Establishing Values and Virtues in Modern Society

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The world’s values destroy spiritual health. Fundamentally, living in a world in which God is not recognized as the ultimate authority has corroded our spiritual values.

That ours is an age of material goods and relative prosperity might not surprise you. But what might surprise you that young people who are called “Baby Busters”, ages 18-30, believe that relationships are primary. 

In TIME Magazine, June 30,1997:  Gen X’ers were asked, "if you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you most like to have with you?"  - TV 10%, Books 15%, A computer-21%, Music-24%, My parent’s-29%.

Two other “factoids” that help to express the reality of our age:

In 1978 there were 11,767 items in the average supermarket, just 15 years later, in the early 1990s, the number was 24,531..."choice overload” (Richard Swenson, Margin).

A single edition of the New York Times contains more information than a 17th century Englishman would encounter in a lifetime.

And yet, with all the innovation and all the information, we are facing a crisis of the soul as we struggle to determine how to establish our values and virtues.  Robert Bellah, in his seminal book, Habits of the Heart, said the following about the changes to our way of life:

“Perhaps the crucial change in American life has been that we have moved from the local life of the nineteenth century-in which economic and social relationships were visible, and however imperfectly, morally interpreted as parts of a larger life-to a society vastly more interrelated and integrated economically, technically, and functionally.Yet this is a society in which the individual can only rarely and with difficulty understand himself and his activities as interrelated in morally meaningful ways with those of other, different Americans”

How does one determine values and priorities in life?  How do we slay the dragon of consumerism that can devour both our resources and our peace of mind?  As you might suspect, James has something to say on that subject... And he does so, somewhat clinically.  First, we will examine the malady, then describe the diagnosis, and finally prescribe the treatment.

Symptoms-What is the nature of the disease?

James 4:1-3: What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it.You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.You quarrel and fight.You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Desires are an area of “natural” conflict... We say “natural” because of the reality of our human nature. But for people who follow Jesus, we do have ability to overcome because of the presence of the Spirit in our lives.

We are trained to be self sufficient rather than God reliant. Being self-sufficient has value in terms of recognizing responsibility. But, we often confuse appropriate responsibility with a proper sense of source... God alone is the source of life, hope, and peace.

Our motives are often destructive- Proverbs 16:3... there is a way that seems right, but the end is death.

Diagnosis-What is our condition all about?

James 4:4-8: You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace.That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

The world’s values destroy spiritual health. Fundamentally, living in a world in which God is not recognized as ultimate authority has corroded our spiritual values.They cause a breech between us and God. Values and priorities which are adopted in a God-less world put us at odds with our Creator. We are then unable to live life in relationship with God, but instead “do battle” with Him. Yet, this passage makes clear that God’s desire is for us to come to a place of humility and come to Him... when we do, He will come to us.

Treatment—How do we get spiritual health?

James 4:13-17: Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

Determine the control center of your life... God or the world?

Depend on the certainty of God’s direction... God’s Word

Do what you know is right in God’s eyes... Obedience

Matthew 6:31-34: So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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