Sunday, January 18, 2015

Will You Be Considered Worthy?

A worthy successor to Queen Elizabeth?
When we use the words “worth” or “worthy” in English, we are often thinking primarily of value or merit. For instance, when we ask, “What’s he worth these days?” we are really asking “What is the total value of his assets?” When we say, “I don’t think that’s worth my time”, we mean that the activity in question lacks merit.

So when the word “worthy” comes up in the New Testament, like when Paul talks about Christians being “considered worthy of the kingdom of God”, we may initially think he’s talking about eternal salvation.

Certainly some people do.

Worthy of Salvation?

Speaking about being “considered worthy”, this particular writer says: 
“The believers in Thessalonica were counted worthy of the Kingdom of God because they exhibited perseverance and faith in the persecutions and trials they were enduring.

It follows that if they did not demonstrate perseverance and faith in the persecutions and trials they were enduring they would not be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God.

We can see clearly that it is not enough to claim we will go to Heaven on the basis of our belief in Christ independently of the manner in which we behave. In the first place, the issue is not that of going to Heaven (which is not the scriptural goal of salvation) but that of entering the Kingdom of God. In the second place, we have to be proven worthy of the Kingdom.”
This is not an unusual viewpoint. The writer is convinced that there were certain actions and behaviors above and beyond confessing Jesus Christ and Lord and believing that God raised him from the dead that were necessary to secure the status of the Thessalonians with God. If not, the writer believes they risked the loss of their eternal salvation. He doubles down on this position in the same article:
“When the Bible states we will not walk with Christ unless we overcome sin, it means exactly that. Unless God intervenes in some manner, there are millions of Christian Christians who will not be raised from the dead and rise to meet Christ in the air when He appears. They are not confessing and renouncing their sins. They are not diligent in looking to Christ for the power to turn away from sin.”
Let’s assume “Christian Christians” is a typo rather than explore its intended meaning too far, but in any case, I don’t think that is what Paul is saying at all.

Where Does that Sort of “Worth” Come From?

The sort of value or merit that secures my eternal salvation has nothing to do with my performance. It has entirely to do with Christ himself and his value to his Father. If I am genuinely saved, my “worth” in that sense will never again be called into question. Those that have Christ Jesus as their Lord cannot be separated from the love of God.

The thing that secures my eternal salvation is not my value, but Christ’s.

So Then ... What’s at Stake Here?

When the New Testament writers speak of “worth” and being “worthy”, they are speaking not of salvation, but of reputation. Of glory, if you like.

Consider an example: We may debate whether Prince Charles is a “worthy” specimen of royalty, and we can do so all day if we wish. But the fact of the matter is that Charles is a Windsor, he is in line for the throne under certain conditions, and may one day become king of England quite independent of our opinions as to his intrinsic value, his taste in women, his opinions on global warming or his demonstrated ability to rule. His position has been secured by something more significant than our subjective assessment of his conduct.

All the same, it will be a bonus if he behaves in a manner worthy of the crown if and when he ever wears it.

In the same chapter of Thessalonians in which Paul refers to us being “considered worthy of the kingdom”, he speaks of reputation. There are two types of reputation at stake in 2 Thessalonians 1:

The reputation of the Lord Jesus: Paul speaks of the time when the Lord “comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed”. Our conduct, amazingly, reflects on him. He goes on to add that behaving worthily brings glory to the Son of God, “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you”.

The reputation of the believer: Additionally, the believer’s reputation is enhanced by his association with the Lord Jesus. Not only can he be glorified in us, but “you in him”.

It is reputation that is at stake here when we talk about being “worthy”, not eternal salvation.

“Considered Worthy”

Another way to look at it is this: There is a natural tendency, given the way the word is used in our language most frequently, to think of “worth” in an unmodified way, as if on its own it conveys the idea of value or merit, as in a “worthy” individual.

But in the original language, “considered worthy” is a compound word that suggests not value but suitability for a particular purpose. It is never simply “worthy” on its own, but rather “worthy” for a particular thing; “worthy to receive honour”, and so on.

Or, in another instance, “worthy to suffer”. After receiving a beating ordered by the Jewish council, the apostles went on their way rejoicing that they had been “considered worthy” to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus Christ. They were deemed suitable to play a particular role in the furtherance of the gospel, and with this they were delighted.

But not all Christians have the constitution or faith, not to mention the personal experiences, of an apostle. We are not all made the same way, and the Lord knows how much persecution each of us can take without being defeated. This is surely a conclusion we can reasonably draw from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he says:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
If no temptation overtakes the believer beyond his or her ability, surely the temptation to cowardice or despair is also included. The apostles were able to take a flogging and go right back to work rejoicing, but Paul’s words to the Corinthians suggest to me that other believers whose faith and maturity are not yet up to it might not be asked to endure the same sort of beating.

I’m not looking to take a flogging anytime soon, but I would like to be “considered worthy”. I’d like to be an appropriate fit to the task of suffering for Christ, and I’d like to be considered appropriate to my very secure (though possibly small) role in the kingdom of Heaven.

God May Make You Worthy

But Paul is not done with the subject of our worth. He goes on:
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”
Here the word “worthy” in the Greek is axios, which might also be translated as “appropriate”, “fitted”, “suited to”, “consistent with” or “in keeping with”. The emphasis is not on the intrinsic value, earned value or even the value attributed to the Thessalonians, but on the correspondence between their faith and resolve, and the public evidence of these things.

The best evidence that value is not in view when the word “worthy” is used might be the book of Revelation, where the words “they are worthy” are used in the KJV to describe those who shed the blood of saints and prophets and will therefore be given blood to drink. The ESV rightly retranslates that line to read, “It is what they deserve”.

So when Paul asks that “God may make you worthy of his calling”, he is not in the least concerned with whether or not the Thessalonians merit salvation. What he is really asking is for God to grant opportunities for his servants in Thessalonica to demonstrate behavior consistent with their inevitable destiny. Notice that he’s not asking for God to control their actions like robots, but for God to take notice of their desire for good and their works of faith and show them even more ways they can prove the reality of their faith, or their appropriateness and suitability to God’s calling.

It’s not about salvation, it’s about reputation. If we are grateful for the former, we should certainly be concerned about the latter.

1 comment :

  1. Here is my perspective on worth (for whatever it is worth). I tend to be a practical person and as such I often simply look around at how things are currently being done and evaluate if practices, procedures, traditions, ideas and speculative exploration are done or proposed in a rational manner and basically make sense with regard to where and how they are applied. I belief this method can be applied to all human types of practical endeavor as well as to thought processes in the concrete or spiritual realm of ideas.

    Based on that, I would analyze the idea of worth with regard to its spiritual/biblical implications by comparing it to how we use worth in our daily lifes. It is my opinion that it is a mistake to assume that there is no continuity in our existence with this world once we have passed on. For example, if my boss does my job performance he has in mind that I am of a certain worth to the corporation and to the operation of his department to accomplish its goals and milestones. If I am a slacker I can be guaranteed that in his eyes I have little worth to the operation. If I can convince him by smooth talking that I am a changed person, have seen the light, and will be a valuable contributor to the effort in the future, he might (if a nice and compassionate person) see potential worth in giving me another 6 month til the next appraisal. If I elected to fake reform, I'll get fired next appraisal. The lesson is, this is a natural and appropriate process. Now, my manager may well have two different classifications concerning my worth. One, the worth he (as a decent, and perhaps god-fearing, human being) sees in me as god's creature, and the other how my worth is impacted by how I am committed to do my work(s). Christ, as I get it from the bible, thought along similar lines when he, e.g., told self-important people that in heaven they may get the seats at the very end of the banquet table. In other words, based on your works, which clearly shape who you are over a lifetime, there can be less worth attached to you. That does not impact God's (my manager's) opinion concerning my value to him as his creature. It is simply a fact of life that I am worth less (not worthless :-) in certain respects. Again, I think that this type of continuity is perfectly natural and I, for one, would not feel slighted in the least.

    Once more to the thief on the cross next to Christ on the cross. Would I have invited that guy into my home? Probably not. Yet, being God's creature God thought it worthwhile to do so, but not necessarily without the guy upping his worth in the eyes of God first. How so? Well, within the next 4 to 6 hours, he would live through a highly accelerated period of torturous and purifying purgatory before passing on. That would get the bejesus out of him that was his life's routine so far. Note that Christ did not extend this type of invitation to one of the rich people who were declining on their sofas during the dinner they threw for him. So, yes, it is perfectly natural for having a worth attached to us which is part of our makeup that we managed to produce during this life, without impacting our worth as God's creatures. And, btw, you must have heard this, you go to hell not because God no longer values you as his creature, but because you like to be in a place where it is always hot.