Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Two Paths Of Obedience

Two Paths Of Obedience by Dr Goh Chee Leong, an article written for Graduate Christian Fellowship

I think all of us as Christians agree that our responsibility above all things is to follow where God leads us. We all believe in divine guidance, even though they may be differences in how God chooses to communicate this guidance to us. The more difficult challenge of course is not discerning His will but having the strength to submit to His call when it is revealed.

We realize of course that God's calling will lead all of us in different directions. Some may be called to take the path of upward mobility while others will be called to head south.

The Path of Upward Mobility

There are ample examples in the Bible of God placing key people in key positions. Both the stories of Daniel and Joseph provide good models of God developing young leaders and then empowering them to wield Godly influence at key moments in history. Many sermons have
been preached on the need for committed Christians in positions of leadership in all areas of society and industry. God's name is glorified when his servants of high profile reflect His attributes of love, grace, holiness and integrity.

Some among us may be called to this high road of power and influence. Of course, men like Joseph and Daniel never sought power as an end; rather they pursued righteousness and received power quite unexpectedly as a result of God's provision. As their examples
demonstrated, God will tests these potential leaders and only give them power when they have proven faithful and obedient in the smaller tasks. He does this for good reason, for power and wealth, as we know, corrupts.

God has blessed some of us with talents and gifts of intellect that will no doubt enable us to climb the corporate and social ladder as far as we wish to go. We work hard and are committed to transcend mediocrity. This success is not a bad thing in itself, for God may indeed have designs to use us as leaders and people of influence and power. However, those who are called to this high road thread a dangerous path indeed. Many have lost their souls trying to serve both God as well as their personal ambitions. There is a fine but clear line between being driven by a desire to obey and being driven by the desire to succeed. Mother Theresa once remarked; "God has not
called me first and foremost to be successful. He has called me to be faithful."

The young Christian graduate who sets out with the genuine desire to earn wealth in order to support God's kingdom may at some point be so obsessed with achieving his goal that he forgets the motive behind it. This moral tension becomes more apparent when faced with ethical
dilemmas that pit following God versus corporate success.

I recently remarked to a college CF that we should start inviting more speakers who have the experience of being held back or fired from their jobs because they chose to follow God rather than their own ambitions. We should remember that Joseph was held back for quite awhile in his "political career" (due to his faithfulness) before he rose to the lofty positions he finally held.

The Path of Downward Mobility

It was Henri Nouven who taught me the phrase downward mobility. His own life of course reflected this thinking. A famous professor of theology at the peak of his academic career at an ivy league university, Nouven heeded God's call to abandon all fame, fortune, power and influence to serve as a Priest to a mentally disabled community for the remainder of his life. God had called him not be upwardly mobile but like Christ to lower himself in the eyes of society so that he could be closer to God.

Some of us will be called to walk this road of downward mobility. It will lead us away from the limelight and places of profile to the quiet corners of this world where God's plan is no less important. It will lead to sharp drops in the key performance indicators (KPIs)
that are used by this generation to measure success. People while openly stating their admiration for our commitment will behind our backs quietly remark "what a waste of talent."

This is the path of John the Baptist, the old-testament prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah, and most of the apostles like Paul and Peter. It is the path of missionaries, social workers and Christian workers. It is a call to free ourselves from the wealth and position that so
often limits mobility and time. It is not the road reserved for those who cannot "make it" up the upwardly mobile path, it is certainly not the consolation prize for those who lack talents to succeed in other professions. Some of us are called to this path simply because it is
God's will and part of God's larger design.


The Kingdom of God needs young men and women in both these paths; the one that leads to high profile leadership and the other that leads down the social ladder. God places equal emphasis on each. There is no thought of which is greater than the other. As Paul remarks, we
have been given different gifts in order to play different roles.
All roles are important in God's church.

The question is whether we are on the path God has called us to, and if we are, are we being faithful in playing the role God wants us to play.

Dr Goh Chee Leong


Abel said...

Upward mobility is just an illusion. All those happened in Old Testament only.
Downward mobility is the reality in New Testament.
Please show me example of upward mobility in New Testament if you could.

Don't fool yourself.

The Hedonese said...

Luke 2:52 "And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

From the cross ascended to the right hand of the Father, that's pretty upwardly mobile :)

What happened in OT is not by default nullified in the NT, unless explicitly fulfilled by Christ. So the godly examples of men like Daniel and Joseph apply to NT saints also

Sze Zeng said...

Dr.Goh has ascribed 2 diffferent social categories. The criteria for such distinction hinges largely on social status. Thus it is not unfair that Dr.Goh shares the 2 verticalities in the post.

Hi Abel,

When i read Luke 7.1-10, i was surprised to find that Jesus Christ's most generous compliment was conferred to an 'upward mobilitized' person: A centurion.

Check out what Luke recorded:

"...the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

But that doesnt mean Jesus prefers those who are upward mobilitized, but it does show that 'downward mobility' is not the only reality in the NT.


Abel said...

Hi Hedonese,
Anyone who read about Jesus in Bible would say that clearly he took the 'downward mobility' rather than 'upward mobility'.

On 'from the cross ascended to the right hand', that was the aftermath after he was willing to take the 'downward mobility'.

On OT stuffs still applied to NT, do you try to say that all you guys still hold 'Lord's day' (Sabbath) as holy and did not work on Sunday ??
[ I'm referring to office work, not life saving works like doctors, police, etc]

Hi Sze Zeng,

First, I'm not sure if we could say the centurion was saved (see John 3:1-15; conversation with Nicodemus), except that his servant was healed.
Second, even if we could count him as 'Christian', the centurion already hold his position and not still pursuing the 'upward mobility' position.

On contrary, I found in Mat 20:25-28 (in context Mat 20:20-28)
25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Not that God did not/would not keep raising great preachers, but my objection was on corporate world.

Unless they were humbled by the Spirit, by default all educated Christians would think they should go 'upwards' as high as possible (unfortunately for most of them, their soul will perish on the way). This kind of 'upward mobility' attitude is no difference from old time crusaders' attempt to conquer all lands for Jesus.


The Hedonese said...


Luke 2:52 happens at the beginning of Jesus' life, not at the end: "And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

So there is no inherent sin in being upwardly mobile or inherent good in being downwardly mobile. The key is to be obedient to God's calling...

Neither poverty nor riches, but simplity is probably what we should aim for. Richard Foster puts it this way: "The inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions. Neither the greedy nor the miserly know this liberty.

If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety.

However, if what we have we believe we have got, and if what we have we believe we must hold onto, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will live in anxiety."

I try to keep both Saturday and Sunday off work, and worship on both days! hahaha...

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