“Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more” (Amos 7:7,8).
Several years ago I had the opportunity to be part of a group which held services in the chapel of a shelter for indigent men. The chapel was furnished with hymn books which the men were accustomed to using, and most songs in this book were familiar to us. It did not present a great problem to use their book in these meetings. However, sometimes the musical arrangement was slightly different from the one with which we were familiar. As we sang, some in our group would be singing what they were seeing before them, and others would sing from memory the notes which they had sung so many times before. The resulting sound fell somewhat short of the harmony that we desired. I doubt if the attendees noticed. Although many sang with enthusiasm, it appeared that most did not have a really good ear for music. But we would note among ourselves the result of not all singing from the same book.
As we drive through the industrial areas of our towns and cities, we notice that many factories are flying banners which say, “Certified ISO 9001″ (or 9002). ISO standards are international standards for quality systems. They ensure that different companies are all “singing from the same book” when they give the specifications of their product.
These standards are presently recognized in seventy different countries. In order to be certified, a company must show that they are calibrating their measurement tools to an internationally recognized standard, that they are using standardized procedures to ensure the conformity of their product to the customer’s specifications, and also are using acceptable procedures to ensure that the non-conforming product does not reach the customer. In the past, every large corporation had their own program to discover whether potential suppliers were producing and shipping parts conforming to their needs. This became expensive and cumbersome, especially when customer and supplier were in different countries.
We can readily see the utility of such standards. When companies are certified by independent auditors to these international standards, it gives potential customers a level of confidence which facilitates buying and selling, even across international boundaries. But let us suppose that I was running a small manufacturing business here in Canada and I had an opportunity to sell some of my product to a client in Austria, but didn’t want to submit to the ISO standards. I could very well try to convince this client that I had my own standards that were every bit as satisfactory as the ISO standard. Wouldn’t he suspect that I was trying to cover up some shortcoming in the way that my business was operating?
Now let us apply this in a spiritual sense. The scripture at the beginning of this article tells us that God has set up a standard and that He will not overlook our nonconformance to His standard. When we willingly submit to this measurement, it gives us confidence in God and in one another. But what if we would each try to live by our own standard?
The apostle Paul had somewhat to say about this in 2 Corinthians 10:12, warning that “we dare not make ourselves equal to or compare ourselves to some of those who commend themselves. But, in measuring themselves by their own measure [or standard] and in comparing themselves to themselves, they lack understanding.” This is the reading given in the Louis Segond (French) translation, and it brings out a point that I have previously missed when reading it in English. The danger is not so much in comparing ourselves to others, but in establishing our own personal standards to judge our motives and actions.
When we compare ourselves to others, don’t we choose those to whom we wish to compare ourselves? We may say, “Everybody is doing such and such a thing,” but is it really everybody? In taking for our example those who are walking close to the borderline of genuine Christian living, or even somewhat over the border, in at least this one area of their lives, we have already made a choice. We have set up a standard for ourselves that is different from God’s standard. This may initially bring a certain acceptance with those who are minded the same way on this point at that time. But in the end we will find ourselves alone, because we are measuring ourselves by our own standard. Our own standard will always be a little different from anyone else’s, because we are not willing to submit ourselves to the standard that is accepted by others.
When others ask how it is going in our Christian lives, we feel defensive if our standard is not God’s standard. We have measured ourselves by the standard which we have established for ourselves, but that does not bring about a feeling of mutual confidence and fellowship.
We have the Bible as our guidebook. It is an indispensable source of inspiration and reference for our Christian lives. The church, in conference, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, interpreted the Word into everyday practice and application. She has established certain points of reference for our Christian lives. But even if we would each try to conform ourselves fully to these standards, according to our own understanding, differences of interpretation would often arise, bringing about a lack of confidence. We need the Holy Spirit to audit our lives continually to reveal whether we are truly in compliance with God’s standards as set forth in the Word. This provides a basis whereby we have confidence in others and they in us.
If it is truly our heart’s desire to follow God’s direction for our lives, we will not be out of harmony with our brothers and sisters. Even though we sing different voices, it all blends together. We are all “singing from the same book,” the one written in our hearts (Ps. 119:11), and the harmony is beautiful.
Bob Goodnough, Acton Vale, Quebec
(I wrote this for one of our church periodicals 17 years ago. while living in a different province.)