The Virtues & Fruits of the Spirit
Session 2: Prudence and Fortitude
Core Teaching: Virtue starts with Trust in God. Wisdom is our intelligence plus God’s love, presence, and purpose. Courage is action grounded in a conviction that God never leaves us alone in any situation.
Session Goals: To help students understand and begin to live with the virtues of Prudence (Wisdom) and Fortitude (Courage).
Supplies: Bibles, Whiteboard/Newsprint, Markers, Masking Tape, a copy of the Student Leader Help Sheet for each discussion/small group leader
Memory Verse: Galatians 6:7 NRSV
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.
(Write on the Board and encourage Youth to memorize this week.)
Psalm 1 NRSV
Proverbs 8:1-7, 12, 14, 22 NRSV
Joshua 1:1-3, 5-9 NRSV
Jeremiah 17:5-8 NRSV
Opening Prayer- Student
Announcements, Attendance, and Offering- Teacher
Introduction to the Lesson- Teacher
Today, we will be looking at the first two of the Cardinal Virtues: Prudence and Fortitude. Those may sound like pretty “Old Fashioned” words to us today. Has anybody heard them used before?
More popular words that we might use today are: Wisdom (Prudence) and Courage (Fortitude). Let’s look at what the dictionary says these words mean:
wisdom– n. 1) understanding what is true, right, or lasting; insight. 2) common sense; good judgment.
courage– n. The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.
Since these are more common words, we may lose some of the meaning they hold as virtues simply because we are more familiar with them.
The Wise/Prudent person exercises good judgment and common sense in handling practical matters. From a philosophical standpoint, Prudence is the highest moral virtue and it is the foundation for ALL other virtues. Wisdom does NOT equal knowledge however. Wisdom begins where knowledge ends. A knowledgeable person is not automatically wise. And a wise person may in fact have very little knowledge. The Bible sees Prudence/Wisdom a little differently: Wisdom is our intelligence plus God’s love, presence, and purpose.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NRSV
Prudence/Wisdom begins when we recognize our own human limits, perceive our need for the sustaining power of God in our lives, and fully rely on God in reverence and obedience.
“Classical Christian ethics, on the contrary, maintains that man can be prudent and good only simultaneously; that prudence is part and parcel of the definition of goodness, that there is no sort of justice and fortitude which runs counter to the virtue of prudence; and that the unjust man has been imprudent before and is imprudent at the moment he is unjust. Omnis virtus moralis debet esse prudens– All virtue is necessarily prudent.”
Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Notre Dame Press, 1954, 1955, 1959, p. 5.
A person with Fortitude/Courage has the strength of mind and heart to endure pain, adversity, or death while still maintaining hope. From a Christian perspective, a person who has no hope has no courage. They may be daring or have “guts” but they do NOT have the virtue of Fortitude.
“Fortitude presupposes vulnerability; without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude. An angel cannot be brave, because he is not vulnerable. To be brave actually means to be able to suffer injury. Because man is by nature vulnerable, he can be brave.”
Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Notre Dame Press, 1954, 1955, 1959, p. 117.
Fortitude/Courage is one of the few virtues that has never gone out of style. It is seen as a worthy attribute by both culture and the Church.
In classic Greek philosophy, it related to military service, it was about heroes. It was the particular virtue of soldiers. It is interesting that in the entire New Testament, the Greek word for courage is NEVER used. It may be because of this military association, according to some scholars. Instead the Bible uses words that relate to the heart: strength of heart, boldness of speech, endurance of faith and of hope.
There is still a physical element to Courage though. Some theologians have even referred to it as biological grace. A woman gives birth, a firefighter goes into a burning building, a police officer runs toward the sound of gun shots, medical doctors and nurses that put themselves in harm’s way to alleviate suffering, the Good Samaritan gives aid…..these can all happen without a great deal of thought, our bodies seem to react more from adrenaline than from any amount of intellectual decision making.
An old saying is that Courage is “fear that has said its prayers” rings true. The fear or pain does not always have to come from the physical arena alone; mental, emotional, moral, spiritual Courage help us to face injustice and oppression of all kinds. Courage is action grounded in a conviction that God never leaves us alone in any situation.
“…a heart confident that in Christ, God so enters the struggle of life with death that the ongoing Divine/human crucifixion can be lived under the hope of resurrection. Christian courage is the heart of faith experienced as trust.” W. Paul Jones, “Courage as the Heart of Faith”
Through our faith, God empowers us with a bold heart which expresses courage day in and day out. Courage is the fruit of a bold and trusting heart for God.
Small Group Discussions- Student Leaders
Key Questions (These should be answered during the discussion below)
- What is Prudence (Wisdom)?
- What is Fortitude (Courage)?
- Why is it important to anchor our lives in trusting in God?
- What are two blocks to truth?
- Why does Courage need fear and hope?
The first of the Cardinal Virtues is Prudence. According to the Brief Catechism of Virtue:
“Prudence helps me decide what is good in every circumstance of my life. By prudence I choose to do good things and I do not do bad things. When I take time to think about the consequences of my actions, I am prudent. When I don’t do some things because of bad consequences, that is prudence. Prudence is necessary for a happy successful life. Prudence helps me keep stress out of life.”
Prudence (or Wisdom) helps a person live a virtuous life, a life of goodness. ALL of the other virtues look to Prudence as a foundation. Prudence informs all other action. There are consequences of living a virtuous life. It means saying “yes” and saying “no” in proper healthy ways and times. Sometimes it means doing the popular thing. Often it means doing the unpopular thing. Prudence gives us moral vision to make choices.
“Prudence involves the element of choice. Without choice we cannot imagine ourselves free, for the essence of freedom, as we have said before, is choice. Choice, however, is always exercised within the context of consequences, and for every choice there is a consequence….What prudence provides is not simply a rational analysis of choice and consequence, but an informed choice of the right and good thing….it is the wise use of the mind, the process of evaluation and assessment, that permits us to determine what the right and good thing is that should be done or the wrong or dangerous thing that should be avoided.”
Peter J. Gomes, The Good Life, Harper, 2002, p. 217.
The second Cardinal Virtue, Fortitude is closely linked to the first. To be truly courageous is to have first been truly wise. Courage requires having some common sense, some “worldly” wisdom. From a Christian standpoint, it also involves a strong faith in the God of Jesus Christ.
“Fortitude presupposes a conquest over temptation to evil and fear and is the defensive quality against the seemingly overwhelming forces that intimidate and tempt one to concede to apparently superior forces….the ability to stand in hope against overwhelming pressures, tragedies, and fears of the world and, most especially, against the fear of death and the reality of mortality.”
Peter J. Gomes, The Good Life, Harper, 2002, pp. 227-228.
God is the source of Wisdom (Prudence) and God is the source and sustainer of Courage (Fortitude). Wisdom and Courage dwell in our faith, which is a gift from God.
Where Are You Planted?– Read Psalm 1 to the group.
- Do you like this Psalm? Why? or Why not?
- What two types of people are described?
q In any given situation if life, we are given two choices: 1) trust in God, 2) trust in ourselves.
q We can rely on ourselves only in small things or sometimes in big things. To FULLY rely on God, we trust God with ALL of the small and big things of life.
- How can trusting in ourselves bring a false sense of happiness?
- How can we be happy according to the Psalm?
- Do you think the Psalmist is correct? Why? or Why not?
- What are some of the small things we only trust ourselves for?
- What are some of the big things?
- Can you think of a person who seems to trust God in ALL things?
Wisdom: The Foundation– Read Proverbs 8:1-7, 12, 14, 22 to the group.
- Does anyone know a truly wise person? What are they like? Where does their wisdom come from? Give an example of their wisdom.
- How has Wisdom “called” to you? Ever? What was it like?
q In this passage, Wisdom is personified and speaks to us.
q Wisdom claims to have been there “at the beginning” with God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is portrayed as this wisdom, this Logos (word). John 1:1-5
- Does it change how you think about Wisdom to think about Jesus being true wisdom? Why? or Why not?
- Why would Wisdom be created before anything else?
q To be clear, the Bible does NOT claim that Jesus was created as wisdom in the beginning. As Christians we believe the Trinity has always been, and is uncreated.
q The virtues are interconnected, each adding to and enhancing the value and characteristics of the others; each needing the others to make it what it is.
- Can you think of ways the other Virtues rely on Wisdom as a foundation?
q Wisdom is the cognitive virtue of knowing the truth. There are two blocks to Truth:
- Ignorance– simply not knowing; not having wisdom because one does not know the truth.
- Ideology– the twisting of truth for the purpose of power; we do not have wisdom because we have altered the truth for our own purposes.
- What are some ways ignorance creates destruction and chaos in our world? In your life?
- What are some ways ideology creates destruction and chaos in our world? In your life?
- How is Wisdom “calling” to these situations?
Fear + Hope = Courage- Read Joshua 1:1-3, 5-9 to the group.
- What do you remember about Moses and Joshua from the Bible stories?
- Do you remember an earlier story about Joshua’s courage? Share it!
q It is a mistake to believe that to truly have courage, you can have no fear. In reality, lack of fear can keep someone from being courageous. Courage exists in the midst of our fear.
q “Blind” courage (it does not know and fear the dangers) is foolishness and no courage at all.
- How many times does God tell Joshua to be courageous? Why so many times?
- Does God know our fear? What does God promise to help us deal with fear?
q A basic Christian belief is that God NEVER fails us or forsakes us. God is faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to God.
- What in this passage might give Joshua a powerful hope?
q Christians believe that hope gives us the courage to act when we are most afraid. Christians have hope that life wins out over death, that good wins out over evil, that God is in control and not random forces of luck and chance.
q People ONLY change their world when they have hope that things can be better.
- What things give you hope?
- What things do you have hope for that will make the world, your life, etc. better?
q Our ultimate symbol of hope is the Cross. Even when everything looks like Good Friday, we know that Easter is coming!
q When fear tells us we are alone, hope tells us that God is still here and on our side. Hope tells us that God is on the side of life, not death; the side of healing, not brokenness; the side of joy not misery; the side of peace, not war. We have hope in the ultimate victory of God….and with this hope we can live courageously, sacrificing ourselves, risking out lives for others, risking everything for the sake of justice and righteousness. Good News indeed!
Read Jeremiah 17:5-8 out loud to everyone-
q We started with Psalm 1.
- How does this passage remind you of Psalm 1?
q Pursuing a virtuous life means living a life of faith in God. Trusting in God and not ourselves.
q The Virtues are disciplines, things we do and practice.
- How do the virtues of Prudence (Wisdom) and Fortitude (Courage) require trusting in God?
- How can Wisdom and Courage be “water” for us when the dry desert heat of life comes?
q When we trust in God, we are not anxious and we do not cease to bear fruit. We produce more fruit as our roots grow deep into the ground of God’s grace.
- Name at least one thing you could do this week to trust God more.
- Name at least one thing this week that will require wisdom from you.
- Name at least one thing this week that will require courage from you.
Joys and Concerns- Teacher: Write these on a piece of butcher paper.
Closing Prayer- Students: Recite the Lord’s Prayer together:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen. UMH #895