When Caution is a Vice

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.

14 comments on “When Caution is a Vice

  1. Steve,
    Unfortunately, there is soooo very little genuine expression of the gifts and functions you speak of happening in the Church today, I’m not sure we have any idea how that looks, to have a healthy, fully functioning expression of all the gifts. Frankly, having been exposed to so much abuse of the above gifts, I’d rather stick with the gatherings of folks who don’t operate in the “Charismatic” way. Although, deep inside I long for it the full expression to manifest.
    Would you please define what you mean by “progress” and “advance”. These words have become tainted by the Joyner/Wagner types that I start to get nauseated and nervous by there mention.

    • Hi Jeanne, wouldn’t it be a devilishly successful tragedy, if we let the adversary short circuit us from the genuine, rob us of what is ours, because of our past history of abuse with the counterfeit? The remedy for abuse is not disuse, but correct use.

      Progress and advance simply mean engagement in something other than ourselves with all our resources: time, money, energy. It means spiritual growth both individually and as a people. It means penetration of the gospel beyond my own spheres of comforts, my own friends, the “crowd I like.” It means existing to fulfill a purpose broader than my own comforts and ease. Progress means, taking a chance . . . risking . . .risking a bad meeting because of the potential for goodness . . .risking being misunderstood for the hope of being heard . . . risking living with less so someone else can have their needs met . . . risking taking a chance on the gifts of the Spirit, even in the face of the potential for abuse. Risking being rejected for speaking up when something is not right, and saying so publicly, regardless of who is involved . . . of “some reputation” or “no reputation” . . . Progress means the community actually gets to evaluate charismatic manifestation, just like the scripture says, and say something about it when it is nonsense.

      Progress means being serious about two things: discipleship individually and “mission” corporately. We have an obligation to the world as living sacrifices, that will not be fulfilled merely by “fellowship groups” that do nothing other than . . . fellowship. Progress and advance means engagement with my unbelieving neighbor or co-worker, caring about them, their pain, their burdens and bringing kingdom resource to their aid, my life a conduit, for their benefit. Progress and advance means consideration of the poor and the widow and the orphan. What are we doing with our money? Because we are free of the tithe to the institution, do we now give nothing? Or very little? That is not “progress or advance.”

      Progress means getting in over our heads . . . living a life in Christ that is not “tidily manageable.”It is about making decisions that are really based on God’s purposes through me, regardless of cost, rather than the pursuit of American cultural comforts with a little “Bible study and fellowship” thrown in on the side. It is a life of sacrifice . . . one to another . . . and to the world.

      These are just some of the things encapsulated in progress and advance.

      I recently was in a meeting where I experienced some of the most healthy manifestation of multiple charismatic gifts that I have been in, in a long, long, long, long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was in a meeting like that. It was baby stuff, but healthy baby stuff. No one was leading, just the Body, fully activated, without agenda. It was wonderful. It was a unique meeting, and it occurred in a Church of Christ meeting and building. No one could have predicted that!

      Bless you

  2. Thank you for a wonderful explaination. I agree that it is indeed a devilish trick to neuter the Body of it’s gifts for fear of abuse, producing a powerless, impotent Body.
    I honestly don’t know what is a real gift and what is a conterfeit one is. I’m not sure of all the abuse of seen, if I have ever seen the genuine. Even when I occasionaly speak in tongues, I wonder if it’s real.

    Admittedly, I fall short of the progress and advance you speak of so eloquently. Probably for fear of getting involved and burnt for the 1000th time or fear of being used or decieved AGAIN. Poor excuse, I know.
    Haven’t been able to find anything even close to the meeting you mentioned, even those “baby steps” would be welcome. We meet with some very loving folks, but “the gifts” are not welcome.
    Unfortunately, here in rural NC is filled with very “nice” religious folk who don’t welcome change in any form. “Bless their hearts”

    • Hi Jeanne, thanks for your candor . . . that is all any of us can do . . . admit it . . . “tell it like it is” before our Father without fear or condemnation. I understand. I am very much a “work in progress” on many of these things myself. We are what we are by the grace of God.

      I totally understand your “fellowship” dilemma. I have some interesting stories I could tell you some time about how in surprising ways, in unexpected venues, and in ways people could handle, how the “Spirit manifested” . . . in un-psychotic, unmanipulative, healthy ways. But I do agree with you . . . it’s very rare. That’s why I was blown away myself a couple of weeks ago . . . because the good stuff is so rare . . . sadly.

      I am reminded of a treasure hunter. Because of the conviction of the presence of treasure, he/she is willing to shovel mountains of dirt.

      Yes, for us to find the “real thing” is going to require shoveling a lot of manure. But when it is found, the value of the treasure makes the shoveling and the smell seem like nothing.

      The real expression is “out there.” Let’s shovel together. 🙂 Let’s be patient and long suffering with folks when they take baby steps that are perhaps less than ideal. that’s where responsible, healthy, relational leadership steps in . . . helping folks to realize their God given gifts and graces in healthy ways.

  3. Risk and reward…that’s what I hear. Love is not afraid. As for myself what I am hearing is that too often I am feint of heart when it comes responding to the Holy Spirit, Why? One word…fear! Fear of appearing foolish, fear of missing it or just messing up. Fear of ridicule, Fear of repeating a failed past “performance”.

    I often contemplate walking to the temple and at the gate is a lame man…but I choke off the words…”Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk!” But i say nothing. O how I would dishonor god if I spoke those words and the poor man was not healed.
    How tragic. How humiliating.

    The problem is once again the flesh! I,I,I,I…don’t want to appear stupid…don’t want to embarrass the Lord. Blah blah, blah, It’s really me I’m worried about!

    Once again the voice of my (earthly) father echoes in my head,,,”Nothing ventured nothing gained!”

    O how effectively and subtly the enemy comes with his fear, with his little accusations and what if’s. i want to shout, “The Lord rebuke you. Get thee behind me Satan.

    Thoughtful and thought provoking word, Stephen. Thanks

  4. I don’t want to take the tone that everyone else is the problem, this is very challenging even for someone with a pioneers heart like me and I realize I am the problem. I am thankful for the apostolic and prophetic graces to keep us on course. One thing that stood out to me when Jesus told Peter “get behind me satan” besides him not being overly “nice” was his statement following about the things that satan concerns himself with… “you savor the things of man and not God. satans landing zone in our life to keep us all off track is to get us caught up in the affairs of this life..not necessarily overt Sin but just day to day American cultural living. Lord help me/us

  5. Good morning Dr.Stephen

    Thank you for your love and concern for the Body of Christ, reflected through your teaching and admonition in your articles. They are so enriching and uplifting, challenging reader to seriously take inventory of one’s ministry and calling. Thank you for your generosity and hard work. May the Lord continue to use you to unfold His heartbeat and direction for His glory.

  6. Steve, This is the great challange I see in our time in history. The church cannot be what it always has been. We know that status Quo is death to the kingdom of God. The challange now is how do we help in the repair and “re-build” of what the church should be. A body of people more concerned about the outside world than the inside world. The inside world of the church is craziness. It drains the very life out of what is going great in a fellowship. Growth always comes out of “pain”. The problem is we don’t want the pain associated with the growth, because sometimes you have to uproot by the entire “root ball” in order to build and change things. That takes very secure leadership. You are very right in mentioning the financial part of it. It is what speaks the loudest(not neccesarily the best) and can in all honesty hold back what God might really want to do. Job security must take a backseat to real “Christianity”. A tough situation in 2011 American church life.
    Bless You

    • Hi Mick, you said it very well about job security taking a backseat to real Christianity . . . . yes, there are real and “costly” decisions to make if we are going to move past “what has always been.”

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