The Standard

Needtobreathe, my favorite group these days, has the song Hard Love, with the lyrics “in the morning you will need an answer; ain’t nobody going to change the standard.” It’s a fight song, an encouraging message, for the long journey between trials and redemption. It’s about appreciating the wisdom and maturity that comes from hardship.

Mike Tomlin, the Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers is known for his unique way of ‘coach speak.’ One of my favorites is “the standard is the standard.” He is articulating that there is one standard when it comes to the level of play for his team. That standard doesn’t change with back up players, if the weather is bad, if the ref makes a lousy call. If the All Pro starting guard blocked for seven seconds, then the inexperienced rookie making his first start better block for seven seconds.

Note that in both examples, is the word ‘norm’ is not used. A norm is what’s typically received, while the standard is the benchmark. Norms do not raise concerns when below an acceptable level. How often do we hear or even say, “well that’s just normal behavior for Joe.” However, standards set the expectations and guidelines; and being below the standard is unacceptable.

Authentic leaders commit themselves to excellence in everything that they do. They are constantly pushing the envelope and raising the standard, not seeking perfection. They have the wisdom to know the difference. “People never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher or better than themselves.”- Tryon Edwards

There exists a critical importance on standards. The North Star (Polaris) is still the standard for determining the position of true north. Greenwich Mean Time is the reference standard for setting or determining the time at any place on earth. Companies use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to achieve efficiency, quality output, and uniformity of performance. While everyone may want to do the right thing, often everyone’s version of the right thing can be somewhat different. SOPs act as the organization’s governing word.

A Standard even outweighs a rule. Rules state that you may not do A, B, or C; a standard typically says that you may not behave “unreasonably,” or “negligently,” or “unconscionably.” The rule of law is important if we care about independence. Standards, more so than rules, encourage self-reinforcing conformity to the betterment of the community. Stephen Covey in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, referenced sociologist, Emile Durkheim, with the quote “When mores [standards] are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”

Personal success should not be the standard, personal significance should be. As individuals, we are created and put here to make a difference, contribute and leave an imprint of love on the people around us. Success is a standard of measurement in man’s world, while significance is the standard in God’s world.

Our feelings are subjective, they should not be the objective standard needed to distinguish between right and wrong or good and evil. Judeo/Christian beliefs are based on morality, and ethics. The Bible is unequivocal in asserting that the moral law is the absolute standard for righteousness. A definition of accountability is “a liability for one’s actions in accordance with God’s standards.”

Today, people do not argue with Science over the ‘Periodic Table of Elements’ nor Language regarding the alphabet or sentence structure. However, when it comes to Sacred Scripture and Scared Traditions on social issues such as marriage, sexuality, abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, and a host of others; there is no hesitation to debate the benchmark for right or wrong, moral or amoral.

This is not unique to today’s times. Scripture addresses that same hostility toward God and a rejection of Christ. It was prevalent in the early church. John’s first letter was written, post gospel, to combat certain false ideas (norms) and deepen the spiritual and social awareness of the Christian community (standard). The letter recognizes that Christian doctrine presents intangible mysteries of faith about Christ, but it insists that authentic Christian love, ethics, and faith are essential to meet the requirements revealed in the gospels.

In chapter 3 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he uses the term, ‘the law’, to mean all the scriptures and that “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). God’s divine mercy to declare the guilty ‘innocent’ is not as a result of the law, but apart from it (Rom 3:21), and not because of any merit in human beings but through forgiveness of their sins (Rom 3:24). Because sin or righteousness does not exist in law, but in human beings. Paul returns to this same point in Chapter 7 of Romans when he illustrates the disastrous consequences to a Christian using the law to attain the objective of holiness. God’s standard is love. We can follow all the laws, much like the Pharisees, and still be sinful if we don’t have love. (1 Corinthians 13, 1-3)

We would not think of dispensing with the absolute standards in the physical world. We wouldn’t want the chaos and misunderstanding that would ensue. In the same way, we should recognize that only disaster will follow if we dispense with the absolute standard of the moral law. We must live as loyal disciples of Jesus Christ regardless of the consequences. We must strive to engage in faith beyond the scriptures and not just act to obey the rules; but to meet God’s standard, demonstrate our walk with Christ, and love.

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