You and I cannot escape the pull toward self-promotion. It invades each day through various mediums. And the very culture that tells us to hoist up our personal banners everywhere is the same culture that empowers us to act as our own judge and jury. It tells us that permissive behavior is the norm.
But though we cannot escape the cultural pull, we need not give in to it.
On Wednesday I wrote about the lost art of reflection. I discussed how, if we wait and reflect instead of reacting to situations, people and "news," we should find a most helpful friend: discernment. This friend draws a hard line, one our pride finds stark and uninviting.
Today, as we ready our hearts and minds for the coming Sunday gathering let's consider how we might join the practice of quiet reflection with true Christian freedom.
They seem opposed, restraining from reaction yet exercising freedom. But they are, in fact, kindred.
The Apostle Peter reminds his readers: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:16–17 ESV).”
Christian freedom means we are free to follow God's will. We are, like Paul, slaves to the Gospel. As such we do not live as permissive agents of cheap grace and license.
Rather, we adhere to a specific code: every person is to be shown respect, our Christian brothers and sisters are to be loved, God is to be approached in reverent fear and our authorities are to be respected.
Actions Reveal Motives
It's easy to forget this Christian Code. In the pursuit to build leadership platforms, influence, personal brands, secure a raise, or position we pounce on opportunity.
I often see this in the world of blogs and writing. In the name of "being prophetic," or "holding some Christian leader accountable," or "just because I can" writers and talking heads wield their words as battle-axes. They scramble to be heard and seen and, of course, followed.
At some level we all of us desire to exist and be seen as a person of the inner circle of our chosen professions.
In his address titled "The Inner Ring" C.S. Lewis exhorts his listeners to beware of pursuing such an inner ring. Such a pursuit often demands character compromises. Because we desire exclusivity, to be "in the know," to be cool, to be accepted, to be viewed as exceptional, we disregard our Christian code. We offer convenient excuses for our selfish actions.
Lewis offers this bit of wisdom that I find helpful as a daily reminder (pardon its length):
The quest for the inner ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters.
You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know.
But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.
And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside, that you are indeed sung and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring.
But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric, for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things they like. This is frienship.
If we set out each day to work, to hone our craft—whatever it may be—then we create a culture that cares little for the pull of self-promotion and permissive behavior. We, in fact, create a safe place where respect and love and reverence flourish.
We will find ourselves free in Christ, yet bound to the hard and beautiful words of his Gospel. We will find ourselves caring less for the Inner Ring and more for those we should be caring for anyway: our true friends.
Lord, grow us in your patience. Strengthen us as we strive to live in the freedom of your Way.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.