Monthly Archives: November 2016

Paul—Persecutor, Apostle, Martyr

The following are the words I shared this morning with the University Church of Christ, where I attend. They fit quite well, I think, within this year’s theme of “love not the world.”

Aristotle’s description of the Great-Souled man

In his works on ethics, Aristotle describes various human qualities, virtues, and personality types. The one I find most interesting is what he calls the “Great-Souled” character. In modern translations, the Greek word for “great-soul” (megalopsychos) is often translated “magnanimity,” which derives from a Latin term that also means great-soul. But in modern English the word magnanimity means (excessive and unexpected) generosity.  And that is not what Aristotle means.

Aristotle says the Great-Souled (G-S from now on) man “seems to be the one who thinks himself worthy of great things and really is worthy” (EN 4.3). He is capable of great deeds and knows he is capable. He deserves great honor and knows it. He possesses great energy and ambition. He is willing to suffer greatly for a great cause. In Aristotle’s words, the G-S man “is unsparing of his life, since he does not think that life at all costs is worth living.”

But his great failing is measuring his greatness by what his country or city or community values most. Aristotle says that honor is the greatest of all external goods (EN 4.3). So, above all things, the G-S man seeks the honor and glory he thinks he deserves. And since he knows he is worthy of great honor, he is prone to be intolerant of insult and to explode in great anger when deprived of the honor he knows deserves. (For more on this subject, see Jacob Howland, “Aristotle’s Great-Souled Man,” Review of Politics, 64.1 (Winter 2002): 27-56.)

Paul as the Great-Souled Man

My assignment today is to survey the career, character, and message of Paul the Apostle. By any measure Paul was a great man. But I think we can gain greater insight into Paul by viewing him through the lens of the G-S character type. That’s what we will do this morning.

Upbringing

From Acts, we learn that Paul was a citizen of Tarsus. Tarsus was the capitol city of a region called Cilicia in Asia Minor (Modern Turkey) and a regional center of learning. It was home to several famous Stoic philosophers contemporary with Paul. We are pretty sure that Paul came from a moderately wealthy family, because only people of some wealth could become citizens of Tarsus. In Acts 22, we learn that, though he was born in Tarsus, he was brought up in Jerusalem and studied under Gamaliel, the most famous Rabbi and teacher at that time.

Paul describes himself in Philippians as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (3:5), that is, ultraorthodox and extreme. And in Galatians, chapter one, he describes himself this way (1:13-14):

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul was a highly talented man and very ambitious to do great things and receive great honor. But he sought to do great things as measured by what the sect of Pharisees considered great. And his ambition for greatness among the Pharisees led him to become a persecutor of Christians.

The Persecutor

Paul viewed the rise of Christianity as a great threat to Judaism and to his community. For Paul, Jesus was a deceiver and his disciples were heretics! After all, Jesus was tried in the Jewish Court, convicted of blasphemy, and crucified by the Romans as a rebel. He could not be the messiah as the Christians claimed! Paul was outraged at this insult to God, the law, the temple, and Judaism—and to himself!

Paul is first mentioned in Acts as participating in Stephen’s murder and then as the designated inquisitor to arrest disciples in Damascus and bring them to Jerusalem to stand trial. Acts 9 describes him as “breathing out threatenings and slaughter.” He was the Great-Souled man at his worst.

Conversion

But Saul, the Great-Souled man, met Jesus on the road to Damascus. What an unlikely convert! And what a transformation! The chief inquisitor becomes the apostle to the world for all time! What he took as blasphemy, he learned was God’s deep truth. What before looked like weakness now appears as divine power! Human folly has become divine wisdom. Shame becomes glory and insult honor. Everything in Paul’s world has been turned upside down.

His former great cause, his great ambitions, and his great accomplishments, he now considers “as garbage” (Phil 3:8) compared to knowing Christ. His legal scrupulousness, his sincerity, and his zeal for God’s honor, he now calls “the flesh,” mere human pride in oneself (Phil 3:3).

But Paul has not ceased to be the G-S man. All his enormous energy and ambition was brought into the service of Christ. He is still capable of great things and knows it. And he knows how to brag about it, as you can see in 1 Cor. 15:9-10:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

And in 2 Cor 11-12, he gives two chapters to “bragging” about his work:

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.

As you can see, Paul is still willing to suffer greatly for a great cause! And like Aristotle’s G-S man, “He is unsparing of his life, since he does not think life at all costs is worth living.” But Paul now measures greatness and glory and honor by another standard. It’s not the well-being of the city or the nation or of any other community or interest group or academic guild or profession or business or institution. Jesus Christ crucified and risen is the standard for human greatness, wisdom, and honor. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). He is what God would look like if God became a human being. And the Christian Great-Souled person wants to be as much like God as possible, which means to become as much like Jesus as possible. Listen to Paul’s words from Philippians 3:10-11:

 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul’s Gospel, Teaching and Theology

Paul’s message, teaching, and theology are shaped by his character and his experience on the Damascus road. He learned to his total surprise that he did not know himself or God; indeed, he learned that instead of loving God he hated him and that instead of being perfectly righteous he was the worst of sinners! And yet God chose him, called him, forgave him, and bestowed abundant grace and mercy on him. This experience humbled Paul and made him infinitely grateful. Hence…

Paul’s message was cross-centered and Spirit-empowered. It urges us to respond to God by trusting in the unbounded mercy and grace of God shown in Jesus Christ.

The Cross.

It should not be surprising that Paul’s gospel centered on the cross. Listen to 1 Cor 2:1-5:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Before Paul’s conversion, the cross was the thing he hated most about Jesus and his followers. But meeting Jesus in the heavenly vision revolutionized his understanding of the cross. Now he sees it as a window into the heart of God. The law gives some insight into God’s justice, but the cross reveals a deeper justice, the secret of divine love. And it shows the way we must live in order to become like God.

Grace/mercy

Grace is the favor that moves God to extend mercy to us. Paul never ceases to be amazed that God loves him, that God looks on him with favor and extends his mercy to him. Paul knows from experience what happens when you measure yourself by a human standard and think that God also uses that standard! It leads to self-righteousness, blasphemy, and persecution. For all his legal righteousness and zeal for God’s law, Paul discovered he still needed infinite mercy! And Paul’s gospel shouts that we have no claim on God. If God favors us and accepts us, it is because of his sheer grace and mercy! Never ever think there is another reason! Paul makes this clear in Romans 3:21-24:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Speaking of Faith and Trust…

Paul didn’t request a meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road, and he knows that he didn’t deserve the mercy and forgiveness given him. But he believed the heavenly voice and trusted in God’s mercy. The gospel Paul preached is about the surprising thing God has done for us; it’s about his favor and mercy and forgiveness enacted in Jesus. The gospel urges us to believe and trust in God’s grace.

Faith is our acknowledgment that God’s is way ahead of us and that we want to catch up. It is our confidence in God’s love and mercy. Faith is our first positive response to God’s offer of salvation; it’s not the cause but the effect of God’s grace. Every other response to Jesus flows from faith and trust.

Faith is not some great, noble, and difficult act that sets us above others. No, not at all! Faith is the humblest, poorest, most empty-handed act we can do. It puts no confidence in our power or wisdom or goodness. It renounces all such claims and acknowledges that God alone is holy, that Jesus alone is Savior and Lord. It looks down on no one. It compares itself to no one. For it keeps its eyes fixed on Jesus.

The Unity of Jew and Gentile

Isn’t this amazing: Jesus called Paul the Pharisee, the ultraorthodox enforcer, to be the apostle to the “unclean” gentiles! And Paul took that mission with great seriousness. He resisted every attempt to force gentile Christians to keep the Law of Moses. In Christ, everyone, Jew and gentile alike, relates to God by faith and trust in God’s grace bestowed in Jesus, not by keeping the law. Paul sees the church as the fulfillment of the OT prophecies about the nations of the world coming to faith in Israel’s God and flowing into Jerusalem.

And the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ is one of his major concerns throughout the letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. You can see this issue surface especially in Romans, chapters 1-3 and 9-11. No one, gentile or Jew, can make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the law! So, Jews should not look down on gentiles because they don’t keep kosher or observe Sabbaths and other holy days! And gentiles must not look down on Jewish believers because they observe the law or because most Jews did not accept Jesus as the messiah. We are one body in Jesus Christ, as Paul says so eloquently in Galatians 3:26-29:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What makes us acceptable to God? What makes us children of God and heirs of the promise given to Abraham? On what basis should we accept each other? Everyone, Paul says, who in faith has been baptized into Christ is our brother or sister. They are God’s children, acceptable to God, heirs of the promise. We are united to each other in Christ, Paul says, so get used to it!

We must accept those whom God accepts, on the same basis God accepts them. It matters not your tribe, your nation, or your social status. It makes no difference whether your skin in pink, white, black, brown, yellow, or purple. It doesn’t matter where your ancestors lived, in the North or South or East or West. Young or old, educated or ignorant, rich or poor, from the city or from the country…It makes no difference. Languages don’t matter! In the church, every day is Pentecost! In the church, only one thing matters: how you stand with Jesus Christ. Do you rely on him completely as Savior? Do you give yourself to him utterly as your Lord?

The Spirit and the Law

To some people Paul’s talk of divine love, grace, and mercy, his insistence of faith as the proper response to grace, and his seeming criticism of the Law of Moses implies that we don’t need to make any effort to be good or to do good in the world. Apparently, Paul heard this kind of objection often. For in Romans, chapters 6-8, he responds to it at length. In 6:1-4, he says:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Where do we get the power for this new life? Paul’s answer is very clear: from God’s Spirit, which lives and works in all who are united to Christ! Listen to Romans 8:1-4:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c]And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

In faith, receive and trust in the power of the divine Spirit to change us, to transform us into new people. Through the Spirit’s power we become people who really do love God and our neighbors, who reject the way of the world, and allow the Spirit to place the life of Jesus into our spirits. You can’t do it. I can’t do it. The Law can’t do it for you. But the Spirit can.

Four Lessons

What can we learn from Paul, the Great-Souled man?

First, we need a Damascus Road experience. We need to encounter Jesus crucified and risen from the dead. We need to learn to see ourselves differently…not as those who “seem to be worthy of great things and really are worthy.” We need to stop measuring greatness by human standards and seeking honor from human beings. Ask yourself how much your search for acceptance, recognition, attention, honor, and glory from other people drives your life? What about us academics? Do we seek honor from our peers or from God? What about students? What about you professionals? What a difference it would make if we sought honor and glory and acceptance from God alone, and in relation to human beings sought only to do them good.

Second, we need to adopt God’s great cause, which is bringing the whole world into conformity with the pattern of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the place to start is with yourself. That is what Paul did.

Third, we need to understand that in union with Christ and through the power of the Spirit we are capable of great things and we will be made worthy of great honor. We do not have to be slaves to anger, greed, lust, pride, and a host of bad habits. You can be transformed into a patient, loving, disciplined, generous, and wise person. We can be a light in the darkness. There is no greater accomplishment than becoming like God as God is seen in Jesus. And there is no greater power for good in this world than living such a life. No one acting as a warrior or persecutor or politician or academic can do such great things or deserved so great an honor.

Fourth, don’t delay. Resolve today to place your biography, character, and experience—no matter what it is!—in God’s hands. Do what Paul did. In faith, accept God’s grace and make that clear to everyone by submitting to baptism into Christ. God used Paul to do great things and he can use you! God alone decides what things are truly great and deserve honor. And you don’t have to be extraordinary in the eyes of others to do them.

I will conclude with the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28:

25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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SEX, LOVE, AND THE WAY OF THE WORLD

In the post made on October 16, 2016, I defined “the world” as “sin in its organizing mode.” The world is the way our lives individually, socially, and in culture become organized when sin is given space to work out its chaotic logic.  First John 2:15-17 lists “the lust of the flesh” as one of the three organizing principles of “the world.” Today I want to ask how the lust of the flesh orders, that is, disorders, the world. The lust of the flesh refers to any desire to experience pleasure by means of one of the five senses, though usually we narrow it to taste and touch. Specifically, we will deal with the lust for sexual intercourse, which is the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the term “lust.”

Every human society from the most primitive to the most civilized legislates rules for who may have sex with whom and under what conditions. Such acts as incest, child molestation, adultery, and rape may be defined differently than modern western societies define them, but properly defined they are forbidden in all societies. Warrior societies may permit engaging in forced sex with slaves or conquered enemies. In some tribal societies, giving your wife for sex with a male visitor of the same status is understood not as facilitating adultery but as an act of hospitality. Prostitution is permitted or overlooked in many societies, ancient and modern. And in many cultures the rules for men are much looser that those governing daughters and wives.

As we can see, even “the world” regulates sex. Why? Because sex is a powerful and irrational force! And unregulated by reason it can destroy individuals, families, and societies. It often provokes jealously, inflicts emotional wounds, evokes anger, and sometimes ends in violence. But the world is not stupid and suicidal. It insists on some order. It will not allow individuals to pursue their lusts without restraint.

Why then does John criticize the world for ordering itself according to “the lust of the flesh”? Clearly, John is not implying that “the lust of the flesh” is the only ordering principle the world uses. He lists two others, “the lust of the eye and the pride of life.” And we should not take John’s list of three ordering principles as exclusive of others. Everyone wants to live, be safe, and have friends. Nor is John saying that there is no light and nothing good in the world. The flickering light of reason keeps the world from falling into complete moral chaos. But as John looks at the world from the perspective of the bright light of Jesus Christ, he can see that the world orders itself to accommodate “the lust of the flesh” as much as it can without destroying the social fabric.

In other words, the dominant restraining principle that sets limits on the two lusts and pride is social survival, that is, the traditional and legal order that enables a society to function economically, culturally, and militarily. What makes a social order “the world” in John’s sense is that its principles of order have validity only for this life. Everything is organized to provide maximum pleasure, comfort, and safety in this world. A society can exist and thrive economically, culturally, and militarily, even if it allows individuals to engage in prostitution, promiscuous sex, homosexuality, adultery, pornography or any other avenue of sexual pleasure, as long as these activities do not lead to violence or in other obvious ways threaten the integrity of society. This is the bottom line of the world. And it is this order that John rejects.

But John—and the New Testament as a whole—insists that Christians must order their lives by a higher principle. The Christian rules for who can have sex with whom and under what conditions are not designed simply to enable the social and political order to function culturally, economically, and militarily in ways that provide maximum pleasure, comfort, and safety in this world. That higher principle is love of neighbor enlightened by God’s self-giving love as shown in Jesus Christ. When we see how much God loved our neighbors and us, we will love God in return. And we will love our neighbors in the same way God loved us. Who is our neighbor? Every human being we meet! Love gives only what is good for the beloved, and we learn what is good for our neighbors from God.

Sex is powerful, and, if it is not ordered and disciplined by a higher principle, it is destructive, very destructive. Christianity insists that the drive for sex be subordinated to the principle of love of neighbor, as defined by the quality of God’s love.  In this light, you can see why Christianity limits sexual union to marriage. Marriage in the Christian sense is a life-long bond, made before God and human witnesses. It surrounds sexual union with promises of exclusive love and loyalty. It welcomes children and provides stability for them. Marriage is not merely contract agreeing to keep each other satisfied sexually. It is a multidimensional partnership for all of life. The marriage promises to protect husband and wife from the pains of jealously and insecurity. Sex becomes more than a means of pleasure or pride or power. In marriage, the power of sex is turned to a constructive use. It becomes a means of reinforcing and deepening the bond of love and of giving us the emotional certainty that we are loved and will never willingly be abandoned. It protects each person from superficial physical attractions to other people.

Perhaps a society that allows prostitution, promiscuous sex, adultery, pornography or other avenues of sexual pleasure can continue to perform its basic functions. Perhaps it can function even if it aborts (kills) millions of unborn children every year. Perhaps it can deal with diseases spread by promiscuous sex. I don’t deny it. But such societies and the individuals within them follow the way of “the world.” “The love of the Father is not in them.” No one who has sex with a prostitute seeks her highest good. You don’t have sex with a prostitute because she needs the money or love. You cannot be seeking to love people as God has loved you if you “hook up” with them for mutual exploitation. Nor do you love yourself as God’s has loved you when you do such things. You have to disengage sex from love to engage in promiscuous relationships. Instead of expressing deep and lasting love, sex becomes an occasion for hurt, jealously, cruelty, emptiness, and insecurity. Society may survive, but many individuals will not.

Christianity is much stricter than the world in its rules for sex. And it is often ridiculed as being sexually repressed or obsessed or both at the same time. The next time you hear this tired refrain, you will know how to respond. Christianity has a “stricter” view of sex because has a higher view of sex, and of human beings and their dignity. The world expects less because it thinks less of us. We are valued only as means to the survival of the society. Beyond that, we can live as self-destructively as we please and pursue our irrational lusts as we wish. The world doesn’t care. But Jesus teaches us that we should not use each other as mere occasions for pleasure or pride or power. We are to love others in the way God loved us. You should not toy with the most tender and vulnerable sphere of  another person’s heart with the powerful and dangerous force of sex unless you love them truly and they love you truly and you have made this known in formal, binding promises.

Politics, Sports, Entertainment, and Other False Religions

In this fourth installment of our series on “Love not the World” (1 John 2:15-17), I want to ask what John means by “loving the world” as opposed to loving the Father. In an earlier post, we saw that the “world” is the order of things prioritized to satisfy our self-centered desire for physical pleasure, possessions, and honor. John urges, “Don’t love this order, this kosmos.” “Don’t order your loves in this way.” As we see clearly, the organizing principle of “the world” is unenlightened love of the self, shaped and moved by our immediately felt physical desires and our psychological need for social acceptance—all informed and directed by the dominant culture in which we live.

In worldly society everyone desires, sells, promotes, seeks, and admires, physical pleasure, possessions, and honor above all other things. This way of thinking dominated the society and culture of John’s day. And it dominates ours also. Indeed, the “world,” as an order determined by the three perverted loves, manifests itself in every actual social and political order, in every human institution.

Politics, my friends, concerns the order of this world, and it arranges things to promote the realization of some vision of the good life within this world. And given the values of most people, politics invariably concerns competing visions of how to secure money, safety, possessions, pleasure, and honor. Do not love politics. Don’t become angry, anxious, or obsessed with it. Do not love the world in any of its manifestations. Do not love your sports team or famous people. Love the Father.

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

John tells us not to “love” the world, either as a way of ordering our lives or as an actual social and political order. He uses the verb form of a Greek word familiar to many church-going people, agape. We should reserve our love for God. God loves us and sent his Son to save us from sin and death. The world does not love us. It cannot save us from sin and death, because the world itself is dominated by sin and death. We love God by returning our praise, thanks, and honor to him for what he has done for us. In loving God, we seek him as our highest good, treating all other goods as means to our ultimate goal of eternal life with God. God is the measure of all things. Nothing else really matters.

We love the world when we treat experiencing physical pleasure as the goal of our lives. Loving the world involves letting our desire for beautiful, convenient, and comfortable things eclipse our desire for God and the things of God. When we seek approval, praise, and honor from other people and do not strive to please God above all others, we have succumbed to the love of the world. Physical pleasure, cars, houses, and lands, and a good reputation are not evil in themselves. They can be means through which we can serve and praise God. The joy we experience in them can turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving. But if we seek them as if they could give us true joy apart from their function of pointing us to God, if we worship them, if we forsake the higher goods for the lower, then these things will turn to dust in our hands. There is only one God. Apart from God, there is only death.

It’s time for some self-examination. Do you love the world? Do I love the world? Let’s ask ourselves some questions:

 

How often do you think of God and pray?

 

When you pray, for what do you ask?

 

How much time do you spend trying to shape other people’s opinion of you? And how much does it bother you when you get less respect or recognition than you think you deserve?

 

How much of your attention is given to planning and experiencing pleasures of all kinds?

 

If you were responding to a survey that asked you rank the top five things you desired most, what would top your list? Second? Third?

 

How much effort do you give to exercising your spirit, in self-examination and confession?

 

What do you think about when you take a walk by yourself?

 

What are the highest priorities of your two best friends?

 

Would you prefer to look good or be good? Does your answer match the effort you put into each?

 

Whom do you most admire?

 

Is the “love of the Father” the organizing and animating force of your life?

In researching for a book I am writing, I’ve come upon some of Plato’s ethical thoughts. In the following quote from his dialogue Theaeteus, Plato sounds a lot like John in 1 John 2:15-17. Considering the high calling we receive from Jesus Christ, we ought at least to aim as high as Plato, who did not know the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, bids us aim:

But it is not possible, Theodorus, that evil should be destroyed—for there must always be something opposed to the good; nor is it possible that it should have its seat in heaven. But it must inevitably haunt human life, and prowl about this earth. That is why a man should make all haste to escape from earth to heaven; and escape means becoming as like God as possible; and a man becomes like God when he becomes just and pure, with understanding. But it is not at all an easy matter, my good friend, to persuade men that it is not for the reasons commonly alleged that one should try to escape from wickedness and pursue virtue. It is not in order to avoid a bad reputation and obtain a good one that virtue should be practiced and not vice; that, it seems to me, is only what men call ‘old wives’ talk’. Let us try to put the truth in this way. In God there is no sort of wrong whatsoever; he is supremely just, and the thing most like him is the man who has become as just as it lies in human nature to be…

My friend, there are two patterns set up in reality. One is divine and supremely happy; the other has nothing of God in it, and is the pattern of the deepest unhappiness. This truth the evildoer does not see; blinded by folly and utter lack of understanding, he fails to perceive that the effect of his unjust practices is to make him grow more and more like the one, and less and less like the other. For this he pays the penalty of living the life that corresponds to the pattern he is coming to resemble (Plato, Theaeteus, trans. M. J. Levett, rev. Myles Burnyeat in The Complete Works of Plato, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hacket, 1997), p. 195).