Monthly Archives: February 2011

Practice Your Profession

Adherence to standards of professional ethics and “best practices” are important measures of effectiveness for almost any worker. Each field of endeavor typically develops a commonly held understanding of what constitutes a job well done. What kinds of behavior are expected from members of a profession, quality standards for the work performed, and how practitioners can honorably represent the profession to the general public are strong guides for the actions of competent professionals in any field. Often extensive study, hands-on training, and lengthy apprenticeship are required of anyone who desires full acceptance as a professional. Years of experience making active, practical application of the core principles of the profession are to be expected.

Then there’s our profession of faith .. I wish that more of the generally held notions of profession would come with the word as we use it to describe our experience of faith. Actions regularly do speak louder than words. “Stating a personally held belief” certainly is one definition of the word profession. Too much faith stalls at the point of spoken assent that we believe and fails to guide our daily actions and attitudes by which we live. A profession of faith should be a commitment to ongoing continuing education and training in God’s ways and active application of God’s principles in everything we do. Profession of faith is more essentially how we live than what we say we believe.

Jesus made the point in one of his clearest parables. His hearers affirmed that they understood what Jesus was trying to teach them. Unfortunately, many in Jesus’ original audience were no more successful in practicing what he taught than we are today. Jesus was addressing people he saw and heard using all the right religious language, but who fell short of putting the deeper principles of God’s grace into action. They recognized themselves in Jesus’ parable:

[Jesus said,] “What do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ {29} The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. {30} Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. {31} Which of the two was obeying his father?” They replied, “The first, of course.” Then Jesus explained his meaning.. (Matthew 21:28-31a NLT)

Last week’s readings in the gospel of Matthew included Jesus’ arresting statement, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV) James, the half-brother of Jesus, seems to have had a special appreciation for an early version of Matthew’s gospel. Much of the instruction for practical living as a follower of Jesus sounds very reminiscent of Matthew’s record of Jesus’ ministry and teaching. I wonder if James had both the parable about the two sons and Jesus’ statement about people merely saying “Lord! Lord” missing out while people who practice God’s ways enter into God’s Kingdom as he wrote some of his own most famous words:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? {15} Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. {16} If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? {17} In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. {18} But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:15-18 NIV)

James learned from Jesus that saying the right words is important, but actually doing what the words are all about is much more what God desires for us. Living as a practicing follower of Jesus involves much more than merely professing some beliefs by a spoken declaration. We are called to become competent, fully engaged, practicing professionals, upholding the honor of our profession as ambassadors of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

Are you a competent professional in what you do to earn a paycheck? Think about all that is involved in maintaining your competency, assuring the quality of your work, and presenting yourself as a representative of your profession to the public. Do you devote similar energy and personal commitment and resources to extending God’s grace into the world, as your profession of faith requires? You don’t have to be on the church’s payroll to be a truly professional Christian.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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