Enquiring within, and boldly searching into one’s own Bosom, must be the most shocking Employment, that a Man can give his Mind to, whose greatest Pleasure consists in secretly admiring himself.
—Bernard Mandeville, “Second Dialogue,” The Fable of the Bees
Having examined various aspects of our earthly identity (roles, gender, temperament, and heritage), now we will look at our values. Our values are near the core of our identity. They are the things we judge to be good for us and others.
Our earthly identity has shaped much of what we value. Later in this study we’ll ask, “Because my earthly identity has embedded many of my values deep within me, how do I discern which values need to change now that I’m a follower of Christ?” We’ll address this question when we investigate our heavenly identity. The Spirit of God, who resides in your life, will illuminate for you how your values need to change. For now, we will simply ask what personal values are and what part they play in our identity.
Read Session 6: Values.
Complete the Life Inventory: Values II exercise beginning on page 114.
In Psalm 19, David declares the greatness of God’s law. As he describes the law’s nature, benefits, and effects, he makes a value statement about these ordinances. David says,
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. (verses 9-10)
This statement expresses David’s values, as well as those of his culture. Gold and honey were of great value. To own gold, build with gold, or craft things in gold was valued. The sweetness of honey was also highly valued. But although David valued these things as anyone else would, he valued something else far more: the law of the Lord. Because this value was greater, he would prefer the law and its benefits to the benefits of gold and honey.
In the same way, we must prioritize our values because the way that we rank our values will determine how we live.
The apostle Paul says we are both God’s building and God’s builder. First, the whole community of God’s people is the temple or holy house where God dwells (see Ephesians 2:19-22). And each individual believer is God’s temple too: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
At the same time, each of us is also a builder of God’s temple: “If any man builds on this foundation [that is, Christ as proclaimed in the apostle’s teaching] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). We each must choose how we will build our own lives. Each day we can build upon the foundation of Christ that has already been laid. As we build, we choose what materials to build with.
Verses 12-13 imply that we should value certain materials over others. Depending upon what we value, we will find reward or loss (see verses 14-15). For example, if a man values social status, he will build his life in a certain way. He will pursue a certain level of income to afford a certain type of car and a home in a certain kind of neighborhood. If he is in jeopardy of not attaining those things or of losing them once attained, his value of them may cause him to practice questionable business ethics in order to protect his status and possessions. He may do whatever it takes to obtain and retain his status. Secret, unethical behavior that bolsters his status seems okay. Someone who lives like this has built his life, so to speak, with stubble. In the end, it counts for nothing before God and in the scheme of eternity.
The previous work we did on gender, temperament, and heritage sheds light on our values. For instance, the man who values social status may have carried this value with him from his family culture. It may have been his parents’ normal mode of operation. In fact, he may not even know how influential this value is to him until someone points it out or until he spends time reflecting on his life. Or maybe status is part of his understanding of manhood. Perhaps his dad modeled to him that being a man entails building and protecting a certain respectability in the community. (Maybe his sister doesn’t hold this value because their family didn’t value status for a daughter.)
Finally, this value could stem from his temperament. He may have an inborn inclination to be driven toward success. If the only way success has been defined in his life is in terms of social status, he will tend to pursue that with all the diligence he can muster.
You may know someone who resembles this man, or you may be like him yourself. But we’ve portrayed him in a one-dimensional perspective. A second look at this example surfaces a crucial characteristic of personal values. In the example, we assumed that this man would place a greater priority of value on his social status than on his integrity in business. In reality, many competing values often influence our decisions. It’s not evil to have some degree of concern with how you fit in socially. For instance, dressing according to last decade’s fashions may place unnecessary barriers between you and others (even though dressing according to two decades previous may make you fashionable!). So our real challenge is to decide what we hold at various degrees of importance according to the standard of Christ.
A simple but helpful definition of a value is: “something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.” At one level, values are the ideals, customs, and institutions of a society. When judged by a biblical standard, these values may be positive (education, freedom), neutral (cleanliness), or negative (cruelty, crime, blasphemy). We can also think of values as objects or qualities that are desirable as ends in themselves. Every person holds a unique set of values.
People often express their values in a word or phrase. (All politicians say they value “the family.”) But if we want to adequately evaluate our lives, it’s better to express values in a phrase or sentence. (A politician would be clearer by saying, “A family led by two moms or two dads is no family at all.”)
When someone uses a single word to tell us what they value, we can interpret it in a variety of ways. That’s why it’s often hard to understand what people mean when they say they value something. The goal in this session is to understand your own and others’ values accurately. For instance, the man discussed previously may say he values “respectability.” However, if we spell out his value in a sentence, based on his behavior, it might be, “I will do whatever it takes at work to obtain and retain social respectability in my community.”
So do your best to consider not just what you value but exactly how you express those values in your life. Clarifying your values in your own mind will help you put into words how and why a particular value is expressed in your life.
What we value is of utmost significance to how we live. We need to be honest with ourselves about our real values. Identifying them helps us evaluate whether we’re living out our values in godly ways. For example, someone may say he values punctuality. But if what he means is that if anyone is late to meet him, he won’t meet with that person again, he may not be expressing a value of punctuality in a godly way. Our heavenly identity needs to influence our values. We need to see how our earthly identity may be influencing our values in ways that are inconsistent with our identity in Christ.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
Remember that our hearts will follow what we value!
Read Session 7: Identity in Christ.
Complete the Life Inventory: Identity in Christ exercise beginning on page 116.
Complete Biblical Exercise: Ephesians 1–2 beginning on page 61.