Do We Value People Intrinsically or Extrinsically?

Several years ago our church secretary contracted MS.   I can think of few diseases more humbling and devastating than MS.   This MS attacked this mother of two school girls and wife of a good church leader.   She was no longer able to be our secretary and soon she could no longer drive.   As the disease digressed, she could no longer cook or do any of the domestic duties that she had loved doing for many years.   Her husband took early retirement to care for her.

When she was struggling greatly with this ‘new norm’ she felt useless and even worse, she felt worthless.     I can relate with this in some small way:   when I was fighting cancer over the past eight months, I was weak: I couldn’t work, I could barely walk, I spent the majority of my day getting up, getting dressed, taking meds, eating and exercising, taking treatments and going back to bed.   To say the least, what this mother experienced was very painful—much more painful than what I experienced.

In a feeble attempt to help this Christian sister, I did some study about valuing people; I learned that we either value people because of their intrinsic worth or because of their extrinsic worth.   What’s the difference?

When we value people extrinsically, we value them only because of something that makes them valuable to us:   their looks, money, intelligence, athletic ability, their friendship to us, their work—in other words they are valued for things external to themselves.   Their value is based on who they are, what they can do (for themselves, us or others) or for other obvious reasons.

On the other hand, others of us value people because of their intrinsic value (not so obvious). What is this?   Simply put, this is the value of a person because of their pricelessness.   A person is valuable ‘in and of themselves.’   They are valuable because they are created in the image of God.   This secretary was valuable to her family and the church for many extrinsic reasons but some of those reasons went away with her physical abilities.   But I assured her of her intrinsic worth.   This is one of the many reasons that we value human life no matter the age or physical or mental condition of the person.

How do we value people in the church?  Even though we are not to value people as the world does (cf. Romans 12:1-2), we do.   Sometimes we value only those folks who can give us something, or do something special or those with whom we have a relationship. Sometimes we unintentionally and unknowingly devalue people who are not our age, our gender, our race, etc.  I’ve seen several folks in the church overlooked or not befriended because ‘they have nothing’ to offer (a form of judging).   But we are to love (value each other intrinsically) each other unconditionally (cf. John13:34-35) and accept one another (Rom.15:7).   In spite of our sin, Christ knew our intrinsic value and died for us.   My point?   Everyone is valuable in the world, in the community, and in the church.   We need to treat everyone as valuable because God does.   Many lonely souls sit in church pews because no one values them as does the Lord.   People continue to be lost because we do not value their souls as does the Lord.

Before I move on, I think we should value people extrinsically also.   Is this a contradiction?   No, this is just stating a fact and recognizing that God wants us to honor those to whom honor is due and appreciate those who do the will of God.   To totally not recognize or appreciate extrinsic value in the church and community would also be wrong.   There needs to be balance.

A lesson for involvement ministers:  If we are not careful, as involvement ministers, we may only value those in the body who are active members.   I confess that I get frustrated, angry and disillusioned with members who would prefer to sit in a pew than to serve in the kingdom.   However, they are just as valuable as those who are involved in a half dozen ministries.  They are intrinsically valuable and always will be.   God loves (intrinsically values) them as much as He loves me.

The Lord really emphasizes both values systems.   If you think about it long enough, you will realize that the Lord set up both value systems (in pure form) and follows them both; this simply means we should too.   We are created in His image (intrinsic value) and we are created by Him (his workmanship; Eph.2:10) for good works (extrinsic value); in some very real sense we become more valuable to the kingdom, the world and our families as we use the gifts and blessings God has given us. Either way, we and our souls are worth more than the entire world. We are precious in His sight.

We simply need to recognize our worth and the worth of others in these manners and when we do, we will all be happier and love life more and glorify the Father who loves us just the way we are.   The world will be a better place and the kingdom will grow and grow and grow.

(see an excellent article that touches upon this topic in the latest “Christian Chronicle” by Jonathan Holmes)  http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/are-ministries-reflecting-society-more-than-jesus

Travis Irwin

Athens, TN