Life and Godliness: Moral Excellence

Man walking on rock outcrop with sunset in the background

Moral Excellence

Moral excellence is virtue. “A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good.”

Moral Excellence or moral goodness is defined as “voluntary obedience to truth.” Moral excellence or “that which constitutes value and merit.” It is referred to as moral power, moral energy or vigor of the soul.

Noah Webster separates moral goodness with religion and without religion. With religion, moral goodness is the “practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and His laws, it is virtue and religion.”

Moral excellence tied with religion can be said to be a “distinct moral virtue whose purpose is to render God the worship due to Him as the source of all being and the giver of all good things.” So religious virtue is worshipping God because He is worthy of our adoration and praise. [Wikipedia religious virtue]

Noah Webster states without religion, moral excellence is “the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue as distinct from religion.”

“Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The opposite of virtue is vice.” [Wikipedia virtue]

We can describe Moral excellence as “conformity of life and conduct with the principles of morality.’ The virtues are the practical attitudes and habits adopted in obedience to those principles.” [Britannica]

So moral excellence or moral goodness can be seen as a religious act of giving worship to God who is worthy by the way we live in obedience to Him. And moral excellence or moral energy can be seen as a non-religious act of moral duty by doing what is right and refusing to do what is wrong.

Foundational Thoughts

“Peter listed seven characteristics of the godly life, but we must not think of them as seven beads on a string or even seven stages of development. The word translated ‘add’ really means ‘to supply generously.’ In other words, we develop one quality as we exercise another quality. These graces relate to one another the way the branch relates to the trunk and the twigs to the branch.”

“These qualities grow out of life and out of a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not enough for the Christian to ‘let go and let God,’ as though spiritual growth were God’s work alone. Literally, Peter wrote, ‘Make every effort to bring alongside.’ The Father and the child must work together.”

“To the Greek philosophers, it meant ‘the fulfillment of a thing.’ When anything in nature fulfills its purpose that is ‘virtue – moral excellence.’ The land that produces crops is ‘excellent’ because it is fulfilling its purpose. The tool that works correctly is ‘excellent’ because it is doing what a tool is supposed to do.”

 “A Christian is supposed to glorify God because he has God’s nature within; so, when he does this, he shows ‘excellence’ because he is fulfilling his purpose in life. True virtue in the Christian life is not ‘polishing’ human qualities that make the person more like Jesus Christ.” [Wiersbe 23-24]

“Peter is providing a list of attributes that grow out of our initial faith in Christ. So what bricks out to be laid on the foundation of our faith in Christ? In progressive fashion Peter lists the seven additional qualities of Christian character” we need to grow. Peter exhorts us to “supplement you faith with goodness” or moral excellence. No one “is born virtuous, but believers in Christ can live out His goodness by His grace.” [Shaddix 22]

Charles Swindoll sees moral excellence as “moral fortitude, courage, the ability – based on internal motivators – to do what’s right and to stand alone if necessary. Here the emphasis is on the inner disposition” of moral excellence or “moral correctness more than specific observable activities, which will come later in Peter’s list.” [Swindoll 297]

OT Biblical Life of Moral Excellence

Mordecai is known as a man of moral excellence or moral goodness. When his cousin, Esther, was orphaned, Mordecai adopted her and raised Esther as if she were his own daughter.

Mordecai discovered a plot by two of the king’s servants to assassinate him. Because of Mordecai’s vigilance, the plot was terminated.

Mordecai also exposed Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. When Mordecai communicated this scheme to Queen Esther, the scheme was reversed and the Jews were spared death.

Mordecai’s moral excellence was rewarded as he was made the king’s chief advisor.

NT Biblical Life of Moral Excellence

Jesus walked in moral excellence as He sought to walk in obedience and live a life of worship, surrender, and love to God, His Father.

Jesus spoke of always doing what He saw the Father doing. John 5:19 says, “Jesus therefore answered them, ‘Most certainly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing. For whatever things He does, these the Son also does likewise.”

Jesus spoke of He and the Father being one, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I tell you, I speak not from myself; but the Father who lives in Me does His work.” Jesus declared that He and the Father were one and that we were one in Him, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”

Jesus spoke of heart relationship with us, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you. You didn’t choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you.”

Jesus walked in moral excellence with His Father and with mankind. Jesus calls us, in our oneness with Him, to walk in moral excellence.

Historical Life of Moral Excellence

Benjamin Franklin developed a list of virtues that he called ‘moral perfection’ where he placed various character qualities in a notebook and did a checklist every evening to see how he measured against his virtues. He had a list of thirteen virtues or character qualities he was working on every day. Here are the names of the virtues, with their precepts:

  • Self-Control (Temperance in Ben’s day): eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • Silence: speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • Time Management (Order in Ben’s day): let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • Resolution: resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • Frugality: make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  • Industry: lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off unnecessary actions.
  • Sincerity: use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • Justice: wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • Moderation: avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • Cleanliness: tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.
  • Tranquility (Calm/Undisturbed): be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • Chastity rarely uses [game animals] but for [your] health or to [feed your children]; never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  • Humility: imitate Jesus and Socrates. [Ford]

Modern-Day Life of Moral Excellence

Samuel Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, believed, “Food is essential to life; therefore, make it good.” Cathy said the Bible was his guide-book for life, as a result, he followed the Biblical pattern of a Sabbath-day of rest. All of his stores are closed on Sundays which allows his employees to attend church and spend time with their families.

The Cathy family has reiterated the restaurants moral excellence philosophy, “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect and to serve great food with genuine hospitality.”

Cathy believed in sowing into others so Chick-fil-A gives in three areas:

  • Youth and Education
  • Leadership and Family Enrichment
  • Serving the local communities in which Chick-fil-A operates

Several examples of Samuel Truett Cathy’s personal moral excellence or fruitfulness:

  • Cathy fostered children for more than 30 years.
  • Cathy had a Leadership Scholarship program which awarded more than $23 million in the past 35 years to his employees in $1,000 scholarships.
  • Cathy taught Sunday School for over 50 years.
  • Cathy served the Ford Atlanta assembly line workers (all three shifts) for 60 years. (Now that is faithful service!)

Samuel Truett Cathy died in 2014, but the Cathy family continues his legacy of moral excellence to its customers, employees and the communities where they operate. [Wikipedia]

Personal Life of Moral Excellence

When our oldest children were young, I would read them stories from The Book of Virtues while they ate their lunch. One story, Someone Sees You, tells of a man who decided to steal a little wheat from each of his neighbor’s fields to supply his own wants. He took his youngest daughter with him, asking her to stand guard and warn him if anyone could see him.

In each field, the daughter would call out, “Father, someone sees you!” After four identical incidents of the daughter calling out and the father seeing no one, he angrily asked, “I’ve looked everywhere, and I don’t see anyone.” The daughter replied, “Someone sees you from above.” [Bennett 604]

His daughter must have known Proverbs 15:3 which says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”

Prayer:

Thank you, Lord, for helping us walk in moral excellence by doing what is right, refusing to do what is wrong, and walking in obedience to You as an act of worship. Amen.

Blessing:

I want to finish by blessing you with the words of Paul from Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence [virtue] and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Recommendation:

For further reading on life and godliness, see Lisa’s post on Life and Godliness: Foundation and Faith https://strengthwithdignity.com/life-and-godliness-foundation-and-faith/

Scriptures:

Proverbs 15:3; John 5:19, 14:10, 20; 15:15-16; Philippians 4:8

References:

Encyclopedia Britannica. Virtue in Christianity. Retrieved March 7, 2021 from https://www.britannica.com/topic/virtue-in-Christianity

Ford, Paul. Benjamin Franklin on Moral Perfection. [Practical advice on obtaining a perfectly moral bearing. From Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography] Published October 4, 2002. Retrieved on March 6, 2021 from https://www.ftrain.com/franklin_improving_self

New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1971, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.

Shaddix, Jim and Daniel L. Akin. Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 2 Peter and Jude. B & H Publishing Group, 2018.

Swindoll, Charles R. Swindoll’s Living Insights: New Testament Commentary – James – 1 & 2 Peter. Tyndale House Publishers, 2014.

The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories. Edited by William J. Bennett. Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. Retrieved March 6, 2021 from http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/virtue

Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Alert: Beware of Religious Imposters – NT Commentary 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude. Victor Books, 1984.

Wikipedia. Retrieved March 6, 2021 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_(virtue) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordecai and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._Truett_Cathy and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Cathy

World English Bible (WEB) by Public Domain. The name “World English Bible” is trademarked.

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2 thoughts on “Life and Godliness: Moral Excellence”

  1. This is so interesting and a thorough study on moral excellence. I did not know of the differences between morality with or without religion. And I have read some about Mr. Cathy cuz I love Chick-Fil-A. Thanks for writing this great post. I love it.

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