Values vs. Virtues

Judges 21:25

25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news for you today.  The good news is that according to the most recent Harris Poll that was conducted in April of 2014, America’s favorite book is… guess what?  THE BIBLE!  Here’s what that article said:  The research firm surveyed 2,300 American adults aged 18 and over and asked them: What’s your favorite book of all time? The Bible was the top choice across all ages, regions, political parties, and levels of education. Gone with the Wind followed in second place, with the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings series, and To Kill a Mockingbird rounding out the top five.

So the Bible is America’s favorite book across all age groups and all demographic groups.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that only 1 in 5 Americans have ever read the entire Bible.  And the really bad news is that fewer and fewer people are reading it at all these days, which is one reason why I’m still working my way through a series of sermons that addresses this issue and that I have entitled “The Foundation of Our Faith.”  Following today’s sermon, though, we’re going to be taking a little break from it as we head into the season of Advent in a couple of weeks.  But we will get back to it sometime in January because I still have a lot of important things to share with you.  And one of the reasons I am so passionate about this subject is because of the section of the series that we’re in right now.  Currently we’re looking at some of the problems that can arise when people don’t read their Bibles – what we call biblical illiteracy.  And just to refresh your memories, the problems we’ve looked at so far include the following:  1. Biblical illiteracy leaves life’s key questions unanswered.  2. Biblical illiteracy hinders spiritual growth and maturity.  3. Biblical illiteracy threatens theological integrity.  If you missed any of those sermons and want to find out what was said in them, you can access them in both printed and audio form on our church’s web site at

Today we want to take a look at another problem that can occur when we fail to read our Bibles, and that is: Biblical illiteracy leads to moral uncertainty.  In case you haven’t noticed, currently we find ourselves in a culture where there is a lot of moral uncertainty.  Or to put it another way, times are changing.  And they’ve been changing for some time now.  One reason for that is that over the past few decades we have transitioned from a culture that was founded upon godly biblical principles to what is now referred to as a postmodern culture.  A postmodern culture is one in which people believe there is no such thing as absolute truth anymore and therefore there are no absolute rights and wrongs.  Each person has to decide and determine their own truth.  Consequently, what has happened, according to author Woodrow Kroll, is that we have come to use the terms values and virtues interchangeably.  And he says that’s a big mistake, because they are worlds apart in their meaning.

Let me explain.  According to Webster’s Dictionary, to value something means to assign relative worth or importance to it.  Therefore, values are those things to which we assign worth based upon how important they are to us.  The word virtue, on the other hand, means a particular moral excellence that conforms to an objective rather than subjective standard of right and wrong.  And here’s what has happened in our postmodern culture.  Whereas morality – how we live, how we treat our fellow man, how we view certain actions or situations – was once based on virtue, it is now based on value.  So we imperfect human beings decide what is moral based upon what we value rather than upon an objective standard of right and wrong.  Or to put it another way, the objective virtues that were once part of the very fabric of American society and that were based upon the objective standard of truth known as the Bible have gradually eroded away and have been replaced with subjective values based upon the postmodern mantra that says “If it feels good, do it!  If it makes you happy, then have at it!”

Need an example of this?  Just look at what has happened to television over the years.  Remember the days of I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver and The Dick Van Dyke Show?  I know I’m dating myself a bit here, but those were the shows many of us were raised on.  They were good wholesome shows that you could watch with your family and never have to worry about a stream of profanity spewing forth from the characters’ mouths or steamy bedroom scenes that left little or nothing to the imagination.  In fact, speaking of bedroom scenes, the few times they would show Lucy and Ricky Ricardo or Rob and Laura Petrie in the bedroom, what would you see?  They had twin beds, didn’t they?  They wouldn’t even allow married couples on television to occupy the same bed.  Why not?  I suspect it was because of the family virtues that most people in our society respected and held to back then, virtues that had their basis, their foundation, in the objective standard of right and wrong that we call the Bible.

But look at how things have changed, or maybe I should say deteriorated over the years.  Television programs today leave nothing to the imagination and the scenes that are shown on daytime soap operas and Netflix series are often times enough to make even the most open-minded of people blush.  Put simply, yesterday’s virtues have been replaced by today’s values, by what the television producers feel the public wants.  And the result is that there are few shows on prime time or anytime that you can sit down with your children and watch together as a family, absolutely convinced that they will portray godly virtues rather than worldly values.

Now what’s led to all this?  Well, I’m sure there are any number of factors we could cite, but I personally think a lot of it has to do with the failure of Christians to read and study their Bibles, their failure to be firmly grounded in the truths and teachings of the Word of God, and their resulting failure to stand up for those teachings in the midst of a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to it.  Earlier this year a study was conducted by the Nielsen Company which revealed that during the first quarter of this year adults in the United States devoted about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media. The report included how much time we spend daily using our tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs. And yet in spite of this obvious and blatant overexposure to technology, many Christians will at the same time claim that they just don’t have any time to read the Bible.  Or they will put forth no effort to read it.  Now please don’t misunderstand me here.  I’m not saying that you should never watch television or that you should rid your home of all electronic devices.  Nor am I saying that you should spend every waking or free moment you have reading the Bible.  But if you can spend 10 ½ hours sitting in front of a screen each day, surely you can find some time during the day to open the pages of this holy book and let the Creator of the universe and your Savior from sin speak to you about things that will matter not just for this life but for all eternity.

Listen, my friends, if we don’t get back to the Bible and start using it as God intended us to, I fear for our country.  I fear for the culture that our children and grandchildren are going to be raised in.  I fear for our churches as fewer and fewer people will understand the importance of regular exposure to the Word of God and find other things to do on Sunday rather than spend time in God’s house with God’s people hearing God’s Word.  I fear that we who have been given so much in this country by our good and gracious God will experience the moral free fall that the Israelites experienced in the Old Testament book of Judges where the summary verse for that book can be found in our text for today when it says: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”  The King James Version renders the last part of that verse this way: “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”  That’s where we are in America today.  And sometimes the consequences of this postmodern view, of everyone doing what’s right in their own eyes, can be shocking and devastating.

Who would better know that than the parents of the children who were students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999?  You remember what happened that day.  If there was ever a clash of values vs. virtues, that was it.  When Eric Harris, aged 18, and Dylan Klebold, aged 17, taunted, tormented, and massacred 12 of their peers and a teacher, while seriously wounding 23 others, they were simply acting in accord with their own values.  Or, to borrow the words from our text for today, they were doing that which was right in their own eyes.  And while America was shocked that such a thing could happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave and continues to be shocked at how the same scenario has been duplicated many times since then, is shock really the right reaction?  I don’t think so.  For this is the culture we have created, a culture that is devoid of virtue based upon an objective standard of right and wrong, a culture that instead emphasizes personal values based upon a subjective standard of right and wrong, a standard that the individual has created for himself or herself just like those 2 fellows did at Columbine.

Listen, my friends.  The reason there is so much moral uncertainty in America today is because there is so much biblical illiteracy.  If you don’t know God’s “take” on things like abortion, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, pornography, or any other moral or ethical issue, you’re going to be left with the “take” of the talk show host, the newspaper columnist, the television reporter, the movie star, the rock star, etc.  And I hope you feel the same way I do on this.  I would much rather get my “take” on things from the perfect and holy God who loved me enough to die for me in the person of his Son Jesus Christ rather than from fallen sinful human beings who are only out to satisfy their own personal interests or agenda and who purposely leave God out of the picture.

So we need to get back to the Bible, my friends, because it is the foundation of our faith.  We need to get back to this Book that not only tells us how to live a virtuous life, but what we can do when we fail to live a virtuous life.  And that’s something that’s going to happen to all of us, for the Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  But thankfully it also includes passages like Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  The Bible leads us to the only One who can cleanse us of our sins, the only One who can transform our lives, the only One who can offer the promise of a better life after this one where all sorrow and suffering, all sighing and dying will cease forever.  His name is Jesus.  And he’s calling each and every one of us today to spend time in his presence, to spend time in his Book, to spend time allowing him to speak to us.  May we give him that time each and every day so that the words of our text might be changed from “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” to “Everyone did what was right in God’s eyes.”  Amen.