We see the principle in action in virtually every field of endeavor: An eager young worker starts a new job and is asked to perform menial tasks, even though he or she may be educated and qualified for much more. Over time their performance is evaluated and, based on how well they’ve done lesser jobs, they get promoted and assigned greater responsibilities.
Football season has ended – for some, mercifully so – but we see the principle in action every Friday night, Saturday or Sunday: New players get relegated to the second or third team. When they prove able, they advance to special teams – the various kicking squads – where they can show their mettle. Those that demonstrate the energy, discipline and hard-nosed determination coaches desire will eventually find themselves moved into the starting lineups.
In school, a boy or girl is awarded special responsibilities after demonstrating both scholarship and character in the classroom. Even in church the principle applies. A newcomer to the sanctuary choir, for example, doesn’t arrive and announce, “Hi, I’m your new soloist.” He or she takes part in the full choir, displays vocal talent, and then, and only then, becomes invited to sing in a solo capacity.
What is this principle? It’s found in the Scriptures: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted in much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10). I like how the Bible’s Living Translation of states it: “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities.”
Why is this important? Well, for one thing it’s a Presidential election year and we’ll soon be electing someone to lead our nation for the next four years, starting next January. How do we decide for whom we should vote?
For some, the decision is predetermined: “I’m a Democrat, so I vote for the Democratic candidate,” or “I’m a Republican, so of course I’ll vote for whoever gets on the Republican ticket.” Others will cast their ballots strictly according to promises made by the respective candidates and who they as voters believe will benefit them the most.
But I wonder, in a day when questions of character seem largely ignored or minimized, if we might be wise to revisit what Jesus taught in Luke 16:10, as well as Matthew 24:45-51, Matthew 25:14-30, and Luke 19:11-27. It’s the idea that the best predictor of future behavior is past performance, and that worthiness for greater responsibilities should be determined by how well lesser responsibilities were carried out.
I remember as a teenager getting my first job in a supermarket. My first assignments were to sack groceries, sweep and mop the floor, including cleaning up messes when customers dropped a jar of tomato sauce, honey, or whatever. (That was before plastic jars became commonplace, so the messes were considerable.)
After proving willing and able to do those jobs, I then was assigned the task of joining the other grocery clerks in stocking the shelves. And eventually, when I worked on a night crew during the summer (again, these were the “olden days” before 24-hour supermarkets), I was entrusted with the oversight of an entire aisle – ordering products, as well as stocking the shelves and making sure they looked orderly when the store reopened and eager shoppers returned.
At first I was trusted with very little. In some respects this work seemed insignificant, even bothersome. I viewed myself as a smart, energetic guy, suited for better, more challenging tasks. But once I successfully fulfilled my “very little” assignments, I was given greater ones.
As voters surveying the array of potential candidates, not only for President but also for Congress and even state and local offices, wouldn’t it make sense for us to apply this “faithful in little then faithful in much, but if unfaithful or dishonest in little, then unfaithful or dishonest in much” principle at the polls months from now? Keeping in mind, of course, that honesty and dishonesty, integrity and unethical behavior, are non-partisan as virtues, traits, and red flags?