Christian Virtues

Christian Virtues – cultivated through Fellowship, Giving, Fasting and prayer

Introduction

Martin was a homeless man who barely found enough work to survive. One day two young men he had never met before asked him if he needed a new outfit. “Yes please”, said the homeless man. They took him to a shop and bought him new clothes and new shoes. With tears of joy he said, “I’m so happy. I just can’t believe this is happening.” Next came a shower, a haircut and a delicious dinner free of charge. Later he was taken to the dentist who fitted his mouth with a new set of teeth. The homeless man was so grateful. His life had changed because someone had cared for him.
Our topic on Christian virtues can be illustrated by the story above. The man was changed because he put on new clothes. He ate the good food free of charge. His smile was radiant, because the missing teeth were replaced with new ones. Virtues are like those gifts. Christians receive virtues by God’s grace. They come from our Creator and therefore are timeless and cross-culturally applicable.

Virtues in a Christian Leader – A Must!

As Christian leaders we can thankfully leave behind our “filthy clothes” of a corrupt lifestyle and “put on” Christian virtues to be properly recognized as disciples of Jesus Christ. We have tasted that the Lord is good and that it is so much better to walk with Christ and according to his standards. By this, we are good examples in our society, so others will want to follow the Lord too (1?Cor 11:1).

A pastor once recognized the neighbour’s son watching him patiently as he was fixing his fence. The pastor asked him, “I guess you want to become a carpenter one day. “No” said the boy, “I just wanted to hear what comes out of the pastor’s mouth after hitting his thumb with the hammer.”


Albert Schweitzer once said: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” For this reason, Christian leaders need to have a desire to see godly virtues being lived out in their own life as well as in others. If you as a pastor grow spiritually, your congregation is more likely to grow as well. If you lack passion, don’t expect your followers to have a burning heart for the Lord either.
Virtues are good moral qualities in a person’s life, like honesty, courage, hard work, reliability and trustworthiness. Integrity is also an essential virtue in the life of a Christian leader. Discipline too is indispensable, for it is the consistent ability of a leader to say “No” to his or her appetites and to live in moderation. But what else does the Bible say about virtues? The Apostle Paul lists further virtues in Colossians 3:12-14, like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Above all love, which binds all together in perfect unity.

Virtues – given by God’s grace

By practicing Christian virtues we cannot earn God’s favour, nor can we become rich or successful. This is a false assumption of somebody who tries to earn salvation by works. Virtues are a normal product of our faith and an expression of our love for God. Consequently, virtues are not practiced deliberately; they rather come from an inner desire to honour God’s name. They are not so much specific deeds and outward actions, but tendencies that stem from who we are at the inner core of our self and our character, which is united with Christ. We confess with Paul that nothing good lives in our human nature (Ro 7:18) and apart from Jesus Christ we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). Virtues are gifts from God. Even the virtue of love, which is the real essence of God and the crown of all virtues, has been given to us by the Holy Spirit (Ro 5:5). Virtues are given to us by God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. In many ways, virtues are identical to the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Christian virtues, therefore, have the Father’s character as their source, Christ’s model as their example, and the Holy Spirit as their cause.

Virtues – developed through discipline and prayer

On the other hand, an easy going Christian might excuse his or her laziness with the fact that everything is given to us through grace and we cannot earn God’s favour anyway. This person doesn’t realise that God gives growth only to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 5:3-12 are also virtues). There is no automatism in spiritual growth. It is true: we cannot add anything to God’s grace, but we are responsible for how much of this grace is being expressed in our lives. The Apostle Paul realized that his ministry depended on personal discipline even to the point of being very tough on himself (1?Cor 9:27). He also showed discipline in that he prayed constantly, asking God for specific virtues (Col 1:9-14).

Result of virtues – Christ-likeness

Virtues are learnt in relationship with Christ and with others. God brings difficult circumstances in our lives, often through other people, because his goal is to make us become more like Christ (Ro 8:29). How sad and what a waste to go through a conflict and come out without learning and growing. Therefore, a good definition for Christian leadership is: Christian leaders have a desire to become like Christ, and to influence others to become like Christ.Christian virtues therefore are gifts from God that grow out of a disciplined life and result in Christ-likeness.
Together we will look at three Christian practices that need cultivation in a leader’s life, so that Christian virtues can grow.

Christian Fellowship

God has called us both into the body of Christ and into a set of relationships in the church in order to make us grow. Christian fellowship is not limited to worship service on Sunday mornings. It starts with an intimate relationship with our spouse when we are spiritually united in prayer. It continues in family devotions, learning Bible verses together, and enjoying each other’s presence in God’s creation. It is extended in mentoring relationships that foster discipleship training and is expressed when born again believers gather together to learn from each other. We are not alone on our way to heaven! Above all, Christian fellowship has its foundation in our union with Christ.

No man is an island

By their very nature, Christian virtues are relational; they cannot be learnt in a vacuum. We learn humility by serving others, patience by dealing with the weak, wisdom by sitting at others feet, courage by others’ bold testimonies, and compassion by helping the outcast.
Some Christians may avoid fellowship and listen to audio sermons or watch TV preachers at home. But that misses the point of Christian fellowship. Of course, it is ok to listen to inspiring messages on CD, but you can’t give your TV a hug, as Joel McCraw has suggested. Unfortunately such people miss out on the privilege and necessity of being nurtured in faith and growing spiritually.
People living in rural areas know that you can’t get a fire going with only one piece of fire wood. You need a few pieces in a heap, so the fire can develop enough heat to get your meal cooked. If you disassociate yourself from other believers, it won’t take long and your spiritual life will grow cold.
In Acts 2:42 we read that the early Christians devoted themselves to fellowship. They didn’t just have fellowship; they devoted themselves to it. They made fellowship a priority and it was the main reason for gathering together. Christians who are being persecuted know about the desire to meet with other believers to get strengthened in their faith.
Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The Hebrew writer brings it to the point: we need fellowship! But do we just come together to see each other, drink coffee and have a casual chat? Every member of a club can do that. What is the basis of our fellowship?

The basis of fellowship

Maybe you’ve had the privilege of travelling to another part of this world and meeting with fellow Christians. You are not related to these people, you’ve never seen them and you might not even understand their language. Yet, you sense a warm and close bond of friendship and fellowship with them. There is something that connects you two. What could that be?
The Greek word for fellowship “koinonia” means a partnership and mutual sharing to benefit those involved. Christian fellowship is unique because God has enabled it to all who are born of the Spirit and therefore have the same Father, no matter where they are from. This doesn’t refer to all church goers; it applies to born again believers only (see John 17:20-26).

Why fellowship?

Here are some reasons why we need fellowship with other Christians:

  1. To grow in faith. It is a give and take affair, and we learn from each other, especially with difficult people. As iron sharpens iron, we Christians sharpen one another’s faith and stir one another to exercise that faith in love and good works (Pr 27:17).
  2. To encourage one another (1?Thess 5:11). To share experiences and be strengthened by what others experience with Christ. By this we may imitate their faith and are warned not to repeat the mistakes of others.
  3. To carry the burdens of other Christians (Gal 6:2) and share their joys and sorrows. It’s easier to carry a load together. In fellowship we can pray for each other (1?Thess 5:25).
  4. To exercise love in unity as a testimony to the world (Jn 13:35). Our fellowship should never be excluding, but always have space for one more to join.

Giving

Throughout history mankind has recognized giving to the poor as a necessary virtue. However, giving has been mostly seen as a way to gain favour before God and man. In the middle ages, for instance, people gave great amounts of money and land to the church to gain approval before the clergy and secure their membership in church. Later the Roman Church became very rich by selling indulgences (assurance of having one’s sins forgiven). People were misled into giving huge amounts of money to pay for the lost souls of their relatives.
Even today Christians often have hidden motives when giving – they expect God to give to them in return. They think the more they give, the more they will receive. When this is the case, I only give because I expect God to answer in cash. Is this the right motive for giving? Isn’t this a form of bribery? Has God really promised to give us earthly riches in return for things we donate to his kingdom? Of course, God does bless us in return, but he is concerned about our motives and he must not necessarily reward us in cash. When we expect material blessings in return for our giving, or physical protection by the anointing or sprinkling of water, we will drift away from our faith in the living God. Such superstitious beliefs need to be done away with in the name of Jesus Christ.
Some church leaders think they are only on the receiving end and therefore don’t need to give. By doing this, they neglect being a good example to their followers. Didn’t the Levites also have to give a tithe of their gifts to the priests (Nu 18:25-28)? In the same way, pastors shouldn’t put pressure on church members, but take the lead in giving generously and looking to God to supply their needs.

Giving – expected by Christ

When preaching on the mountain, Jesus mentioned giving as a normal part of a disciple’s life. He said, “So when you give to the needy, …” and not “if you give” (Mt 6:2). Jesus therefore expects us to give. The Bible encourages us to give systematically, individually and according to our income (1?Cor 16:2). Not only the rich are to give, also the poor. We should give joyfully (2?Cor 9:7) and sacrificially (2?Cor 8:2) out of love for the Lord who gave everything he had, even his own life. This kind of giving needs to be done in secret. How often do we mention certain donors in order to give special recognition and honour to them? Jesus said, those who want to be seen and heard have already had their reward (Mt 6:4).

What can we give?

In the New Testament we don’t read much about tithing, but Jesus acknowledged it as something not to be neglected (Mt 23:23). Tithing must be a biblical principle since it was already practiced by both Abraham and Jacob who lived long before the law of tithing was given (Heb 7:2, Gen 28:22).
Giving to God, however, is not limited to finances only. Here are some possibilities of what we can give to the Lord:

  • We give ourselves to prayer (Acts 6:4).
  • We give our thanks to God (1?Thess 5:18).
  • We give our whole life to God (Ro 12:1).
  • We devote ourselves to reading Scripture, preaching and teaching (1?Tim 4:13).

A Christian worker in Africa was concerned about the children in his village who were going blind. This disease could be treated with medicine that cost only 50 cents. He prayed and asked God to send a rich person to give money for the medicine, but no-one ever came. As he kept praying, the Lord told him to provide the money himself. But with 6 children and a wife to take care of, he couldn’t see how to do this. He and his family prayed and decided that every month they would buy the medicine to help just one child. After seven years he had saved 84 children from going blind. And his family saw God meet all of their own needs.

 

The blessing of giving

Our attitude toward giving is very important. We should yearn for spiritual blessings, not necessarily material ones. And we should keep eternity in mind, for we are storing up treasures in heaven, that is where our heart also is (Mt 6:19-21). King David confessed at the end of his life, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Ps 37:25).
God also challenges us to test him in giving (Mal 3:10 and Lk 6:38). The Bible encourages us to work with our own hands so that we are able to give to the needy (Eph 4:28) and so that we will not be dependent on anybody (1?Thess 4:12). Finally, we are also to give legitimate taxes to the state (Ro 13:6-7).

Fasting

John Wesley said: “Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason, and others have utterly disregarded it.” To fast means to abstain from food – that which caused the fall of man. We fast from our physical desires in order to feast on God and satisfy our spiritual cravings in Him. Another form of fasting is when we withhold ourselves from things like coffee, sweets, TV or the internet. Our fasting cannot force God to become our servant and give us blessings. Fasting should be prompted by the Holy Spirit for spiritual purposes.

Fasting – expected by Christ but neglected by the church

Jesus continued his sermon on the mountain, giving fasting the same status as praying and giving (Mt 6:16-18). He also said that his followers would fast after his departure (Mk 2:20). To Jesus, fasting was a normal part of a disciple’s life.

I know of a church leader who fasts every Friday. During that time he prays earnestly for his children and his responsibilities in the church. Another good pastor friend fasts every Sunday morning before preaching. When his stomach growls he is reminded that he is even hungrier for God and to see the church revived.

 

Why fast?

Fasting humbles the soul before God and assists us in times of earnestly seeking God in prayer. It can also help us when dealing with demonic powers. Fasting without prayer only purges our body. So basically we fast to become more effective in life and ministry through earnestly seeking God in prayer. It is an outward expression of our inner dependency on God and our devotion to him.

Motives and suggestions when fasting

Some Christians put fasting away because others have done it with wrong motives or because it is too inconvenient to do. But fasting should become a normal and regular practice of our Christian walk.
Before fasting, we should check our motives whether they are spiritual or selfish. Fasting done before men is useless or even harmful in the eyes of God (Is 58:3-5 and Mt 6:17,18), whereas true fasting will have positive and practical effects (Is 58:6-8).
Here are some practical points to help us when fasting:

  1. Check your motives first.
  2. Drink a lot of liquids while fasting.
  3. Set your time limits.
  4. If you find yourself becoming ill, stop the fast.
  5. Have a reason for fasting and if possible, do it secretly.
  6. Make sure that you can spend some time alone, in prayer, while you are fasting.

Fasting by itself has no spiritual significance. When understood and practiced in combination with prayer and spiritual purposes, fasting can bless us tremendously. I hope you resolve today to find a time to humble yourself before God, to experience God, and to earnestly seek him for his sake.

Torsten Kugler