Is Sustainability a Christian Virtue?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

1 Corinthians 13:4-10

Years ago as a freshman, I was on the mock trial team. My brother was a star high school football player. I role-played lawyer games at courthouses around the state. Often, the student lawyers would make a game out of objecting to actions and questions of the opposition. The judge would then respond, “overruled” or “sustained.”

This week at The High Calling, we’re talking about sustainability, which is a relatively new concept. Prior to 1960, something was sustainable if it could be legally defended, like our pretend objections during a mock trial.

Forgive me for being a word nerd: by the mid 1960s and early 1970s, the word sustainable developed a business nuance for healthy economic practices that aimed for long-term sustainable growth rather than short-term profits. Only in the 1980s did the word carry the ecological meaning that many of us hear.

Sustainability is a new concept even in our own culture, but at its essence, it is an awareness of future generations. We want to be good stewards of the resources given to us—ecological, economic, educational, and spiritual.

The biblical parallel might be the consummate human integrity, virtue, and maturity associated with teleios. This is the Greek word New Testament Christians used when they looked to the future and imagined the most perfect outcome. Teleios is the perfect end game: the movie that wraps up in exactly the right way. The court case that delivers the perfect verdict. The perfect play at the end of a football game that wins everything for your team.

Paul reminds the Corinthians how we reach these perfect endings. We reach them through love, and love never fails. It is patient. It is kind. It is the perfect attribute of our perfect God.

Our world needs sustainability—and the higher virtue of love—because our world is not perfect or complete. Most of what we experience, we experience in part. Partial things are useless, but love can distinguish partial things from whole things. Love can recognize what things will become useless in the future and what things will lead us to perfection. When we let love rule, when we love God and love our neighbors, we will live and work in ways that are sustainable for future generations.


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

1 Corinthians 13:4-10

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What comes to mind when you hear the word sustainability? Is this an idea that inspires you or not? Why? Are you living in such a way that will leave the world a better place for future generations?

PRAYER: Dear God, some ideas like sustainability seem to come from a different world than the world of faith. I know that everything is connected and everything matters to you, but the words we use sometimes divide our lives into God things and other things. Help me to hear your desires underneath all the different types of jargon that people use, and help me stay committed to your desires as I go about my daily work. Let me recognize the long timetable of love—loving not only you and my immediate neighbor, but the neighbors I will never see because they are too far away from me in space or in time. I praise you for being a God beyond space and time. Amen.