Most sinners despise people who do not participate in their sinful activities. King Solomon writes, “An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, and he who is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked” (Proverbs 29:27). Therefore, the righteous person must often confront implicit and even explicit persecution within his or her business, political, and social communities (John 15:19). People who endeavor to display Christian virtues in the workplace commonly suffer ridicule while losing out on opportunities for advancement. Invitations to parties or other social occasions are rarely forthcoming.
It is not easy to establish or maintain excellent character in such a hostile environment, and many decent and sincere people feel tempted to give in to their natural desires for popularity and the potential comfort and power that comes by abandoning virtue and “fitting in.” However, associating with those who would sneer at virtue ultimately leads to discomfort—even pain—for the virtuous, and such discomfort should be anticipated when dealing with a world at odds with its Creator (Romans 8:6-9).
1. Can worldly people corrupt a Christian’s virtue? I Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 13:20.
Comment: Scripture abounds with God’s admonitions against becoming too friendly with the world (II Corinthians 6:17; James 4:4; Revelation 18:4; Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Even though God’s elect possess the power of His Holy Spirit, they place themselves in grave danger if they choose to conform to worldly standards of behavior (Deuteronomy 6:14-15; Proverbs 13:20; Romans 12:2). The apostle Paul is succinct with his warning in I Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’”
2. Have the virtuous suffered peril because of their virtue? Matthew 24:9; II Corinthians 11:24-26; Matthew 27:22-23, 28-31, 35.
Comment: The Bible pictures countless righteous persons encountering hostile reactions to their virtuous efforts while taking stands against worldly corruption and decadence (Hebrews 11). The apostle Peter exclaims, “[Those in the world] are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you” (I Peter 4:4, New International Version). King David wrote of wicked liars, “which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous” (Psalm 31:18). Jesus Christ condemned the Jewish leaders for their persecution of the virtuous prophets whom He sent:
Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city . . . from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah . . . whom you murdered (Matthew 23:34-35).
Soon thereafter, as the most virtuous Man who ever lived, Jesus was cruelly murdered.
3. Can the world produce true virtue without God’s standard of righteousness? Genesis 6:5; Psalm 14:3; Mark 7:21-22; John 3:6; Romans 1:28-31.
Comment: The modern humanist movement teaches that man requires no godly source of morality, believing all humans possess an inherent sense of right and wrong. However, God contradicts that belief through the words of Solomon: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).
Further contrasting worldly beliefs, Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:18 that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” The apostle Paul expounds on man’s carnal nature that is in complete opposition to God—or virtue—(Romans 8:7-8), describing people of this world as:
. . . having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness (Ephesians 4:18-19).
Without God’s message of righteousness, expressed throughout His written Word, no bona fide standard of morality would exist anywhere. After all, it is God’s law that defines unrighteousness and sin (Romans 7:7). Therefore, the wise and virtuous Christian anticipates mild discomfort at best to bitter resentment and spiteful persecution at worst from a world so averse to virtue and so incompatible with genuine excellence in character.
In Part Two, we will look further into our need to define and develop a virtuous character.