The transformation of the mind “so that you may discern what is the will of God” (Rom. 12:2) comes hand in hand with involving the community of faith in our decisions. As those in the process of being saved, we bring others into our decision-making processes. The word Paul uses for “discern” is literally “to test” or “to approve” in Greek (dokimazein). Our decisions must be tested and approved by other believers before we can have confidence that we have discerned the will of God. Paul’s warning “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Rom. 12:3) applies to our decision-making capability. Don’t think you have the wisdom, the moral stature, the breadth of knowledge, or anything else needed to discern God’s will by yourself. “Do not claim to be wiser than you are” (Rom. 12:6). Only by involving other members of the faithful community, with its diversity of gifts and wisdom (Rom. 12:4–8) living in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16), can we develop, test, and approve reliable decisions.
Can we talk about the real issues?
As told by Al Erisman
When I was in Nepal I was asked to talk with a group of Christians about ethics. One person asked for advice in how to handle a difficult bribery situation. I asked if the group of Christians gathered there had ever come together to pray for wisdom about this concern. The person asking the question said no, they were ashamed of the issue and didn’t talk about it together.
I told them I could outline some principles from the Scripture to consider, but said the only specific advice I would offer was to commit to talking as community about how to handle such a difficult issue. I was from the outside and didn’t have all of the cultural and economic context. They needed to talk about their actual struggles, not just about safe topics with easy answers.
This is more challenging than we might like to admit. We may gather to receive moral teaching as a community, but how often do we actually talk to one another when making moral decisions? Often decisions are made by the person in charge deliberating individually, perhaps after receiving input from a few advisors. We tend to operate this way because moral discussions are uncomfortable, or “hot” as Ronald Heifetz puts it. People don’t like to have heated conversations because “most people want to maintain the status quo, avoiding the tough issues.” In addition, we often feel that community decision making is a threat to whatever power we possess. But making decisions on our own usually just means following preconceived biases, in other words, being “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). This raises a difficulty in the sphere of work. What if we don’t work in a community of faith, but in a secular company, government, academic institution, or other setting? We could assess our actions communally with our co-workers, but they may not be attuned to the will of God. We could assess our actions communally with our small group or others from our church, but they probably will not understand our work very well. Either—or both—of these practices is better than nothing. But better still would be to gather a group of believers from our own workplace—or at least believers who work in similar situations— and reflect on our actions with them. If we want to assess how well our actions as programmers, fire fighters, civil servants, or school teachers (for example) implement reconciliation, justice, and faithfulness, who better to reflect with than other Christian programmers, fire fighters, civil servants, or school teachers? (See “Equipping Churches Encourage Everyone to Take Responsibility” in The Equipping Church at www.theologyofwork.org for more on this topic.)
Al Erisman, as told to the Theology of Work Project in Boston on January 29, 2014.
Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2002), 114.