You may recall a little chorus from school days that offered the sterling advice,
“Enmity, jealousy, malice and pride,
They must never in my heart abide.”
Indeed, you may be able to recall a list of vices that came to be known as the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. Several versions have been presented as warnings against unhealthy living. In Proverbs ch.6, we find “a heart that devises wicked plans” and “hands that shed innocent blood”. When writing to the church of Galacia, the Apostle Paul lists anger, disputes, dissensions and strife, all of which we may witness any day in global issues. The prospect of keeping such a weight of negative and dangerous character flaws at bay feels truly daunting.
Addressing these prevalent matters back in the 5thC AD, a Christian governor called Aurelius Clemens Prudentius composed a poem Psychomachia in which he promotes seven virtues that may counteract the destructive power of these vices in everyday life.
KINDNESS when applied with sincerity will help to dissolve ENVY. The media highlights celebrity lifestyles where a surfeit of possessions and self-satisfying rewards for scant fame are presented as goals in the quest for happiness. But, in Luke ch.16 Jesus enlightened his hearers as he described the ultimate time of accountability. A rich man enjoyed all the comforts of his wealth, whilst at his gate, disregarded, sat Lazarus, poor and in ill health, begging for the basic means of survival.
Inevitably, both men faced death. With a reversal of status in the afterlife, came a new realization of how God assesses the attitude of the heart. Too late, the rich man regretted his negligence in showing genuine kindness to alleviate suffering.
TEMPERANCE was proposed as a helpful cure for GLUTTONY because a fit and healthy body enables one to provide active service towards the needs and stresses of those in need.
CHARITY or LOVE overcomes GREED by putting the desire to help others above the quest to store up a never-satisfying search for more of everything, an accumulation beyond reasonable need. The treasure that is stored in Heaven endures when all else has passed away.
CHASTITY or SELF CONTROL is a sure means of avoiding the pitfalls that have derailed the best intentions of many luminaries whose potential might have brightened the lives of others.
HUMILITY counteracts PRIDE and the need for boastfulness or setting oneself up as superior in value. When Jesus became the Servant King he set the example for all who would follow him in offering the gifts of talents, energies and resources for the benefit and blessing of all.
Then comes DILIGENCE to overcome SLOTHFULNESS and the temptation to prefer a life of ease and relaxation to one of application and industry.
Finally PATIENCE, that rare and lovely quality that offers a listening ear, a calm attention and an attitude of waiting rather than the impatient response of WRATH that generates conflict and distress.
This is indeed an arduous list, but we come back again to the promise that we are not left alone with our unreliable efforts and lack of enduring resolve. In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul concedes that the old inner self is separate from God, without hope and always liable to stumble and fall. Therefore, by faith and trust in the salvation won for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can “put off the old self” and its corruption. Ch.4 v 23. “Be made new in the attitude of your minds, and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
So there we have it. Virtues and vices are always tugging in opposite directions, but we are offered the most perfect solution, the most enduring gift, a joyous relief, that is, a radical new heart, ours for the prayerful asking.