“Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4.4), and the cries of ‘Well done!’ are meant to shame a man, if he is not like the rest.” Augustine, The Confessions
This is a tough pill to swallow, living in a world largely shaped and governed by centuries-old Judeo-Christian ethics. I ask myself, “How can it be wrong to succeed at work, or want to lead a rapidly-growing church?” Perhaps Augustine’s insight no longer applies for the simple reason that the world is so different than it was when these words were first recorded nearly 1,700 years ago.
Then again, perhaps the world is not as different as I would like to believe. We are rapidly moving into a post-modern, post-Christian era, where non-Christian countries like China and India are spreading their ethical world-views in ever-widening circles. If the world today is similar to that of Augustine, what am I to make of his insight? What constitutes ‘friendship with the world’? Is my every endeavor doomed to mediocrity and failure because I dare not succeed in the eyes of the world? Before you respond with the knee-jerk reaction “Of course not!” I beg you to consider his argument again:
“The cries of ‘Well done!’ are meant to shame a man, if he is not like the rest.”
Am I like ‘the rest’? Am I like ‘the world’, striving for praise and recognition? Do I want recognition at all? Jesus commands that I complete my good deeds in secret, for if I earn the praise of men I have already received my reward (Matthew 6:1). What shall I say then about every self-aggrandizing statement I make at work, every blog post I write to inspire, or every Facebook update meant to show my friends how special I am?
Could I have a successful business and still be friends with God? What if I someday earn the praise of men who say, “Well done! Your church is growing very quickly; you must be doing something right!” Will I have already received my reward ? Should I feel shame instead of pride at receiving hard-earned praise from the mouths of men?
Why does my heart rebel at the thought of ‘settling’ for a life without the friendship and praise of the world? I suspect my ego is to blame; that my sense of self is so fragile and dependent on the opinions of others that I cannot bear the thought of living without their praise.
Are you eager to receive praise which is meant to shame you?