Sunday, May 30, 2021

Curing Instability

“… a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

“Among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women …”

“… that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Weakness of will. Instability. Confusion. None of these qualities have been traditionally considered admirable in Christian circles, and with good reason. Indecisive people make poor signposts. Our role models rarely include those who fail to exhibit self-control. Erratic individuals are not likely to have your back in times of crisis.

Two Opposite Errors

It is not that we are unwilling to be led; in fact, many of us crave godly leadership desperately. Rather, it is that we are unwilling to be led by people who manifestly do not know where they are going. As a result, some Christians have come to regard certainty as a proxy for orthodoxy. A Christian leader is considered admirable because he exudes decisiveness and confidence from the platform. His doctrine is considered trustworthy because he never changes his positions. His assertive body language, his strident tone of voice, his ability to command respect: all these shout “Follow me, and I will take you where you need to go.”

We do not always stop to ask “Decisive in which direction?” or “Confident about what?” or “Where is it exactly we are going?”

And that’s a problem.

So then, there are two errors we need to defend against, both in choosing others to follow and also within our own hearts, as we seek to lead those for whom we are responsible in Christ. One is immature waffling and irresolution; the other is moving forward confidently when we do not have valid reason to be confident.

The Best Followers

I pointed out in a post last week that the best spiritual leaders are the best followers. Our trust in them is not based on the fact that they never change their positions, but because they only change their positions in response to a fresh understanding of the divine will.

Let me illustrate. One hot Sunday afternoon in my late teens when I actually had some money of my own, I happened to mention to my father that I was about to set off for the corner store to buy a popsicle. He replied to the effect that it was not the practice in our family to go shopping on the “Lord’s day”.

“But Dad,” I replied, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

Now, I’m not quite sure I quoted Romans accurately or applied the apostle’s words in the spirit he had intended them, but perceiving that I was becoming an adult and needed to make up my own mind before the Lord, my father permitted us from then on to make Sunday trips to the corner store.

That was quite a coup for me. You might imagine I felt pretty chuffed to get one over on my dad like that. In fact, the opposite was the case. I felt tremendous respect for him as a leader of his family, not because he never got things wrong, but because he himself was resolutely subject to his higher authority. He would not insist on his own will, his own view or his own personal preference. He would only insist on that which he knew to be the Lord’s mind. And he was not being indecisive. He was not waffling. He went from one principle of scripture to another, and he took each step as led by his conscience before God.

I want leaders like that, don’t you? More importantly, I want to be that sort of leader. A shepherd who knows he is really just another member of the flock, even if he’s walking up front and providing a little direction as he is able.

The Causes of Instability

Back to our three verses about instability:

Lack of Faith. In the case of the double-minded man, his instability is a product of lack of faith. He cannot pray in confidence because he doubts. Perhaps he doubts God’s generosity. Perhaps he doubts God’s ability to make him wise. Perhaps he doubts the value of prayer. Perhaps all or none of the above; James doesn’t tell us.

Lack of Sense. In the second instance, the word translated “weak women” appears only once in the New Testament, but its use in contemporary Greek literature suggests it should be understood to mean “women who lack sense and judgment”. A person of this sort is dependent on the influence of others to make decisions. Paul tells Timothy such a woman lacks the ability to discern good leadership from bad and false doctrine from true. Instead, she is led by her instincts and feelings, and the result is predictably bad.

Lack of Maturity. In the third case, spiritual children are “tossed to and fro” and “carried about” in much the same way. But this is not so much a persistent character flaw as it is a lack of teaching. Children lack maturity. In order to become stable, Paul counsels them to “grow up in every way” by “speaking the truth in love”.

In every instance, the remedy for instability, weakness of will and confusion is the word of God itself.

The Word as the Metric

The double-minded man lacks scriptural authority for his prayer requests, so he can have no confidence in asking. The undiscerning woman has no foundation in the word of God, and therefore no means by which she may judge truth or falsehood when others speak. And the immature Christian “tossed to and fro” is desperately in need of an anchor. That anchor is God’s word.

Using the Word as our metric does not in itself guarantee instant stability, but it is the beginning of the growth process by which ultimately we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.

We begin our way down that road by making it our daily practice to become increasingly familiar with God’s word. We continue down it by making it our habit to apply that word to every choice we make along the way; by asking ourselves and others at every new fork in the road, “What does the scripture have to say about our direction now?”

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