Friday, February 21, 2014

Teleological Value in the Kingdom of Heaven

“To be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.” –Wayne Grudem

This kind of significance is ontological. This is the value that we have simply because of who God made us to be. Two different ontologies can be understood in this. The first one is that all people are made in the image of God. That makes all of us intrinsically valuable for no other reason than we are his image bearers. The second is that some are his chosen people. These were the ancient Hebrews, and some still consider the Jews of today as their descendants to be God’s chosen people. But according to the Apostles of Christ, all those who have faith in Christ are God’s chosen people, his “elect”. By truly having faith in Christ, additional ontological value is added by virtue of the regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The elect share a special relationship with God beyond simply being human.

But people also have teleological value. In one sense, teleological value is related to ontological value. In another sense, it is an independent value.

The teleological value of people can most easily be seen to be independent of their ontological value. Pharaoh was not ontologically one of God’s chosen people, but he was teleological instrumental in carrying out God’s plan to secure the identity of the Hebrews as his chosen people as a nation of underdogs. In their low position among the Egyptians, there was no way they could secure their freedom alone, much less assume possession of Canaan, without divine assistance. God used Pharaoh’s burdensome rule over the Hebrew slaves to create an apparent impossibility that served as a backdrop for the glory of God in the signs and wonders. So even someone of no faith in God can be used mightily to glorify him.

The link between ontological value and teleological value in the Kingdom of Heaven can be seen throughout the New Testament. I’ll  point to one passage. 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 both discuss teleology in the Body of Christ. In the middle of this discussion, in chapter 13, Paul brings up the ontology of the believer in sharing the relationship between members of the Trinity as Jesus taught in John 14. So the way we work together as the Body of Christ (teleology) is related to the relationship we have with God (ontology). The way this works is that the spiritual gifts each have been given are to employed with that same ontological relationship (love).

But even the way the ontological relationship is applied to employing the gifts is ontological. That is, it can be applied more or less faithfully. That’s the reason for Chapter 13 in the larger discussion. Paul’s admonition was to apply our ontological value as faithfully as possible.

But remember that teleology is also independent of ontology. Faithful application of ontology doesn't guarantee greater teleological value. That is, it doesn't mean that we will be more useful. Unfaithful application of ontology doesn't mean that we will be less useful. Many believers who unfaithfully apply their ontological value turn out to be quite useful in the body of Christ and many believers who apply their ontological value turn out to not be very useful at all. Nevertheless, Paul admonishes all of us to seek the greater gifts. That is, as we apply our ontological value faithfully we should also seek greater teleological value.

But God will use who he wants as he chooses, and that is good. For example, an older man I know has been creatively unemployed for years. He has used his time wisely to do such things as breed cattle and do contract finish carpentry. More importantly, he is involved in our local Child Evangelism Fellowship as a Shepherd and Teacher, he serves as a mentor for troubled teens in the community, and he helps out with a local ministry to at-risk children in the poorest neighborhoods in town. He is gifted only with a love of God and a desire to help kids know Jesus. He’s in the hospital on a long recovery after a severe automobile accident during a recent ice storm. He’s been taken out of the game for a while. He can barely move or speak. Once possessing great teleological value, that value is now on hold. If you have read thus far, you must know that few people will… read this far at least. You might acknowledge that I have a gift of understanding things that is at least exotic if not exceptional. But you might recognize that I don’t have a great ability to hold an audience such as to impart this understanding very effectively. I took one of those Spiritual gifts inventories and came up with the gift of knowledge, but not so much the gift of teaching. I certainly don’t have a gift of ministering to children effectively in any way. I write articles like this because frankly I don’t have anything better to do. This is one way of using this gift even though I know it won’t be very useful to anyone. So the man I know who isn't well gifted is teleologically more valuable that I am although I am apparently more gifted in some way. There’s no way I could take this man’s place in his absence. So while we are to pursue the greater gifts, even that doesn't necessarily influence our teleological value.

Now the message is often geared toward most people who either don’t apply their ontological value faithfully or don’t pursue the greater gifts. But the message also is given that we each have gifts that are useful. That teaching isn't in the text anywhere. Some gifts as given to some people are virtually useless. How many people die never having fulfilled their full potential? And yet God has given them gifts that were not used. We should try our best to steward our gifts and to be teleological valuable, that is, useful. But we are not promised to be successful, only that the attempt is required. Paul explains that different members have different functions, but that some should receive a higher honor.

Therefore, as we earnestly desire the greater gifts and faithfully apply our ontological value, we can only find contentment in our ontological value despite seeking satisfaction our faithful stewardship. Do not confuse your teleological value with your ontological value and rest in God whether you turn out to be very useful or not.

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