Virtual Reality | Day 13
When virtues go wrong, when the mind and heart harden to the work of the Spirit, leaders fall foul to the temptations of legalism, relativism, consumerism, and authoritarianism.
Today we return to our two-by-two matrix once more. We will unpack the dangers of ministry that isn’t based in a deepening relationship with God, fueled by the study of Scripture and prayer, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Today we’re talking about the importance of being who God wants us to be.
Christian leaders have entered a new settled state and become more like the Christ they know, love, and serve (2 Tim. 3:2-5).
Consider four of the habits that belong to the being virtue:
1. Leaders are committed to growing beyond where they are at present (1:12) and through
each stage of their lives, challenging other believers to do the same (3:15).
2. Leaders do not succumb to the inner desires of the flesh (2:22).
3. Leaders recognize that Scripture is a gift of immense value and draw inner strength from
grace received through Christ (2:1,22).
4. Leaders are hope-filled people even though they experience extreme difficulty (4:6)
Consider what would happen if a leader neglected the practice of growth through the gift of the Scriptures and prayer? That is, consider what would happen if a leader sought growth independent of a deepening understanding of God’s will contained in God’s Word with the help of the Holy Spirit? What would happen if a leader believed that God’s will, especially ethically and morally, was found through personal revelation quite outside of the Scripture’s truths?
In other teachings I have taught the significance of Jesus’ temptation for the life of the Christian now. Simply put, in his life as a man, the Son of God resisted the temptation to provide for his own need for food through his own actions, quite apart from the Lord’s leading. In citing Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus said, “It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
Temptations are ways of getting a Christ-follower to disobey God’s specific will, either through self-effort (a key to understanding the challenge in the first temptation) or through abandoning Scriptural revelation. The key to the first temptation is that the adversary attempted to get Jesus to shift in His personal trust in the Father’s leading of Him. Jesus affirms that there was a way that he could know God’s will, namely through the Spirit revealing God’s will to Him in His life as a man. As I have said repeatedly, the Son of God did not take on flesh to act like God but to show how Christian men and women should have acted, yet because of the controlling power of sin cannot.
Throughout the letter to Timothy, Paul upholds God’s Word as the basis for right and wrong. Relativism denies that. Relativism refers to the denial of objective truths. It is when an individual or a culture becomes the “standard of judgment, rather than an objective, universal, and eternal reality.” At numerous points in 2nd Timothy, Paul exposes the errors of false teachings, warning Timothy to continue in what he has learned.
A specific problem with relativism is that it promotes both moral and ethical relativism. For example, in the late-term abortion debate gripping the US right now, it would be possible for a Christian to say, “I don’t like abortion, but I can’t impose my beliefs on another person so I will stay quiet.” The problem with such a stance is that it does not provide justice for the weak and the vulnerable, which in this case would be innocent babies.
This is an extreme example, but it’s a current one. Paul tackles the reality of people preaching truths that seem right to them but are wrong according to God’s Word. Notice Paul’s encouragement to Timothy at the end of the section:
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5)
Paul encourages Timothy to stand up for the truth. The point I want to make however, is that unless we are nurturing our relationship with Christ, desiring to become more like Him, we too can drift away to the point where we are willing to teach doctrines that suit our own desires. To ensure this doesn’t happen, Henry Nouwen, in his book referenced in the early days of our journey, has some great advice.
Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance. Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them. Dealing with burning issues, without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God, easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required.
Tomorrow, I’m going to begin exploring what it takes to ensure that we are developing in our relationship with Christ to the point where we are growing in Christ-likeness.
‘Til then . . .Food For Thought:
1. In your life right now, where do you see the biggest danger of Christians being
2. How have you responded to this and how could you?
 So M.J. Wilkins, Matthew, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, (2004), p. 158
 So, Christian Research Institute’s paper, “What is relativism and how do we refute it?” (Jun 10, 2009) available at www.euip.org
 H. Nouwen, IBID., p45 and p47