We Have Need of Thee
Robert Wurtz II
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
One of the most important subjects we can possibly cover is that of individual attitudes, especially in ministry. Increasingly I am asked why some Christians and even some ministers seem to have such bad attitudes. In fact, some believe that the greatest obstacle to church growth today is how people are treated within the churches. Sometimes these issues are mere personality conflicts, but not always. I want to say categorically, that there is never an excuse to mistreat people. There is never an excuse to treat one person worse than others. If you want to be an agent of Satan within a person’s life or within the churches of God, just start mistreating people.
Suffer the Children
One of the primary places the enemy is at work is in destroying the faith of children. Would you want a child to grow up and say, “I was mistreated by my Sunday School teacher or my Christian parent, aunt uncle, etc.” We can fit any position into that slot, I only used those positions as I fit that mold. When a child is in his/her formative years they are making memories and judgments about people and their faith. They know when they are deserving of punishment and they know when they are being mistreated. When they get older they will reflect on their bad memories with the eyes of an adult and then the trouble really begins. The same goes for youth. You usually only get one chance to mistreat somebody until you burned the bridge for life. The emphasis needs to be on prevention too, not forgiveness. To obey is better than to sacrifice. Don’t offend people and then just expect them to forgive. That attitude of presumption is a heinous sin. Besides, if a person that does not know God is offended, there may never be a chance to see the wrong righted. And that’s the attitude we need to have. If I mistreat someone I may cast a stumbling block before them.
Condescender or Condescending?
Consider a few points in my folly. Have you ever been to a school, college or to a library and noticed how many that work in these places are condescending towards whomever person happens to be at the counter? For one reason the people at the counter are not ‘customers’ so there is no sense of need to act cordial. We see this attitude at some license bureaus and government offices. This ought not to be an attitude found in the churches of God. People are turned off by that and only go to these offices when they ‘have to.’
The attitude, unfortunately follows the person. In other words, if they behave that way at work, they are likely to exhibit it in public as well. I recall as a teenager working at a local service station. Our librarian came in to make a purchase. Upon receiving back her change she set up a snide look on her face and commenced adding and counting as if I were an idiot. What she did not consider is that I was a very experienced cashier that processed hundreds of transactions per evening with my very job dependent on balancing the drawer. It was not that I could not make a mistake, but it was her attitude that I found very offensive. I never forgot her condescending attitude and determined to never act like that. I still see it often to this day, especially in academic circles. But this type of attitude is not biblical. What did Paul say,
Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. (Romans 12:16)
This simply means that we should associate with the humble and not esteem ourselves too good for others or treat them in a way that portrays a superiority. In the illustration above, there was an assumption that the young man behind the counter was uneducated and incapable, but this was not the case. What says the scripture? We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. (1 Cor. 8:1b) The same holds true for people that are wealthy. A wealthy, educated person is at great risk of pride and arrogance. Paul was a colossal mind, but he understood the effects of knowledge on a person’s personality. The more educated one becomes, the more proud and arrogant they are endangered to be. Education is important, but not if it is not mixed with humility. Wealth can be used for virtue or as a means of self-exaltation.
Another area I wish to quickly examine is that of suspicion. Love puts the best construction on people and events. In my former example the librarian had an attitude of suspicion. It is this pre-judgment that can be very offensive and sinful. We are told by James not to have respect of persons. This agrees also with the law. Along a similar line I heard once a parabolic story of a millionaire going into a new car lot driving an old beater and wearing old clothes. The salesperson treated them like a dirt merchant and lost the sale. You just never know who you might be talking to. This is the whole basis of reality shows like Undercover Boss. How often people are shamed, whether they realize it or not, because they were assuming and therefore condescending. This personality trait has no place in the Kingdom of God.
Unity in the Faith
In apologetics circles there is a saying that has come into vogue that I believe is worthy of our attention. It states, “In essentials unity, but in all things charity.” That is to say, it is not necessary to divide over non-essential issues within the churches of God. Generally we use this phrase to express a Christlike posture among those with differing doctrinal views, but in this entry I want to look at ‘all things charity’ for practical living and preferences (personality). This means we should not refer to other peoples sincerely held views more strongly than we ought. There is so much rhetoric today intended to incense people. Making people angry with rhetoric neither convinces them of their error nor promotes unity. James says it sets on fire of hell. We need to keep this in mind.
Three areas of differences
There are preferences and differences in doctrine, morality and personality that we encounter in the churches of God. We have already stated that a common saying in apologetics circles is, “In essentials unity, but in all things charity.” There are many doctrinal issues that are held with conviction among believers in the churches of God. I don’t wish to spend much time here as this is commonly understood. Secondly, we have the matter of morality. We all have principles we use to make distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Not all believers come to the same conclusions in what may be called, ‘grey areas’.
Paul is concerned with how we treat each other in matters of conscience. He states, Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. (Romans 14:13) This passage contains two commandments; 1) let us not judge one another any more. 2) Let no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. The first commandment is self-explanitory. The second can be applied in many different situations. The simplest thing to say is; make a conscious decision that you will never allow yourself to be a source of stumbling for your brother. Recognize that God is at work in peoples’ lives and determine to be a help and not a hindrance. We will examine the third area of difference in the remainder of this entry.
We all have personality. This is the combination of characteristics or qualities that form our distinctive character. God has wired each one of us and set us in the body as He sees fit. We have to make room for one another. In the proceeding paragraphs we will not look at these issues exhaustively or necessarily scientifically; we will take a brief common sense approach to make some important contrasts.
Punctual and well dressed
I recall a certain character trait of my former pastor. He had this thing about being punctual (on time). He wanted everything to start on-time. In fact, if things did not start on time he started to get a little uneasy. After knowing him for many years I came to expect this, so I tried to always be ready to begin with the meeting. It really didn’t matter because he would begin the meeting with musicians in place or not; and often with a song. Why? He believed strongly in being punctual. He also believed in ‘dressing the part’. That is to say, he believed a minister should wear a suit and tie. He was from an old-school stock. Granted, other folks including myself were not always as punctual as he was and some of us rarely if ever wore a suit. But we tried to dress respectably. The reason he wore a suit was in part because he wanted to look like a minister as sure as a police officer needed to be in uniform. My perspective was a little different. I have been with men that dressed up and it made people feel they were trying to exalt themselves. “There comes that old minister!” They would say, when the well dressed minister showed up to the outreach meetings. I never forgot that and always tried to be careful not to alienate the people by trying to overly dress. The suit may give a false sense of power and authority as well. I never wanted that. Who was right? We both were, I think, from our particular point of view.
Pedantry and imprecision
Being pedantic is a character trait that simply means that an individual is fussy about details when dealing with academic subjects. Imprecision is the best word I can find for the opposite character trait. In their extremes, the one is obsessively concerned about details and the other is a bit reckless. If these two personalities meet in a discussion we will surely need a good measure of grace to keep the peace. Why? Because of the way each would view the other. The pedant risks seeing the imprecise as irreverent. The imprecise risks seeing the pedant as a hair-splitter. This can easily develop into a mutual annoyance if these individuals don’t rightly make room for each others personality.
The term formalism describes an emphasis on form over content or meaning in the arts, literature, or philosophy. A practitioner of formalism is called a formalist. A formalist, with respect to some discipline, holds that there is no transcendent meaning to that discipline other than the literal content created by a practitioner. For example, formalists within mathematics claim that mathematics is no more than the symbols written down by the mathematician, which is based on logic and a few elementary rules alone. This is as opposed to non-formalists, within that field, who hold that there are some things intuitively true, and are not, necessarily, dependent on the symbols within mathematics so much as a greater truth. Formalist within a discipline are completely concerned with “the rules of the game,” as there is no other external truth that can be achieved beyond those given rules. (Wiki)
Informalism among a formalist
A person who moves in a more informal way does not obsess with rules, but rather looks to find solutions more ‘on the fly’ and unrestrained. This is why some companies don’t want a long written out group of policies to run the business, while formalists see this approach as an abomination. It has been my limited observation that a formalist like control and is prepared to treat an employee like a human resource. They are usually just a number meant to be hired and fired. A non-formalist is more willing to work with the needs of his people, rather than beat people over the head with rules. I have observed that formalists sometimes make a game out of being in compliance so as to exalt themselves over the others. A non-formalist risks treating people inconsistently or even showing favoritism. Which is right? I think we need a good balance of law and grace. Without it we will destroy ourselves and others.
A right heart
These casual observations reveal one glaring variable not yet discussed; the heart of the person with the personality. The unregenerate and carnal use their strong personality traits against others that have opposite traits. The risk is that the one group may set at naught the other or mistreat the other as if they needed to conform to ‘our’ personality trait. This causes serious strife.
The Prince of Peace
I wish to close these thoughts by pointing out how the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ is also the Prince of Peace. He was able to keep peace between Simon the zealot and Matthew the publican; which in todays world would be like making peace between Benjamin Netanyahu and Osama Bin Laden. The Zealots hated Rome and would stop at nothing to see them thrown from Israel. Matthew the publican was a tax collector for Rome and apparently saw the wisdom of supporting Rome as surely as Jesus said to render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s. Yet, this is but one example of how God kept the peace with extreme personalities. Paul was a theologian; Peter was a fisherman. How will that work out? Will Paul beat down Peter with his colossal intellect and make him look stupid? We read nothing of the kind. Will Peter take his sword to Paul like he tried to do the high priests servant? We read nothing of the kind. Why? Because these men saw the value of each other- even referring to the one as a ‘beloved brother.’ How can they do this? By walking in the Spirit. If these man had been carnal they had fought like cats and dogs.
Not only did Peter and Paul demonstrate how to walk in love with personality, they preached doing it as well. This is important because somehow folk can get the idea, “Well that’s how they do things and I’m going to do it ‘my way’.” Paul writes: You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. (Romans 14:10 NIV) This passage should arrest our attention. We will all give an account to God for how we treated one another. He continues, Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather (make up your mind), that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. (Romans 14:13 comment added) We have to determine that we will not use our own uniqueness as a weapon in the churches of God. This is serious business to which we do well to take heed. If I might dare to say, I believe God is more concerned about how we treat each other than our petty concerns and areas of personal emphasis.