My father thought I was especially curious as a child, and I continue to inquire. Given the premise, “The more we know, the more we realize we do not know.” In this regard, the Lord assures us: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). In context, not simply because of our finite character but evil inclination.
Even so, I have been increasingly called upon over the years to address questions raised by other persons. Which, in turn, recalls a time when teaching in Nigeria. Upon leaving the building, I observed one of my students leaning against a post—apparently deep in thought. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he replied: “It will be so enjoyable when I am old enough for persons to seek out my counsel.” Since in his culture, old age is not so much thought of as a tragedy but an accomplishment.
Moreover, inquiry is the hallmark of education. Now while retired for the third time, I recall it being said: “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” This has proven to be an impetus to extended publication.
But what question is of ultimate concern to us? If, as Paul Tillich assures us, ultimate concern is the essence of a religious faith, how does this allow for cultivating some expertise? In reply, several observations seem pertinent. (1) If anyone or anything supplants life’s prime objective to glorify God and enjoy him forever, this amounts to idolatry. As has been observed, God created humans, and humans created gods. So that the rabbis reasoned that all sorts of evil are derived from this objectionable source.
(2) For instance, if one’s top priority is the acquisition of wealth, this takes the place of spiritual devotion. In this regard, Jesus cautioned: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). Instead, we should use our resources to serve God and in doing so, others as well.
(3) Some, however, are more concerned with enhancing their reputation than in increasing their possessions. No matter, since the principle is much the same. “Everything they do is done for men to see,” Jesus protested. “They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi” (Matt. 23:5-7). Consequently, this is the extent of their reward.
(4) But this decidedly does not preclude striving for excellence in some regard or another. Accordingly, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving ” (Col. 3:23-24).
(5) Whatever is comprehensive. Recalling one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Otherwise, it might as well be left undone.
(6) With all requires thorough commitment. Along with a lack of indecision, persisting resolve, and enhanced activity. Whatever we have achieved in the past, it can be approved upon. If we benefit from our failures, and profit from our successes.
(7) As working for the Lord, not men. As for the former, appreciative for his sacrificial intervention on our behalf. Thus motivated by love, and a willingness to serve. Which is to say that our labor excels that which our employers expect of us.
(8) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and dust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal,” Jesus cautioned. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and dust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). Since earthly treasures soon vanish, while heavenly treasures serve as a long term investment.
(9) Of similar intent, “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). Sow with righteous resolve, rather than to indulge ourselves—with disregard for others.
(10) “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (v. 9). If weary from labor, continue. If discouraged from the lack of appreciative response, continue. Even if threatened, continue. Then at the proper time one will reap a bountiful harvest.
(11) “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (v. 10). As expressed in athletic idiom, “Run toward the light.” That is, seize the opportunity that affords itself. Rather than pounding on closed doors.
(12) Do good to all people, not simply a select few. Thus accenting those in dire need, such as are often overlooked. As concerns the basic needs for survival, including the need for security and acceptance, and extending to reconciliation offered by Christ.
(13) Especially with concern for those of like precious faith. Since such are bonded together in a spiritual fellowship, likened to a family of faith. By way of comparison with our earthly family, we are sometimes annoyed by someone’s behavior. But we prefer to think of more favorable moments, and remain committed to our family members. Having been enjoined to follow Christ, we follow him into community.
(14) Then, in turn, we follow him into outreach. In this connection, Jesus instructed his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:1:8) In brief, come and then go.
(15) Consequently, to be among the saints as they go marching in. “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” Jesus assured his disciples; “if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also my be where I am” (John 14:2-3). Thus is ultimate concern refined in Christian context.