Virtual Reality | Day 17
When virtues go wrong, when the mind and heart harden to the work of the Spirit, leaders fall foul to the temptations to legalism, relativism, consumerism, and authoritarianism.
Today we return to our two-by-two matrix once more. We will unpack what happens to our lives when we aren’t being transformed into Christ-likeness. Today, we’re talking about the living importance of being who God wants us to be.
Christian leaders love people enough to supplement telling the truth with showing them the truth and the way (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Consider some of the “habits” that belong to the virtue of “living.”
Leaders show their faith to others (1:8), avoiding theological arguing because it is counter-productive and brings disunity (2:14).
Leaders make themselves available to others and their faithfulness is seen in action (3:14).
Leaders encourage others to a lifestyle of godliness (2:20-26) through their personal pursuit of righteousness (4:8).
Consider what would happen if a leader considered telling the truth to be more important and living the truth that they proclaimed to be important? For many of us, that perhaps is not too difficult to imagine.
I grew up in the United Kingdom at a point in time where the Northern Ireland conflict was intense. I’d hear politician after politician berate their opponents. Strangely, I also heard ministers retaliate the same way. It puzzled me for years that there was never a discernible difference between the attack of a politician and the response of a minister. This reality was so obvious that one of my unsaved family members once commented, “He’s a minister and yet I have never heard him speak a single word of love and respect.” He said what a number of us Christians thought.
A closer look at Paul would reveal that he was prepared to confront falsehood. We’ve already seen how Paul encourages Timothy to confront false teaching but he’s to do it in humility. Clearly, division is contrary to Paul’s expectation for Christ-like behavior in the church. From 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 we observe that divisiveness stands contrary to the gospel Paul believes a church proclaims.
Consider too, what would happen if a leader’s ministry never resulted in them being present enough with other leaders in their church or ministry so that their faithfulness in ministry was never seen by others.
There’s a lot of chatter about the merits or defects in the “CEO Pastor” whose leadership prowess is more observable in the pulpit and the business office than in personal pastoral ministry itself. While it is true that the larger the churches that I have pastored became, the more business and management skills I needed to learn, it certainly isn’t true for me, or any large church pastor I know, that we’ve forgotten the importance of allowing others to witness my faithfulness in action. While it is also true that the larger the churches I have led became, the more ministry had to be delegated to reliable and faithful leaders. That’s not wrong, either. The role of the pastor-shepherd is to equip the body for works of ministry. A growing ministry does demand a growth in the number of leaders that ministry requires. That said, imagine with me what would happen to a church where the leaders became so detached from the staff and membership that it was no longer possible to observe their faithfulness?
Consider also, would happens to the mission Christ entrusted to the church when a Christian leader encourages people to a lifestyle of godliness that they themselves are not pursuing? The first word that will come to mind for many who read this is the word “hypocrisy.” I’ve taught extensively on this elsewhere. Suffice to say that the Biblical definition of hypocrisy is not simply “saying one thing and doing another.” Jesus didn’t label the religious leaders hypocrites, for example, because they taught one thing (the correct thing) but did another (an incorrect thing). Of course, hypocrisy can also include that but this is not the main New Testament concern. Jesus labels the religious leaders hypocrites because the state of their heart did not correlate to the stated intentions of their lives. Jesus said:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28
For Jesus, then, hypocrisy could also be understood as doing a good thing with the wrong motives. Using the metaphors of hearts and hands we could paraphrase that by saying that what is going on in the heart is the basis of God’s affirmation for what we do with our hands.
Hypocrisy has been defined as:
An outward pretense masking an inner reality. Scripture condemns hypocrisy, especially in matters of faith. Believers should express their commitment to God in their words and their deeds, as well as in their inner motivation.
It’s that inner motivation that many of us overlook. The Oxford English Dictionary emphasizes the discrepancy a little more blatantly:
The assuming of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real character or inclinations, esp. in respect of religious life or beliefs; hence in general sense, dissimulation, pretense, sham. Also, an instance of this.
It defines hypocrite in this manner:
One who falsely professes to be virtuously or religiously inclined; one who pretends to have feelings or beliefs of a higher order than his real ones; hence generally, a dissembler, pretender.
I trust you are getting the picture. Throughout this blog series I’ve suggested that it is inner habits of mind, internal dispositions that can’t be understood simply as motives. They are virtues, and these virtues drive who we are and how we live.
When a Christian leader’s mentality shifts from desiring to become more like the Christ who has saved them, the works of their hands are decidedly out of sync with the inclination of their hands. In that moment the slippery path away from ministry with integrity begins. I’ve labelled the temptation as consumerism because that’s where much of the text of 2nd Timothy will lead us. It would also be possible to label this temptation humanism, or as some have done, Christian atheism—it’s the kind of religion that has the form of godliness but is divorced from the help of the Holy Spirit. I’ve labelled it as I have because of the strength of Paul’s words in the opening of chapter 3:
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 2 Timothy 3:2-5
Paul’s words remind how easy it is to slip from a pursuit of the lordship of Christ to a pursuit of worldly things. Rather than pouring themselves out for others, motivated by the love of God, the leaders being referenced in these verses prioritize themselves. Over the next few days, we’re going to dig into Paul’s exhortation for us to live in a ways that honor Christ with integrity of heart.
 M.H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (2009), London:Martin Manser on ‘hypocrisy’.
 The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1991), Oxford:OUP, on “hypocrisy."