love we’re called to express to people in our lives.
From sports heroes to innovative start-ups, far beyond the value of competitiveness are true virtues of sportsmanship, camaraderie, innovation, and hard work. It’s fun to compete, but it’s not a good driving factor of operation. Too much focus on avoiding and masking mistakes and missed opportunities can blind our empathy for and encouragement towards others seeking to overcome similar adversities.
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The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who life like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
Selfish ambition stems from fleshly desires, wrong motives to “earn” our faith or “out-do” each other. This trait is listed amongst other human vices in 2 Corinthians 12:20, Philippians 1:17 and Romans 2:8. Paul instructed the Philippians to “do nothing of selfish ambition” in Philippians 2:3, and James warns against this vice in James 3:14, 16. (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary, Ambition.) The same Greek word, “erithea,”(Strong’s 2052) is used in those Biblical passages. It is defined as a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit.
Every ambitious act is not rooted in selfishness. Paul says in Romans 15:20, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.”
Paul’s end goal was to honor God, not himself. The New American Standard Bible uses the English word “aspiration” instead of “ambition” in Romans 15:20: “And thus I aspired to preach the gospel…” Aspiration more accurately defines Paul’s aim to share the gospel of Christ. The Greek definition of aspiration is an earnest striving rooted in and motivated by honor and love. (Strongs 5389) One definition of aspiration simply read, “breathing in.” We’re called to share the Gospel as easily and automatically as we breathe. Not just by what we say, but how we live.
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“The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright will deliver them.” (Proverbs 12:6, NAS)
Outspokenness blurts without reserve. It’s blunt, abrupt, and opposite of the quiet humility and caution for our words that we are admonished to practice. A wise person realizes the power and effectiveness of fewer words spoken at a lower volume. There are some grave and important injustices we will be called to use our voices for in the name of Jesus.
“The words of the wicked ambush from the shadows, seeking blood, but the speech of the honest keeps them free.” (Proverbs 12:6, VOICE Paraphrase)
“Boldness is acting, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on an urgent conviction in the face of some threat,” John Piper said. “The three ingredients to Christian boldness: Spirit-empowered conviction, courage and urgency.”
Even when we are called to speak boldly for Christ, we are still held accountable to remain humble and truthful. Let’s make sure we’re honoring Him by getting a handle on our mouths.
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“…each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desires …” (James 1:14)
Motivations mislead us, because of the sinful …evil …nature we all default to. Our motivations cannot be trusted! They may only be a degree or two off, but if we continue to follow them we soon find ourselves far from obeying God. Productivity can morph into perfection. High expectations of others can lead to a lack of empathy.
Jesus is waiting for us to stop looking around, comparing notes, and follow Him. We’re not called to be motivated, we’re called to obey. Our obedience honors God. It can be ugly obedience. It doesn’t have to flesh out like a flashy athletic commercial. We can collapse at the line. All God asks for is obedience, and it’s by His strength that we obey. We know we’re living by obedience rather than motivation when our hard work meets complete dependence on God for the next step.
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“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed for their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:15-17)
The Bible instructs us against combativeness and hostility. Aggressiveness is an attempt to shortcut suffering and patience, and often stems from fear and self-righteousness. We are to wait on God, relying on the power of prayer and the pursuit of His wisdom to produce an appropriate platform in His time. Aggression will force issues and stir up a fight. Scripture clearly instructs us to avoid aggressiveness.
“Because he is the truth (John 14:6), Jesus always spoke honestly, never deceiving through passive -aggressive speech or other means. Jesus never tried to meet his own needs through words. Instead, he consistently served others through what he said,” Stephen Witmer said.
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“So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6 NLT)
Self-confidence can look like a virtue, but often it’s only a mask over arrogance, self-indulgence, self-assuredness, and entitlement.
The difference between self-confidence and godly confidence is in what (or on whom) we rely. Self-confident people rely on themselves, their arguments, their knowledge, and their capabilities. While those with godly confidence continually submit their arguments, knowledge, and capabilities to God in order to make sure that they are aligned with Biblical truth. Godly confidence is content and prepared for each day through prayer and application of Scripture.
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“The heart of a man plans his own way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
We mistake independence for freedom, but we were never meant to steer the ship. True freedom comes from humble dependence on God. Not laziness, but diligent work with the talents we’ve been given. True freedom is found in Jesus. When we turn our lives over to Him, we no longer have to be slaves to ourselves.
Many characteristics can be bent to fit vice or virtue. It’s more important to know where we stand Biblically in our faith than to worry too much over the vocabulary we use to describe them. Jesus holds the authority to judge. Our personal relationship with Him is first priority. He knows our hearts. When we are struggling with the definition of virtue and vice, we can confidently seek His wisdom to find the answers.
“Megs" writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. She stepped out of her comfort zone, and her Marketing career, to obey God’s call to stay home and be “Mom” in 2011. From that step of obedience her blog, Sunny&80, was born, a way to retain the funny everyday moments of motherhood. (https://sunnyand80.org) Meg is also a freelance writer and author of “Friends with Everyone.” She loves leading her Monday morning Bible study, being a dance mom, distance running and photography. Meg resides in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and Godlen-Doodle … all avid Cleveland Browns fans.
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