Better Than the Book

By: Tracy Cooney
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…”  -2 Peter 1:5
The word virtue brings me back to a heavy, tan book from my childhood. On road trips to visit my grandparents in the Texas panhandle, my mother would read us stories from The Book of Virtues. It was full of fairytales and fables organized by character traits like honesty and perseverance. My brother and I would also listen to Adventures in Odyssey cassette tapes—a staple of any good Baptist home in the nineties. Each episode of the children’s radio show ended with a Bible verse, encouraging children to make wise choices.  That book and those cassettes helped us survive twelve hours in a minivan, while sneaking in lessons on a virtuous life.

My greatest lesson on virtue, however,  was a man dressed in Levi’s and a baseball cap, waiting for us on a front porch at the end of that long drive.

My grandfather roofed houses for a living. In his eighty-six years, he has never made the lecture circuit giving a talk on a virtuous life. He has just, very simply, lived one. He teaches his children and grandchildren the value of hard work, the importance of doing good deeds in secret, of thinking before we speak, and treasuring God’s word. He follows Paul’s charge “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). He doesn’t always say much, but his life speaks volumes.

Virtue is the first quality Peter asks us to add to our faith because it is proof that our faith has taken root. It answers the question, “Do you believe what you say you believe?” Virtuous people do not answer with a long-winded speech but with a well-lived life. They do not spend their days trying to gain a social media following. They simply wake up each morning determined to make one more step toward holiness. Their lives are what Eugene Peterson described as “a long obedience in the same direction.”

We live in a noisy world of self-promotion where many want to be great, but few want to be good. Find someone who has pursued goodness. Often a face comes to mind when we think of excellent character—a Sunday school teacher, a neighbor, a grandparent. Sit down with them and ask how they did it. When we encounter virtuous people, we begin to crave a life of faithfulness as well. There’s a wealth of wisdom waiting for us on front porches and in quiet homes if we are willing to slow down enough to listen.

Our Savior spent a large portion of His life working quietly with His hands. He often asked those he healed to keep his miracles a secret. His long obedience pointed in the direction of Calvary. Jesus Christ paved the path of excellent character and has left guides all around us who have followed His example.

Stories about virtue are great. A life of virtue is even better.
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