CHRISTIAN PURSUIT
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VIRTUES



Click here to skip the Preface and go directly to the Quotes. But please read the Preface at least once.

This is non-denominational Christian theology. The objective here is to discern God's will and God's commandments from Jewish and Christian source material, and find applications to daily living and decision making. The verses and sayings in this essay are gathered from the previous essays, plus there are a couple of new sayings from the same source material. The source material consists of the Old and New Testaments, plus additional sources which I personally believe, in my own opinion, to be accurate restatements and helpful advice. The additional sources include the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, the Talmud, Talmudic commentaries, and a few other theologians.

All individuals have a spiritual responsibility to identify the moral codes which they choose to live their lives by. The Jews have the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, and other rabbinic commentaries. Christians have the Bible, their churches and a thousand different opinions on what is considered fundamental doctrine. I believe this confusion will lead to God having mercy in how we are judged as far as choosing what is acceptable doctrine (i.e., acceptable pursuit of God's will). Although there will be leniency, we must still make a sincere effort in order to justify how we acted and why we chose which code to live by. Otherwise we will be defenseless when God judges us.

In this essay I have gathered the sources and advice and placed them in very basic categories for virtue-related pursuit. For the purposes of this web page I have minimized the categories to those reflected below. Obviously there could be dozens or hundreds of categories. The categories below contain advice that could easily fit in other categories which exist here, or in unnamed categories that space here doesn't allow for.

For example, no one will dispute that humility is approved of and even commanded by God. But where does one learn about examples of humility that are acceptable to God? What of the people who through their own ignorance misunderstand humility, and fail to practice it accurately or more frequently? What about people who judge others, or who think they have a superior doctrine, or think they haven't sinned?

No doubt God will punish them or reward them less for their sins and error, but do you want that to happen to you? You are probably a sincere person, but unfortunately like many people (me included) we are ignorant. God will punish us if we remained ignorant when we could have studied God's will more. We need a defense to that accusation. The verses below are very good restatements of God's will, written by people who were well-respected theologians and rabbis. And more than just respect, these are people whose insights on God-centered morality and virtue is undisputed, and if they practiced what they preached, should be called some of the greatest saints who ever lived. I encourage you to study other sources that help you act in accordance with God's will, but you may be helped by what I have found and reproduced below.

There are a lot of people in the world who are nice people, and who would accept much of the moral advice below, but their motivation is Godless. Spiritual growth and salvation come from acting morally and choosing God when the individual has the mindset of being in a relationship with God. In that relationship the individual makes decisions that are believed to be God's will even when those decisions are uncomfortable to the individual and not of the individual's will. There is a growth that occurs in the midst of this phenomenon when the individual struggles with his will within a personal relationship with God. When God is not present, the moral decisions may sometimes be the same, but the nature of the growth is very different since the individual without God is developing in different ways.

And more often than not, when God is not present the individual will not accept any moral code at all. The superior moral code is whatever helps the individual achieve his desires today. And if the desire changes tomorrow, so does the moral code. We see this becoming more and more popular in the form of self-help philosophies. Make no mistake that these philosophies which place the individual's wants and desires as the motivating factor in decision making are completely incompatible with a God-centered pursuit.

So please do not confuse me with the type of people who encourage morality for morality's sake. I am moral because I seek to do God's will. If God didn't exist, then maybe I would be moral because of humanistic reasons. Just like there are atheists and agnostics and pagans who are very nice people, and behave morally, but for reasons different from doing God's will.

The categories for virtues in this essay are:

HUMILITY

-Strive to be humble
-Resist pride
-Do not judge others

    Be like the dead: take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises.

    Humility and fear of God are above all virtues.

    To see yourself as inferior, coupled with hard work, leads to humility.

    Whenever you want to subdue your high and proud thoughts, examine your conscience carefully.

    Anyone who receives praise should think of his sins and realize that he does not deserve what has been said of him.

    (HILLEL SAYS) DO NOT JUDGE THY COMRADE UNTIL THOU HAST STOOD IN HIS PLACE: If it happened with your comrade that he did not withstand temptation, do not disgrace him. Say instead: "What he did is nothing!" For it is possible that had the same circumstance befallen you, you too would not have been able to withstand the temptation (Aknin). This is of a piece with the statement that a man is not to trust in himself and be too sure of his own judgment. If a person sees that a companion of his in high office does not behave justly, let him not say: "If I occupied his position I would not do any of the evil things he does." You don't know. Human beings, one's no better than the next! Perhaps that office would have perverted you too. When you have reached his position and his station and revealed a better nature, then you may question his ways (Rabbi Jonah).

    Do not judge others but put yourself below everyone.

    Do not pay attention to the faults of others, and do not try to compare yourself with others, knowing you are less than every created thing.

    In all circumstances say, "Who am I?" and do not judge anyone.

    Think in your heart that you are a sinner--when someone is occupied with his own faults, he does not see those of his neighbor.

    Hatred of evil is to hate one's thoughts and to praise one's neighbor.

    AKABYA BEN MAHALALEL SAYS: MARK WELL THREE THINGS AND THOU WILT NOT FALL INTO THE CLUTCHES OF SIN. KNOW WHENCE THOU ART COME, WITHER THOU ART GOING, AND BEFORE WHOM THOU ART DESTINED TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT AND RECKONING. "WHENCE THOU ART COME?" FROM A PUTRID DROP. "WITHER THOU ART GOING?" TO A PLACE OF DUST, WORM, AND MAGGOT. "AND BEFORE WHOM THOU ART DESTINED TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT AND RECKONING?" BEFORE THE KING OF KINGS OF KINGS, THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE.

    TO A PLACE OF DUST, WORM, AND MAGGOT: Reflection on his origin will lead a man to humility. When he contemplates his ultimate end, he will get to despise mundane matters. And when he contemplates the majesty of the Commander, he will obey His commandments speedily. And when a person succeeds in keeping his mind on these things, he will sin no more (Maimonides).

    BE OF HUMBLE SPIRIT BEFORE ALL MEN: That is to say, not only in the presence of those greater than yourself should you be of humble spirit, but in the presence of everyone. So that, whenever you sit with any person, speak to him and behave toward him as though he were superior to you. Such extreme conduct is recommended in order to help a man to flee from pride (Maimonides).

    TAKES NO CREDIT TO HIMSELF: That is, he does not swell up with pride over what he has learned; instead he says to himself that what he has learned was his obligation to learn, indeed he has not studied enough (Vitry).

RELATIONS WITH OTHER PEOPLE

-Resist anger toward others
-Love your enemies
-Acts of charity

    Begin with the foundation in order to reach the top; the foundation is our neighbor, whom we must win, and that is the place to begin, for all commandments of Christ depend on this one.

    Abba Agathon said, "If I could meet a leper, give him my body and take his, I should be very happy." That indeed is perfect charity.

    Guard your conscience from all evil with regard to your neighbor and you will be saved.

    A brother said to Abba Poemen, "If I give my brother a little bread or something else, the demons tarnish these gifts saying it was only done to please men." The old man said to him, "Even if it is to please men, we must give the brother what he needs."

    Judge everyone with the scale weighted in his favor.

ACKNOWLEDGING GOD

-Praise God
-Fear God (understand the true meaning of fear of God)
-Acknowledge the superiority of God's will
-Acknowledge the righteousness of God's will
-Understand the closeness of God to the individual, and God's love

    Always ask yourself, "What have we done that is as God wills and what have we left undone of that which he does not will?"

    Consider the work of God to be primary, and bodily needs to be subsidiary.

    One must live his life constantly aware of the presence of God, always ready to praise and bless God.

    You should not be worried, saying to yourself, "How long must I suffer this temptation?" You should rather say every day to yourself, "Today."

    If a man is possessed of humility and poverty, and if he does not judge others, the fear of God will come to him.

    By what work does he come to the fear of God? One should withdraw from all business and give himself to bodily affliction and with all his might remember that he will leave his body at the judgement of God.

    AND DO NOT SHRUG OFF ALL THOUGHT OF CALAMITY: This teaches that a man's heart should be in a state of fear at all times and he should say, "Woe unto me! Perhaps calamity will come upon me today, perhaps tomorrow." He will thus be in a state of fear at all times; for thus is it said of Job, "The thing which I did fear has come upon me" (Job 3: 25). Another interpretation. When a man sees his affairs prosper let him not say, "Because I have merited it, God has given me food and drink in this world and the stock is laid up for me in the world to come." Instead let him say, "Woe unto me! Perhaps no more than one good deed was found before Him in my behalf. And He has given me food and drink in this world so that He might destroy me in the world to come" (ARN).

    A brother asked (Abba Euprepius), "How does the fear of God dwell in the soul?" The old man said, "If a man is possessed of humility and poverty, and if he does not judge others, the fear of God will come to him."

    The old man was asked, "What should a man do in all the temptations and evil thoughts that come upon him?" The old man said to him, "He should weep and implore the goodness of God to come to his aid, and he will obtain peace if he prays with discernment. For it is written, 'With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me?' " (Ps. 118.6)

REPENTANCE

-Show true regret for your sins
-Acknowledge the inferiority of your will in contrast to God's will

    Every day strive to come to God without sin.

    For your sins, weep interiorly, for both deliverance from faults and the acquisition of virtues are gained through compunction.

    Make compunction the beginning of every action.

    Take the blame for your own sins before God.

    One hour in which to repent and do good works in this world is richer than (when done in) all the life in the world to come, for in the world to come it is impossible to repent or to do good works. That world exists only for the receiving of reward for what a person has carried out in this world.

    REPENT ONE DAY BEFORE THY DEATH: Rabbi Eliezer was asked by his disciples: "Does, then, a man know on what day he will die, that he should know when to repent?" "All the more," he replied; "let him repent today lest he die on the morrow; let him repent on the morrow lest he die the day after: and thus all his days will be spent in repentance". This is the meaning of the verse, "Let thy garments be always white" (Ecclesiastes 9: 8).

    AND DO NOT SHRUG OFF ALL THOUGHT OF CALAMITY: This teaches that a man's heart should be in a state of fear at all times and he should say, "Woe unto me! Perhaps calamity will come upon me today, perhaps tomorrow." He will thus be in a state of fear at all times; for thus is it said of Job, "The thing which I did fear has come upon me" (Job 3: 25). Another interpretation. When a man sees his affairs prosper let him not say, "Because I have merited it, God has given me food and drink in this world and the stock is laid up for me in the world to come." Instead let him say, "Woe unto me! Perhaps no more than one good deed was found before Him in my behalf. And He has given me food and drink in this world so that He might destroy me in the world to come" (ARN).

DEVELOPING CHRISTLIKE CHARACTER

-achieve spiritual growth
-resist sin
-work toward salvation

    If you desire salvation, do everything that leads you to it.

    The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

    You must not let temptation stay with you.

    Crush fornication with hard labor.

    Get up early every day and acquire the beginning of every virtue and every commandment of God.

    If a monk can overcome bodily ease and vain-glory, he can become free from the world.

    The saints of the world were eager for life so that they might continue doing good works in this world--something which they will be unable to do in the world to come.

    Let no man say, "Today I am busy with my work; tomorrow I will turn to the task of perfecting myself." Perchance the opportunity will not present itself. And even if it does not present itself, that particular day has vanished utterly and an opportunity of serving the Lord has been lost; it can never again be recovered.

    (HILLEL SAYS) HE THAT DOES NOT INCREASE SHALL CEASE: One who is not always striving to improve will come to an end, that is to say, the very memory of him will perish....Hence the Sages have said that one should always be adding to his learning, and if he has learned a number of Talmudic tractates or a number of things, let him yearn to study what remains to be learned (Meiri). He who has not studied at all is like a beast, for he was created solely for the purpose of learning and studying Torah, whose ways are ways of pleasantness. Now if a person has not studied at all, and if he persists in such wickedness, he does not deserve to live even one day, even one hour (Rabbi Jonah).

    BEN ZOMA SAYS: WHO IS A WISE MAN? HE THAT LEARNS FROM ALL MEN...: A WISE MAN: It is he who is ready to learn even from his inferiors. With such readiness, if his inferior should present him with a wise view, he will not be ashamed to accept it and will not treat his words with contempt. This was characteristic of David, King of Israel, who said, "...I would pay attention to any man who came to teach me something" (Vitry).

    ENGAGE BUT LITTLE IN BUSINESS: Engage in business no more than you need for livelihood...and make your chief aim the study of the Torah, as it is said, "And thou shall meditate therein day and night (Joshua 1: 8) (Aknin).

    LET ALL THINE ACTIONS BE FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN: Like Hillel's. When Hillel used to go out to a certain place, folks would say to him: "Where are you going to?" [He would reply,] "I am going to carry out some commandment." "Which commandment, Hillel?" "I am going to the privy." "Is this, then, a commandment?" "Indeed," he would say, "so that the body does not deteriorate" (ARNB).

    LET ALL THINE ACTIONS BE FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN: Even things permitted to you, like eating, drinking, sitting down, rising up, walking, lying down, sexual intercourse, conversation and all bodily needs, let them all be in the service of your Creator or contribute to whatever leads you to serve Him....This is the end of the matter: a man must set his eyes and heart to his ways and weigh all his actions in the scale of intelligence. When he sees that there is something which leads to the service of the Creator, blessed be He, let him do that; if not, let him shun it (Rabbi Jonah).

    LET ALL THINE ACTIONS BE FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN: A man certainly has to be engaged in worldly and social affairs for the benefit of his body. But he has been warned that even when he engages in these he should have only one purpose, perfection of his soul. Thus he will be found meritorious even when engaged in such activities, since the intention was not the activities themselves, but the perfection of his soul (Meiri).

MAINTAINING SECURITY

-guard against mistakes in perception
-guard against deception
-do not place faith where faith doesn't belong

    A vineyard surrounded by a fence is not like a vineyard without a fence; but no man ought to make the fence more important than the thing fenced in. For if then the fence falls, he will tear down everything.

    AND SAY NOT: "ADOPT MY VIEW": If your colleagues disagree with you in some matter do not compel them to adopt your view. They are at liberty to choose whether or not they should adopt it; you may not compel them to adopt it (Maimonides).

    RABBI JUDAH SAYS: STUDY WITH CARE, FOR ERROR IN THE COURSE OF STUDY IS ACCOUNTED DELIBERATE SIN. A man must keep reviewing his study so that he will never forget, so that he may understand things thoroughly. For by nature man's understanding is limited, and forgetfulness is common to all human beings. Moreover, a person ought not to rely on the first thoughts that come to him....Now, where the Torah and commandments are concerned, since error is a common thing, if a person has not taken this to heart and makes a mistake, he is not innocent but guilty, for he ought to have kept in mind that every man is prone to error, and he should have been careful not to make a mistake (Rabbi Jonah).

    IS EXACT IN WHAT HE HAS LEARNED: That is, he is most meticulous not to add to the statement he has received nor to subtract from it (Vitry).

    (GAMALIEL SAYS) PROVIDE THYSELF WITH A TEACHER, AND ESCHEW DOUBTFUL MATTERS, AND TITHE NOT OVERMUCH BY GUESSWORK: I asked my teacher, of blessed memory: Where there is a controversy between the codifiers, what shall a person do?...He answered: If one has a tradition from his teacher, let him follow and practice what he has learned from his teacher; otherwise, let him select one of the great codes and follow the one that seems best to him (Nahmias).

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