The Importance of Commitment

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Jul 09, 2009 by Alex Mekonnen | 0 Comments

Professor Lewis B. Smedes, in his book, “Caring and Commitment: Learning to Live the Love We Promise” (1988), said:

Our deepest relationships are held together by an invisible cord called commitment. Every important community we have with other people depends on the strength of that unseen cord…The only way we can, anywhere, anytime, create a good human relationship within a caring community is by daring to make and caring to keep commitment to each other.

A personal commitment is a blend of consistency and care.  Consistency has to do with predictability. Caring has to do with personal presence. Presence without predictability, care without consistency: it is not enough. Anymore consistency without care is not enough. Commitment is both.

To implement vision into practice, to be steadfast on the treacherous road of leadership, to hang on when the balance sheet is red, friends become foes, and the only fair treatment we get is misunderstanding and disappointing criticism, a leader must have unflinching commitment to the task he/she is called to do. Acceptance, appreciation, recognition, rewards and glamour, if they are handled wisely and humbly, are good positive incentives for leaders. Such moments in the lives of leaders do not demand a high degree of commitment. It is almost impossible to succeed in leadership without enduring difficulties, challenges, conflicts and criticisms. Commitment is a quality that can carry strong leaders through the storm of life and lead them to the golden-shore of achievement and fulfillment. 

Lack of commitment has a traumatic effect on children as well as adults. Without commitment we can end up with prison inmates instead of a community. Without commitment we can have civil war, genocide, refugees, but not a stable society. Commitment is the invisible and yet essential cord that holds us together as human beings. None of us is an island.  We need other people to be fulfilled as human beings.

There are at least three things we surrender when we commit to God or another person, said Smedes:

a)     We surrender our freedom.

b)     We surrender our individuality.

c)     We surrender our control.

These three points contradict the present cherished values of our society. Hence, we see less and less commitment in marriages, friendships, religious and social services, etc. People choose to have dysfunctional families, ineffective and frustrated employees, bitter and disoriented children, rather than to surrender their freedom, individuality and control in order to commit themselves for a cause. When leaders emerge from such cultural backgrounds, they find it difficult to show commitment. But, without commitment, it is impossible to be a leader.

There were at least 26 sacred places of various religions in Corinth during Paul’s time. Roman culture and law, Hellenistic influence and Eastern religions were prevalent in the city.  There was splendid wealth; vice and religion flourished side by side.  Religious, cultural and ideological expressions were as diverse as the people in Corinth.  From the challenges of the Corinthian Christians, one can deduct that Paul was under pressure to be relativistic—to sound wise like the Greek philosophers or to perform signs and wonders like Moses.  For the sake of authenticity and continuity of Christian mission, Paul stood firm to preach the eternal gospel that changes the life of a sinner. He said; “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). 

Paul was not serving the Corinthians with a sense of cultural, national, racial or economic superiority.  Humanly, he stated nothing that qualified him to be worthy to listen to. His theology was considered like “babies food,” his “speech and preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom,” his personality was not impressive.  In fact, describing the status of his presence among the Corinthians, Paul said: “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (I Cor. 2:3).  Through this weak earthly vessel the power of God was demonstrated, the church was planted in Corinth, national leaders were developed, people of various backgrounds became a part of one body, and the Christians were enriched with spiritual gifts. We’ve a lot to learn from Paul and his commitment to the gospel.

Our Salvation is in the Foolishness of God not in the Wisdom of Man

In Pauline theology the new division is not so much predicated on people’s response to the message of the cross as it is on the event of the cross and resurrection itself.  The world through its wisdom did not come to know God.

  • Where is the wise man?
  • Where is the expert in the law? Or as KJV rightly put it, “where is the scribe?”
  • Where is the debater/philosopher?

Creatures cannot find out the living God.  The best they can do is to create gods in the likeness of created things, or, as so often happens, in the likeness of their own distorted gods. The true knowledge of God can come only by revelation—through the Spirit.

A god discovered by human wisdom will be both a projection of human fallenness and a source of human pride. This constitutes the worship of the creature, not the creator. The gods of the wise are seldom gracious to the undeserving, and they tend to make considerable demands on the ability of people to understand them. Hence, they become gods only for the elite and deserving.

Paul declares God has another sophia, wisdom—the foolishness of the cross.  The foolish thing (the cross) is where God was pleased to demonstrate His saving power and redeeming grace on behalf of mankind. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

The “Jews” and the “Greeks” illustrate the basic idolatries of humanity.  God must function as the all-powerful or the all-wise, but always in terms of our best interests—power on our behalf, wisdom like ours! For both, ultimate idolatry is insisting that God conform to our own prior views as to how “the God who makes sense” ought to do things.

The “Jews demand miraculous signs.”  This reflects Jewish messianic expectations. God had acted powerfully on their behalf in history; the promised messiah would restore the former glory by acting powerfully on their behalf once again. “Show us a sign,” they repeatedly demand of Jesus (Matt.11:38-39; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; John 6:30), “authenticate yourself; validate your messianic credentials with powerful displays.” And who can blame them?   They had been down for a long time and were looking for a mighty deliverer.  They knew how God had acted in the past—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Their idolatry was that they now had God completely figured out; he would simply repeat the Exodus, in still greater splendor.

“Greeks look for wisdom.”  This, too, was a national characteristic. As early as Herodotus it is said of them; “All Greeks were zealous for every kind of learning.” Again, who can fault them?  Theirs were the advances of civilization as none before. Indeed, it was their very advances in learning that caused many to abandon the traditional gods and turn to sophia or philosophia.  Their idolatry was to conceive of God as the ultimate reason or meaning; of course, what we deem to be reasonable (For an in-depth understanding of the Corinthian context and theology see Gordon Fee 1991, I'm indebted to his book "The first Corinthians).

These, then, are the two basic idolatries; and they are ever with us.  The demand for power and the insistence on wisdom, always for us from our point of view, are still the basic idolatries of our fallen world.  And they stand against the idea of mission.

James F. Engel & William A Dyrness, in their book, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? said:

Human reason and individualism now reigned supreme as the dominant spirit of the age. The quantum leaps in technology, especially in the last two hundred years fueled a great optimism that the world can be changed and conquered. The cry of Western civilization and the very essence of modernity became “There is no problem too big that it cannot be solved with human wisdom and technology”( Cf. 2000).

Power and reason always stand against our desire to be committed to missions. Like Paul and thousand of other missionaries who followed his steps, we have to make a resolution to be committed to the preaching of the gospel.  This is one of the major ways out of the entrapment of modernity and its values.

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