Jesus Was A Virtue Ethicist

Which is better? Simple compliance or wanting to do something based on your character? 

Christianity is believed to be just a bunch of rules. I think Jesus takes it deeper, to the level of virtue ethics. 

The prophets foretold a new covenant where instead of following an outside law, that law is internalized inside you by God. He turns our bent towards evil to a tendency towards good. (1)

Jesus gives examples of this in the Sermon on the Mount. 

An easy one, don’t murder anyone—one of the big ten. However, Jesus says don’t even be mad enough to want someone dead. It’s not so easy now. By this standard, I’m a murderer. 

Tim Keller’s Gospel in Life podcast is going through the passage and he says if you even dismiss someone, it’s the same as killing them. You have to listen to it for context.

Our actions have to line up with our underlying intent. Begrudging obedience isn’t obedience. It’s compliance to keep the rules and/or peace. 

James, whose book in the Bible draws heavily from the Sermon on the Mount, says, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (2)

Like the commandment to not commit adultery. Even the desire to have sex with someone other than your spouse is a sin. Intent is once again as bad as action. Fantasizing is in view here, not our natural interest in the other sex. 

Is God a buzzkill?

No, what God forbids is destructive outside his boundaries. We should do everything we can to remove the temptation or our triggers. 

Keeping in line with virtue ethics, people swear oaths or vows on something other than their own honesty. I’m immediately skeptical if someone says “I swear” or “I promise.” 

There’s a movie called Open Range, where one character said if you pay attention, a person will tell you their bad intentions. Why are they promising not to do that? 

They just revealed their evil intentions. 

Jesus says our “yes” and “no” are enough. If we’re people of integrity, who are always honest and follow through, then people will know when we say something, it will happen. 

Like a meme my Uncle Mike posted that said, “I don’t trust words. I even question actions. But I never doubt patterns.”

Do your patterns say you can be trusted? 

Theologically, in the passage, our word is all we have. We control nothing else but our actions. 

Intent and motives are two sides of the same coin. Later in the Sermon, Jesus spoke about how the Pharisees made a show of how religious they were. It became a lesson in motives. were they trying to please and impress men or God? (3)

Doing good for appearances’ sake gains no reward from God. An Instagram post of you taking a selfie with the homeless man you gave a sandwich to so you can virtue signal and get likes is a good thing on the surface. 

The motive of “look at me being a good person” isn’t the right one. What should our reasons be?

Pure, for the pleasure of it and as a response to God’s love. In fact, try to do your good deeds in secret, with no thought of reward. 

Christ-followers aren’t supposed to say look at me; we’re to say look at our King, our God. Do things to make God look good; take no credit. “This is from God, He told me to do this.”

Ask yourself, would I still do this if no one was watching?

(1) Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27

(2) James 1:14-15

(3) Galatians 1:10

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