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Decisions Above Our Pay Grade

Knowing what is within our pay grade, and what is not, is a personal responsibility we each have.
By KEN SOMMERVILLE
Read Time: 7 minutes

The United States Government has a detailed classification system for its employees which is intended to grade various levels of responsibility and to designate the compensation range applicable for all government jobs. Asking an employee to do a specific task or express an opinion on a matter that was really outside his or her purview, has become a common expression used in similar situations unrelated to government work.

There may be many reasons why a task or question is not something we should undertake or express an opinion about. Being aware of this fact can guide our decisions and responses in some situations and save us a lot of needless worries.

Or, worse yet, doing or saying things when we really should not have said or done anything at all. In fact, it was a task assigned to someone else. It was “over our pay grade.”

Knowing what is within our pay grade, and what is not, is a personal responsibility we each have. The following thoughts are to illustrate this principle with Scriptural incidents from the past and our lives today of similar situations for our reflection.

ACTING ABOVE OUR PAYGRADE

Knowing what is within our pay grade, and what is not, is a personal responsibility we each have.

This action can get us into serious trouble and cause real upset in our lives today. And it has had extremely profound consequences recorded in the Bible, as well. We’ll begin by looking at the account of Aaron and Miriam becoming upset with Moses. And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman he had married.

“And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?” Hath He not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it. (Num 12:1- 2).

Aaron and Miriam were claiming they were equal to Moses. This was not just someone acting above their station, as it were, but a straightforward assertion of self-promotion to a much “higher pay grade.” The suddenness and the severity of God’s condemnation of their effrontery should have served as a caution to all who followed. Miriam was immediately struck with leprosy. Aaron asked Moses to pray for God to forgive Miriam and himself and God did so. The leprosy was cured, but Miriam had to stay without the camp for seven days. Miriam, and all Israel, were put on notice.¹

Not too long after, we have Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenging Moses’ position. They were attempting to lead a rebellion and they had 250 “princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown” in their train. (Num 16:2). They had been doing quite a little politicking and sewing seeds of rebellion in the camp.

These 250 “leaders” had quite a following as we shall see. Again, God’s reaction was swift, decisive and deadly. In Numbers 16:20 we read:

“And the Lord spoke unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, ‘Separate yourselves from among this congregation that I may consume them in a moment.’”

Moses and Aaron interceded for the people and God’s punishment was limited to those who refused to separate themselves from the rebels. The earth opened and swallowed Korah and his company, fire consumed the 250 princes, and a plague slew 14,000 more people before this was over.²

In 2 Chronicles we read how Judah’s King Uzziah took it upon himself to go into the temple of the LORD and burn incense, even though he knew better and was warned by Azariah the chief priest and eighty of the priests who were brave enough to confront the king. Their warning was:

“It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests, the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense; go out of the Sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God.” (2 Chron 26:18).

Uzziah was struck with leprosy. I say to myself “I would never do anything they did.” Would you? No, we wouldn’t, not exactly like that. But then our situation is so different from Korah and Uzziah’s that their choices are not options we might have. However, we do have the same human nature they had. Jealousy, ego and pride did not go down into the earth with Korah and company. Many of us will have heard of or even participated in politicking at the workplace and in our ecclesia to get our own way.

CLOSER TO HOME

Much more mundane situations can affect our ecclesia and our workplace. Our ecclesial life requires a certain amount of organization and structure. Our normal structure is to have a recording brother and a number arranging brethren. Our forefathers were guided in the main in forming our first ecclesias by Bro. Roberts’s Ecclesial Guide.³

The overall purpose of the Guide is to set forth principles (guidelines, not rules) for the administration of our ecclesias. Bro. Roberts was also careful to recommend checks and balances that, in the terms of our “pay grade” analogy, would carefully differentiate between the responsibilities of the recording brother, arranging brethren and the ecclesia at large.

The titles of some of his sections illustrate his concerns in these areas. “Mutual Consent the Basis of Order,” “Exercise of Authority Out of the Question,” “Serving Brethren, not Rulers”, and “Ecclesial Control” all suggest how ecclesias can organize themselves for optimum administration.

Not exactly the definitions of pay grade responsibilities, but a recognition of the need for each to know their role and what duties belong to others. Ecclesias serve their purpose best when each discharges their responsibilities properly, with Scripturally-based judgment, and none are ignored, minimized or exceeded.

Members who leave everything up to the few can be failing to meet their personal requirements as being part of the body of Christ.

A recording brother who decides not to share certain communications with the arranging brethren or arranging brethren who do not report faithfully to the ecclesia at the business meeting, can be usurping some responsibilities that rightfully pertain to all the brethren and sisters in the ecclesia.

In an ecclesia where the members fail to perform their responsibilities, or do not attend business meetings and leave everything up to the few, can be failing to meet their personal requirements as being part of the body of Christ.

A PERSONAL LEVEL

We can spare ourselves a certain amount of unnecessary consternation if we keep in mind this pay grade analogy and apply it in our personal lives. For example, it is quite normal for us to be asked if we agree, or disagree, with an opinion in a discussion.

The question may, and usually is, put in sincerity, and the expected and normal reaction is for us to state our agreement or disagreement with the idea. Do we approve or disapprove? Usually, these issues are straightforward and fall within our pay grade. Therefore, our response should be forthcoming.

However, it is common for us to be asked our opinion about something that we are under no obligation or competency to answer. However, just because most questions are put forward to get an agree or disagree response, it is very important to remember that in many cases we do not have to do either. We can “take it under advisement” to think about it for a while. We can just leave it an open question.

We sat next to a visitor in a Bible class who volunteered that her leg had been lengthened by a Holy Spirit miracle. I did not respond, nor do I recall anyone else responding. What could one say?

I did not have to disagree with her even though Scripture leads me to think that those kinds of miracles ceased many years ago. A better option is open to me. I do not have to decide one way or the other. I have not been hired to have an opinion about every situation or phenomenon that occurs or has been asserted as having occurred.

Granted, I must use good judgment and, where it is my place and my responsibility, I do need to step up, examine the matter, and express my opinion. To do otherwise would be to fail in my duties. But remembering that one does not have to agree or disagree with every question put to them can eliminate some needless concerns.

What is within our “pay grade” is to carefully consider any important doctrinal assertion based on whether it is consistent with the overall context of the word of God. “Search the scriptures” (John 5:39) is what our Lord encouraged us to do. We might do well not to react to every strange occurrence that is reported to us. We have not been called to make sweeping, blanket assertions about every phenomenon that occurs.

ADDING SOME OLD TESTAMENT STORIES

We should use great caution in our comments on the actions of some of the patriarchs in the Old Testament. It is understandable, but uncomfortable, when Abraham is referred to as having sinned when he sojourned in Gerar, and told Abimelech that Sarah was his sister. He may have. It does look like he did. But he wasn’t condemned in the Word of God, so it may not be useful to assert that he sinned as a fact.

Rebekah and Jacob in Genesis 27 are another example of recorded actions that look wrong but were not condemned anywhere in the Bible. There are ample examples elsewhere that would attest to the importance God puts on honesty that are black and white. There might have been other factors in play that did not appear in the brief account explaining why these people were not condemned by God for their actions.

The example of Job’s friends is a cautionary tale along these lines. All agreed, including Job’s friends, that the righteous prosper and sinners suffer. That was why Job was so perplexed by what was happening to him. Had we been there and left before the end, we might well have been giving exhortations warning against what befalls sinners and citing Job as a prime example. But when Job’s trials were over, we would have had to go to Job and ask him to pray for us. Better to say less. I’m sure Job’s friends wished they hadn’t waxed so eloquently or profusely.

FINALLY, FUNERAL EULOGIES

Giving a eulogy at a funeral can be a challenge. On the one hand, one wants to emphasize our sure hope in the promises of God into which we have been baptized and the consoling hope of resurrection to immortality. When we are now considering our beloved, who now sleeps in Christ, however, it is best if we remember that the decision about our ultimate future has been delegated to only one man, our Lord Jesus Christ.

We may think we know a person, and we may be right in what we think we know, but we cannot read men’s minds, hearts and intentions. Thank God our judgment rests with His Son. We do well to emphasize the love and mercy our God has manifested to us all and rest our hope on these assurances.

It’s wise to be careful not to speak in ways that imply a favorable judgment has already occurred. That is way over our pay grade.

Ken Sommerville
Simi Hills Ecclesia, CA

 

1 Josephus in “Antiquities of the Jews” book 2 chapter 10 relates that before Moses fled Egypt, he was a general in Pharaoh’s army. In his account, Moses was leading an attack against an Ethiopian army and in the ultimate resolution of the battle, he took an Ethiopian wife as part of the negotiations and Egyptian victory. I can’t say this is true or false. I wasn’t there and it is well over my pay grade. Jewish scholars wrote comments in the Soncino which have another suggestion.

² Evidently some of Korah’s sons did not support their father’s rebellion and were spared. Referring to the rebellion in later chapters Num. 26:10,11 states: “And the earth opened up her mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, what time the fire devoured 250 men: and they became a sign. Notwithstanding, the children of Korah died not.” Hundreds of years later we have the 11 Psalms “for the sons of Korah.

³ A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias, Robert Roberts, The Christadelphian, 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Hall Green, Birmingham B28 8SZ, 1883

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