Any virtue can become a vice when not animated from Calvary and administered by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is just that: of the SPIRIT. The fruit is not merely amplified and highly refined human personality attributes. “Very nice person” is not the tenth fruit of the Spirit. Jesus was decidedly not “nice.” Nice people do not get crucified. Jesus was full of the Spirit and the virtues of shepherd and prophet in Him were not in conflict. Both these qualities are to be reflected in His Body, the Church.
The virtues in our faith are characterized by great tension. For example, worship without service is self-deluding, intoxicating, religious narcissism. Service without worship is barren, striving, superficial, religious altruism: the overflow of the anxious Adamic soul.
Our faith is both a rest and a race.[i] Without the Spirit, rest becomes passivity and the race becomes striving. Regrettably, there are individuals and groups that get a glimmer of one or the other of these legitimate virtues, build an identity around them, and engage in fractious and futile infighting. Rather than seeing each other as God-ordained complementary necessities making a whole together, the others are viewed as being of inadequate revelation, in error, in need of remediation, or worse . . . enemies. “Be more like us and you will really be on the “ins” with God.” It’s common and tragic.
Without the Spirit’s ministry all virtues will degrade. Honesty becomes brutality, frugality becomes miserly, kindness becomes sentimentality, gentleness becomes timidity, courage becomes cheeky audacity, and so on. The virtues of wisdom, patience, and caution easily degenerate into vices, and when they do, the community of faith stagnates.
Elton Trueblood phrased it this way:
One of the most harmful forces in the spiritual life may be the counsel of prudence [caution, care, fear of making a mistake]. Whenever any exciting venture is proposed, there are always some to advise caution. The giving of cautious advice is the easiest and cheapest way of achieving a reputation for wisdom, because anyone can qualify.[ii]
There are times when patience becomes a positive vice, closely associated with cowardice.[iii]
A healthy body requires requires functionality of all its parts. God’s gracious provision within His body for avoiding community stagnation is the prophetic and apostolic ministries. In using these terms, I am not referring to the manipulative psychic prognosticating and the authority/honor/loyalty-intoxicated rubbish littering the contemporary landscape. I mean the real ministries characterized by Calvary love, power, service, and insignificance.
Among other virtues, the prophetic and apostolic graces provide Spirit-wrought energy for progress, change, challenge, risk, and adventure. Without them, the community will inevitably settle for the virtues of nurture, care, and relational fellowship at the expense of discipline, sacrifice, and mission. Nurture and care will become dominantly detrimental and the grace gifts and ministries reflecting these virtues will become very unhealthy in their expression.
Gentle shepherding is not the totality of the leadership motif presented in either the life of Jesus or the full testimony of the New Testament. The realization of God’s purpose requires more than gentleness. It requires courage also.
Progress (in any human endeavor not just the kingdom) will upset someone, no matter how sensitively it is pursued and administered. The social scientists tell us that 66% of humanity instinctively dislikes and resists change from within their personality configuration.[iv] Add the tendency toward entrenchment in “religious” circles, throw in a pinch of devilish fear, a dash of leadership control and voila, we have a first-class stronghold of stagnation. It’s not possible to progress without upsetting someone.
One reason among many that the legitimate expressions of apostolic and prophetic ministries are either denied or resisted is because their functional presence will remove strongholds and upset people. Upset people leave, taking their money with them. Need I say more? The uncomfortable dots are easily connected.
The prophetic and apostolic ministries help maintain spiritual momentum. Without them, the community will degenerate into an assembly of nice people, trying to be nicer, enjoying each other’s company, with just enough sporadic acknowledgment of missions to soothe the conscience. God gave a diversity of gifts and ministries for a reason: they are all needed. Let’s not excise some gifts through unbelief, fear, or reaction to past abuse, and over-emphasize others because they are somehow perceived to be “safer.”
It’s irrational for us to have New Testament expectations, if our values and methods are not the same as the New Testament apostles. The expression of God’s kingdom that many of us hope to see in our lifetimes will not occur within the margins of American (Western) cultural value systems of success and social propriety.
Progress and advance require more than prescribed caution. In a season of realizing inheritance, Joshua was exhorted to be strong and courageous, not cautious and prudent.[v] The first evidence recorded in the New Testament of being filled with God’s Spirit is boldness/courage, not decorum and sensitivity.[vi] If caution were an ultimate kingdom virtue, Abraham would never have left Ur. Do not sacrifice the vitality of faith on the altar of prudence and caution. It is simply not the season for it. Let the Spirit marry wisdom and faith. He is the only One who can do it.
[i] Hebrews 4:9-11.
[ii] Trueblood, Elton. Alternative to Futility. New York: Harper. 1948, 106.
[iii] Ibid. 107.
[iv] DiSC personality profile analysis.
[v] Joshua 1:6.
[vi] Acts 2.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission to copy, forward, or distribute this article is granted as long as this copyright byline is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.