Sunday, 22 May 2011

Is Passion a Good Measure of Spiritual Health?

I do not believe that passion is an adequate measure of spiritual health.  Now I need to be careful here, for I am not the most passionate person when it comes to singing.  When we have a time of praise I prefer to sit and close my eyes than stand and raise my hands.  I could probably do with getting more involved at such moments.  I am not advocating a passionless faith.  I am arguing for passion plus more than passion.  Three texts come to mind.

Firstly, there is the parable of the sower.  You might remember the shallow soil.  It greeted the news of the gospel with great enthusiasm.  Yet when the going got tough these people did not persevere.  Enthusiasm is clearly not enough.  If I had to make a judgement about the reality of someone's faith I wouldn't be overly concerned about how passionately they sing.  That just might be an issue of temperament.  Obedience is a better indicator of spiritual reality than passion.  After all Jesus said, 'if you love me you will obey my commands.'  Rather than how passionate they appear I would want to find out if those who know them best can see the difference Jesus is making in their attitudes.

Secondly, there are the Pharisees.  They had zeal but no love.  They fasted twice a week, even though the Old Testament law only proscribed one fast a year.  There was nothing wrong with their extra fasting, but there was something wrong with the attitude that accompanied it.  They looked down on those who did not share their passion.  They measured spiritual strength by whether people went along with their man-made rules.  So in the past I would have got worked up about the poor attendance at certain Sunday evening services or mid-week events.  But whoever said that we need to be at church twice on a Sunday and attend any amount of weekday activities?  If I judge people's spiritual strength on the basis of attendance at meetings I may be acting like those Pharisees.

Thirdly, there are the super-spiritual tongue-speakers in Corinth.  Now I believe that tongue-speaking is a gift for today.  But the problem for these people in Corinth is that they looked down on those that did not share their gift.  They were spiritual snobs.  Having, one gift does not make you more spiritual than people who have been given any other gift.  Paul addresses the situation with that wonderful passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13.  Again here were people with a wrong measure for spiritual strength.  They thought that they were strong, but they lacked love and so were more than weak.  I once heard of a woman (I hope this is not true) who divorced her husband because he was not spiritual enough for her.  I worry about people who will leave their church because they don't think the rest of the congregation is as spiritual as them.

Whether you raise your hands or sit on them, whether you only attend on Sunday mornings or go to every meeting you can get to, these are not the measures of spiritual reality.  Passion can be superficial.  I am advocating passion plus.  Passion plus obedience, for our obedience is a real measure of our love for God.  Passion plus transformation, for the Holy Spirit wills to produce his fruit in us.  Most importantly, passion plus a love, for without a love for our brothers and sisters in Christ our passion is in vain.


Virtual Methodist said...

As this year has gone on I've come to realise through reading scripture and personal reflection that a key measure of spiritual health is not passion, but compassion... And while they share the same verbal root, there is a world of difference in their expression... Passion can ultimately be consuming in a destructive way, while compassion may lead to sacrificial service, but should involve mutual care and support... Not quite on your original point, but thought I'd say it anyway...

Anonymous said...

Wow Paul, another excellent blog....wise, practical and something to think about for the rest of the day! thanks