“Virtue” Is Not A Dirty Word

“Virtue” Is Not A Dirty Word

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

sunset and sweetie

Neal Pollard

Did you know that the term “virtue signaling” is now in the dictionary. An expression that has been used a lot in the wake of the pandemic and social unrest of last year and into this year, it means to “publicly express opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue” (Apple Dictionary, 2.3.0, 2005-2020). “Virtue signaling” is typically used in a derogatory manner. It is felt to be synonymous with jumping on the bandwagon of a popular cause or moral grandstanding, and is considered by those diagnosing a “virtue signaler” as one trying to win praise or acknowledgment from the likeminded for showing support for a social or political cause or to reprimand and rebuke those who feel or behave differently (dictionary.com). The disdain for this practice often arises from the apparent motives of the signaler, wanting to seem more caring, more righteous, or better than others on a given issue. Cancel culture and “wokeism” are often the more virulent strains of this social malady.

Jesus had a low threshold of tolerance for the ancient equivalent of the virtue signaler. Especially in Matthew 23, Jesus calls it out. “They say things and do not do them…” (3-4). How often have we seen people being hypocritical or inconsistent in matters they call out others on?  “They do all their deeds to be noticed by men” (5). Only God knows a person’s heart, but is that ever at play in this matter? “They love the places of honor…” (6). Especially may this be evidenced through social media where one may revel in the admiration or recognition of others for occupying the high ground by their signaling. The silent majority may be intimidated by virtue signals, but they are not inherently improved by them.

Depending on your point of view, you may well think that “virtue signaling” is a dirty phrase, that is bespeaks hypocrisy, political correctness, or the like. But, may we never tar the word “virtue” with the same brush. In a list of characteristics better known as the “Christian Virtues” (2 Pet. 1:5-7), Peter urges adding “moral excellence” or “virtue” to our faith. The word refers to “consummate ‘excellence’ or ‘merit’ within a social context” (BDAG, 130). While the Stoics and writers like Homer reserved it for “military valor or exploits, but also of distinction for other personal qualities and associated performance that enhance the common interest” (ibid.), inspired writers coopted the term to mean “uncommon character worthy of praise” (ibid.). While the word is only found a handful of times and more often refers to God (2 Pet. 1:3 and 1 Pet. 2:9), it should describe us, too. If we are praised for demonstrating virtuous qualities, we are to double down on filling our hearts with true righteousness and virtue (Phil. 4:8). 

Virtue, as God defines it and guides us to genuinely show it, will encourage others to look at God, glorify Him, and seek to follow Him. Humble, genuine godliness, seeking no attention and wanting no praise, is a powerful persuader. In fact, it’s central to how God wins the hearts of others (cf. Mat. 5:14-16). Let’s stay out of the virtue signaling business, but let us strive for truly virtuous living! God is counting on us to reflect His moral excellence to those foundering and floundering in unrighteousness. 

Paper straws: Environmental friendliness or an attempt to drive us crazy?
PREACHERS AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM

PREACHERS AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Neal Pollard

Being patriotic and having a political heritage like we do in this country, we may have strong, personal convictions in the realm of politics. Engaging in the political process, from volunteering to voting to political meetings, can help us not only be a positive agent of change but also salt and light before the world. But nothing can have a quicker negative impact on ministry than a “stumping sermonizer” or “campaigning church man.” I’ve known preachers who seem CONSUMED with politics and can hardly speak without ranting about it.  It just comes out! Beware that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of what’s in the heart (Mat. 12:34). Some preachers betray that they’re dwelling more on things below than things above (Col. 3:1-2).

The church began in the midst of political rottenness and corruption. Tacitus wrote of Augustus Caesar that he “seduced the army with bonuses, and his cheap food policy was successful bait for civilians. Indeed, he attracted everybody’s goodwill by the enjoyable gift of peace. Then he gradually pushed ahead and absorbed the functions of the senate, the officials, and even the law. Opposition did not exist. War or judicial murder had disposed of all men of spirit. Upper-class survivors found that slavish obedience was the way to succeed, both politically and financially” (https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~wstevens/history331texts/augtotib.html). Of course, certain Jews did consume themselves with political interest and revolted against Rome—A venture that ended badly at Jerusalem and Masada. Read Tamarin’s classic book, Revolt In Judea, if you want the horrible details.  Politicians of the first century were guilty of wanton sexual immorality, including homosexuality and adultery; They practiced infanticide and whet their appetites for death and violence in their stadiums and arenas.  Where is Peter’s or Paul’s diatribe in scripture against vices and corruptions that sound a lot like our day? Where are the early Christians with their pickets and protests against the government?  Instead, “They went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4)!

Political activism will hurt our efforts to effectively evangelize. How tragic to lose a soul trying to win a political argument!  Political activism, in preachers, can negatively impact what the church has paid them to do. They certainly didn’t pay him to spend all day on social media trolling stories or writing quips. They didn’t hire him to go to political rallies, being more wrapped up in affairs of state than affairs of heaven.

Paul was actually able to have an audience with the most prominent politicians of his day. Was he interested in discussing national or imperial policy with them?  Before Felix and Agrippa, he preached righteousness, temperance and judgment to come.  In Acts 27, he says God appointed him to speak before Caesar.  What could happen among us if more were devoted to spiritual revival than political reform?