Being aware of both vice and virtue in our personal lives, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, families, and churches can create an environment of trust, love, fellowship, and enjoyment. Intentionally cultivating virtue, while identifying and forsaking vice, allow for a thriving community who attends to the common good of all.
It’s likely that you have heard of “the seven deadly sins.” In medieval Christianity, these were vices to avoid at all costs because they eroded personal integrity and poisoned the social community. A “vice” is a bad habit which corrupts character and debases society. Today we rarely, if ever, use the word “vice.” City police departments still have “Vice Squads” which investigate illegal gambling rings and try to deal with prostitution.
The early church eventually formed a short list of the most corrosive vices, the seven deadly sins, which were considered the most heinous desires/actions of all. They are:
Lust is an intense desire, coupled with lack of mental self-control, which is manifested in pursuing that desire in the heart. It is, especially, to have a passion for someone that is not meant for you, i.e. another person’s spouse. Lust is mental adultery. Lust leers at and indulges daydreams of another person, with only selfish ideas and no real concern for the other.
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28, NIV)
“Run away from adolescent cravings. Instead, pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace together with those who confess the Lord with a clean heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, CEB)
Whereas lust is mostly lack of mental self-control, gluttony is the lack of bodily self-control. Gluttony doesn’t stop eating, buying, talking, drinking, or binging. It only excessively indulges to the point of physical and/or relational sickness. Addiction is the modern-day gluttony – it consumes to the point where it cannot control the consumption any more. The thing desired and indulged becomes the master.
“When you sit down to dine with a ruler, carefully consider what is in front of you. Place a knife at your throat to control your appetite. Don’t long for the ruler’s delicacies; the food misleads.” (Proverbs 23:1-3, CEB)
“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, CEB)
Money. Money. More money – is the mantra of the greedy person. It is to have an inordinate desire and pursuit of wealth. Just as sex and food are good, but have their proper boundaries, so money is both good and necessary. But money is powerful in more ways than one. It can take over a person’s life in such a way that charging exorbitant interest, rent, or price gouging is justified by satisfying the greed. The greedy person lives every waking moment for leveraging wealth to get more wealth.
“People who want to be rich fall into all sorts of temptations and traps. They are caught by foolish and harmful desires that drag them down and destroy them. The love of money causes all kinds of trouble. Some people want money so much that they have given up their faith and caused themselves a lot of pain.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, CEV)
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)
Sloth is more than laziness. It is failing to do good when it is in your power and ability to do so. To be slothful is to be indifferent to the great need of the world. Whereas the previous sins are more active in the pursuit of some desire, sloth is passive, not wanting to get involved in making a difference. The slothful always have an excuse why they can’t participate; they expect everyone else to do the work. The irony is that for all of Ebenezer Scrooge’s hard work and thrift, he was really a sloth who had no intention of improving the condition of humanity, depending on poor houses and work farms to do all the work. It took supernatural means to get him to think differently.
“Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord. Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.” (Romans 12:11-13, GWT)
“Do your work willingly, as though you were serving the Lord himself, and not just your earthly master.” (Colossians 3:23, CEV)
As with most things in life, anger has its proper place. We ought to be angry in the face of evil perpetrators. Anger motivates us to not be slothful, but helpful. But excessive selfish anger is a vice. Whereas righteous anger seeks to help a victimized person or group, sinful anger is fueled by hatred for another. Whether it is a violent verbal decapitation of another, or a deep smoldering feeling which only seethes with hatred, anger destroys relationships.
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NLT)
“Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm.” (Psalm 37:8, NLT)
Envy and lust are kissing cousins. They both traffic in excessive desire for what they don’t possess. The subtle difference has more to do with the object of the affection. Lust leers at longs for a person who belongs to someone else. Envy fixes its gaze on a material possession or a respected position which someone else has. It is to have a passionate pursuit of taking over someone else’s job or keeping up with Jones’s.
“Envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30, NIV)
“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (James 3:16, NRSV)
Many people consider pride as the original sin which gave birth to all other vices. Pride is to have an over-inflated view of one’s opinions, thoughts, and self. Pride has an excessive understanding of itself. The proud person truly believes that if only other people believed what they believed, did what they told them to do, and followed their advice and strategy that the world and the church would be a better place to live. Every antagonist in the movies, comics, and classic literature are full of themselves. They justify stepping on others to achieve what they think is the greater good of imposing their agenda in the situation. Its no wonder that in the Bible Satan is the ultimate antagonist.
“If you respect the Lord, you will also hate evil. I hate pride and bragging, evil ways and lies.” (Proverbs 8:13, NCV)
“For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3, ESV)
“Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:16, MSG)
The seven deadly sins mostly live in the shadows, in the secrecy and darkness of one’s own heart. Yet, they do come out and manifest themselves in bad behavior. Long before an a hurtful action of sin is committed, it has spent time incubating in the darkness waiting for its chance to make the desire real.
We cannot hold one another accountable if we do not share the things which are in our hearts. None of these vices can exist when exposed to the light of confession. That is why it is so very important to have safe places within the church in which people can share all their desires and their struggles.
How will you respond to the seven deadly sins?
Are there safe places and people for you to talk about your inner struggles?
In what ways and/or behaviors do you see these vices being manifested in the church?
What do you think can be done about it?