A Brief Meditation for the Month

December 2022

The story is told of two friends who grew up together, and each established himself separately in the same trade and business. After some years, one company was prospering while the other was struggling to survive. The owner of the enterprise, experiencing difficulties, was constantly envious of the growing success of his neighbour. Mystified by his lack of similar success and seeking to discover what the problem was, he consulted his rival, inquiring as to why he, in the same business, was so much more successful. The poignant answer was startling but instructive. “While you watch two businesses, I concentrate upon one.”

The same hard lesson is one every Christian needs to learn. So often, personal spiritual development is stymied because so much attention is focused on someone else’s religious life. Valuable time is lost analysing the perceived growth or lack of it in the life of our Christian neighbour, comparing or contrasting our development to theirs. When it is recorded of Noah that he “walked with God” Genesis 6:9, he was very much out of step with the society in which he lived. He had pressing work to do for God and the saving of his family, and thus he could not afford to be distracted from personal duty by giving undue attention to what others around him were doing or how they were doing it. If the young shepherd boy, David, had allowed himself to be activated by the spirit of all those around him, including King Saul, he would never have challenged the Philistine champion, Goliath of Gath. When writing to the Philippians, the apostle Paul was so concentrated upon his personal spiritual development and relationship with God that he affirmed, “this one thing I do,” Philippians 3:13. The apostle was indisputably devoted to the work of the gospel, yet he understood the importance of pressing forward in his personal Christian experience. If the apostle had set the standard and goals for his Christian life according to the level of spirituality of many around him, he would never have been the usable and useful ambassador for Christ that he proved to be. Sadly, some of the Lord’s well-meaning people are so engaged in endeavouring to bring the thinking and conduct of their fellow believers into conformity to their own that they forfeit personal communion with God Himself. An imbalanced sense of responsibility towards others, to have them agree with our opinions or compel others to conform to a particular interpretation of scripture, can end in the lament: “they made me the keeper of the vineyards: but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” Song of Solomon 1:6. It is just so easy to neglect our own vineyard!

As we approach the end of another year, it is an opportune time to review our personal spiritual progress throughout it. It is probably true to say that we have observed some fellow Christians who have grown in grace and in their spiritual experience over the year, and it may be equally true that we may have witnessed spiritual decline and backsliding in others. Such observations do indeed contribute to our feelings towards others, but at the same time, it is to be remembered that as we may observe others, so others have observed us and perhaps have come to conclusions, right or wrong, regarding our spiritual condition. Since all the Lord’s people “are members one of another,” members of the one mystical body, the Church, Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12, our personal condition has contributed another year to the overall health of that body, particularly at the local level. My dear Christian friend, is the spiritual health of Christ’s Church better or worse at the end of this year because of your and my contribution to it? A sobering and soul-searching question!

G. G. Hutton.