In his chapter entitled, “God our Vision, Culture our Context” from his recent book: God in the Whirlwind, David Wells points out the value and the fragility of our virtue. Wells points out that in a free society, not everything can be controlled - least of which is not personal morality. In fact, we live in America with a great deal of trust in our personal virtues and in the virtues of others. We criminalize certain moral behaviors but not others. Wells writes:
“Most lying, for example, is not illegal but it is always unethical. Our criminal and civil laws can control only so much of our behavior. It is virtue that does the rest.” (David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind, How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World, (Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2012) 29. [Italics: Mine])
In other words, virtue is a valuable and fragile thing. The Bible calls us to pursue virtue over many other things. In fact, when Scripture points our ambitions in a certain direction, it’s almost never points us towards temporal, materialistic, and fleeting things (2 Cor. 16.18; Heb. 11.24-26). It seems to be mostly spiritual things, eternal things, and that which promotes our personal character:
Matthew 6:33 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
John 6:27 27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”
Philippians 4:8 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
2 Peter 1:5–8 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The list literally goes on and on. We should appreciate the sheer wisdom of God in steering our ever-wandering affections and often misguided priorities in the right direction. The call to pursue virtue will never lose value, it will never become outdated, it will never slip into irrelevance; it will always hold its value (1 Tim. 4.8). Scripture’s teaching on virtue is a great indictment on the church. If we really believe in what God’s word teaches regarding the value of virtue we would orient our lives around always trying to obtain as much of it as possible (Gal. 5.23). We acquire things for ourselves, cell phones, cars, new shoes, big screen televisions; all in the lite-hearted name of “spoiling ourselves.” But if we truly loved ourselves, wanted to be good to ourselves or better ourselves we would not pursue the latest technology we would, above all else, acquire the virtue of wisdom:
Proverbs 4:7 7 “The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.
Proverbs 16:16 16 How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.
Proverbs 19:8 8 He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good.
Proverbs 23:23 23 Buy truth, and do not sell it, Get wisdom and instruction and understanding.
It may help magnify the potency of these proverbs is we bear in mind that they were written by a man who spent his life pursuing all sorts of temporal things. Bear in mind also that Solomon was a king and kings do not pursue cheap knock offs, he was always in pursuit of the “good stuff” no doubt. Yet, here Solomon too points us to the value of pursuing virtue. Virtue cannot be worn around your neck, you cannot drive virtue down the street for all to see; virtue begins in the invisible echo-chamber of the heart. This should not surprise us however, for God does not see as man sees (Is. 55.8-9). Man looks at the commercials, God looks at our lusts, man looks at the advertising, God looks at our greed, man looks at vanity, God sees our vain-glory. The truth is, pursuing virtue will protect us from vanity and the many perilous paths that may lead to (1 Tim. 6.10). Regardless of what we wear e.g. designer brands or not, it is our virtue that gives us our reputation. What good is it if a person is wealthy but is not generous, what good is it if a person is beautiful but has no inward qualities, and what do we gain if we spend our lives pursuing temporal things without increasing in the knowledge of God? Finally, the value of pursuing virtue can be seen by the fact that it makes us more like God. We are most like the image of our Creator when we learn to have eyes for the unseen:
1 Samuel 16:7 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”