7 Deadly Sins & Virtues
Seven Sirens (7 Deadly Sins)
How the ancient Deadlies continue to tempt today.
As a boating enthusiast, I enjoy sea stories. One ancient tale of the sea is that of the mysterious creatures known as sirens, those mythological creatures that appeared to sailors. In the distance sirens looked ravishingly beautiful, and a brief glance led to fixation. The sound of their voices was a hypnotic lure that couldn't be resisted. Sailors would jump overboard and swim toward the object of their dreams. But upon arrival, they would discover an ugly monstrous hag who would drag them into the deep where they would drown and be eaten.
The Seven Deadly Sins are like sirens. They beckon us. On first glance, they seem like something lovely, something that we want, we need, we deserve. But when we answer their call and swim toward them, we find ourselves face to face with a nightmare.
And, it's time to admit it: these sirens sing to church leaders. Here's how their songs sometimes sound to us.
Many pastors need to be needed. We pastors love to set ourselves up as the experts. As fountains of wisdom. As we see the work we do in people's lives, we often begin to think, Wow, they couldn't do it without me! Pride slips into a pastor's soul and takes root. Its tentacles spread. Soon we can even figure out how to be proud of not being proud.
Susan is an incredibly gifted solo pastor of a smallish congregation. She sings, plays guitar and piano, is a great worship planner, and has even learned computer layout skills for flyers, bulletins, and newsletters. And, since she has the technical know‑how and no one is as good and fast as she is at doing the work, Susan does it all herself.
When asked about the load, she insists that it would take too long to teach others who (I hate to say this) just might not get it all right, or might struggle to acquire information that is at Susan's fingertips. Besides, Susan says, she likes doing this stuff as an act of service. She is a humble servant leader, she tells herself.
Those who dodge the snare of pride and its inherent feelings of superiority can fall into an equally sinful pit of envy.
Envy is all about wanting what we haven't got. For pastors, envy ranges from feigned admiration or sickly disdain of another minister's preaching skills, leadership style, or large congregation.
Those of you who grew up in the sixties will enjoy this story. One of my dear friends, John, was in the pulpit of his congregation when he took a section of Philippians and did an exposition of the text following the outline of an old song by the band Steppenwolf.
"Get your motor running," he said. "Don't wait around. Get your life in God going. Head out on the highway!" He went on to inspire them to adventure, adaptability, and a go‑for‑it attitude. “You can't grow at home. You have to head out. Getting your motor running in the garage and going nowhere is deadly.”
What a superb sermon. Stellar. I should have been overjoyed. But one symptom of envy is dejection. I see someone who is marvelously gifted, and envy tells me to just give up.
I know God has gifted me in ways that he hasn't gifted John—but envy causes me to look only at the area in which I don't measure up. When I want what I haven't got, envy has stolen from me the joy of what God has given me.
Only a strong dose of choosing to celebrate another person's gifts and uniqueness—and our own—can overcome the toxin of envy.
Anger occurs when you feel a threat. The threat can be real or perceived. In ministry pastors continually take personal shots, and some of these can make us feel threatened.
Some of us attempt to seethe quietly. Or we express our anger as "concerns" and intellectualize it. But in most cases, attempts to hide anger aren't fully successful. All too often, there is no good venue in which pastors can express their hurt and disappointment with those who hurt them. So, the anger builds. It assails the pastor's body. Blood pressure soars. Muscles tighten. Irritability and a sense of being on the edge take over.
Poor Pam. She has a troubled woman in her church who takes out all of her parental issues, insecurities, and feelings of powerlessness on Pam. Her adversary is a cradle member of the congregation, born into a respected family. There is nothing that Pam could think to do with this person. Then her tormentor got the church board's personnel committee to put in place a policy wherein Pam, who works about 65 hours per week, would have to log her hours so that board members could audit her and make sure that she was really doing her job—the right things at the right time and in the right quantities. Pam is so mad she has murderous thoughts. During a meeting with her foe where she hoped to iron things out, she finally lost it. She screamed, raged, and even swore at her enemy. The prowling tiger of anger was out. But it had already been feeding on Pam's soul for months.
In Gustave Dore's classic painting "The Neophyte," a young man with the brightness and vigor of youth is introduced to the brothers in a particular monastery—a line of mindless, joyless, mechanical figures, in whom every spark of energy and enthusiasm has died. With one terror‑stricken glance, you can see what the novice is destined to become, at least if he, like they, succumb to the sin of "accidia."
Translated "sloth," accidia isn't so much laziness as it is becoming numb, unfeeling, unmotivated—whether from despair or apathy.
On the front line of ministry, it's easy to lose our zeal. Our resolve to be who God has called us to be fails. Sloth makes us feel powerless, as if our efforts don't matter. We grow dejected. We give up. We turn our anger inward and declare ourselves useless and our ministry efforts "not worth it." This hazard goes back to Elijah and Jonah in the Old Testament. The "woe is me, I want to just die" syndrome.
John was once a solid pastor. Sound preaching skills, fair leadership instincts, decent pastoral care skills, and he made up for his weaknesses by working hard. But after a decade or so at Geneva Congregational, John's marriage turned sour. Then, there was turnover at the church. A trusted and supportive family moved out of town. A youth director quit to go to graduate school. Elders began to dog John to do this, that, and the other thing (which John thinks they could easily handle themselves). John goes down to funkytown. In a pit of despair, he emotionally disengages; he'll put in his time, but he quits giving his all, thinking no one will notice. But they do. And the church's vitality decreases as John's sloth increases.
Greed can take many forms. The desire for money, position, power, prestige, perks. In church leaders it might be spotted in an insatiable hunger for bigger budgets, bigger buildings, and more bodies in the pews.
Martin is a gifted minister who has served in large Christian organizations and churches. He has many virtues—and one major flaw. He loves power and its trappings. When considering a new position, he expects a large, well‑appointed office with a regal air about it. Well, and¼. there's the private parking spot, the country club membership¼.
Greed can flourish in the presence, or the absence, of material wealth. I used to think time and again that I deserved better pay in my jobs. I would constantly chafe at the amount I was paid and assert I was worth more.
The problem was, even when I did get raises, they didn't come as gifts, or even as perks for working hard and accomplishing goals. Instead they came as morsels that I couldn't enjoy because they represented less that I thought I was worth.
Greed steals the enjoyment of what we have because we're fixated on "more."
Gluttony isn't just about food—it's any form of conspicuous consumption. If greed is about having to have—and keep—it all, gluttony is about experiencing and consuming.
I have seen gluttony in the busy pastor syndrome. The busy pastor flits from town to town as the keynote speaker enjoying fine meals, golf, swimming, movies, and sightseeing. On top of that, the busy pastor always makes the scene at civic events, celebrations, and religious gatherings.
Gorging on moment after moment of activity, the minister becomes shallow; without reflection his or her words and thoughts ring empty.
Don and Mary are quite the busy clergy couple. They are loved in their church, in their city, and around the nation. They go here and there to work and play. As time goes by, the two of them consuming more and more activity, it becomes painfully obvious that neither has done any significant study, fresh thinking, or original writing in a long time.
People grow weary of hearing the same old shuffle every time Don and Mary speak or write. Their popularity wanes. Their marriage falters. Their lives crumble. Isn't it funny that consuming so much can leave you so empty. Such is gluttony.
That's all of the Deadly Sins for now¼. oh, except for lust. And we all know about that one.
One way of understanding sin is that it's a distortion of love. Excessive love of self leads to pride, anger, and envy. Insufficient love leads to sloth and lust. And love for the wrong things leads to greed and gluttony.
These sirens continue to sing today. But knowing the dangers is a step toward preventing destruction.
Randy Rowland is pastor of Church at the Center in Seattle,Washington
! The Seven Deadly Sins
The Seven Deadly Sins ¼ their aliases and their antidotes.
AKA (also known as): Invidia (Latin); displeasure at the good of another; pleasure at their failings; ingratitude for our own gifts and longing for someone else's; chronic dissatisfaction
loving excellence for its own sake; "keep(ing) step with the spirit" (Gal. 5:25); developing the "Cardinal Virtues"
(see p. 26), which apply to all of the following sins, too.
AKA: Avaritia; craving; avarice preoccupation with material things; security; "This is mine!"; miser (which comes from the same root as "miserable")
generosity; giving away things you value; secret giving (Matt 6:3); giving cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7).
AKA: Gula; any appetite that isn't restrained; addiction; eating, drinking, sleeping, or playing to excess
periodic fasting from whatever appetite tempts; "buffeting" the body into compliance (1 Cor. 9:27).
AKA: Ira; ire; rage; resentment; bitterness; indignation
compassion; gentleness; quick settlement (Eph. 4:26).
AKA: Accidia; negligence; apathy; despondency; hopelessness; avoiding what needs to be done or else doing it listlessly
courage; faithfulness; enthusiasm; being fully alive; serving "heartily" (Col. 3:23).
AKA: Luxuria; to "luxuriate," letting thoughts soak in anything that's impure; gratification without giving
"You are not your own, you are bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Cor. 6:19‑20).
AKA: Superbia; superiority ("at least I'm better than¼."); entitlement ("I deserve more.")
humility; "consider others better than yourself" (Phil. 2:3); recognizing that every good thing about me comes
from God, who expects each gift to be used in serving.
In Dante's "Inferno," the proud are punished by carrying a huge stone that bends them double, so they cannot lift their eyes from the ground. Those who looked down on everyone else in their lives are now unable to look up at God or anything else.
! Seven Cardinal Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins are countered, traditionally, by the Seven Cardinal Virtues, which point the way to spiritual health and holiness:
Wisdom (choosing the right path)
Courage (overcoming external threats, obstacles)
Temperance (overcoming internal threats)
Justice (seeing that others are treated right)
Faith (trusting God's purposes)
Hope (knowing that God is at work in this situation)
Love (responding based on faith and hope)
The Source of the Seven
In the early church, lists were diagnostic tools used to help people recognize their sins and, by identifying them, to resist them and to acknowledge a personal need for God's forgiveness.
Perhaps the earliest list of seven was from the book of Proverbs:
"There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that
shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and one who stirs up dissension among brothers" (Prov. 6:16‑19).
Gregory the Great, around A.D. 600, suggested that every sin could be traced back to seven "cardinal" or root sins, from which all other sins derive, and these eventually came to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins.
He adapted lists developed by Evagrius of Pontus (born A.D. 346) and John Cassian (c. 400). Cassian's list did not include envy but included both lethargy and despondency (which Gregory combined under sloth).
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
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Spring 2001, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Page 24