Standing before the student body of King’s College, University of London, in 1944, C. S. Lewis delivered one of his most profound speeches.
Intent on explaining the dangers of “the inner ring,” Lewis explained that at every social level exist certain “inner rings” of fellowship. Upon discovering them, the individual’s desire to enter the ring easily may become the driving force of his or her life.
In the process of seeking admission, many forfeit the greater blessing of developing lifelong friendships with those outside the ring. The irony of the “inner ring” is that once in, you will discover another, and another and yet another. The quest seems frustratingly hopeless. So how are we to live in a world of “inner rings?”
Lewis first drew attention to the significance of the informal – and often imperceptible – nature of the inner ring. He observed the following:
“There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it or before they have been allowed in. This provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. … If you are candidate for admission, you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself.”
Lewis then went on to point out the irony and futility of the quest for admittance into the ring:
“You discover one … and when you have climbed up to somewhere near it by the end of your second year, perhaps you discovered that within the ring there was a ring yet more inner, which in its turn was the fringe of the great school ring to which the house rings were only satellites…”
Whether you are a student, an artist, an athlete, an entrepreneur, a politician, a waitress, a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a musician, a pastor or a teacher, “inner rings” exist all around you.
As legitimate as any given “inner ring” may be – in and of itself – those who know the deceitfulness of their own hearts also perceive something of the danger involved in the quest for entrance.
The drive for admittance into the “inner ring” often consumes an individual with envy and jealousy, a willingness to compromise, and – once inside – a deep-seated pride. When we see the devastating consequences in others, we should want to avoid the quest altogether.
In his first letter, the apostle John appealed to his privileged membership in the “inner ring” of the apostolic band. What greater privilege could one have than to belong to the circle of Christ’s closest companions during his earthly ministry? Rather than serving as a source of pride, John used this privilege to invite others into the ring of fellowship.
He expressed this when he wrote, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
There is an ultimate inner ring of fellowship into which all believers are brought through faith in Christ. When we believe the Scripture’s testimony about the person and work of Jesus, we enter into the ultimate inner ring – the ring of fellowship with the Triune God and his people.
There is no greater “ring” into which we can be accepted. When we discover that we have entered this ring by grace through faith, we stop trying to find our acceptance in lesser rings and long to see everyone enter.