• The Explore the Bible lesson for Oct. 2 focuses on 1 Peter 3:1-12.
More than 30 years ago, a major, highly revered American university conducted a revealing research project on issues related to employment in the United States. Its specific purpose was to discover why people tend to be terminated from their various fields of employment.
The findings were nothing if not stunning. The research unveiled a cause of termination most might not have considered. Across a diverse and broad field of professions, research revealed 85 percent of all employees who were terminated lost their jobs not because they lacked the professional skills essential to their line of work. Instead, their termination resulted from their inability to get along well with others in the workplace.
From the concrete work floor of massive industrial assembly plants to the pristine dark-oak boardrooms of financial institutions that manage billions of dollars and measure their company’s age using the yardstick of decades, or even centuries, the findings were consistent. The common denominator in the vast majority of terminations was social/community incompetence, not intellectual or skills deficiency. Most people who suffer job loss do so because they are not good at building healthy relationships within the corporate family.
Importance of healthy relationships
Whether it is our family, our nation or the myriad ways and places in which we earn our livings, the single most important skill essential to those jobs is the ability to build and maintain healthy relationships. Peter also made that truth abundantly clear for the church.
The primary reason for proper ethical behavior is not that we keep a good scorecard with God in heaven. In verses 4 and following, Peter makes a strong case for the fact that healthy spiritual behavior is essential for two reasons.
First, genuine and sincere spiritual behavior is, or should be, motivated by a genuine and sincere desire to honor God. A spouse who begrudgingly stays true to his or her wedding vows only because he or she made a promise and not because they genuinely love their spouse eventually will accomplish only the spreading of a bleached-white, sharply ironed bed sheet over a corpse.
How we behave in our marriages is essential. Why we do so is every bit as important. In the Old Testament, God rallied against people’s worship that was more about form and function than about expressing true love of God. (See the book of Isaiah.)
God found meaningless worship so offensive, he all but begged false worshippers to stay home rather than attempt to put on another worship one-act play. The worshippers were very much like actors quoting lines some else had written instead of reporting the condition of their own hearts.
This was the concern of more than one Old Testament prophet. It also was Peter’s. The point of both the prophets and Peter is that no matter how we may act in our public worship of God, it is the way we treat others that either verifies or nullifies its validity.
Our first house, bought in the early 1980s, had been built in the late 1920s, about the time the nation was slipping into the Great Depression. To say that it was a fixer-upper understates its condition.
Follow the Designer’s plan
We began the process of remaking the house by cleaning it out. Somewhere in one of the dark corners of a filthy closet, we found the original blueprint of the house. It was fascinating! Although it was a faded-yellow dry-to-crumbling document by then, it was fascinating to see the original plan and how the house still looked as it originally had been intended. Whoever built the house built it beautifully and well because he followed the designer’s original dream and plan.
Reading 1 Peter is like reading the Original Architect’s plan for the church in general and the kind of relationships God determined essential to its life.
Near the end of my time as a pastor, before I became a chaplain, it finally occurred to me: As a pastor, God had not called me to build a growing church. First and foremost, God’s original plan for the church was, and still is, that we strive toward helping our churches be healthy churches.
If a church is healthy, growth will take care of itself. If a church is busting at the seams with new people but the relationships in the church are sick, the larger and larger buildings are only mirages of a church that never will be.
The Bible’s primary teaching is that life is about relationships, first and last. Eternal life is about a healthy relationship between God and God’s children. All of life—in our churches, our home and all our being—is about healthy relationships with each other in ways that honor God. Our primary commitment is living and loving each other in ways that honor God and each other.
Glen Schmucker is a hospice and pediatric hospital chaplain in Fort Worth.