How Should a Christian Behave?
Writers down through the ages have spoken about the “Cardinal Virtues”. By ‘cardinal virtues’ we mean ‘basic good behaviors. Good behaviors that all civilized people recognize and expect from one another. Good societies cannot function well without good people. And by calling a society “good” that doesn’t mean it has to be wealthy or advanced technologically. But it needs to have cardinal virtues!
The four “virtues” or “basic good behaviors” are (1) Prudence, (2) Temperance, (3) Justice and (4) Fortitude. Prudence means “practical common sense”. Or taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Scripture tells us to be “as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Much is said in the Bible about the ‘fool’ or the person who lacks ‘prudence’ or common sense. God promises to give us wisdom and common sense if we ask Him for it. (James 1:5) And being a Christian is an education in itself.
(2) Temperance, our second virtue, doesn’t only refer to over indulging in drinking or drugging. But we are to be “temperate” in all things. In other words, we are to go the right length and no further. Moderation is the key. God wants first place in our lives. And everything else will be given to you. (Matthew 6:33) (Exodus 20:3) (3) Justice, our third virtue, means fairness – honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, doing what is right and good.
And (4) Fortitude, our fourth virtue, means ‘guts’ or courage. It means the kind of courage that faces danger and the kind of courage that sticks with it through trouble and pain. You cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without having courage or guts. A person who keeps trying to do just actions in the end gets a certain quality of character. There is a right and a wrong in this earth and the Christian is called to try to follow the right.
Christianity does not profess to have a detailed political program. That is not how Christianity works. The Christian faith is meant for all people at all times and under various political systems. And Christianity was never meant to supersede ordinary human politics or arts and sciences, but it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs and will give them all new life.
The New Testament does give us a pretty clear idea of what a Christian society should be like. Scripture tells us what is right and wrong, and how we are to behave ourselves. And it promises us help from God in doing the right thing.
In Scripture the “Christian” society is a place where everyone who is able does work so that he or she can produce something good for others in the society. If a person refuses to work, then he is not to be given a free ride. Also. the Christian society is a cheerful society, full of singing and rejoicing and praising God because we are invited to walk by faith in God who will be with us and guide our steps and answer our prayers and eventually in Christ give us the victory!
Courtesy is important in a Christian society and being a ‘busybody’ is a sin. Also, a Christian is to treat others as he or she would like to be treated. And to love and have respect for one another. Forgive one another always. All we Christians have departed from that total plan in different ways. But Christ, the good Shepherd, searches for us and brings us back to the fold.
Charity – giving to the poor – is an essential part of Christian morality. One of the reasons the New Testament gives as a reason we should work is that the worker may have something to give to those in need. (Ephesians 4:28) Christ will one day separate the sheep from the goats. And the sheep who go to heaven are those who gave to the needy and the goats are the ones who didn’t help the needy and they go down below! (Matthew 25:35-45) Yes, charity – giving to the needy – is a big part of Christian morality indeed!
A Christian is commanded in Scripture not to judge others. We humans don’t see the whole picture. We only see the results of a person’s choices – the outward appearances. But God, sees the whole picture. He sees our talents and strengths, our social capital – our genes or what we inherited from our family and how we were nurtured and our happy or neurotic personality.
And also, He sees the challenges we must overcome. And our troubles, our traumas and any mental illnesses, fears, health issues and phobias, our brokenness. He sees each person’s heart. Let’s take two people who are guilty of the same crime and get a imperfect and vague idea of how God is able to know and see and judge the interior motives and struggles of these two people. And how He can understand the whole picture and can judge with true mercy and justice.
Our first person – a young woman - has committed a crime. This young woman was raised and surrounded by a loving God-fearing family who consistently taught her to do good. She always had enough to eat and a warm home and secure family. She graduated from a good college and was engaged to marry the pastor of her church. She was healthy and had good genes. And she inherited her parent’s good dispositions and mild manners.
Our second person – a young man -who is guilty of the same crime as the young woman. But this young man was abandoned by his drug addicted mother at birth and for the first few years of his early childhood he was raised by angry foster parents who lived in poverty. He was sexually molested by his foster father and he never finished sixth grade. By the time he was twelve years old he ran away and roamed the streets, alone and scared. As a young teen the gangs became this boy’s family where he learned how to rob others and became addicted to drugs. He was becoming a violent and dangerous person.
Our two people both committed the same crime. But the courts, only observing the outward appearances, will probably be more lenient with the young woman than they will with the young man. We do not know how our loving and merciful God would judge these two, but I think that God would judge the young man differently, and maybe with more leniency than the young woman! God knows that the young man never had the chances that the young woman did. God sees the young man’s brokenness and knows his poverty of spirit.
Scripture tells us that we are not to judge. Only God has the power and ability to do this job of judging people. He created people and only He can see what made up the person life and the challenges and traumas that he or she had to face. Only God can be fair and loving, merciful and forgiving, just and pure. Judging is His job and His alone. (1 Timothy 4:1) Let’s remember that next time we start to judge someone.
Most of the ideas in this blog were taken from C.S. Lewis’s book, “Mere Christianity”.