By Dr. Gentry Sutton, Vice President of Academic Affairs
I have been thinking a lot recently about some of the statements that the Apostle Paul wrote in the imperative mood:
- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
- Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances… (1 Thessalonians 5:16–17)
- Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men… (Colossians 3:23–24).
- Do everything without complaining or arguing… (Philippians 2:14)
When I consider the fact that my speech is not always wholesome or edifying, that I am not always joyful, that I do not pray continually or give thanks in all circumstances, that I frequently fail to work at everything as if Jesus were my boss, and that I complain and argue about plenty, I am made painfully aware of the incredibly high standard of living to which I am called in the Christian life.
And of course there is Paul’s statement that a believer’s attitude “should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Now there’s a challenge if ever there was one!
Reading these statements all together can be overwhelming and even intimidating. God has set an incredibly high bar for our conduct in this life. The bar is so high, in fact, that only one man has ever met it.
What is even more overwhelming, however, is how much love the sacrifice of Jesus represents in light of that bar. The God who demands such excellent care of ourselves, of our relationships, and of his creation has also forgiven us and made us righteous in his sight: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is no question about it: for the Christian, Thanksgiving should be all year.
In addition to being thankful for God’s grace, though, I am also thankful for those lofty directives to which God has called us through Paul and the other biblical writers. Our human nature often leads us to think of such grandiose directives as challenges to be met, as goals that require great effort, as impossible demands that lead to angst, as instructions that merely expose our fallibility.
But as I watch the news and interact with the culture, noticing the abandonment of various standards in various areas of life, I realize that Scripture’s lofty directives are actually blessings. What if God had not set a high bar for us? The answer is obvious when we consider the effects of a culture that is becoming more and more hostile to the very concept of God, much less a God who would actually place parameters around our behavior and set for us a bar of excellence in conduct.
So what am I thankful for this holiday season? I am quite thankful for those lofty biblical directives intended to guide the Christian’s life. Do we fall short of them? Every day. But life would be unbearable without them. God knew exactly what he was doing when through his Holy Spirit he authored such instructions as “have the same attitude as Christ.” I am thankful for high standards from a perfect God.