Advent Midweek 2
December 13, 2023
In part of two of his book, Pastor Fieberkorn considers each of the seven vices, how these vices are all related to idolatry and pride, connects each one to the commandments, and then shows how God gives us the freedom to crush these vices by using their opposite virtues. He gives examples from Luther’s own sermons and other works, as well as Scripture.
This section of the book is a relatively long section and spending considerable time on each vice and virtue would take all night. I encourage you to get the book, if you haven’t already, and read it on your own.
We know the vices: Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Wrath or anger, Sloth, and Pride. We also know that these vices most certainly lead to death when they become habitual and even celebrated. We also know that the only way to confront these vices and defeat them is by faith in Christ who defeated sin and death in our stead by coming to us, dying for us, and promising to return for us one day soon.
We know that God’s anger is kindled against sin, that God does not like sin or disobedience, and that if it weren’t for Christ our Lord who sated His wrath and judgment, we would all be damned. Thus, we owe all things to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, all praise, all thanksgiving, all worship, all everything is owed to Jesus who paid the unpayable debt we owed.
We know that because of His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, we are set free, and we shall certainly live forever with Him in heaven, and as we just heard in our readings, we also know that, while we wait for the Day of the Lord, we must daily live in Him through daily repentance and daily trusting in His mercy.
And this is the Christian life – it is a life of repentance and faith, a life where we confess our sins and lean on Christ, and a life where we take up our crosses and we follow Him. It is a life where we battle and struggle and fight against our own flesh, against the world and its enticements, and against the devil himself who seeks to take us from God.
No, fighting against the vices, killing the vices in each of us, vices which seek to rule us and destroy us, it is not works righteousness or pietism to put to death our old nature. Pietists would say that you must fight against sin and the old nature TO BE a Christian; you must be obedient to be saved. But true, orthodox Christianity says nothing of the sort. We, instead, say that BECAUSE you are a true Christian, saved, destined for life eternal, filled with the Spirit of Christ, that you necessarily battle against the old nature, putting him to death each day. The battle is the result of faith and not the prerequisite or addendum of faith.
So yes, envy must be killed each day. Envy, the prideful idolatrous nature and obsession over someone else’s standing before God, someone else’s gifts or talents or blessings, it must die each day and kindness must be born in us each day.
The vice of Greed must die each day. Greed is the prideful idolatrous nature and obsession over self-protection, that surrounding yourself with stuff and having more stuff than the neighbor will somehow win you joy and happiness and true living, even if obtaining that stuff is done at the expense of the neighbor, even if it causes the neighbor to suffer. We must kill greed each day by learning generosity and trusting that God will not, WILL NOT cause us to fall off the face of the earth if we give generously. Our consumerist culture does not want us to be generous but instead wants payment plans, interest rates, and giving all we have to subscriptions which pad the pockets of the politically minded and the powerful. And once we give what we have to pay for this, that, or the other, what little we have left to give out of the kindness of our hearts to the church, the poor, the helpless. It takes an adjustment in how we understand generosity to truly be generous. Generosity is most common about first fruits and not the scraps left over.
The vice of Gluttony must die each day. Gluttony is the prideful idolatrous nature and obsession over giving into the body’s natural desires without restraint. This is why Scripture connects gluttony and lust so closely, and why Luther even made this connection. Gluttony is the need to indulge the flesh, not just through filling the stomach, but through whatever other means of indulgence you can imagine. It may be through excess sleep. It may be through piercings and obsessions with tattoos. It may be through cosmetic surgeries. But Gluttony, at its core, is about a lack of control and discipline of one’s own body and allowing the urgings of the body to drag the person into living an unchaste and unkept life. When we let our emotions drag us around like a ragdoll, that’s gluttony. When we let desires such as sexual promiscuity, lust, hunger, drunkenness, sensuality control our thoughts and our actions, this is gluttony. And gluttony must be put to death in us each day with temperance. Temperance is the gift of God which says, “Unless you need it to live faithfully as a child of God, you don’t need it.”
A friend of gluttony is lust, and lust must die each day. Lust is the prideful idolatrous nature and obsession over giving into the body’s desire for pleasure. Our culture today is obsessed with sex, our children are sexualized and the lust for pleasure is awakened in them the moment they watch TV or see a video on YouTube. High school and college, even middle school has created a pro-sexual activity environment where your kids and grandkids are encouraged to engage in sexual activity as a “natural, healthy experience.” And the more this vice is celebrated by the world, the more we see chastity and respect for human life and wellbeing disappear. The abortion conversation today where basically abortion is a form of birth control, is best buds with the vice of lust. Sociologists have concluded that “Teens will have sex so don’t stop them; inform them,” and that such is the best way to curb overly dangerous behavior. Lust is perhaps the most condemning of vices because our body’s pleasure centers are the most enticing and easiest to give into.
This is why, as a church, and as parents and grandparents, you MUST teach chastity. No one else is teaching it, teachers, schools, friends, television, internet, no one else is teaching chastity. Even many churches have abandoned chastity in hopes to get more people in church. But the only way to kill lust and keep it dead is by daily repentance and a pursuit of chastity, both for the unmarried and for the married. Lust destroys the gift of sex which God has given to His people. Chastity upholds it and celebrates it and honors it. Luther says of 1 Peter 1:13, “Those who say that they have faith…but live as they please…are deceiving themselves. Where faith is genuine, it must attack the body and hold it in check, lest the body do what it pleases. For this reason, St. Peter says that we must be sober.”
The vice of Wrath must die each day. Wrath/anger is the prideful idolatrous nature and obsession to take vengeance on our neighbor – deserved or otherwise. Luther writes, “Christ Himself explains and sums it up in Matthew 5:20-26. He says that we must not kill, neither with hand, heart, mouth, signs, gestures, help nor counsel. Therefore, this commandment forbids everyone to be angry, except those who are in the place of God, that is, parents and the government.” Now, we should get angry at anything which causes our neighbor to break a commandment, but really even such anger should be reserved for those who have authority such as parents, the government and even church workers. Pastors especially have the authority to get angry at false teachers and the teachings they spread to deceive people. But beyond that, no one should harbor anger or wrath against anyone. At the root of unjust anger is the desire to murder. Now, you will say, “Pastor, I might be angry at my neighbor, and maybe even unjustly, but I have no desire to murder him.” But murder doesn’t start with the knife or the bullet; murder starts with the idolatrous, prideful desire for vengeance, and vengeance leads to words that curse and verbally destroy, and finally the full effect of murder if left unbridled, is the physical act. It would be appropriate to say that murder, at its core is the distorted desire to make the neighbor live and submit to your will; to be your slave, and to utilize force to make him submit, and if he doesn’t submit, to simply toss him off a cliff.
See, if you can do good to your neighbor and help your neighbor and treat your neighbor with dignity and respect, but instead you choose to belittle your neighbor, to harm him and harbor violence against him, then you are full of wrath and murder. We humans do not have the authority to take life, be it abortion, suicide, euthanasia, or full-on knife in chest murder, but we also don’t have the authority to harbor wrath against our neighbor, vengeance.
Therefore, we must put to death, each day, the vice of wrath, through the virtues of gentleness, patience, forbearance, and most importantly, forgiveness. These are the archenemies of wrath and anger. And as you learn each day through repentance and faith to forgive, to truly forgive, you also learn that the mountains we create when it comes to our interactions with our neighbors, and the grudges we hold and the wrath we store up against them…that it’s really not worth it, not justified, and that forgiveness and peace and goodwill is far, far better, not only because it means we aren’t enslaved to our desires for vengeance, but for our health and wellbeing. This is not to say we should turn a blind-eye to sin or to say nothing against Christians who openly and proudly embrace the vices or fearlessly break the commandments. But it is to say that, in all our interactions with the impenitent, it is always to bring them to repentance and forgiveness and all our interactions with the penitent, it is to keep them well grounded in Christ and His mercy.
The vice of Sloth must die each day. Sloth is the prideful idolatrous nature and obsession over laziness and idleness. Luther, late in his life, wrote: “God . . . will require of you an accounting of how you have heard, learned, and honored his Word. In the same way those conceited spirits should also be punished who, after they have heard a sermon or two, become sick and tired of it and feel that they know it all and need no more instructors. This is precisely the sin that used to be numbered among the mortal sins and was called [acedia]—that is, laziness or weariness—a malignant, pernicious plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives many hearts so that he may take us by surprise and stealthily take the Word of God away again.”
Sloth is a laziness and idleness when it comes to the things of God. What does the Scripture call us each to do as Christians? Whatever we are called to do or how we are called to behave, sloth is our lazy, stubborn refusal to do it. Are you called to be in church on Sundays, to be in prayer, to be in the Word, to be helpful to your neighbor, to forgive, to protect your neighbor’s wellbeing and possessions and reputation, are you called to be generous with what God has given you and support your church generously and help the poor and the suffering, are you called by God to dress and act respectfully and modestly, are you called by God to put away the things of the world such as worldly music which does not lead to faith but leads to lust and greed and pride, are you called as a child of God to live a life of chastity and to respect the gift of sex and sexuality? Luther says that sloth runs through all the commandments because we break the commandments out of laziness and idleness. Sloth is not just inaction, but it is overaction, spending too much time on something we shouldn’t and not enough time on something we should. Sloth, ultimately, is the neglecting of using the good and gracious gifts of God for the neighbor.
We kill sloth in us through diligence and zeal. In other words, we start with daily repentance and acknowledging that we have been slothful in our dealings with God and our neighbor. Then we open our scripture and we read it. We get our butts out of bed on Sunday, and we go to church. When we see an injustice in our community, we learn to stop shrugging it off and for the sake of the neighbor we confess the faith.
Sloth leads to families raising their kids as children of the world and not of God and His church. Sloth leads to once well-meaning Christians saying, “MY time, MY activities, MY schedule, MY money, MY possessions, MY wrath against that church member or pastor I don’t like is more important to me than getting my backside to church on Sunday morning, suffering through all that music I don’t like and listening to that boring sermon week after week.”
Sloth kills eternal souls. Diligence and zeal, flavored with a healthy serving humble pie, brings souls to the eternal throne of heaven. And I think that of all the vices, sloth is the one that modern Christianity suffers from the most. And the world and the devil loves it this way.
Finally, the vice of Pride must die each day. Pride is the inward idolatrous nature and obsession over one’s own life. It’s when one exchanges the true and only God and props up his own being as god. Pride is what the first two commandments concern. You shall have no other gods and you shall not misuse God’s name. To misuse God’s name is to abuse and mistreat His Word. It’s to call out for help and deliverance from a name that is not God’s name but the name of your favorite actor, musician, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, child, parent, government, brand of clothing, or a false interpretation of the Scripture or the one who teaches it falsely. It is to look into yourself, the things of your flesh, your emotions, your mind and reasoning, your intellect, your heart – to look into yourself for hope and assurance and comfort and purpose and conviction…to look for truth in yourself…to be true to yourself, and not to God.
We must kill pride each day through repentance and through humility and by acknowledging that these bodies and hearts and minds are broken things, and that it is futile to find anything within us worthy of abidance.
In fact, regarding all the vices, killing them begins and ends with God, with repentance, and with a firm faith that Jesus has created for us a much better and more forward path to true living, and that is the path paved with His blood, the path of mercy and forgiveness. Vices are not killed in us by redefining what is and isn’t a vice. They are killed in us by acknowledging our weaknesses and our succumbing to them, and by looking to Jesus and His Word to give us new life each day.
Next week we will conclude our study of this book by considering what it is to dress for this battle, to wear the full armor of God and fend off the arrows of the devil and his incitings. Amen.