In the 4th century, an aspiring minister named Evagrius Ponticus fled Constantinople to escape the temptations of having an affair. (He took Paul's admonition in 2 Timothy 2:22 to flee temptation literally.) He joined a monastic community in Jerusalem but eventually moved to Egypt where he became one of the "Desert Fathers." An intellectual who was well versed in the teachings of Plato, Socrates, and the Stoics, Evagrius would become a well-known spiritual leader and his writings would be widely read. Perhaps most familiar to us, he developed what we know as the "Seven Deadly Sins."
The monicker of 'deadly' might be a little misleading. They are perhaps better understood as root sins. The seven deadly sins are the things that take root in our heart and lead to all types of destruction in our lives. Pride, envy, lust, sloth, greed, wrath, and gluttony. To address external behaviors without considering these internal motivators is a fool's errand.
Paul talked about the deadly sin of greed in this way when he wrote, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
We often shorten this verse and quote it as saying, "Money is the root of all evil." But look at it again. "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." Wealth is not condemned in the Bible. Greed is. A person whose heart is consumed with greed will wreak havoc on the lives around them. This is true of the other deadly sins as well.
Jesus was such a powerful teacher because he aimed to move past the symptoms and into the heart. We see this often in His teachings:
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45)
When Jesus uses the word "repent," the literal meaning of the word for repent, metanoia, means to "change your mind." Transformation isn't just about modifying behavior, it's about changing the way you look at things. He says this a little more explicitly here:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23)
In other words, how you see things (perceive, interpret, and respond) impacts every aspect of your life. And though he uses the metaphor of the eyes as the lamp, your perception of things is more of a mind and heart issue. This is why Paul tells us to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2)
Solomon wrote, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23)
So when you blow it, ask questions about the beliefs and assumptions and emotions that are going on underneath.
When I gossip about someone else, what is really going on here? Am I angry with something they did? Do I envy their success or reputation and want to tear them down? Am I just wanting to make myself look better or be the center of attention or paint myself as a victim? (Pride.) Or some combination of all three? Gossip is the external sin that is flowing out of the internal issue.
Taking the time to chase down the internal issues can lead to long term success in living out the life that Christ has called us to. The next stretch of blog posts will look at each of these root sins (and their corresponding virtues) in greater depth.