We are always being formed. We are formed by vice or by virtue. Either way, these are the habits that shape us. Are we living with vice or virtue, sloth or diligence?
The vice of sloth is easily misunderstood. Sloth is not just a lack of productivity or ambition or hard work. It’s not about how busy or exhausted we are. Sloth is not just laziness. Rather, sloth is laziness with what matters most.
Sloth is more than inactivity. Sloth is the misordering of our endless activities which leads to death.
Sloth hides best in busyness
In Luke 10 we see that Martha is caught up in her busyness. Despite her efforts, Jesus rebukes her.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” Luke 10:38
Oftentimes, we choose to do the lesser things. We do what’s easy instead of what’s necessary or best. That’s sloth. We hide our sloth behind a flurry of activity. We prefer the distraction of busyness over the real work of loving and being loved. We move away from God, thinking we are moving toward Him.
Be diligent: slow down
The first step in the fight against sloth is to slow down. And, it’s not just “slow down and do nothing” or even just do less. It’s slow down from being busy. It’s slowing down to reorder activities and give ourselves over to the right things.
Sloth is too lazy to change
Sloth is more than general laziness. It’s a lazy soul. The slothful person looks at God’s transforming love and says, it’s too much work.
It’s easier to be Martha, harder to be Mary. Mary’s doing what’s necessary. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) There are a lot of things we could do, but one thing is necessary. Luke tells us that Mary chose the good portion: she…sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. (v.39) Jesus calls us to listen first, and then to service.
We need a relationship with Jesus. All relationships take work, and if we refuse to do that work, it’s not going to work. Not only will the relationship be in serious jeopardy, but we can miss out on the joy offered to us through that relationship! But the hard work of a relationship can at times make us want to give up or distract ourselves with something else.
Be diligent: don’t give in
When sloth rises up, following Jesus can feel too hard. Don’t give in. Like Mary, sit at His feet, listen to what He says. The only antidote to sloth is diligence, perseverance, working at the relationship—which is the hardest thing in the world when we are feeling slothful! Our souls are bent towards laziness.
We say we want to change, but do we? I don’t want to be so angry or lustful or greedy. Change is not just going to happen. Peter said, practice these things. We must realize that practice makes virtue. Discipline makes virtue. And our motivation is not to earn His grace (you can’t do that) but because of His grace!
Early church fathers talked about how the best way to fight sloth is with the discipline of “staying put.” What they mean is doing what you know is right even when you don’t want to. Diligence. Instead of drifting, choose to step further in. We should do what we should be doing, not what we want to do, even when it feels like drudgery.
We’re busy with many things. So many things. One thing is necessary. God wants to make you whole, to transform you into the person He created you to be. Don’t you want that? Don’t give in to sloth. We need Jesus.
Sloth is too lazy to love
Sloth refuses to do what love requires. This is why it destroys families and workplaces and communities. It’s not just laziness; it’s being too lazy to love! Jesus isn’t telling Martha to stop working and go to Bible studies all day long. No! God loves us so that we will love others. When we don’t, sloth impacts everyone around us!
When we choose sloth (or drift), it may feel innocent. And sure, we need rest and downtime. Workaholism is not a virtue! But if we’re becoming slothful persons, we are robbing the people around us. It’s a failure to love. Your family needs you. Your neighbors and your friends need you. Your church. Your community. Your clients. Your classmates. Sloth sees the needs and opportunities for love and says, nah, it’s too much work.
Be diligent: love your neighbor
Find places to serve your community and your church. Volunteering is good. And the primary work God has for you is the place where He’s put you. It’s the work you do day-in and day-out, whether you get paid for it or not, whether you like it or not. Practice diligence. Then you’ll begin to see your work not simply as a collection of tasks, but as an opportunity to love.
Life is meant to be spent. This is why Jesus came. And He spent His life for you and for me. He longs to change us with His love. He constantly works on our behalf. And yes, He died for lazy people too. But He rose again to turn our sloth into love. To bring dignity and joy to our work and to our lives. To bring forgiveness when we fail and hope that we can change. This is the work He does. And it’s the work He invites us into. Let’s be diligent with what matters most.
Listen to our sermon series on the Vices & Virtues, the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues.
We compiled a sermon series on the Vices & Virtues, the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues. We are no stranger to the vices. We have been fighting anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, vainglory, and greed for years. But what about envy? Do we also carry this small, subtle vice? The answer is yes. And that is a big problem because envy is the death of love.
In envy, you lose your ability to love others because others almost always have something better than we do. We lose our ability to care for ourselves because we are constantly comparing. We lose our ability to love God, because how dare He give that thing or that talent or that opportunity to someone else, and not us. Self-love kills. Envy kills love.
Genesis 37 tells us that envy is as old as sin itself. We see envy in the story of Joseph and that crazy, colorful coat.
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4)
Envy begins with comparison
We’re always comparing. Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more. It’s been said: Envy is feeling bitter when others have it better. Honestly, who has not felt bitterness at some point!
Envy is rooted in identity
Envy begins with comparison, but it is also rooted in identity. Envy is always personal because it’s never really about the thing we’re envious of. Rather, it is more a reflection of our own fragile sense of self.
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8)
In a patriarchal society, the brothers all want to be in charge, and that right should fall to the oldest, not Joseph, so they hated him even more.
Our comparisons, our envy, reveal much about our true selves. Our envy reveals our desires, idols, and sense of self-worth. Envy is often rooted in our own damaged sense of self and insecurity and often reveals itself in very passive-aggressive ways. We secretly celebrate when things go wrong for others, we quietly spread rumors, respond sarcastically, or just assume the worst about them.
Envy alienates us. It pushes us further away. Tragically, envy does not stop there.
Envy takes us where we don’t want to go
If left untreated, the trajectory of envy will take everything!
They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:18-20)
Joseph’s brothers rip off his colorful robe, throw him in the pit, but decide not to murder him. Instead they sell him into slavery. They are all ruined. Envy is the death of love.
Envy can only be killed with kindness
Like all the vices, envy can be killed. But envy can only be killed with kindness. It is more than simple behavior modification or trying to get better. It is not about doing more good deeds. It is about character formation and growing in virtue, both of which take time and effort.
Joseph was a slave, a falsely accused prisoner, a nobody. Ironically, he ends up in a prominent position and protects the people against famine. His brothers go to Egypt to get food, and they bow before Joseph. Joseph provides for and feeds them. And by doing so, he rescues the people of God.
The brothers continue to live in fear after the death of their father. They are not expecting the kindness Joseph will soon offer them. After 40 years, Joseph has learned and embraced kindness, forgiveness, love. Not in an instant, but through decades. His response is kindness to his brothers.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21)
To kill envy, we must:
1. Embrace God’s kindness toward us as enough
We cannot be kind on our own. We must first embrace that God’s kindness towards us is enough. We are not God. God decides who gets what. This can only mean that our envy problem is not really with another person. It is with Him! Will we trust Him enough to let Him decide what is fair?
2. Extend God’s kindness toward others
If we want to kill envy, we must extend God’s kindness towards others. We must comfort them even when we don’t feel like it.
“So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:21)
Envy is the death of love
Our ultimate hope lies in the fact that God has not just been nice to us. Kindness Himself was killed on the cross for us! Jesus took all of our envy and all of our shame and offers us His love in return. God has not given us less, but everything we need because of the cross: forgiveness, hope, life, joy, power to kill envy, a new identity. We are the daughters and sons of the King. We have everything! With whom are we trying to compare ourselves?
Envy does not have to be the death of us. Being made in His image and as a redeemed people, through the power of the Holy Spirit, let us practice His kindness together.
Toward the end of his life, the Apostle Peter writes to fellow believers, “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.” Peter also writes to us. He says we are to live in such a way that reflects the gift we have been given by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Having received the gift, Peter calls us to live a virtuous life. Are we living that life?
At the same time, Peter strongly warns against living a life filled with vice. Peter’s concern is this: we can run after virtue or be trampled by vice. It’s a matter of life and death. Dare we risk forfeiting the promises of God and return to a state of corruption as a result of sinful desires which lead to death?
A virtuous life is more than just rules. More than empty freedom. It is a life lived in the knowledge of who God is, who we are, and what He has done to rescue us. It is a life of discipline and self-control. It is a life of commitment and community. It is a life of gratitude, and one that is fruitful. Is it a life we run to?
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
We are always being formed by our behaviors. A life filled with vices will kill you. According to Peter, they make us nearsighted and blind. We end up forgetting Jesus. We end up dead.
Vice is where our hearts go when unattended. Left to our own clever and deceptive devices, it’s who we can easily become, and often do. We are faced with the constant choice: we can run after virtue or be trampled by vice. What will we chose next?
Living a life of virtue is more than doing the right things or good deeds. A virtuous life is a commitment to establishing habits which in turn form and strengthen us. In a virtuous life lived out through faith, we become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world…(2 Peter 1:4) It’s a restoration of God’s image in us, for God is a virtuous God. A restored life is effective, fruitful, and strong, all of which glorify God.
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (v.8) They confirm our “calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (v.10)
Falling takes many forms. It doesn’t have to start with murder. It can start in small ways and grow. Cain’s anger and envy grew into hatred, and then escalated to murder. God graciously warns Cain, “…sin is crouching at the door…but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7). This warning tells us that sin is real, aggressive, and easily overlooked. It is hidden in vices and waits to take control and destroy. We can’t afford to be nearsighted, blind, or naive. Doing so will destroy us. How is it that we oftentimes choose to be one, or worse, all of these things? We need to hear and live out Peter’s words.
There is good news. God gives grace. And Peter tells us: we already have everything we need to do this. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Divine power! God’s power! If you’re a Christian, you have everything you need to change. To grow. To become the kind of person you long to be. These things don’t have to master us or destroy us. This is good news.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (vv.5, 10) Make every effort! As if your life depends on it! And know that it is an effort that is not alone. Thank God!
Listen to our sermon series on Vices & Virtues.
Vices kill. Simply put, vices are habits, repeated sins, that can kill you. Mind. Body. And Soul. Perhaps not literally, and not immediately. But over time, as we’ve heard throughout our sermon series, vices can stunt spiritual growth, undermine relationships, and wreak emotional and physical havoc. One of the worst things we can do is ignore the impact of vices in our lives. Our repeated engagement with any of the seven capital vices ultimately causes heartache, mars relationships, disappoints God, and even rewires our brains.
We all have our vices. And we owe it to ourselves and to our neighbors to look inside, identify our vices, and take concrete step to combat them. N.T. Wright helpfully distinguishes between the easy gravity of vice and the upward climb of virtue:
“…anybody can learn a vice; all you have to do is to go into neutral, slide along with the way stuff is going, and before too long, certain habits of life will have you in their grip. You don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to try; it’ll happen. But virtue, you have to think about…you have to make a decision to be this sort of person now…“
It takes work to combat vice. Hard work. Thankfully, as we have seen, the Bible points us to remedies. And to grace. But while grace is free, it is never cheap. N.T. Wright goes on to explain:
“Virtue is what happens when you make a thousand small decisions consciously thought out so that on the thousand and first occasion, you will unhesitatingly and instinctively – by second nature – act virtuously. Nobody does it by nature. Some people, thank God, do it by second nature.”
So where do we go from here?
How does what we’ve learned change how we live on Monday, on Tuesday, as we interact with those closest to us, or go about our work? How do we cultivate life-enriching habits?
Even after eight weeks of sermons, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.
The summary below offers a brief inventory of the seven deadly vices and their corresponding virtuous solutions. We’ve paired each set with a few thoughts or questions to help us recognize what these topics might look like in our own lives, and a brief (but not exhaustive) list of resources for each topic to place us on the path that is hard work but ends in reward.
Our sermons will always be available for listening if you need a refresher course. (Want extra credit? Consider listening to the same sermon topic from one of our other campuses to get a slightly different perspective.) Remember that we were not meant to walk this path alone. Talk to a trusted friend, meet with a pastor. Seek help if you are struggling.
Our prayer is that this series would continue to speak to you and challenge you in your walk as we work together to multiply disciples of character in our homes and community.
Sermon Series Resources
- Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung
- Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins by John Piper
- Sermon Series, “The Seven Deadly Sins” by Timothy J. Keller
- Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
- Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud
Big Idea: Envy is the death of love; Kill envy with kindness before it kills you.
Vice: Envy – feeling bitter when others have it better
Virtue: Kindness – receiving God’s kindness and extending that kindness to others
- Envy often begins with simple comparison but leads to despising those who have what we want.
- The biggest difficulty with this is that envy’s roots lie in our own insecurities and misshapen identity.
- Kindness works in two ways. First, to receive God’s kindness for you as enough. And second, to extend that kindness toward others.
- Your value is rooted in God’s love and not in comparing yourself to others.
- Extend kindness toward your rivals. Write them an encouraging note. Do something to make them look good in front of others. Seek their betterment whenever possible.
- Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson
- Comparison Trap by Sandra Stanley
Big Idea: Whose applause are you living for?
Vice: Vainglory – the desperate desire to look good to others
Virtue: Humility – displaying the glory of another
- Vainglory literally means “empty” glory and can be borne out of arrogance where we think we are better than others, or insecurity where we are afraid others will discover we are not all we pretend to be.
- One way we can check ourselves is to ask, “whose applause are you living for?”
- Vainglory is combatted through the practice of humility. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
- We must seek to display the glory of God. This leads to true freedom.
- The way forward in growing in humility is through secrecy. Secrecy is practiced through silence (abstaining from talking) and solitude (removing yourself from any audience).
- Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
- In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen
- Silence and Solitude by Ruth Barton
- Vainglory: The Forgotten Vice by Rebecca DeYoung
- Humility by CJ Mahaney
Big Idea: Sloth hides best in busyness.
Vice: Sloth – laziness with what matters most
Virtue: Diligence – being faithful to work hard on what matters most
- Sloth is too lazy to change. We won’t put forth the effort to work on the best things rather than good things.
- Sloth is too lazy to love. Loving and serving those around us requires hard work and diligence.
- We need to slow down and spend time working on what matters most.
- Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero
- The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things by Leighton Ford
- What’s Best Next by Matt Perman
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Big Idea: The more you want the less you have.
Vice: Greed – being too attached to money and possessions, always wanting more
Virtue: Generosity – giving ourselves away for the good of others
- Greed promises happiness but can never be satisfied.
- Greed robs us of the joy in celebrating what we do have. Instead, we are always thinking of and moving on to the next thing, wanting just a little bit more.
- What we are looking for is already offered to us. God has already offered us security, status, and significance through His Son, Jesus.
- Generosity thrives on faith.
- Generosity frees us from the tyranny of wanting more. God tells us that we are created to be generous, in the image of God, and we are supposed to mirror Him.
- God commands us to be generous because He knows this is what is best for us.
Big Idea: You’re angrier than you realize.
Vice: Anger – demanding justice on our own terms
Virtue: Patience – using anger properly
- We are all angrier than we realize.
- We often dismiss our anger as “not a big deal” or excuse our anger by blaming someone else: “they made me angry.”
- We need to own up to the fact that we are often too easily angered and that our anger is often excessive.
- Scripture doesn’t say anger is a sin, rather it says to be angry about the right things.
- The opposite of anger is not apathy or indifference, rather it is love, and sometimes love requires getting angry.
- Anger is almost always a secondary emotion to fear or sadness.
- Ask yourself what lies beneath your anger?
- Understand that it’s ok to be angry, but instead of lashing out and responding in anger by hurting those around us, practice patience. Properly wield your anger to love those around you.
- Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way by Gary Chapman
- Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzaro
- Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
- Consider keeping an anger journal, or talking with someone about what lies beneath your anger.
Big Idea: Our hunger can never be satisfied with food.
Vice: Gluttony – the endless pursuit of pleasure above all else
Virtue: Temperance – self-control and moderation
- Gluttony isn’t just a love of food. Gluttony is the endless pursuit of pleasure above all else. It’s a life dedicated to the quest for superficial satisfaction.
- This is a vice for anyone who asks food to make them feel ok (whether unhealthy or healthy food).
- Food becomes a problem when we start to make it god.
- Food can be redeemed through the virtue of temperance: self-control and moderation. Pursue contentment with our daily bread.
- Delight in community and celebration. Say “yes” to food and feasts not for satisfaction but to celebrate and praise God.
- Bring Christ to the table. Let Jesus be the guest of every meal.
- A Hunger for God through Fasting and Prayer by John Piper
- God’s Chosen Fast: A Spiritual and Practical Guide to Fasting by Arthur Willis
- Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food by Lysa TerKeurest
Big Idea: Long for more than what lust desires.
Vice: Lust – places sex over love and is sexual desire on a one-way street
Virtue: Chastity – the wisdom of wholeness; puts desire and love in their proper place
- Sex and sexual desire are good, God-given gifts.
- Lust is not a problem because it wants too much from sex but because it desires too little from sex.
- Lust places sex above love. Lust is sexual desire on a one-way street; it makes it all about me and not the other person.
- Chastity is about wholeness. It puts desire and love in their proper place that we might enjoy authentic relationships to find intimacy and greater joy.
- Practice chastity:
– by setting boundaries and having accountability
– by expressing love to all people as people and not commodities
– by fighting worldly shame
- While the wounds of our sexual sin cut deep, the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus cuts deeper.
- Teaching Your Child Healthy Sexuality by Jim Burns
- Real Sex by Lauren Winner (adults and older teens)
- Sex: It’s Worth Waiting For by Greg Speck (students)
- Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church by Christine Colón and Bonnie Field
- Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert
- Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free by Tim Chester
- Covenant Eyes software
- X3 Watch software
- Ever Accountable software
What steals joy, impedes spiritual growth, ruins relationships, neutralizes leadership, and wreaks havoc on societies and nations? Throughout history, the word vice has been used to describe sinful habits of mind, heart, and body that reveal a lack of character development and characterize a life without God. How do we escape these vices? In the writings of both ancient and modern philosophers, as well as theologians throughout church history, we learn that escaping the enticement of vice means growing in the empowerment of virtue.
What is virtue and how is it formed in our lives, our children, and our society? Virtue is often defined as moral excellence or moral character placed in service of others. Virtue is not only understood as the character ingredients of a well-lived life, but the glue that held communities together and caused them to thrive. The Greeks, notably Plato and Aristotle, created much of our virtue vocabulary. But we must not miss that in His most famous sermon, Jesus embraced a virtue ethic pointing to the right heart condition that is required for living the truly good life. As an apprentice of Jesus, it is not surprising the Apostle Peter emphasized the importance of virtue formation as a vital component of spiritual formation and gospel-centered living. In his second epistle, Peter writes, “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” Peter wants us to grasp a vital truth. While gospel grace is opposed to meritorious earning, it is not opposed to the disciplined effort required for virtue formation. Virtue is not a product of birth. It is not a function of personality. It is not a gift bestowed on a privileged few. Virtue formation is learnable, a habit of the heart developed over time in a life of graceful discipline.
Jesus invites us to a life of yoked apprenticeship where we learn from Jesus how to live our lives like He would if He were us. A vital aspect of this apprenticeship is increasing virtue formation. The New Testament writers make a strong case that the local church is called and empowered to be a virtuous community. But are we becoming a more virtuous people?
Vices & Virtues is an eight-week message series where we will be exploring what virtue is and how it is formed in our lives. We will examine the broader landscape of Scripture, considering how to escape the allure of vices and how to grow in the divine vibrancy of virtue.
LISTEN to the series beginning April 30.