Don’t settle for ‘good enough’
Faith & Inspiration | Instead, ‘do so more and more’
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016, at 3:41 pm
My father-in-law passed out in church in the seat next to me. His eyes went so vacant that I thought he was dead. An ambulance whisked him off to the hospital, and he feels good again, but the incident did a number on me.
In this little dress rehearsal for the inevitable parting of four people at this temporary address on this temporary earth, I thought about how I have been living with my father-in-law. What if last Sunday had been the last time I saw him? Would I be satisfied? I would not.
A few years ago, a friend of mine brought a word from the Lord: “Open your heart wide,” she said to me. Smarting a bit, I said, “Paul’s letter to Corinth, right?” She said, “Huh?” Without even knowing the verses, my friend had delivered warning from God’s mouth to my ear out of 2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 7:2.
In fits and starts I did open my heart after that Nathan-like visit—but not wide. I stopped somewhere in the vicinity of “good enough.” Lucillius’ description of Cassius’s approach to Brutus comes close: “With courtesy and respect enough. But not with such familiar instances nor with such free and friendly conference …” (Act 4, Scene 2, of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).
“Good enough” courtesy and respect is adequate only when you take grace for granted. If the doctrine “saved by grace” means to you that one’s standing with God has nothing to do with how one lives five minutes after conversion, then what the heck? But there is something problematic with that calculation. Nowhere in Scripture do we find anything other than encouragement, exhortation, and warning to do better and better in our living and our loving day by day.
“Do so more and more,” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:1). They were already doing well, those Thessalonian guys—their work proceeding from faith, their labor from love, their patience rooted in hope of Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 1:3); their behavior exhibited marks of the Spirit’s power (1:5); they stood fast under affliction, and had visible joy (1:6); they were such exemplary believers in God that Paul hardly had to say anything in Macedonia and Achaia, because Europe was abuzz with their reputation. Wouldn’t it be great if all our American churches generated such godly rumors?
Yet Paul wrote, “Do so more and more.” Indeed, he repeated it a few verses later: “Do this more and more” (4:10). He had earlier expressed the wish that God would “make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (3:12), and then he exhorted the Thessalonians to it, as if their pressing in had something to do with that happening. God’s grace and our efforts (2 Peter 1:5) are a winning combination against the tendency to settle in at “good enough.”
Suppose you didn’t do so well yesterday. As you look back on a regrettable remark, or a lazy greeting, or a tepid demonstration of affection, it seems to me you can draw only one of two conclusions: You can either say that you could not have done otherwise, because you are a sinner, and sinners sin. Or you can say that you could have done it differently. And if you could have done it differently, but you chose to be snobby or snarky or stingy with affection, then you can very well choose a better response today.
Otherwise Paul (and God) would have no basis for demanding it of you. He would just say, “Oh well, sinners sin. I hope God will change you someday.” But not only does Paul tell us to do more and to increase, but he does a little holy boasting by way of proving it’s possible: “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
Whoa! Where does Paul get off calling himself and his retinue “holy” and “righteous” and “blameless”? And not in imputed standing alone, but in “conduct”?
Don’t wait until your father-in-law faints in church. Let us pick up the pace from good enough, and love one another “more and more.”
Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.