Monday, October 22, 2007

The building blocks of Christian character

We follow on from where we left off in the last post, recommencing in 2 Peter 1:5-9

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make [you that ye shall] neither [be] barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

So we are instructed to build up our Christian character with these building blocks. If it were a tower it would look something like this:










Faith is one of the basic units of the Christian faith (see I played righ into that trap didn't I?).
Without faith it is impossible to please God, as we are told in Hebrews. "For he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Heb 11:6).
From there we are exhorted to produce virtue. As I mentioned at the foot of my previous post, virtue (arete) is quite a fascinating concept in itself. Most of us would know that it has certain connotations of strength of character and moral or ethical quality. Basically, I believe this to be some good advice to work on our character and personal conduct in the stage of personal spiritual growth directly following our acceptance of the faith.
Following faith and virtue, we are to add knowledge (gnosis). Knowledge here is not to be thought of in terms of academic prestige, but a dedication to learning the things of God. In Greek, gnosis very often has religious connotations and can refer to mystic and mysterious knowledge. In the case of Christianity, the secret knowledge is the mystery of Christ and the spiritual truths that the Holy Spirit reveals through the Scriptures to the believer.

So once a person has faith in Christ, a testimony through their character and a knowledge of the things of God, they are to pursue temperance. Temperance is the long-lost ability to remain calm and deal with situations in a restrained and sensible way. It is also referred to in the Bible as self-control. This self-mastery is key to Christian maturity, as it prevents one from falling into situations that compromise the virtue that has already been mentioned.

Closely related to this is the next building block of patience (hypomone). Thayer's Lexicon describes it as "the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings." Temperance prevents a person from being moved to ungodliness by emotions and circumstances, while this hypomone patience keeps one's faith and virtue alive despite great adversity or long testing.

And so, to patience we add godliness - eusebeia. How does godliness fit in with the previous building blocks? Well we can see that the foundations have been laid through faith, virtue and knowledge and secured through temperance and patience. I believe that godliness also has something of a securing role, while also sharing in the crowning glory of brotherly kindness and charity. Godliness solidifies the Christian character, by seeking out the correct attitude and conduct towards God and also points towards the common theme of the next two building blocks: relationships.

Brotherly kindness (philadelphia), adds to godliness by showing piety towards God through thoughtful, caring and gentle dealings with one's Christian brethren. It is crucial in the individual's role in shaping and blessing the community of believers and providing a testimony to the outside world.

Finally, charity (agape) the ultimate form of love crowns the character of a mature Christian. It is the love that speaks volumes through action and devotion and the great gift that we yearn to offer to the LORD our God. With perfect love, all the other traits are also perfected and so a Christian should spend their whole life seeking to magnify agape-love through their daily actions.

Stay tuned for the final installment of the introductory series on godliness, coming soon!

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