A little while back I wrote a little on the way that we can be tempted by three types of idol: approval, comfort and security.  Now one of the things about idols is that they tend to be parasitical on things that are genuine needs and in and of themselves, in context, within boundaries are not wrong.

So comfort and security are good things.  We see them in Genesis 2 where God places Adam and Eve in a garden and gives them food to eat from any of the trees. There they experience God’s provision and protection. However, those things are bounded. Their comfort is not unlimited, God places a restriction in the form of the prohibition on the tree at the centre.

I want to talk a little bit more about this in the context of that third idol, the need for approval.  This is something that many of us crave for. We want to be recognised for doing a good job. We long for status with others.  This can come in the form of reward and recognition, praise and in terms of job titles. It means that whilst sometimes we pursue promotion in the workplace for financial security and for material comfort this isn’t always so. Simply it is for status and approval itself. 

Now, this becomes particularly important in the context of church work and especially for those involved in planting into hard to reach places.  If you’ve opted for that kind of vocation then it suggests that your immediate needs aren’t around comfort and security. You let go of those a long time ago. Although, no doubt the cost of living crisis is going to test us again in those areas. However, there can still be the need for approval in terms of recognition that you are doing something worthwhile and linked to this, that you know where you fit in.

Whilst I have particularly mentioned church planters here, I suspect that this is a challenge for many others among us as well. We are not asking for much, just to know where we fit and to have our work recognised.

And just like with comfort and security, I want to suggest that in and of itself those needs are not necessarily bad things but that they can become a problem, they can become an overwhelming need that distracts us from our calling in Christ and leads us to lose trust in him. That’s when the need becomes idolatrous. However, Scripture does talk in terms of approval, recognition and fitting in.

First of all, 1 Corinthians 12 there is the sense that as each of us bring our gifts, we do so as part of the body. Each of us has our place and our role to play. Secondly, here is 2 Timothy 2:15.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

We are to work for approval. Though of course note that it is God’s approval and recognition that we seek here.  Indeed, this is an important safeguard. Elsewhere Paul will tell us that we are not to be people pleasers, only working when their eyes are on us to gain approval but knowing that it is God who watches and rewards -which implicitly includes recognition.[1]

However, I do think there is also something important in terms of the role of others as well. First of all because if in Ephesians 6 Paul suggests that God steps in when earthly masters and employers fail to recognise that reward then by implication those earthly masters are meant to.  Secondly because there is an expectation on the church to identify and recognise those who are responsible for leading. We see this when instructions are given on the appointment of elders:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”[2]

Elders are to be identified and assessed to ensure that they meet requirements but also we are told

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.”[3]

Now when we talk about this verse we traditional focus on financial pay and a church’s legitimate concern for their leaders to experience security and comfort.  But there is also an element of approval and recognition here. In fact the NLT splits the two ideas out:

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.”

So, how then do I know whether or not my concern is for right and appropriate approval and when does it become idolatrous? We’ll talk a little bit more about that in our next post.

[1] Ephesians 6:5-9. 

[2] 1 Timothy 3:1.

[3] 1 Timothy 5:17.

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