Category Archives: Character

The Required Character of a Church Leader

(Especially for Deacons, Elders and Pastors)

There were certain qualifications given to the godly leader in the Old Testament. He had to possess the credentials of godly character (Ex. 18:21;Deut. 1:13). He had to have a spiritual disposition and enablement from the Lord, and he had to possess an authorized call or election to the office.

In the New Testament, God requires His offices be filled by male believer-priests who manifest the right equipment (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:11, 28; Eph. 4:11f), the right motivation (Phil 2:13; 1 Tim. 3:1) and the right qualities (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Ti. 1:5-9).

Right Equipment
That is, they have the right gifts for the job. God endows these men with certain gifts and gives the men to His church (Mk. 16:15-18; Lk. 21:15; 24:49; Acts 1:8; 1 Tim. 5:22; 3:1-7; Ti. 1:7). He must be gifted and able to exhort (1 Thess. 2:11,12), lead (1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17), serve (Acts 20:24f; Rom.15:26-33), share his resources with others (Acts 4; Eph. 4:28),  and show mercy (Matt. 25; 1 Cor. 12:28).

Right Motivation
What we mean is that he has the inward call from God. He is responsive to the gifting and the call of the Holy Spirit in his life (Acts 20:28), and hence he desires (1 Tim. 3:1) the office. His motives are biblical and Christ-like (1 Peter 5:1ff).

Not only does one have the inward call of God, but  the community of  God must recognize his call as a qualified and legitimate call (Acts 6). He cannot merely assume that because he may be gifted and has that inner motive that he can assume the office of elder. He must also be properly called of God through the means of God’s church (Jer. 23:32; Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:4).

Right Qualities or Character of a Godly Leader
As Kevin Reed points out, “these qualities focus upon the three important aspects of a man’s life: his moral behavior, his knowledge of Christian doctrine, and his family life. An elder continually will be in public view. The respect an officer receives often depends more on an example of good character than from anything else about him” (Biblical Church Government, p. 9). All godly men should have these qualities, but the man who is selected for the office of elder must be measured by these qualities
to see if he is ready for the office (1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:2; Ti, 2:7,8).

Some essential characteristics of a good, natural leader:
1.    Courage
2.    Decisive
3.    Discipline
4.    Executive ability
5.    Friendship
6.    Humility
7.    Humor
8.    Inspirational ability
9.    Patience
10.    Righteous anger
11.    Vision
12.    Wisdom

The Biblical Character of a Godly Leader

(As you advance through this list of character traits, rate yourself on a scale of 1-10:
1 meaning this character trait is lacking, almost difficult to notice in your life; while 10 would mean that you are very, very strong and are a good example of this quality. How would your spouse, child(ren) or close friend rate you? How would your work mate rate you?)

1.  Above reproach        (1 Tim. 3:2;  Titus 1:6)
Not to be laid hold of; nothing is open to rebuke.
Here is the reference to the general character or sum total of those godly virtues. It means you are not open to censure, having an impeachable integrity; in accord with Biblical requirement for leadership.

Score:    __________        __________        __________

2.  Restrained Control    (1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Thess. 5:6,8)
You are temperate. There is a sobriety of life, free from excesses; not inebriated with the issues of life. It has the idea of being self-controlled through the work of the Spirit of God (Gal. 5; Phil. 2:13)  and by godly wisdom.  It does not carry with it the idea of a strictly disciplined person, but rather one who is disciplined and
properly flexible in the use and application of all things for the glory of God.

a.   Restrained control in that you are gentle
(2 Sam. 22:36; Psalm 18:35; 1 Timothy 3:2,3)

The idea of gentleness, a very important quality in a godly leader, is that of being patient, mild, reasonable, full of grace and graciousness.  This comes to light in not defending or insisting on one’s own ways. Gentleness sees people as sensitive beings; it deals with people where they are. The gentle man shows carefulness in choosing words and expressions so as not to offend unneedfully (Gal. 6:1).  He reflects care, affection and good-will toward others (Eph. 4:2).

He is not abrupt or critical in his communications. It is a quality the godly leader is to pursue (1 Tim. 6:11).  In short, he exercises the fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:23; Phil. 4:5).

Here are some characteristic ways one is biblically gentle:

(1)  A true gentle man
•    approachable (his personality has no sharp edges; after all, you cannot hug a porcupine)
•    firm, but diplomatic even when correcting opponents (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim.
2:23-25)
•    kind and gracious like Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:29; Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2:7)
•    his wisdom is a biblical wisdom exercised in gentleness (James 3:17)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

(2) Gentle in that you are not pugnacious   (1 Tim. 3:3; Ti. 1:7 )
Not a striker; not prone to violence; not given to blows; not a fighter.
You are not one who is harsh with words. You don’t lash out when hurt or
incite arguments, or alienate people by your attacking manner. Not eager to
make his point or get his way. You don’t follow through with your hot temper.
(Prov. 3:30; 15:18; 17:14; 20:3; 25:8; 26:17; Phil. 2:3)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

(3) Gentle in that you are not quarrelsome     (1 Tim. 3:2, 3; 2 Tim. 2:14)
Adverse to verbal fighting, quarreling, arguing. Knows what, when, and
how to argue rightly. No tendency to delight in outdoing others and defeating their ideas and beliefs; thus, no harsh dogmatism or a strongly offensive approach toward people. Not a contentious disputer.
(1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:22-26; Ti. 3:9)

On the positive side, you have a sense of peace, tranquility, and calmness.
You are a peacemaker; one who is able to bring calm to a stormy situation.
(Eccl. 10:4; Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; 14:19; Heb. 12:14; Jas. 3:17)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

b.  Restrained control in that you are not greedy    (1 Tim. 3:3; Ti. 1:7)
The acquisition of money or things (that which sustains or makes up life) is not seen as a high priority in your life. Your life is characterized by simplicity and humility in attitude and economic style. Heavenly priorities dominate (Matt. 6:33).

You possessions should not reflect comfort-seeking in things or in undue
accumulation of things unneedful. You have a firm conviction in resisting
dishonest and shady methods for acquiring money or things. Free from the love of money.

One of the deadly sins of a godly leader:
1 Tim. 6:5-10; Acts 20:33; 2 Tim. 3:6-7

Score:    __________        __________        __________

c.   Restrained control in that you are not given to selfish anger     (Ti. 1:7) You are not prone to anger; not overly passionate. No  trigger temper or character that is generally irritable. Not too easily offended, thus unapproachable and unpredictable in temper. (Pro. 16:32)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

d.   Restrained control in that you are not given to much wine  (1 Tim. 3:3; Ti. 1:7) You do not linger over wine. You are not over-indulgent or a drunk.  You control the wine, it does not control you.  The principle is one of control over bodily appetites.
(Gen. 19; Prov. 20:1; 23; Eccles. 10:17; Isa. 5:11; Isa. 28:1; Luke 21:34;
Rom. 13:13; Eph. 5:18)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

e.  Overall character is that you are self-controlled     (Ti. 1:8)
You have a mastery over self. Your passions and appetites are controlled.
You are not lazy, gluttonous or given to filthy talk (Eph. 5:4). You have an
ordered life, one reflecting heavenly pursuits and priorities. (Acts 24:25;
Rom. 6:12; Jas. 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:5-7; Matt. 26:41; 1 Cor. 10:12; 1 Pet. 5:8)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

3.  Humble ( you are not self-willed)    (Luke 14:10; Phil 2:3; Ti. 1:7; Jas. 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:5) This means that you are not seeking to please yourself. You are not willful, obstinate, domineering, arrogant.  You do not stand hard on “everything” you believe, and do not insist on your own way, ideas, or beliefs. You have a genuine interest in others and in what they say.  Being self-willed is also characteristic of one
who delights much in his own appearance, performance, or status to the obvious neglect of others.  Humility is being teachable, thinking rightly about yourself (Rom. 12:3, 10, 16), seeing yourself before the face of God

Score:    __________        __________        __________

4.  Holy    (Ti. 1:8)
Religiously, biblically devout, pious. Consistent in carrying out the basic Gospel duties in private and public affairs of life. Living out the Spirit-filled life of Christ.
(Lev. 11:45; Luke 1:74,75; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:11)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

5.   Hospitable    (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:10;  Ti. 1:9; 1 Pet. 4:9)
The love of Christ in you exhibits itself by loving your neighbor as yourself. You are kind to others, even strangers; generous.  This love of your heart is expressed in the open door, demonstrating a kind, compassionate, welcoming Savior. The biblical leader is a pacesetter in this. (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

6.  Just     (Ti. 1:8)
Means upright, righteous.  Impartial in dealing with people. You are able to forget personal interests and seek the truth in situations, in inter-personal conflicts, or as an umpire over differences. You speak what is right; with an ability to hear both sides and weigh the evidence honestly. (Deut. 16:20; Psa. 82:3;  Prov. 21:3; Isa. 56:1; Rom. 13:7; Col. 4:1)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

7.  Lover of good    (Ti. 1:8)
You have a love of virtue, good men and good things. Your affections are
attached toward the Lord, to good things and godly people rather than being
drawn toward worldly pleasures and gratifications.  Your concern is toward
holiness, Spirit-empowered obedience to God’s Word, an anticipation of the
world to come. You have a love of God’s truth rather than such things as position,fame, abilities, possessions, etc., which are soon to pass away. (1 Thess. 5:21; Heb. 3:6; 4:14; 10:23; Rev. 3:3)

Score:    __________        __________        __________

8.  Prudent    (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:8)
In other words you have a sound and self-controlled mind. You are temperate. Not controlled by impulse but by principle. You are responsible, as opposed to a feeling-oriented life. Your life reflects Biblical priorities, demonstrates sound thinking, and right decision making because you are thinking God’s thoughts about the issues of life.

Score:    __________        __________        __________

9.  Respectable    (1 Tim. 3:2)
Well-ordered, well-arranged, decorous in behavior and speech. The term may refer to 
a. Manners, etiquette, and personal habits;
b. Simplicity of life-style rather than eccentricity or extravagance; or
c. A general reference to a rightly ordered life.

You have  inoffensive and unblameable socially acceptable manners. You are
gentlemanly in your  treatment of women, in your dress, hygiene, eating habits, sociability with various people. You are respectable because you respect others (men, women, young, old). You are unpretentious, modest, with an easy going life-style.

Score:    __________        __________        __________

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Filed under Character, Church Leadership, Deacons, Elders, Pastor & Church Relationship

Seduced by Power

Forget money and sex. The real temptation is “king me.”

by Gary Sinclair

A neighboring pastor’s ministry imploded. It was a slow, inward collapse over a five-year period, with the blast at the end rather than the beginning. Jim was a gifted communicator, a man of vision brimming with potential. But he was slowly seduced by his power. His giftedness to lead was overtaken by a drive to control. There were warning signs that could have alerted him to his peril, but neither Jim nor his church recognized them.

Jim came to Englewood Community Church* with an impressive resume. He trained under one of the world’s premier pastors. The church that had plateaued began to grow again under Jim’s leadership. They revamped some structures, added a contemporary worship service, and expanded the annual holiday music programs for which the church was known.

The energetic pastor’s tell-it-like-it-is preaching style was appreciated by the church’s stalwarts and newcomers alike. Jim headed and completed a building campaign in his first three years. When Jim ran a meeting (which was most of the time), it was thoroughly planned and each person understood his task before leaving for home. Englewood church, once aging and a little clunky, now operated like a well-oiled machine.

But few people realized what was happening behind that façade. Englewood’s pastor was being seduced.

Warning signs

Englewood was a trusting church. Most members could remember only two pastors. Both had long tenures. One died in office and the other left for a prominent ministry opportunity at a time when most pastors would have retired. The church respected the office of pastor and generally gave those who held it freedom to innovate. That, combined with their joy at Jim’s early successes, might account for their failure to see the changes in Jim and his relationship to the leaders.

Shrinking accountability. It started with the youth minister incident. The church’s board of deacons, according to the constitution, are the church’s spiritual authority, and the pastor is ultimately responsible to them. On those rare occasions when the board told Jim he should do a particular thing, he had—until the complaints arose from the youth department. Several members reported a discipline problem to the deacons. Youth pastor Scott wasn’t handling it to their liking, and some dissension was spreading. The deacons wanted to meet with Scott, but Jim didn’t want his protégé brought before the board. “I’ll take care of it,” he told them.

He never did. And no one on the board said anything more about it.

After that, Jim began to ignore other board suggestions and sometimes vetoed their actions. But, because everything was running smoothly, no one seemed to mind—not at first.

Erosion of trust in others. Another shift took place with the hiring of the new associate pastor.

Jim was getting busier. From his perspective, Jim was simply keeping the ministry growing, but he agreed when the deacons said he needed some help. Perhaps they intended to retrieve some of their former responsibilities, but the plan evolved into hiring an associate pastor.

Jim offered to conduct the search himself. “After all, I know the kind of person we need,” Jim told the board. He soon hired a full-time ministerial staff member without the involvement of the personnel committee or a vote of the board.

Jim’s presence in church programs became more noticeable. He restructured the education program, then announced the changes to the leadership team. There was no doubt that he was a gifted leader, but his attitude began to reflect a deadly presupposition: “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.”

It wasn’t that Jim didn’t trust others. He simply trusted himself more. He desired to build his people into capable leaders, but he felt intensely the weight of others’ mistakes. Jim thought he was being prudent by ensuring things didn’t fall apart. But most of his leaders began to think, You don’t trust me.

Redefining loyalty. Soon the emphasis was on the church projecting a polished image, a smooth-running operation led by a content, unified leadership team.

This spirit caught on, and not many people were willing to fuss over something that might upset the morale. Most leaders determined their concerns were probably minor and said nothing. Those who spoke up found their objections unwelcome.

A few began to leave the church. Jim suggested that their exit was probably for their good and the good of the church, but as is often the case, their departures were more indicative of the disease than the cure.

Loyalty and dissention were redefined. Loyalty came to mean agreement, not with Scripture or with the mission of the church, but with the pastor. Eventually Jim was surrounded by those who would tell him only what he wanted to hear. Those who did question Jim’s leadership decisions were met with chastisement for “complaining” and being “unsubmissive.”

Guarded by loyal followers, the pastor is insulated from fair criticisms of his ministry. And he is not likely to see its oncoming collapse.

Withdrawing from people. This may be the most obvious warning sign; but since it usually develops later in the cycle, it’s often noticed too late to make a difference. For Jim it came near the end.

Jim became busier and more isolated. With such important decisions to make and so few people he trusted, Jim worked alone. His leadership team did not bother him. The staff remained at a distance, turning to each other for prayer and support. While the associate staff and the deacons each maintained a sense of teamwork among themselves, their camaraderie had little effect on the church or on Jim. He had few meaningful relationships, and small accountability groups didn’t fit into his packed schedule.

His contact with fellow ministers dropped off. While exciting things were happening at Englewood, he readily told us, his peers, about them. Later, Jim became increasingly critical of the church and the leaders, an obvious warning sign that I see much better now. After the implosion, I wished someone could have talked to Jim. Perhaps we could have averted his resignation.

Jim left the church after his key relationships turned sour. He’s in business now. I fear it’s becoming another fix for his power habit.

Smarter moves

Most members of Englewood still wonder what really happened. It’s hard to explain that their pastor was felled by an ugly mistress. “The deacons should have stopped that a long time ago,” one member said. True.

Jim wept that he should have seen the signs. True.

Some pastors who are seduced by power have huge television empires. Others pastor churches of less than one hundred. None of us is exempted by ministry size.

This power-mongering is not to be interpreted as bold leadership either. It bears some of the same external characteristics, but the lust for power kills effective leadership. It cultivates mistrust and sets staff members to rewriting their resumes. Eventually, it sends members in search of new churches.

Wondering what we could do to avoid succumbing to the temptation, five leaders and I visited with the staff of a well established church with a solid reputation for godly leadership. The church has a dozen full-time pastors and a multi-million dollar budget. They agreed for us to sit in on their staff meeting, after which we met with individual associates to talk about their specific ministry areas.

The pastors, their senior pastor included, answered every question we asked with candor and vulnerability, sharing successes and failures. Though blessed with resources and influence, they modeled for us a form of servant leadership very different from what we might have expected in such a powerful ministry. I came away with several conclusions on safeguarding myself.

We must humble ourselves through prayer. I must constantly ask God to help me monitor my pride. It is only as I read God’s Word and admit my fallenness before Him that I keep it all in perspective.

We must vividly remember our place as servants. We are called to lead, to cast the vision, to challenge poor assumptions, teach the Word in everyday language, and help others see the big picture of what God could do in our fellowship. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

But we are commanded to serve people all the while. Paul’s reminder in Philippians 2 of Jesus’ humility is a poignant picture of the attitude we must adopt. And 1 Peter 5:2-3 reminds us that we should be “eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

We must surround ourselves with accountability and counsel. Seek out a team of people similar in theology and vision, but different in abilities, personalities, and life experiences. Let their diverse perspectives be refining influences on you.

Ask your team members, or other leaders to let you know when you’re pushing the power envelope. You may not feel you’re overstepping the boundaries of pastoral power, but others may. Remember “Intention is one thing, perception is everything.”

I try to have a private lunch with every one of my key leaders each year. They do most of the talking, and I just listen. This past year one of our deacons had a critical, but helpful suggestion. I began to work on it, and then asked him later if he saw a change. Today, I’m a better pastor for it, and he knows that I value what he thinks.

We must constantly give leadership away. Gore Vidal is reported to have said, “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Perhaps what makes power so seductive is its promise that we can minister more effectively without the conflicting visions or methods of others.

We get seduced by power when there are too many people relying on what we say, what we think, what we decide, and what we determine for the future. Like Moses learning to delegate, we must pass the baton of responsibility to capable others who will run many races of their own.

The church we visited is already developing a plan to replace its senior pastor in the next ten years. They want to do everything possible to assure their people that the church can be just as vibrant with someone else in the pulpit. Even the senior pastor is not irreplaceable. It takes a confident servant leader to encourage his church to think that radically.

Power itself isn’t evil. Power propels airplanes, lights cities, and wins wars. It also packs a charge that will destroy our ministries unless it’s properly used.
_______________

*The names have been changed.

Christianity Today, Inc./Leadership journal.
Fall 2001, Vol. 23, No. 4, Page 99

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Filed under Abuse in the Church, Character, Church Leadership, Leadership, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

A Matter of Pride (A Study from the Bible)

“…pride, most likely the chief of sins. Some even think that pride is the root of other sins. It well may be; as it leads to so many other particular offenses. Older commentators (Chaucer, p. 554, Canterbury Tales, London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1958) spoke of pride as a “chief sin”, in that other twigs grew from its fertile and fatal root. From pride, grow the branches of disobedience, vaunting, hypocrisy, defiance, Arrogance, Impudence, insolence, impatience, strife, presumption, irreverence, and others. Chaucer even divides pride into external and internal categories, and refers to it as the sin of “superfluity”, an over-abounding, so as to bring fame to a person.

Satan’s first sin was characterized by and manifested itself in pride – perhaps the greatest sin. It always violates the first commandment – to have other gods before our Creator. Pride puts self before God. It seeks elevation above divinity.

Pride is willful arrogance, arrogating to yourself what is really God’s. It is essentially a lust for power … and it is far more prevalent than in rulers alone. Pride besets the commonest of people. It is no respecter of persons or position. In a power-centric society, pride is at the top of the list of sins.

Today, many of us are routinely tempted with pride. Much of our very environment seduces us with pride. It is a sin of which we should constantly be aware, and seek to restrain. If a person tells me they have no pride, then I know I’m dealing with a person who does not know himself very well, or else a person who is in dangerous denial.

Today, let’s look at its biblical diagnosis, and seek a cure. We need a pride-ectomy, or at the very least, an antidote for it.

– Rev. Douglas Hall

__________________________

One of the prevailing challenges a leader has, even leaders within the local church, is that of pride. Enclosed is a study on what the Bible says about pride.  It is not comprehensive, but it is a start.  Work through the study, if you dare.

A Matter of Pride stdt

A Matter of Pride tchr

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Filed under Character, Church Leadership, Men's Leadership Studies

Pathetic Legalism or Authentic Love? (part three)

The previous two articles focused on the negative side of  the attitudes and behaviors of a segment of American Evangelicalism. Certainly not all believers in Jesus Christ are gripped with legalism and live accordingly. One of my main points is that to think and behave in the manner many Evangelicals do is contrary even to the rudimentary tenets of Christ’s teachings.

The irony for these legalists (of which I’ve labeled myself a recovering one), is that to live contrary to Christ’s teachings, indeed to live contrary to the empowered life of God’s Spirit, is to violate God’s Law in the third commandment:  “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” How is that?  Briefly, to take God’s name in vain is not merely to misuse the name in crude speech.  The Scripture teaches that the application of that commandment is broader than that (see the explanation given in the Westminster Larger Catechism). To wear Christ’s name, yet to deny him by living legalistically, hypocritically or by rejecting his clear teachings, is to take his name in vain.  For fuller discussion on this important issue, I commend the Westminster Confessional Standards, and the writings by John Frame and Jochem Douma on the Ten Commandments. So legalism at its core violates God’s basic legal code!

Legalism is pathetic, and it has done terrible harm to the reputation of Christ. Counter to legalism is the positive side of the life of Christ and the life in Christ.  As I stated before  the early Christians had the reputation for their love of Christ, for one another and for their neighbors.  Theirs was an authentic, proactive concern and care for others. They were living the Christ life.  This is how it should be with Christians today.

Their love was not motivated by sentiment, nor even merely because they were trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Their affirmative, dynamic love flowed from the plain teaching of Scripture, the infusion of Christ’s spiritual life, the supernatural empowerment and fruit of God’s Spirit, as well as the model of Jesus.

The love of Jesus is demonstrated in the four Gospel accounts.  It is also clearly taught throughout the rest of the New Testament. However, the most succinct and straightforward teachings on Christ’s love is found in the thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians (New Testament).  The context of this chapter is in a section where St. Paul is explaining how Christians ought to conduct themselves and to live with one another and with the world.  The core of their living is in Christ, and the expression of that Christ-life core is love.  This love is genuine affection, and for those who are in Christ by faith, Paul says this love is necessary, expressed, permanent and superior to everything else.

1

Paul begins each of the first three verses by stating an existing condition.  Then he shows the results of that condition when there is an absence of love. In the first verse, he says you can speak any language, earthly, or heavenly for that matter, but without true affection, you are no better off, as the ancient church Father Chyrsotom said, than a “positive nuisance.”  By speaking many languages, Paul implies the one has knowledge, so-called wisdom and eloquence.  But words of a brilliant master linguist without love are irritating, senseless clangs.

To have, according to verse two, the best of all spiritual gifts as Christians but without love, we are nothing.  And we might give to others or offer up our lives sacrificially as Christians our offering might have some benefit for others, but it is of no profit to ourselves if there is no love.  His point is that love is an absolute necessity for the Christian life.  Remove it and all else is ultimately empty.

2

The second thing he points out is that true affection is expressed (chapter 13, verses 4-7).  He paints for us a picture, as one person put it, “of putting on love’s matchless beauty.”   True affection is expressed unselfishly (13:4). For one, authentic love is patient. Patience is restraint when you have the right to act.  Jesus give a parable of this in Matthew 18:21-35, of a king whose servant owed him an insurmountable debt that he could not possibly owe.  Yet the king was very patient with him.  The debtor, in contrast, was very impatient with his own servant who owed him a small amount of money.  This kind of loving patience is also the ability to delay a response, especially when wronged.  Jesus did this for our sake (1 Peter 3:20).  He was patient with the soldiers who apprehended him, patient with the religious and political powers that tried him,  knowing his restraint from acting with supernatural power would lead him to the cross.  It was his destiny to pay for our sins (in fact, for our lack of love and impatience) on the cross.

This authentic love is also kind (to illustrate just read Luke 6 and Ephesians 4).  In a sense, patience is a passive quality – a restraint.  Kindness is an active quality – a bestowal or giving.   Kindness is not to be confused with niceness.  Nice connotes a passive pleasantness or sweetness.  Kindness is assertive and proactive.  It may not be masculine to be sweet, but it is manly to be kind; for the God-Man Jesus is kind.   Kindness proceeds from a tender heart.  It contributes to the peace and happiness of others.  It is the opposite of one’s disposal to do harm to others.

3

The third quality of this genuine affection is that it is not jealous.  This kind of jealousy is a selfishness that boils with intense desire. In the bad sense, it is like envy, that feeling of “uneasiness at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by someone else, accompanied by some degree of hatred…often with a desire to depreciate the person or to have pleasure in seeing him depressed”  (Barclay).  This is what we see going on in Acts 5:17, 7:9, and 13:45.  This envy-filled jealousy springs from pride and ambition. It is shocked that another has obtained what one has a strong desire to possess.  True affection has a desire that others would find success and happiness in their lives.

4

Still another characteristic of true love is that it does not brag.  It is not anxious to display itself like the little banny rooster who struts around because he thinks his early morning crowing caused the sun to come up.  Love is not ostentatious, putting on a display to build up oneself at the expense of others, parading oneself and campaigning to be at the center of attention.  In contrast, true love is humble (2 Corinthians 10:13).

It is also not proud, or more literally, it does not “swell up like the bellows of a sail boat.” This Christ-love is not puffed up.  Paul made it clear that a central problem the Christians were having in the city of Corinth was that they were indeed proud.  And their pride manifested itself:  they were contentious (4:6), had a bad attitude toward Paul (4:18), were arrogant in their speech (4:19), were apathetic toward sin and evil (5:2), and displayed an intellectual arrogance that repulsed even non-Christians (8:1).  Reverse those things and you have a view of Christ’s love.

5

The next major thing Paul points out about this authentic Christ-love is how it is expressed behaviorally (13:5-6).  He has five ways of how love acts, though he puts them in negative terms.  First, it does not act unbecomingly.  That is, true love is not rude or deliberately does something to hurt or embarrass another. Next, love does not seek its own selfish ways and benefits as explained above.  Not that love is totally devoid of self, but rather self in an arrogant, self-absorbed way that becomes the source of impatience, unkindness, bragging, and unseemliness.

Thirdly, love is not provoked by wrongs or evil.  Love desires justice and what is righteous;  it even seeks those things.  Love’s response toward sin and evil is not a desire for personal revenge, but rather earnestly desires good consequences would come about so that the sinner or evil doer would change, or repent, or pay so that those who suffered at his or her expense would be properly, fairly served.  Love is not triggered to seek revenge nor allows unjust wrongs to provoke and embitter.

Along with this is the fact that true love does not take into account a wrong suffered.  There is not doubt you will be wronged.  Love for another does not put the wrong they did to you into a mental registry for which there is a plan to retaliate.  Instead, love desires grace and mercy to come upon the offender so that there would be restitution, reconciliation or repentance.

Note, the thrust of the good news about Christ’s life and work is that he took the registry of our sins, even the sins against him as our God, and paid for them through his sacrificial, loving death upon the cross.

The fifth point Paul makes is that love does not rejoice in or over unrighteousness.  It takes no delight in sin or evil. Love is grieved by wickedness, evil, and injustice.

6

The apostle goes on to present us with a positive way how love behaves:  genuine love rejoices in the truth.  Since love does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but does rejoice over truth, then love is never apathetic or neutral.  This is not merely truth as facts, but moral truth that has its connection to God and his good character.  Love and truth are intimate companions, one person said.  Another wrote, “Love does not avoid truth, and love does not compromise truth.”

The positive side of love is that is it expressed optimistically (13:7).  True love covers over all things. It keeps things in confidence in order to protect another’s reputation.  That doesn’t mean love keeps quiet about another’s sin or crime.  Love in this instance is such that it does not wish to broadcast to everyone something bad, even if it is true (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Corinthians 9:12).

It also believes all things; meaning that even when love has no forensic evidence, it believes the best.  Not that a loving Christian is to be gullible, easily fooled or conned, but rather s/he puts the best construction on things, unless of course there is sufficient warrant to believe otherwise.  For example, when a child tells his parent something, even if the parent is in doubt, out of love the parent will take the child at his word until such time as there is proof otherwise.

Love also hopes all things.  True love is biblically optimistic.  We often think of hope as the wish for a possible, positive future.  But this loving hope is not a hope found in situations, history, the environment, or in people. It is an assurance of a certain future that is rooted in a sovereign God who has all things under control and works all things together for our best (Romans 8:28ff).

The other positive aspect of this love is that it endures all things.  For the sake of Christ and the sake of others, love perseveres and endures whatever comes to it, positive or negative.
Another perspective on this is Paul means to say:

Love deals well with all things.
When love has no evidence, it believes all things;
When the evidence is adverse, love hopes all things;
When hope is disappointed, love endures all things.

(I believer Barclay said this)

We have seen that in contrast to pathetic legalism, the authentic love in Christ, that flows from Christ is necessary and expressed through certain behaviors.  Now we conclude by looking at the last two qualities about this love: it is permanent and it is superior.   Authentic love has a permanency about it (13:8-12).  True love is enduring. Its affects endure.  Other things, even the supernatural gifts that the Christians in Corinth so highly prized, are transient. Not so with love.  Furthermore, love is mature.

7

Finally, true affection is indeed superior (13:13).  Of the greatest virtues in the Christian life: faith, hope and love, it is love that is of the highest significance and importance.  And it is the fundamental quality of the character of a true Christian – not the law and not legalism.  Faith and hope are far greater and better than any law-produced virtue. In fact, love is far superior to even those virtues! As Paul points out in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, love fulfills the law!  Authentic love will love and worship God and him alone. Love will rest in God, and seek him always, but especially on God’s special day.  Love would never dishonor parents or authorities, or betray a marriage bond, or murder, or steal from others, or injure their reputation or falsely accuse another, and love would not be enviously greedy.

Conclusion

For the genuine Christian who has placed saving faith in Jesus Christ, authentic love is a necessity in life. Authentic love which comes from Jesus Christ and by faith, is at the core of the true Christian’s renewed soul.  It is expressed in a certain way, which by the way does mimic Jesus. It is also permanent, and is it superior to all other virtues.

This authentic Christ-love is what ought to motivate us as Christians today. This love is not motivated by sentiment, nor even merely because we are trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. This affirmative, dynamic love flows from the plain teaching of Scripture, the infusion of Christ’s spiritual life, the supernatural empowerment and fruit of God’s Spirit, as well as the model of Jesus. And it flows from us in a positive , godly, good way to one another and then to all people.

© D. Thomas Owsley

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Pathetic Legalists or Authentic Lovers (part two)

In the last article (part one) I proposed that many of today’s contemporary American Evangelical Christians  have lost their Christian way.  I also proposed that a significant reason for this is due to legalism; and that our society is right to complain about us, at least on that basis.  I also contrasted our brand of Christianity with that of the early church in that  one of the biggest complaints Roman society had against them was their “irrational”, non-utilitarian care and concern they had for one another and for their neighbors. 

It seems that many in the early church, though far from ideal or perfect, was gripped by the good news of Jesus, such that they lived out the love of Christ. For the most part, theirs was an active affection and an authentic love. Their love, as St. Paul wrote in Romans chapter twelve, was indeed sincere or more literally, unhypocritical.

Romans 12:9 admonishes Christians to let love be sincere, or as it is woodenly stated in the original language:  the love unhypocritical!  The Greek word for hypocrite (the New Testament was written in the common language of trade, which at the time was Greek), was the term used for the masks that actors wore.  So, the Bible is insisting that Christians are to have an authentic, open, genuine love. 

However, if we Christians are gripped by legalism then we will not be loving, and certainly not authentically loving.  Merrill Unger writes that “the hypocrite is a double person, natural and artificial; the first he keeps to himself, the other he puts on as he does his clothes, to make an appearance before men.”  What Paul and other new Testament writers urge is that believers in Christ would not feign love or live insincerely.  When we do so the charge that we talk a big talk but don’t walk the walk is all too true. 

Legalists are hypocritical.  Hypocrisy is a contemptible characteristic that all people share and nearly all people hate. It is also a horrible characteristic that God abhors.  Before moving on to the proactive, positive side of the Christ life (authentically loving), allow me to make some points about Christian hypocrisy (inauthentic living and loving):

First, we hypocrites worship, but we do not do so from the heart.   Jesus, quoting God’s statement from Isaiah 29, rebuked the highly religious crowd, “These people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”  You ever like that?   I am.  More times than I care to admit.  But true love for God worships sincerely from the heart. True worship is an authentic connection in a loving relationship.

Second, we hypocrites parade ourselves as holy, righteous and pious people.  We play the part of righteous people, when true humility would reveal what we are truly like at heart:  unrighteous. Now, that does not mean we don’t have some semblance of a righteous character in Christ; for we have received his righteousness as believers.  Neither does that mean that no one does some sort of good.  What it does mean is that we are tainted with moral impurities, so that even the best we do is tainted with sin.  Much like someone who has a contagious disease, a virus or bacteria.  The disease or infection might not become a full-blown manifestation; nevertheless, it is still there.

Jesus was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were radical zealots when it came to being right and doing the right thing.  He said that they let everyone know how much they give to help the poor (Matthew 6:2); they pray on street corners to show how wonderfully religious they are (Matthew 6:5); and they behave with a religious pouting when they fast (Matthew 6:16).

They prided themselves at how much they studied and knew their Bible.  They bragged about how pure they were and how immoral everyone else was. In fact, unlike Jesus, whom they considered among the dregs of society, they were so righteous that they would not have anything to do with the “untouchables” (people with leprosy or any other obvious disease), the unclean (those who were not religiously and ceremonially pure like they were, or those who were not of the same religioethnicity as they), or the sinners (homeless, drunks, druggies, prostitutes, homosexuals).  They could own that pride because they had worked hard, like good legalists, to arrive at their level of holiness or perfection, while others clearly had not. 

In contrast, true Christ-like love is humble.  Someone gripped by the love and grace of Jesus practices amazing grace.  S/he believes the simple, yet profound fact of who they really are when stripped away bare before the presence of a holy God.  They truly admit,  “Where would I be if God had not been gracious to me?  I am really no better than those who are labeled untouchable, unclean or sinner.  The only credit I have in my account is not mine, but Christ’s.  Therefore, with authentic humility I can have sincere love for those who are in every way on my same level.

Third, we hypocrites are judgmental.  Now, the Bible teaches the difference between a discerning kind of judgment, which we are called to have, and a condemning kind of judgment, which we have no right to have.

In Matthew 7, Jesus says that the hypocritical judge looks for the tiniest little fleck of dirt in someone else’s eyes and condemns him or her for having dirty eyes, while all the while walking around with an obvious dirty log protruding from his eye.  He uses such hyperbole to underscore how absurdly stupid such an arrogant judge is!  Every legalist and legalistic group does this. They size others up according to their own measure and then berate others for not making the grade.  At the core of a legalist is a fearful and insecure person who needs to condemn others in order to gain a measure of self-worth.

Writing in Romans, chapter two, Paul says that when we Christians criticize and judge others, we criticize and judge others for the very same things for which we are guilty.  We often see and hate in others what we refuse to admit guilt in ourselves. We act appalled when another believer sins or is discovered to have some indiscretion, fault or sin, while secretly sinning in a similar manner.  This is highlighted when, every so often (more than it should), some famous preacher who rants and rails against a particular sin is discovered to have the same fault, flaw or sin.  It ought to put us on notice lest we be like that.

Judging flows from pride, while grace, mercy and love flow from humility. The downside about emphasizing law and purity is our propensity to de-emphasize mercy and grace.  Judgmentalism is a nasty, vicious, hideous, moral cancer.  As I implied earlier, it falsely elevates us at the expense of others.  It is a masked narcissism. It broadcasts the stench of arrogance.  It manipulates and keeps others in their “place.” It is abusive, and restrictive (restricting true freedom).  The bottom line is that hypocritical, judgmental Christianity is an evil.

By contrast, genuine Christ-like love is not judgmental.  Instead, it deals graciously and mercifully with others’ deficits, faults and sins. This does not imply that “deficits,” faults and sins are to be ignored or not addressed.  They are indeed addressed by loving Christians; but not in order to point the giant forefinger and pronounce a guilty verdict with attendant sentences.  By all means Christians are to recognize genuine sin as sin and condemn those sins.  But no Christian individual has the right to pronounce any condemnatory sentence.  Only proper biblical authorities have the rightful duty to pronounce a sentence upon wayward rebels who call themselves Christians (Matthew 16, 18).  That sentence is to declare that they are not of the true faith. 

Sinners are to be addressed gently (Galatians 6:1) because they are addressed from a place of humility, with a concern for restoration.  The sins of a believer is to be addressed gently in order to help the person quit his error or sin and to make a positive, transformative change.  The sin is labeled (based upon Scripture’s clear definition and description, not on our personal standards) and a rebuke, reproof or correction is issued.  Again, the purpose is to call the person to turn around.  For example, Paul tells those who are in Christ to stop stealing, and instead go to work so as to provide for himself and others, and in order to have extra to help out others in need (Ephesians 4:29).

The fourth thing about Christian hypocrites is that we are double-tongued.  We say one thing but do another.  Double-tongued also means we do not keep our word (James 3:10).  Authentic love is loyally committed to and relatively consistent with what one says. 

Fifth, Christian hypocrites are generally unwilling to help fellow believers in need (James 2:15-16).  Those possessed with authentic love helps fellow believers and others who are in need.

Obviously there are many other characteristics we could list about Christian hypocrisy.  These are merely five, but they are the common ones that the Bible lists.   A perfect Jesus condemned false humility, arrogant legalism, and hypocritical love.  One time he rebuked his disciples for their failure to follow his teachings, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but you do not do the things I tell you to do?” (Luke 6:46).  At another time he said that religious legalists observe the law but ignore and reject true justice, mercy and faith.  The rest of the Bible teaches us that genuine love is just, merciful and comes from a life of true faith.

Saint John, the “apostle of love,” wrote in his first letter to the Church,  “He who says ‘I know him (Jesus)’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth (of Jesus) is not in him.”  Put bluntly, for those who believe in and own the name of Jesus, inauthentic and hypocritical love is intolerable.  Christians are called upon to listen intently to Jesus with a willingness and a passion to follow through. The overflow of that willingness and passion, which comes from a spiritual empowerment God gives, is clearly manifested in authentic love and with an active compassion.

So what are we to think and do?  If you are a Christian hypocrite like me, the first thing to do is come to grips with God’s law and his love.  Forget measuring yourself against your own or others’ standards as a way to identify the ideal perfection.  Measure yourself against God’s Law and know that he not only requires perfection in what you do, but also perfection of your attitude, thinking and heart.  Then humbly recognize that it is impossible for you or anyone else to measure up to such pure, holy, and perfect standards.  That failure to measure up is called sin and the act of stepping over the line, breaking his Law, is called transgression. 

Secondly, give up pride and humbly confess to God your inability and failure(s).

Next, trust in Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s Law in heart, word and action.  Trust in Jesus who paid for your guilt and shame when he died upon the cross. By his love he took upon himself your deficits, flaws and sins.  By his mercy he assumed your indebtedness and stepped into your failures. Through this simple but saving trust in Christ he graciously transfers and credits his righteousness to you.  You have all that is needed to be acceptable to God as one who can rightly stand before God no longer condemned with a sentence.

Hypocrisy is among the worst of sins (Matthew 24:51). It is a sin to be avoided as much as any other sin we consider heinous (1 Peter 2:1).  Let us not forget that. One of the remarkable characteristics about almost all the saints in the Old and New Testaments, those heroes of  the Faith, was that they were incredible sinners!  Yet it was by faith in God’s forgiving mercy, trusting his pardoning grace that they were forgiven, and through faith declared righteous (Genesis 15; 17; Habakkuk 2:2; Galatians 3:10-11).  

God calls us to live by faith at Jesus’ Cross, so to speak (Galatians 2:20).  By faith we receive Christ’s righteousness and by faith we live righteously. From the vantage point of the Cross we have the remedy for legalism, arrogance and hypocrisy.  From that position we have hope; a hope and life that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ. From that hope flows the righteousness of Christ to others; a righteousness that is identified and expressed through authentic love (Romans 13:10).

This authentic love is merciful because we have been shown mercy. It is forgiving because we have been forgiven by God. It is giving because Christ first gave himself for us and to us.  This authentic love comes through a vital faith in Jesus; a faith that is honest, transparent, humble, truthful, caring and free.

Christian, let your love be sincere, authentic and without hypocrisy.

© D. Thomas Owsley

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A Self-Check for Personal Growth

 

Here is a check-list to see how you are doing when it comes to personal growth:

 

1. Would I consider myself  faithful, available, spiritual and teachable? Why or why not?

2.  I would say that I am growing in the following areas of my life:

_____      Spiritual

_____      Physical health

_____      Mental

_____      Social relationships

_____      Life skills

_____      In my area of work or expertise

 

3.   I know that I am growing in this or these areas because:

 

4.   True or false:  I would say that my life is characterized by intentional growth in most or all areas of my life.

 

5.   If I am not intentionally growing, then I am dying on the proverbial vine.  What is keeping me from growing?  What is hindering me?

 

6. What does 2 Peter 1:3-11 say about where I am in life right now?

 

7.  Which, if any, of the characteristics in Paul B. Thornton in Be the Leader-Make the Difference do I have?

_____       Strong desire to improve

_____       A commitment to candid self-assessment

_____       A strong curiosity

_____       An ability to learn from both success and failure

_____       Non-defensive response to negative feedback

_____       A willingness to experiment and try new approaches or new things

 

8.  True or false:  I am proactive about growing in

_____        Character of Christ-likeness (see 1 Timothy and Titus; and take the Godly Man’s self-exam)

_____       Discipline and self-control

_____       Emotionally

_____       Love

_____      Attitudes :

_____      Becoming more courageous as opposed to more fearful

_____      Passion as opposed to apathy

_____      Hope as opposed to negativity

_____      Confidence as opposed to doubt

_____      Humility as opposed to pride

 

9.   True or false:  I am proactive in learning more and more about many and important things in life.

 

10.  True or false:  I am becoming more and more competent in the various areas of my life.  Write down what area(s) and how.

 

11.    I am growing in my spiritual life (write down how in the following ways):

Prayer

Worship

Enjoying God

Fellowship with God

 

12. I am growing in knowledge in the following areas:

_____     God

_____     God’s Word (study, understanding, memorization)

_____     Of myself (who I am)

_____     Of my calling or area of labor

_____     As a husband/wife

_____     As a father/mother

_____     Other

 

13.   I am becoming more and more competent

_____    In life skills (wisdom)

_____    In my talents and spiritual gifts

_____    In communication skills

_____    In my field of labor (professionally)

_____    As a husband/wife

_____    As a father/wife

_____    As a disciple of Jesus

_____    As a loving servant of others in my church

_____     As a loving servant to others outside of church relationships

 

14.   My written plan to grow is:

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A Suggested Plan for Personal Growth

You might have a desire to grow personally, but you may not get very far if you do not put together a plan for growth.  Here’s a suggested plan, which might encourage you to develop one of your own:

 

1. Make a commitment to personal growth.

2. Develop a specific and written plan for growth. Then prioritize.

a.  John C. Maxwell’s Your Road Map for Success is one helpful tool.

b. Growth will come easier and more successfully if you focus and build primarily upon your positive strengths first.  Then address areas in which you are deficient and in need of change and growth. Choose one significant item in each area with which to begin. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

c.  Make a written plan for your:

Spiritual life

Character development

Comprehension

Competency

d.  Prioritize

e.  Find and use resources that will help

(1)  A mentor or fellow believer(s) – true success always includes others, and with growth it includes spending time with other growing people and investing your life in others to help them grow.

(2) Books, CDs, DVDs, etc.

(3)   Magazines, e-zines, journals

3. Establish habits of successful growth.

Nobody will ever master every area of his or her life. However, with God, who works in you both to will and to do of His good plan, you can see significant and ongoing growth in each area. The mastery will be in the skill and process, not so much in the perfect completion.

4. Make the time for personal growth, or life will take your time from you.

5. Create a climate for growth: plan to do each of the following at least once a day for the next month

(See John C. Maxwell; Your Road Map for Success; p. 114).

a. Affirm someone else for doing something new that displayed a desire for growth.

b. Try something you’ve never done so that you’re taken out of your comfort zone.

c.  Think about a benefit that your current growth plan may give you in the future.

d.  Find ways to reward and encourage yourself in the areas you are growing.

6. Develop relationships with growing people. True success always includes others. Build relationships for growth in the following ways:

a.     Find a mentor. Name the person you know who is growing and who has the most expertise in the area where you’d most like to grow. Your goal is to develop a win-win relationship with that person.

b.     Spend time with growing people.

c.     Pick someone else to mentor. Select a person to help you grow.

 

Note: a great habit to develop is whenever you meet with someone with whom you have a mentoring relationship, always brings something of value to give: a book, tape, article, something you’ve learned, or anything encouraging or instructive.

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