The Virtue of Fortitude

Ever heard the expression “It builds character?” The “it” is what you are going through at the present moment. Though “It builds character” is often used flippantly and sarcastically, there is a golden nugget of truth we can mine from this statement.

Character is who you are- your mentality, values, beliefs, judgments, perceptions, which shape your responses to life and circumstances. Your character is fully within your control. Much like gold and silver, character will go through a refinement process.

“Take away the dross from the silver, and there comes out a vessel for the smith.” (Proverbs 25:4, NASB).

We are the silver. The dross is our impurities or imperfections. The vessel is what we will be and the smith is God. It is the smith who helps shape the silver into what it is supposed to be.

Our character can also evolve over time, much like how a writer may go through multiple rewrites before the novel, script, or comic book is complete. (For instance, in the original draft of Star Wars, Han Solo had green skin and gills).

The Stoics also believed in the importance of character. The Stoics believed that we can improve ourselves and that we should strive every day to be better people. In his discourse, “On Providence,” Epictetus discusses the proper perspective we should have in life.

“It is easy to praise providence for everything that happens in the world provided you have both the ability to see individual events in the context of the whole and a sense of gratitude. Without these, either you will not see the usefulness of what happens or, even supposing that you do see it, you will not be grateful for it.”1

Epictetus also links our character with fulfilling our purpose:

“And so for the beasts it is enough to eat, drink, sleep, breed and do whatever else it is that satisfies members of their kind. But for us who have been given the faculty of understanding, this is not enough. Unless we act appropriately, methodically, and in line with our nature and constitution, we will fall short of our proper purpose.”2

Since we are created by God for a purpose, we are called to acknowledge God:

“Man was brought into the world, however, to look upon God and his works- and not just look, but appreciate…Come to look upon and appreciate God’s works at least once before you die.”3

Take a moment to watch a sunrise or sunset. Look at the stars. Travel to the mountains. Look at the oceans. Take a breath and enjoy the moment.

One of the things that attracted me to read about Stoicism was the pragmatic and realistic nature of the philosophy. For the Stoics, it’s about the process. It’s acknowledging that bad things will happen and being prepared for them when they happen. Because you have lived through previous trials, you have built up a reserve of character, or what Epictetus referred to as “the virtue of fortitude.”

“Furthermore, you have inner strengths that enable you to bear up with difficulties of every kind. You have been given fortitude, courage, and patience. Why should I worry about what happens if I am armed with the virtue of fortitude? Nothing can trouble or upset me, or even seem annoying. Instead of meeting misfortune with groans and tears, I will call upon the faculty especially provided to deal with it.”4

Epictetus goes on to mention about how we do not realize that we have the resources to conquer whatever we are facing. When circumstances do not go our way, we become bitter, complain and resent God, but God has provided a way out. You have the tools, you have to work with them. You might get greasy or hit your thumb, but keep working. What good is a toolbox of the best tools if they are never put to use?

God bless you all.

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings. Translated and Edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008): 16.

2Ibid, 17.

3Ibid, 18.

4Ibid, 18-19.

The Call of Virtue

To some people, the word “virtue” may seem to be an archaic or old-fashioned concept. We live in what many would call a post-Christian society, where everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes, whereby traditional values are scrapped in favor of “If it feels good, do it.” Virtue, however is not just a biblical concept, but is a sound life principle by which we can direct our lives. Some synonyms for virtue include integrity, sincerity, soundness, blamelessness, temperance, purity, incorruptibility, and decency, all of which are ideals to strive towards.

2 Peter 3:3-8 states: “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (KJV).

Living a virtuous life is a choice and a daily practice. As Christians, our integrity should be solid as we seek to live a life that pleases God and reveals Christ to those around us. We should never circumvent our long-term integrity to compromise our principles for a short-term gain, such as taking unethical shortcuts to make more money or get a promotion at our jobs. In fact, Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit, so let us shown ripe, righteous fruit.

Peter goes on to state: “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Peter 3:9-10, KJV).

If we have failed at some point, let us not live a life of regret and condemnation, but confess to God and bask in His forgiveness. Every day the Lord gives us is another chance to make things right, as His mercies are new every morning.

How can we apply virtue to our daily lives? We can apply virtue to our way of life, our words, and our faith according to the Apostle Paul.

“In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” (Titus 2:7-8, KJV).

“Let no man despise thy youth; but thou be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, KJV).

Even if being virtuous cost you personally- whether it be short-term gains, whether it would be difficult or time consuming, or having to bypass the chance “to get even,” choose virtue. No matter what it costs, do the right thing.

If we strive to live a life of virtue and honor, nothing can throw us off track. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca put it this way: “A good man will do what he thinks will be honorable for him to do even if it is laborious, he will do it even if it is damaging to him, he will do it even if it is dangerous. On the other hand, he will not do what is base even if it brings him money, even if it brings him pleasure, even if it brings him power. Nothing can deflect him from what is honorable, nothing tempt him to what is base. Hence, if he is bound to pursue the honorable course at all costs and to eschew the base at all costs and to look to these two principles in every act of his life, equating the good with the honorable and the bad with the base, if his virtue is wholly uncorrupted and maintains its bearings, then virtue is his sole good and it is impossible for any accident to make it otherwise.”[1]

In order to start living a virtuous life, we must gain the wisdom to do so. We must establish daily goals and work towards them. If we do this, we will see progress over time. We must spend time in prayer and God’s Word. We must love and forgive others as Christ has loved and forgiven us. God bless you all.

[1] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, “The Sole Good.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1958: 211-212.