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And in his teaching he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." -- Mark 12: 38-40 (ESV)
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. -- 1Timothy 4: 16 (NIV)
Let me first say that this is not about perfection although we ought to be striving for it. This is not about a slip up here or a mistake there. This is about the clear growing trend of pastors and leaders who seemingly dismiss the Bible when it comes to how they are to treat people and live their lives outside of the Sunday morning service. The key verse from Timothy is crucial for the development of solid preachers and pastors. Remember this comes from a pastoral letter. Instructions from Paul to his protege Timothy as he embarks on his calling as pastor of the Church at Ephesus. Since we know that all Scripture is divinely inspired, this letter becomes God's instruction to people who would aspire to any leadership position within His church, especially those who would labor in teaching and preaching. We do not need gimmicky leadership conferences and gleaning the best advice from people in the world who fancy themselves successful. We do not need relevant marketing schemes and glossy magazines with the latest trends in management. What we always need is simple. We need the Bible. There is nothing in it that God forgot to address, including leadership, church management, and church growth. Yes it will fly in the face of carnal wisdom. It may make absolutely no sense to he who is not saved but that is the entire point. The things of God are always foolishness to those who are perishing. God knows exactly where we are and where His church is. He is fully capable of bringing forth that which He has promised. We just need to have faith in His Word and put it to action in our lives. This is even doubly important for teachers and preachers:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. -- 1Timothy 5: 17 (ESV)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. -- James 3: 1 (ESV)
It seems many today demand the double honor and shirk the double responsibilities. The Word says here that we ought not to even aspire to such positions because there is a stricter level of judgment associated with it. In this day and age of social media we see everyone with a keyboard fancying themselves a theologian and it is very dangerous waters they tread in. I think we need to take a step back and realize what is on the line beloved. According to this one simple verse from Timothy the very salvation of our hearers hangs in the balance. When Paul says goodbye to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he clearly states that their blood is not on his hands because he did not hesitate to proclaim to them the entire Gospel. The inference is obvious and sobering. If you insist on offering scriptural guidance as a teacher/preacher then you better make sure that two things are properly aligned. Those two things are your life and your doctrine according to one of our key verses today.
While we spend a great deal of time dealing with the doctrinal side of this equation it seems equally important that we address the other side, watching your life. We have seen the damage done by the proliferation of false teacher and preachers throughout this land who do not watch their doctrine. From word faith to prosperity to false signs and lying wonders to hyper-grace. If you are willing to compromise your doctrine in any way, it becomes the leaven Jesus warned about:
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. -- Galatians 5: 9 (ESV)
Beloved there is a reason why atheists attack the Bible. If doubt can be introduced at any point, it discredits the entire book. This works the same way with doctrine. If we are willing to look the other way on even the smallest portions of doctrine then the whole canon of Scripture is up for reinterpretation by our wickedly deceitful hearts. The same is true for watching our lives. Paul could have just implored Timothy to watch his doctrine but he also commands him to watch his life. Why? One word Beloved, hypocrisy. The Christian leader who is correct doctrinally but wrong with their lives causes just as much damage as the false teacher. In fact, they are both false teachers. One is false in what they speak and the other is false because their life does not line up with what they preach. Because they use God and religion to create a veneer that is false. Think this is unimportant to God? One of the top subjects in the Bible is hypocrisy. The famous "judge not" verses are actually about hypocrisy. The seven woes of judgment Jesus pronounces over the Pharisees in Matthew 23 all start with an accusation of hypocrisy.
Consider the other set of key verses for today from the Gospel of Mark. Looking deeply into these three verses reveal the areas of a Christian leader's life that Paul was warning Timothy to guard closely. The first thing we see is that these false teachers like to walk around in long robes. Another translation says "flowing robes," which were rich robes that reached down to their ankles. The scribes and teachers of law took great satisfaction in this sort of display. So the first take away is that these types of false teachers like the attention upon themselves. Perhaps no longer with grand flowing robes, although many denominations make quite the spectacle of how their leaders are treated. I have seen pastors carried in to sanctuaries sitting on a throne-like chair, so some of this is still directly relevant. But most mainstream examples are far more subtle than that. I am sure we have all heard preachers who are the hero of every story they tell or illustration they use. Who is it that they are lifting up because if it is not Jesus then you ought to run. That is only one example. We see pastors all the time leading their churches with an iron hand, surrounding themselves with yes men instead of godly counsel. Changing bylaws to better consolidate their power. Abusing the sheep instead of tending to them. I once saw a local pastor state from the pulpit that if people in his church had a problem with someone else they could not resolve they ought to leave. He preached on the 99 and the 1 the following week. You cannot make this stuff up beloved. Other pastors glory in the spotlight of self-importance. Suddenly they always travel with an entourage. Someone holds their bible and handkerchief. Another fills the imaginary "armor bearer" position. They may as well be wearing long flowing robes down to their ankles as that would be less conspicuous. If you try to reach them via phone? Good luck. They are too important to deal with lowly sheep questions or problems. That is why they set up cell groups in their church!
A true pastor always points his sheep to Jesus and not himself. My former pastor was fond of referring to himself as "dirt talking to dirt." A true pastor is humble in his calling. The Bible specifically instructs pastors to not lord themselves over the flock. Here is why. Inevitably, the preacher will speak about Christian humility. They will speak about the love of Christ. But what lessons has their own life already imparted to their sheep? You cannot beat the sheep and then preach about the love of God. You cannot preach about humility when you are arrogant in your daily affairs. You cannot forcibly remove people from ministries based on whims, publicly speak about things revealed to you in private, or have a reputation as not caring about people and then preach the Gospel. It does not work like that. Beloved, understand that this is another end result of purpose driven seeker friendly training. They are taught that the business side of church is somehow separate from the Christian side. That Mondays are different than Sundays. They are not. You cannot preach about the goodness and justice of the Lord and then steal someone's membership the next day. You cannot preach about Christian duty and honor on Sunday and then force your members to sign unbiblical covenant agreements the next day. You cannot wield your power viciously and unmercifully from your office and then try and preach about kindness and mercy on Sunday. Your business is the sheep. It is loving them and tending to them. Leave the horizontal growth up to God as He commands!
Secondly from the Mark verses we see that hypocritical leaders like greetings in the marketplaces, best seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at feasts. This speaks to a certain feeling of entitlement and showing off who they think they are. Preachers who are big on respect and abuse false authority paradigms but light on biblical humility. Pastors who operate under the false assumption that the church God has entrusted to them is somehow "theirs." Wrong. It belongs to God first and the congregation second. The pastor is a steward. Jesus has consistently taught about the opposite of these hypocritical phenomena -- servant hood:
But made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. -- Philippians 2: 7 (ESV)
If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. -- John 12: 26 (ESV)
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. -- 2Corinthians 4: 5 (ESV)