“Do not model your behavior on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God . . . what is good and acceptable and mature.” — Romans 12:2 (New Jerusalem Bible)
Do you have a faith that is sincere?
You may not know that our word “sincere” comes from the Latin: sine cera, which translates literally as “without wax.” There’s actually an interesting story about that: it seems that in ancient Rome, when people needed furniture, they depended on the work of neighborhood carpenters who made their living building tables, chairs and the like. These carpenters, for the most part, were honest and talented craftsmen; some had such skill that they could fit even two pieces of wood together so that the joint could barely be seen or felt. In fact, a furniture buyer in those days could tell a good table from a bad one by the cracks and tiny nicks in the surface of the wood around those places where the wood was joined.
Less scrupulous carpenters, however, would use wax to cover up their mistakes. They would rub and polish the surface until all those nicks and poor fittings were hidden. So the buyer would go home with a table or bench that looked fine, smooth and polished in appearance – but after a few weeks, the wax would dry and begin to chip away, slowly revealing the poor quality of the actual workmanship. In fact, historical records tell us that this became such a problem that the Roman government passed a law which said that any piece of furniture which was made of good wood and honest workmanship, with no wax rubbed into it to make it look better than it really was, had earned the label of sine cera, “without waxing.” There was no law against covering the cracks and impurities with wax, but woe be unto any furniture maker who labeled such work sine cera!
It is from that ancient custom that we get our word “sincere,” meaning a thought, word or deed that is honest in its intention and its execution; a person who does not pretend to be something he or she is not; describing that in our lives which is good, and acceptable, and perfect.
There are those who we might call “waxed-over Christians.” On the outside, they look to be concerned, committed, and enthusiastic in regard to their faith and participation in the Christian life, persons committed to a vision of what Christians and the whole church can and should be in service to the Lord. But sadly, after a while you start to see the layers of wax stripped away in these people, and all the false promises, broken commitments, and forgotten resolutions are revealed. What first appeared to be a glow of true discipleship ends up being little more than a bit of sparkle because there wasn’t all that much sincerity about it to begin with!
Again, I ask: do you have a faith that is sincere? I hope and pray that you do.
Granted, such sincerity requires earnest effort on our parts; indeed, in these days when conflicting priorities regularly pull us in disparate directions it is difficult to live with faith always at the center. Our challenge is always to not allow ourselves to be so caught up in the maddening pace of the world’s demands that we neglect that which God asks of us. For just as Paul wrote to the Romans in the passage above, we must be sincere about discerning for ourselves what is the will and purpose of God for our lives and living; which includes, by the way, the commitments we also make to family, community and to the church, all of which are part and parcel for us as Christians the very promises we make unto God.
As one who loves to compare and contrast various translations of scripture, I was very interested to find that the New Jerusalem Bible, a contemporary English rendering of the Bible (that, incidentally, is heavily influenced by the French language, which is interesting in and of itself), translates the last word of the verse printed above as “mature,” rather than “perfect,” as is found in most translations. I suppose that therein is a clue as to what growing in faith is all about: learning and discovering with each passing season in our lives all those things that do pertain to God; all those qualities of life that are good, and acceptable, and worthy of our growth as faithful children of God.
In other words, there is always room for us to grow; always the opportunity, as we move along the journey that takes us through today, tomorrow and “from season to changing season” to aspire even more fully to a true maturity of faith; the kind of spiritual life that is beautiful to behold and marked with sincerity, without “waxing” of any kind!
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry