The Rare Jewel of Christian Commitment
As a young believer, I came across Jeremiah Burrough's searching little book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I have yet to come across another book that so helpfully uncovers the great problem of sinful discontentment and our need to learn to be content in Christ wherever He may choose to place us. I'm convinced that every believer ought to read through this book at least once a year. However, I sometimes wonder, if Burroughs had lived in our day would he have written a companion volume to be published side by side with it--bearing the title, The Rare Jewel of Christian Commitment. Scripture and experience teach us that commitment to the Lord and to His people in the church is one of the rarest and yet most precious graces.
I recently listened to a group of ministers discussing this perennial problem--noting that the proverbial 80/20 rule is born out of the lamentable scarcity of commitment on the part of professing believers in the church. 80% of the work in the church is done by 20% of the people because 20% of the people are fully committed to the Lord and to His church. So important is the rare jewel of Christian commitment among the members of a local church that it is right to say that the health and the mission of the church depends upon it. Here are a few observations about commitment from Scripture and experience:
1. Our Culture Fuels a Lack of Commitment.
Access to the internet and an overwhelming amount of entertainment options makes commitment increasingly rare. We have so many distractions that committing to volunteer service in a local church looks less and less attractive to people. With so many options men and women are increasingly taught not to allow themselves to be tied down to anything. We have to learn to unplug the DirectTV, XBox and the Internet and purposefully give ourselves to the work of the Lord.
Add to this our propensity to overwork. Tim Keller has made the observation that we are the most overworked society in the history of humanity. By ceaselessly working, people in the church have limited their ability to serve in a volunteer capacity. While the reasons for overworking are numerous, at ground zero is a lack of contentment with what we have and where the Lord has us. If we would learn the rare jewel of Christian contentment we would find the rare jewel of Christian commitment.
Finally, a lack of secondary, volunteer vocations in our culture has fueled a lack of commitment in the church. There was a time in this country's history when every Senator and fireman served in a volunteer capacity. While working a primary job, they gave themselves willingly to what they deemed to be a secondary, volunteer vocation. Today there is almost no such thing as a secondary, volunteer vocation. At present, most churches rely on paid staffing to carry the burden of the work. In the eyes of many congregations, it is more expedient to pay someone to do what needs to be done rather that wait for willing volunteers to rise us and faithfully offer to help accomplish it. It seems to me that this has sometimes created an atmosphere of professionalism and has--perhaps inadvertently--hindered the opportunities that members of the church would have otherwise had for volunteer service.
2. We are Often Blind to Our Own Unfaithfulness. Many convince themselves that they are more committed than they really are. In Proverbs 20:6 we read, "Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man?" It is easy to convince yourself that you are something that you are not. This is due to the fact that we do not like seeing our sinful selves as we really appear. Our propensity to point out the sin of others (which ought to appear relatively small in comparison with our own) while neglecting an effort to remove our own is one of the great dangers that we constantly face as fallen sinners. Jesus taught us this painful truth when He said, "Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:3-5). Those in the a church who serve in the most minimal way possible often love to convince themselves that they are extremely involved.
3. Our Actions Affect Others. The lack of commitment on the part of the many will inevitably have a detrimental impact on the few. Proverbs 25:19 teaches us that "Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint." Uncommitted and unfaithful church members will inevitably harm the growth and progress of the body. Almost nothing is more painful than having to live with a rotten tooth or a foot out of joint. The Lord tells us that this is the effect of unfaithfulness. If only a handful of the members of a church are willing to serve it makes it more of a burden on the few who faithfully set their hand to the plow of committed Christian service in these areas.
4. Motivation is Everything. Those who serve for the wrong motives usually join the ranks of the uncommitted in time. Even among the 20% there is the rare jewel of properly motivated Christian commitment. There will always be those who appear to be committed but who are really only serving out of a sense of guilt or for the praise of man. Usually those who are serving out of guilt or desire for human approval burn out and cut back on their commitment to service in the church. While there is sometimes the need for members of a church to pull back from an area of service because of a difficult stage of life or some other legitimate factor, generally people who quite serving do so because their motive was not to please the Lord and to bless His people.
Of course, the Gospel is the solution to our propensity to unfaithfulness. When we see with the eyes of faith what God has done for us in Christ we will guard our hearts against a lack of commitment to His work in the church. Jesus died to make us faithful, self-sacrificial and God-honoring men and women. Jesus' own faithfulness in the work of redemption serves as the example par excellence of Christian commitment. The example of the Apostles likewise serves as an example of Gospel-motivated commitment. The Apostle Paul explained the secret of the rare jewel of Christian commitment when he wrote, "The love of Christ compels us because we judge thus: If One died for all then all died that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again." May God grant that we all diligently labor to find and keep the rare jewel of Christian commitment in our own lives.