Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Job Review

Imagine that you work for a large corporation. In the course of the year, you get your annual job review. This time, your review results come to you directly in an envelope marked "from the office of the founder." They are on company letterhead and written personally by the founder John Smith from his offices on 20th floor of headquarters. You begin to read the results written personally to you. It says:

From John Smith, the founder, who sits on the 20th floor,
"The remarkable work you have done for the company has not gone unnoticed. You have worked very hard and put in many long hours. In the course of your duties, you have successfully unmasked outsiders who have disguised themselves as members of our company and exposed them publicly. I know that you have defended my reputation against malicious and false rumors about me. You've shown remarkable stamina in the performance of your duties."

Reading up to this point, you would have no reason to expect something other than a glowing review. But read on. Founder Smith continues:

"However, I know that the affection you had for me and for the company when you first hired in has somehow left you. REVIEW RESULT - Think through how this happened. Remember what it was like when you hired in. Re-think your current attitudes. WARNING - If you don't do this, I will personally remove you from your position." Granted, in early 21st century America, affection for the company you work for is not a pre-requisite. However, using this scenario, we would think that the first part of the review was so genuinely good that the second part really shouldn't matter. If you're being such a great worker, why would having a strong affection for the founder and the company be so important? After all the phenomenal work you've done for the company, why would not having an affectionate/loving attitude toward the founder and the company be so important that without it, you'll be fired?

While not a perfect analogy, I thought this scenario would be a good parallel to a passage of Scripture which has been in my thinking over the last week. My reflection on it was triggered by a great article by Pastor Francis Chan in PUBLIC PASSION VS PRIVATE DEVOTION .

It comes from looking at Christ's letter to the Church of Ephesus as found in Revelation 2:1-7.

The letter reads:
1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:2 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.4 'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.5 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.6 'Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.7 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'

I realized that I had forgotten just how important love is to our God. It makes up the top two commandments of the Old Testament Law (see Matthew 22:34-40). It is considered the greatest of three great Christian virtues (Faith, Hope, Love; see 1 Corinthians 13:13). The subject is so important that the Apostle Paul wrote a long section of his first letter to the church in Corinth to re-inforce this (see 1 Corinthians chapter 13). In Corinth, the issue was apparent pride in possessing certain spiritual gifts and a looking down on others whose gifts seemed less important. An attitude of love was needed to resolve this mess in Corinth. It was obvious that a problem existed in Corinth. But what about the church of Ephesus at the time Jesus gave them His letter? Look how genuinely hard they worked for Him.

In our very down-to-earth American culture, I think we may have a hard time taking to task someone who genuinely works very hard for God and for the faith yet whose attitude of love is diminished or even missing. We might think that such a person has earned God's favor by their hard work so their lack of a loving attitude should simply be overlooked. Or worse yet, we might rationalize away what we see by thinking that hard work for God MUST be an indicator of true love for God. If that were true, the Lord Jesus would have had no reason to address the Church of Ephesus how He did. But He did. In God's mind, there is a difference.

The problem with cases like that of the church of Ephesus is that people can defend the true things of the Christian faith but do so for very wrong reasons. You might perhaps be in a discussion with an atheist about the simple question as to whether or not God exists. You might be very familiar with arguments for natural theology (i.e. the very universe reflects God's hand of creation), with arguments about biblical sufficiency, history, logic, etc. In terms of WHAT is being said by you, you would be correct. However, if you looked to your motives, you might need to ask WHY you're doing what you're doing. Is it to prove to yourself that you're right? Or, is it being done with a sense of love and concern for the condition of the soul of the person with whom you're debating?

The Pharisees of Jesus' time on Earth provide a good example. We know of the numerous instances that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees. Yet, of the major religious groups in Israel at the time of Jesus, the Pharisees' stated theology was way closer to Jesus' than any other group. Jesus and the Pharisees had a lot in common theologically (i.e. belief in the resurrection of the dead; the longer list of Old Testament Biblical books). The Pharisees seem to have been driven by the desire to be right. What is painful to realize in their case is that they could give the right answers but do so for the wrong reasons.

One last thing. This is something I am trying to reflect on and work through. When the Lord Jesus addressed the church in Ephesus, He doesn't say that their hard word for Him was wrong. It was done with a mindset that forgot the basics of the faith. So, in our time, how to we correctly and strenuously defend the Christian faith, work for the service of Christ AND do so with a proper mindset of love. What I have witnessed of others is an either/or approach, not both/and. How do we do all of these things commanded of us, including love, well? Much prayer is going into the answer which I need to apply to myself.

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