What is the Greatest Virtue?
March 11, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argued that the greatest sin is pride. He wrote, “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
If pride is the greatest sin, what is the greatest virtue?
In the current cultural moment, there are cries for all sorts of virtues, most of them biblical. Courage. Kindness. Justice. Self-sacrifice. Equality. Tolerance. Charity. Chasity/Purity. Honesty/Truth-speaking. Once again in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis speaks about the four “Cardinal Virtues:” prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. All of these are commendable virtues. We can find Scripture passages that commend and command the pursuit of these virtues.
When Pope Gregory reasserted a list of the seven deadly sins in 590 AD, seven virtues were identified to protect from the temptations to sin. Chasity protects against Lust. Temperance protects against Gluttony. Charity protects against Greed. Diligence protects against Sloth. Patience protects against Wrath. Kindness protects against Envy. Finally, Humility protects against Pride. This system, however, can feed a works-based self-reliance (and self-condemning) cycle.
Can we identify one virtue as the “greatest,” like Lewis identified pride as the greatest sin? Is there one virtue that leads to every other virtue, like pride leads to every other vice?
I would contend that Humility is the greatest Christian virtue. I say this not only because it is the counterpart to the greatest sin. I believe Scripture commends humility as the greatest virtue. Let me demonstrate from several passages.
- Humility is the Gateway to Salvation. Jesus makes this clear in his parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee brags before God in his morality and achievements. The tax collector merely states, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus concludes, “This man went down to his house justified.” That’s salvation language! One cannot be saved unless he humbles himself before God, acknowledge his sin and need for a savior. As David says in Palms 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
- Humility is the Gateway to Powerful Grace. Both James and Peter repeat the proverb, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). In one simple statement the evilness of pride is exposed, and the sweetness of humility is extolled. The very nature of God is to be a God who “acts for those who wait for him” (Is. 64:4). God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything (Acts 17:25). His grace is sufficient; his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). The apostles understood this. Humility is the means to receive God’s powerful grace.
- Humility, therefore, is the Gateway to Every Other Virtue. Are we able to make ourselves loving, kind, patient, just or courageous? Any such self-confidence leads us down the path of the Pharisee in Luke 18. Consider the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Those virtues are the work of the Spirit. We are called to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). Walking by the Spirit is to humbly rely on his wisdom and strength, extended to us through the word of Christ (Col 3:17 with Eph. 5:18), so that he shapes and conforms our minds, hearts, and actions. Humility is the means to walk by the Spirit.
As you consider areas of growth in virtues, let me commend humility to you. Humility grows by fixing your eyes of Jesus and enjoying him more and more for all that he has done for you. As C.S. Lewis says, ““Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” Or, as John the Baptist says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Humility is the gateway to a rich life with God.