You cannot remember how many widgets you have replaced. So many things can go wrong with them—and usually do—at the worst time. What make of widget will you buy to replace the one that broke last night?
Two companies sell widgets, Acme Corporation and Consolidated Industries. Their products look much alike, function the same, cost about the same. Should you buy an Acme or a Consolidated widget?
If you are well-informed, the choice will be an easy one because you recognize an essential difference between Acme and Consolidated. Consolidated has historically gone after quantity—an expanded sales force, a worldwide distribution system—all supported by a flashy advertising campaign and endorsed by a famous entertainer.
Acme has taken a different tack. It has consistently emphasized quality by investigating and correcting product defects, manning a courteous and efficient support line, heeding customer complaints and exploiting new technologies. As a result, Acme has gradually improved its widgets until they have become the standard of the industry.
Progressive improvement beats postponed perfection every time! Acme believes that old adage—it does its business by it and owes it reputation to it. While Acme stresses ongoing improvement, Consolidated stresses profit. Giving lip-service to improvement, it develops elaborate plans to enhance it widgets. But those plans remain just that—plans.
What can we learn from this tale of two widgets?
The apostle Peter concludes his second epistle with a sobering admonition: "Beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked." Peter wastes no time telling us how we can avoid this falling away: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:17-18).
The apostle Paul also recognized the importance of growth. He prayed for the Christians in Colossae, "that [their] knowledge of God may grow yet deeper" (Colossians 1:10, Phillips' translation). He also tells us when we are to grow:
We beg you . . . not to fail to use the grace of God which you have received. For God's word is—
At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee,
And in a day of salvation I did succour thee.
Now is the "acceptable time," and this very day is the "day of salvation." (II Corinthians 6:1-2, Phillips' translation. Cf. Isaiah 49:8)
Putting these scriptures together, we understand that God expects progressive improvement from us—we usually call it "growth"—and He wants it now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not "after the Feast."
Our continuing, progressive improvement is part-and-parcel with our calling to salvation. Our first nature—carnal, human nature—is full of spiritual inertia. God expects our second nature—the new man—to be just as full of an indefatigable determination to improve. The drive to grow must become "second nature" to us.
We all know that God has called "us [to] go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1). If we postpone our efforts to reach perfection, we'll never become perfect! It's that simple.
Christ used Luke to record His thoughts about putting off—postponing—the responsibilities of our calling. In Luke 9:59-62, He apparently called two individuals to follow Him. The first man replied that he needed to bury his father first. To him, this seemed a reasonable request. Jesus, who may have been offering the man a discipleship—the chance of a lifetime—would brook no excuses, tolerate no delay. His answer to the man was incisive: "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. You must come away and preach the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60, Phillips' translation).
The second man also sought to postpone carrying out the responsibilities of discipleship. He wanted to say goodbye to his family. Christ knew what would happen: To postpone action is ultimately to abandon commitment. His reply to the second man should serve as a warning for us all: "Anyone who puts his hand to the plough and then looks behind him is useless for the kingdom of God" (verse 62, Phillips' translation; cf., Matthew 10:37-39).
Consolidated Industries was well-intentioned. It planned to build the perfect widget, the standard of the industry. However, it postponed putting those plans into action in favor of other goals.
In the same way, we find it all too easy to postpone our march to perfection. We become distracted by the affairs of this world, some of which are not wrong in and of themselves. Falling into the subtle Laodicean idolatry, we adopt wrong priorities and begin "doing our own thing" rather than seeking God's Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).
Well-intentioned, we promise ourselves—even promise God—that we will start studying more next week, praying more after the kids start school, eating less right after the Feast. But we never do! Our postponement becomes perennial, habitual. We enter a state of non-growth.
Buying the Right Widget
Whose widget would you buy—Acme's or Consolidated's? Like any wise consumer, you would buy an Acme widget. It would not be perfect, of course, but it would be the result of an ongoing process of improvement and refinement. It would be state-of-the-art, the best widget on the market. You would reject Consolidated's widget on the grounds that it was too full of uncorrected defects.
God is a wise consumer too. He wants the improved version—the improved version of each of us. He has formed a long-term partnership with us to improve us, little by little, "till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). In a word, our goal is perfection, perfect spiritual maturity (Matthew 5:48).
Our role in this partnership is to be God's active coworker, cooperating with Him as He helps us remove defects day by day (I Corinthians 3:5-17). The alternative is for us to postpone our efforts to become perfect. If we take that course, we, like the Consolidated widget, may be rejected.
We will reach our goal of perfection tomorrow by growing today.
Yes, indeed! Progressive improvement beats postponed perfection every time.