A Few FAQs (and the Third One is Really Good, I Mean REALLY, REALLY GOOD)

Whenever we do a new series, it helps us to think about the theme. I love getting all kinds of questions from people. Some of the questions help me realize I haven’t done a very good job in defining or explaining things, such as CORE WORDS.

So, here are a few words with short explanations in the form of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).

FAQ #1: What is the difference between morality and ethics?

That’s a great question because they are two of the core words. Here is how I view them. They mean the same thing. They refer to the same thing. Here is why.

The Greeks had a whole group of gods—the Greek gods and goddesses. The Greeks had a name for the chief god or king of the gods. They called him Zeus. Zeus had a brother who was the god of the ocean. His name was Poseidon. They had a messenger god called Hermes. They had a god for the underworld whose name was Hades.

The Romans picked up from the Greeks all their gods, but gave them new names. Zeus became Jupiter. Poseidon became Neptune. Hermes became Mercury. Hades became Pluto. In fact, every planet name in our solar system is the Roman name for their version of the Greek god. What is the difference between Zeus and Jupiter? There is no difference. It is just a Greek word and a Latin (Roman) word for the same person.

The word ethic has its origins in the Greek language. The word morality has its origins in the Latin language. That’s it. Two different words from two languages for the SAME THING. That is how I use them at Living Word.

FAQ #2: What do you mean by the word character?

Character is the word that describes an inner moral or ethical quality. He is a good husband. She is a generous friend. The doctor is very patient with his patients! The other doctor is impatient. She is a mean teenager. In each short sentence, there is a word that describes a positive or negative quality inside. Each example is a character quality.

FAQ #3:  Why do you use the old words virtue and vice?

I use old words because they are so useful. Some of the most useful words are the old words. What is sad is when we forget the old words. When you forget a word, you begin to lose the meaning about the reality the word describes. So, as we forget old words like chastity, prudence, magnanimity, fortitude, and so on, we lose touch with the reality they describe.

Virtue is a Latin word. The Romans borrowed another idea from the Greeks. (Remember, the Greeks came first, the Romans were later.) The Greek word was arete and the Romans translated it as virtus. The English is VIRTUE.

It is a very cool word. Arete and virtus mean excellence, but it is “excellence in light of a given purpose.”

The arete or the virtus of a knife is to cut well. The arete or virtus of a horse is to run fast or carry a heavy load from one place to another.

a VIRTUE is a power or a capacity
to achieve with EXCELLENCE
your intended PURPOSE.* 

I love that! Suddenly it all becomes clear … very clear. The virtues of faith, hope, love, kindness, patience, courage, peacefulness, gratitude, and generosity are all POWERS or capacities that help you and me live with excellence so we can BECOME who we are meant to become and DO what we are meant to do.

I could say this: It is VIRTUE that makes us truly human and fully alive. And this is the word Paul uses in Philippians 4:8 when he says, “if anything is excellent…” He is saying if anything is virtuous, if there is anything that empowers you with excellence to achieve your intended purpose, think about those things and put them into practice.

Pursue VIRTUE.

Run away from VICE, for VICE is the opposite of VIRTUE. Vice is any power that negates or hinders or diminishes you, so you do poorly (not excellently) about your intended purpose.

No wonder Paul says so powerfully hate what is evil (vice), cling to what is good (virtue), be wise about what is good (virtue), and be innocent or free from what is evil (vice).

I miss those old words. We miss those old words. Let’s get very well acquainted with them so we can experience the reality of the powers to live with EXCELLENCE into our PURPOSE and our DESTINY.

Pastor Brian

* Many thanks to David Gill in Becoming Good, pages 30–31, for this explanation.

Brian Rice