But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith aretē…..2 Peter 1:5
Aretē, the Greek word for goodness or virtue, is a rare word found only three times in the New Testament. Aretē refers to something YOU ARE before it is something that YOU DO. Aretē is what causes you to do good for absolutely no reason except that God is good and He resides in you: not because you are asked to, or because you will get something for it, or because it will bring you accolades. Aretē is about an inner strength that wells up from within, a moral excellence that results from the miracle of Christ in you.
Chrēstotēs on the other hand is about doing good – about kindness expressed in action. This type of goodness tends to be more attractive because we can see it and we can manage it. Doing good somehow feels more urgent and necessary than seeking deep within us the One who is good.
My daughter, Alisa, was a collegiate swimmer (Go Texas Longhorns!) and much of her training as a 400IM swimmer had to do with developing her core strength. No matter how perfect her arm strokes were or how well she kicked her legs, when her core strength gave out as it sometimes did at the end of a grueling race, her swimming would fall apart. To do well in a race, she had to be strong from the inside out because the quality of her strokes depended upon the strength of her core. No amount of effort in the end of a race could overcome a core strength that had reached its limit. The same holds true for our faith. For faith to persevere over time it must be grounded in the work of Christ in us and not in the work we do for Him.
Aretē is easy to skip however and get right down to chrēstotēs. We are prone to making our faith more about our good works and less about Christ because it serves our human nature to do so. Then we wind up looking better than we really are. We get into a cycle of over-performing in order to please others. We over-perform to look good. We over-perform to feel good. Eventually we wind up utterly exhausted and discouraged. If deep down inside, we are greedy or lazy, selfish or mean, sooner or later it will seep out through the cracks. Chances are our family has seen through the facade all along because the one place we let down is at home behind the safety of our walls.
We can become very skilled at doing good at work or in ministry and putting on a great display. Working for others easily becomes our “path of least resistance”. The lasting work at home however is tougher and more demanding, revealing the real condition of our core, where our true nature comes out with those we don’t have to impress or even pursue when we don’t feel like it. We can live self centered lives without the outside world even knowing. Our family members can readily become the target of our critical eyes or they can suffer at the hand of a disguised mean spirit. They are the most affected by our careless use of words or our thoughtless use of time. They have no choice but to put up with our disordered priorities. Who we are is who they have!
Hypocrisy is the number one reason kids leave the church when they leave home. Perhaps it because they have seen little of aretē within the home and they have grown weary of the facade.
Working to do good without developing virtue within is a vain effort. It’s like building a house out of straw or laying its foundation on the sand. In his second epistle, Peter tells us to diligently first add to our faith aretē. Add infers that we have something to do. Diligently infers we do something with consistent strong effort. We have to diligently seek the One who is good and Who will equip us for every good work. We are invited to partake of the divine nature, to experience the very person hood of God and then imitate Him in our lives.
The world is a better place because of people who express kindness to others in action. God requires that we do good but He also requires that we BE GOOD, that our hearts be free of deceit and greed and that we operate with a genuine integrity that wells from a core strength within us. This is a goodness that results in staying power; in the courage to stay with the faith over the test of time.
“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for awhile. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” (Matthew 13: 20-21)
Recommended Book: Hidden in Plain Sight by Mark Buchanan