What do “the righteous” look like in higher education?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?Micah 6:8

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.Proverbs 11:10

What do you consider the characteristics of “the righteous,” particularly in the area of vocation? How do you (as an individual and as a member of God’s people) envision, glimpse, even embody “the righteous” on campus?

Amy Sherman, author of “Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good” (InterVarsity Press, 2011)

Last week I introduced Amy Sherman‘s Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (InterVarsity Press, 2011) and the challenge which it offers as we begin a new year (click here).

Let’s briefly consider What Do The Righteous Look Like? (Chapter 2, available on-line) and ask some questions in relationship to our journey (as individuals and as part of the people of God) in higher education.

Sherman starts What Do The Righteous Look Like? by stating:

A central premise of this book is that the average middle-class (or wealthier) Christian in America has been blessed with much from God — skills, wealth, opportunity, vocational position, education, influence, networks. We are, in short, the prospering. The purpose of all these blessings is simple to state and difficult to live: we are blessed to be a blessing. Our generous heavenly Father desires us to deploy our time, talents, and treasures to offer others foretastes of the coming kingdom. Those who do so are called the tsaddiqim, the righteous. . . . Clearly living as the tsaddiqim isn’t easy. It requires tremendous effort and intentionality. More importantly, it requires power from God’s Holy Spirit. It also requires understanding what a tsaddiq looks like. . . .

So what do the tsaddiq look like? Sherman offers a definition from N.T. Wright, an explanation by Tim Keller, and the lens of Up, In, Out (Note: Below material on Up, In, Out is largely adapted from Table 2.1. What Righteousness Looks Like at Work, 46. A superb summary piece!).

The basic meaning of ‘righteousness’ . . . denotes not so much the abstract idea of justice or virtue, as right standing and consequent right behaviour, within a community (N.T. Wright. 46).

Biblical righteousness is inevitably social, because it is about relationships. When most modern people see the word “righteousness” in the Bible, they tend to think of it in terms of private morality, such as sexual chastity or diligence in prayer and Bible study. But in the Bible tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity, and equity (Tim Keller. 47).

Up refers to the central orientation of the life of the righteous as toward God with humility, dependence upon Him alone, and an eternal perspective. As such our work is to be given to the glory of God and born out of the longing for self-fulfillment.

  • Starter vocational questions: Do you eschew workaholism, set boundaries on institutional loyalty, embrace daily dependence on the Spirit, recognize God as “the Audience of One,” and value one’s labors as participating in the new creation?

In refers to the righteous seeking not only to act rightly but also to be right on the inside, i.e., personal holiness which evidences the fruit of the Spirit, openhandedness, and “gut-level compassion for the hurting.”

  • Starter vocational questions: Be honest, do you turn away from the temptations to cheat, steal, lie, and engage in practices of sexual impurity? Do you hold colleagues to some form of accountability in these areas? Are your relationships grace-based and filled with a generosity which not only rejects materialism and self-indulgence, but also is “in tune with” and “sees” the needs of others?

Out refers to “vertical love toward God is expressed in horizontal love toward the world he has made and the people he has created” (55).

  • Vocational questions: Do you seek the betterment of conditions for colleagues and those coming up behind you in the system (on campus/beyond)? Do you promote, advocate, and embody the healing of relationships (and the development of fresh new healthy relationships) on campus (across structures, departments, “jobs”), in the local community, and beyond. How are you engaged redemptively in your discipline and its application in the larger culture?

Wow! Yes, righteousness is “tall order.” After digging into the topic, it’s important to take a step back, breathe, and pray remembering that such a “way of life” only comes by the grace of God the Father through His various means (i.e., the work of His Son, the Word, and the Spirit as members of the Body of Christ). Taking the material from a slightly different angle, I find Take Time to Look at Your Life: Questions for Personal Reflection (Ann Boyd, Jay Sivits, and Sara Scheunemann) quite helpful. Below are several questions drawn from Take Time to Look at Your Life.

  • Up: Has God spoken to you recently through his Word, in prayer, or through other people? What has he said? How have you responded?
  • In: Is there a question that keeps surfacing in your heart — one you might have been staying too busy to hear? Could it be that this is God’s question for you as well?
  • Out: How do you meet God in your studies or work? Have you sought his guidance when you run across problems? How has he answered you? For what can you thank him in your work life? How is God inviting you to reach out to others — both those who know him and those who don’t?

As the new year begins, I encourage you to take time for personal and communal reflection* upon both the above questions. Note: In the third post of the Kingdom Calling series, we consider Deploying Vocational Power: Four Pathways (drawing from Chapters 8 and 9).

*E.g., mentoring conversation, accountability group, lunch discussion group, small group, prayer meeting, leadership team mtg, informal/discussion focused fellowship gathering, etc.

Updated 1/19/2012. 6:16 PM.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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One Comment

  • leonard@wolfhome.us'
    Leonard commented on February 1, 2012 Reply

    Don’t know if you knew that Amy was the commencement speaker at Messiah in May (2011).

    I liked her theme from Proverbs 11:10. When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.

    So she was talking about service. I think I might always remember that day and that talk, as Kelsey was the last to leave her dorm apartment and there was lots of cleaning still to be done. It turned out that one of the lovely little white towels the college gave out to grads was the main item I could use for scrubbing the fridge. It didn’t stay white.

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