In this text on emulation and the importance of virtue literacy we have an object, an action and an outcome.
The object is a list of well-known Greek virtues : truthfulness (alēthē), venerablility in character (semnos), justice (dikaia), purity (hagna), pleasing and with a good reputation (prosphilē), kindness and being full of grace (euphēma). And then, Paul adds ‘anything that is excellent and praiseworthy’, where he carefully chooses the words aretē, which is the word for virtue, and the word prosphilē, acceptable and pleasing.
The action is to focus our mind on these virtues. This can mean many things, including meditating on virtue, reasoning about virtue and evaluating the importance and force of virtue. And it can be done in many ways, like defining the virtues, working out what they look like in real-life situations, evaluating their importance in our lives or reading stories of these virtues.
The outcome is to have the peace of God. What we see here is that the key to peace is found in occupying our mind with the knowledge of virtue. In other words, as we ‘model our way of life’ (Philippians 4:9) on thinking about virtue, we shape our character and experience a life of flourishing.
Here now is an exercise to put this into practice. We’ve seen that focusing our mind on virtues can be done by thinking about virtues in the lives of others. What examples in the Bible might you list for each of the virtues above? Try to complete the following list (the first one is provided):
Try the opposite now, and think of stories in the Bible of the opposing vices (lying, base character, injustice, etc…).
Focusing on these stories leads to emulation. Is there one character of those you have just listed that you feel particularly drawn by? Who do you want to be more like?
A prayer: Lord, help me focus my mind on virtue. I admit that my mind is so easily focused on other things. Grant me your peace as I focus on that which is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy. And, in particular, help me to be more like _____ (name the character you feel drawn by).