Ethos is defined as:
1. The moral, ideal, or universal element in a work of art as distinguished from that which is emotional in its appeal.
2. The distinguishing character or tone of a racial, religious, social or other group.
The Greek word ethos was a word which meant “a usage (prescribed by habit or law)”. The word is translated as custom, manner, or the verb “to be wont.” Often the word is translated “custom”. as in Luke 1:9; 2:42; 22:39; John 19:40; Acts 15:1; 16:21; 17:2; and 25:16. Occasionally the word is translated by the word “manner” as in John 2:6 or John 19:40.
Today we convey the idea with the word “habit.” Go back and read all of the above verses and substitute the word “habit” and you will see that often our word “habit: is an even better rendering. The word “habit” originally was about how a person customarily dressed; i. e., a nun’s habit. Today, habit “implies a settled disposition or tendency due to repetition.” Custom “suggests the fact of repetition rather than the tendency to repeat.” And practice suggests especially habitual performance or mode of action.” This lesson is about habits.
1. Habits are defined by repetition. The concept of the habitual is the idea of acting in some manner usually, or customarily. Plautus wrote “through habit, your inclination will lead you into it again.” This is easily illustrated by the Old Testament law about oxen who were “previously in the habit of goring” (Exod. 21:29; 21:36).In this text, the animal’s habit established the owner’s responsibility for the doing of the bad deed.
Now, habits may be evil .. Or they may be good. Drinking is an evil habit. It may even be additive. Smoking cigarettes is a nasty and even additive habit. Cursing may be an evil habit. Being tardy is an annoying habit; but probably not evil. But, a man hugging his wife is a good habit. Going to worship is a good habit for the faithful of God. Hospitality and benevolence are good habits. We illustrate with these things to emphasize the point: it is the repetition of an action which defines that thing as being a habit.
2. Habits among a society determine what is customary. John 19:40 speaks of “the burial custom of the Jews.” It was not necessarily the custom of Joseph of Arimathea or of Nicodemus; but it was a practice that was acceptable in the Jewish society. We read in Acts 25:16 about a practice that was “not the custom of the Romans.” These verses emphasize that whatever is habitually done determines the customs of that society.
In a study of Rom 1:24-32, we learn that degrading passions, lusts, and all unrighteousness were the customary behaviors of the Romans. They not only practiced such things; but they also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Rom 1:32).
Brothers and sisters, the really dangerous thing about anything becoming habitual in our lives is that if it is evil, then evil becomes the standard of the society in which we live. That is true of cities, nations, or even the Church.
3. Habitual behavior may be evil. The great sins of the Gentile world of the First Century were both evil and habitual. We read of an almost identical list of evil deeds at Corinth (1 Cor. 6:8-11). “And such were some of you!” (1 Cor. 6:11). This expression tells me two things:
First, that the habitual evil behavior of the Romans was little different from the habitual evil behavior of the Corinthian society. So, just because “everybody is doing it” and even is accepting of it does not make the practice righteous. A practice is evil; not because society does or does not accept it; but rather a practice is evil because God does not accept it!
Second, putting the expression in the past tense, what evils that had been habitual and customary prior to their obedience to the gospel ceased to be habitual and customary after their obedience to the gospel. Those evil customs did not just cease to be evil. Rather, their repentance meant that they ceased to engage in their evil practices!
This leads us to a point which involves a trap so easily fallen into...
4. Habitual behavior does not make an action correct. In the context of 1 Cor. 6, Paul was teaching the Corinthians about their going to law against each other (1 Cor. 6:1-9). Obviously, the practice of settling disputes by litigation was a practice, a habit, or a custom of Corinthian society in that day. However, no matter how customary the practice was in their secular society, it was not at all acceptable in the family of God.
As is true today, their litigious society was not a reason or an excuse for them to behave in the same way. What then may be habitual in a society may not at all be brotherly within the family of God. I fear that we today tend, like our Corinthian brethren, to think because some thing is habitual, or customary that it must then become right because we are practicing it.
Consider again that some had “the habit of forsaking our own assembling together (Heb. 10:23-27). However this was one habit which some did which was not at all right with God. They were “not” to be doing it. The correct habit was their assembling together. The text follows by the concept of willful sin (Heb. 10:26) and the “terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire” (Heb. 10:27). Forsaking the assembling is one habit that some may have... But it is one habit you can be sure.. God will judge!
5. Bad habits are hard to break. Some have proposed that the hardest command is to repent. Actually repentance involves the change of mind about the practice of sin. However, much harder than “changing the mind” is changing the “habitual practice.” This is especially true when that habitual practice is accepted in one’s society (1 Pet 4:3-5). Whether drinking, smoking, gluttony, or profane language, the habit is often very hard to break (1 Cor. 6:19; James 3:8). But it can be done (Phil 4:13).
Finally number 6. Habits determine character. The fruit of the tree betrays the species of the tree. Grapes do not grow on thorn bushes. You know them by their fruits (Matt 7:15-20). The habitual behavior of the individual tells you his character. Likewise the character of a righteous man is determined by his persevering behavior even in the face of opposition, tribulation, and persecution (Rom 5:3-5). So the character of the unrighteous is determined by the habitual behavior of giving in to the temptations and lusts of his own desires. Habitual behavior determines the nature of the tree; habits determine the internal nature of who we are!
So one last question: What do your habits say about you?