Add virtue

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue . . .” (2 Peter 1:5 NKJV).

Virtue is difficult to define. If one thinks of it as a positive characteristic, desirable in individual personalities, he is forced to recognize that those vary from culture to culture, and from age to age. One society admires the accomplished thief, another honors a fierce and capable fighter, while others promote patience, peacefulness, and tolerance over more physical attributes.

In South Asia one of the most desirable traits is honor or respect. It is easier to be forgiven for stealing from someone than for insulting or dishonoring him. Given these disparate connotations of the word virtue, what exactly was Peter instructing us to grow towards?

Webster defines virtue as, among other meanings, “Conformity to a standard of right; a particular moral excellence (especially sexual purity); a beneficial quality or power of a thing.” Common to each of these is the idea of “goodness” and “purity.”

While I acknowledge that Peter’s meaning is much broader than this, I suggest that one way to read and understand our text is to simply “seek to be good.” We tend to define true Christianity in terms of articles of faith and basic religious practices. One is a Christian if he believes in God and Jesus his son and if he has confessed faith, repented of sin, and been baptized. Without suggesting that these are not important, let us also acknowledge that there is more to Christianity than a few doctrines and commands.

Someone has well said, “God does not care as much about what we do as he cares about what we are.” The Pharisees were meticulous in their efforts to obey every command of God ,as they understood them (Matthew 23:15, 23). Yet Jesus commanded his followers to be more righteous than the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). This was not a command to “do more” than them, but to “be more” – especially to be more complete as a righteous person (Matthew 5:48).

Paul elaborates beautifully on the acquisition of virtue (though he does not use that word) in his summary exhortation to the Philippians:

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

What we think about is what we will become, according to Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7:20-23.

“And he said, ‘What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.’”

Next to (or along with) whom we trust (Hebrews 11:6), who or what we are becoming is basic and central to our Christianity (see Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24). God’s holiness demands our holiness (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). As we strive to be pleasing to our heavenly Father, let us put on virtue and seek always to do and be good in all things.

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