Christian Love and Christian Virtue

Posted by on July 11, 2011

When understanding Christian virtue, one must take into account that “the source of [Christian] ethics is the character of God” and that this character of God is realized through the life of Jesus Christ. (Mitchell)  If virtue is understood as “a way of describing character,” then Christian virtues are descriptions of the character of Jesus Christ.  (Mitchell)  It is these characteristics of Jesus Christ that Christians attempt to realize in their lives through Christian love.  Whereas most philosophical ethics view virtue as a natural, inherent human possibility which can be practiced like exercise, Christian ethics is elicited through Christian Love.  As Professor Mitchell describes in his lecture, “the love that Jesus is talking about is not a psychological state, it is an action.”  If Christian love was based on emotion, then one could never love one’s enemy as the definition of one’s enemy is someone that one cannot in any realm of possibility ever love.  This is why the love that is elicited is one that is disinterested.  Disinterested love entails doing anything for someone without even knowing them.  In this act of love, one does not psychoanalyze what kind of person the other is, which faith they belong to, or anything about them.  One is simply elicited to act through the Grace of God.

In understanding Christian love and Christian virtue in this way, one realizes that Christian love and Christian virtue cannot exist mutually exclusively within a person.  Where there is Christian love there will be Christian virtue, because in the act of Christian love is the actualization of the virtues of Jesus Christ in one’s life.  Professor Mitchell describes this best when he explains that “loving your neighbor is not a virtue that you develop, it is a command that you obey, and it has to be obeyed every time.”  Furthermore, Professor Mitchell explains, “You are not a virtuous lover all your life. You have to start from scratch every time, except you know what has to be done because you know what Christ has done.”  This does not mean that one cannot get in the habit of loving, but that one has to still know that the source of that love is not some amount of love inside oneself but is the Love of God.  The grace of God elicits action, Christian love, by setting one free to be what God wants one to be.  In this sense Christian ethics can be understood as “a continual resurvey of our ethics and ethical lives to see if they fit with the gospel, fit with the definition of [Christian] love.” (Mitchell)

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