David Brooks, an editorialist with The New York Times observes, “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral—whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love? We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our education systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.” (April 11, 2015)
God is far more concerned with building eulogy virtues in us than résumé qualities. God is far more concerned about our inner character than our career success.
In the opening of his letter to the Christians in Thessaloniki, the apostle Paul affirms the eulogy virtues that God was growing in the lives of the believers there. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 he writes, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I am struck by Paul’s choice of wording here. He focuses his attention not on virtues as philosophical concepts but on the fruit (the living out of) the virtues in the lives of the Thessalonians.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” Paul “hears” the virtues of the Thessalonians through what they were doing.
He “hears” their faith by the work it produced. Faith is not merely a matter of the heart or mind but of one’s life and one’s body. James 1:22 warns, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” In his book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Dr. Paul Brand writes, “A certain bridge in South America consists of interlocking vines supporting a precariously swinging platform hundreds of feet above a river. I know the bridge has supported hundreds of people over many years, and as I stand at the edge of the chasm I can see people confidently crossing the bridge. The engineer in me wants to weigh all the factors—measure the stress tolerances of the vines, test the wood for termites, survey all the bridges in the area for one that might be stronger. I could spend a lifetime determining whether the bridge is fully trustworthy. But eventually, if I really want to cross, I must take a step. When I put my weight on that bridge and walk across, even though my heart is pounding and my knees are shaking, I am declaring my position.”
Paul affirmed the faith of the Thessalonians not because they had good thoughts, but because they stepped out; they did the kind of “work” that was in keeping with their faith.
He also “hears” their love, not on the basis of their sentiment but on the basis of their “labor.” Love is recognized not by what one feels but by what one does. Brennan Manning stresses, “The etymology of the word compassion lies in two Latin words cum and patior, meaning ‘to suffer with,’ to endure with, to struggle with, and to partake of the hunger, nakedness, loneliness, pain, and broken dreams of our brothers and sisters in the human family. Commitment to Jesus Christ without compassion for His people is a lie.” (A Glimpse of Jesus, p. 124)
And Paul “hears” the hope of the Thessalonians through the endurance they exhibited. While covering news during World War II, the Army transport plane Eric Sevareid was riding in over Burma developed engine trouble. He and others parachuted out. Victor Parachin records what happened: “They parachuted deep into the mountainous jungles of the Burma-India border. Once on the ground, they had to begin a painful, plodding march out of the jungle to meet up with friendly forces. ‘We were faced with a 140-mile trek, over mountains, in August heat and monsoon rains,’ Sevareid recalls. During the first hour of the march, he accidentally stepped on a nail that punctured deeply into one foot. By evening he had bleeding blisters the size of 50-cent coins on both feet. ‘Could I hobble 140 miles? Could the others, some in worse shape than I, complete such a distance? We were convinced we could not. But we could hobble to that rise, we could make the next friendly village for the night. And that, of course was all we had to do.’” (Reported in “Tending a Wounded Heart,” Positive Thinking, Dec. 2002, p. 28-29) Hope is recognized on the basis of endurance. That’s what Paul recognized in the Thessalonians: Despite persecution and obstacles, they kept plodding along in their commitment to Christ.
May God grow in me (and in you) the eulogy virtues of faith, love and hope.