What’s Love Got to Do with It? Discerning the Value of Unity

I was browsing Twitter a few days ago and came across a tweet retweeting a quote from a source I generally ignore. I make active use of the block and mute functions on social media. What good comes from arguments in 140 characters (or 280)? When someone is hostile or belligerent, I exit them from my online world. Titus 3:10 tells us to do that sort of thing.

The source is irrelevant (and not who you are thinking). The sentiment expressed in this quote is one I’ve encountered frequently among the so-called discernment ministries. While they provide a worthwhile service to a church prone to doctrinal laziness, they sometimes see concepts such as unity, love, and edification as evidence of spiritual and theological compromise. I’m not “calling out” the author but engaging the concept behind the statements he made, which I’ve heard often.

Here are two quotes that began and ended the treatise.

“What is it with evangelicals and this “idol of gentleness, unity, and respect?

Unity and gentleness are idols. False gods! Lest you think this might be a mistake, he doubles down later and says,

“The idol of unity needs to be repented of.”

We must repent of seeking unity? Unity is an idol? Stunning. Those who prize unity are in sin and must repent.

He may fear that truth will be sacrificed in the pursuit of unity and doctrinal compromise will result. Compromise and error are real problems in the church. Jesus warned us about false Christs, apostles, prophets, and teachers. Paul, Peter, and the other NT writers renewed those warnings and a church that fails to arm itself against theological error swims in shark-infested water in a raw-meat swimming suit. There are warnings to be alert, to expose error, and to contend against it. But nowhere are we called to abandon unity, love, or gentleness in that pursuit. We must balance these two – speak the truth in love. If we abandon truth, we err. If we abandon love, we err.

If your “discernment” ministry denies the high value of unity in the Body of Christ, of love, peace, patience, and gentleness towards other believers, it is NOT biblical discernment you are practicing.

There are many are doctrinal cowards, unwilling to stand for truth and expose error, but many of us also give in to our fleshly impulse toward anger, toward schism, and become agents of division. It is my contention that the weight of NT revelation makes love, unity, and gentleness of the highest value. Jesus died to unite disparate peoples into one Body to worship God eternally. Unity is essential to the purpose of Christ’s death.

I watched a video this morning by a well-known blogger. It was powerful and confrontational, exposing error in the church. But it was done with a tone of gentleness and grace. One can confront powerfully without anger, without bombastic and cruel words. The means matters as well as the ends.

Let us peruse a few Scriptures – this post could be 10,000 words long – that speak of the value of love and unity.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 12:1-3

Case closed. Nothing you do without love matters. Love and unity are not IDOLS, they are ESSENTIALS.

Of course, those who argue the “Unity is an idol” side generally make two assertions.

     1. Love is telling people the truth. They claim that their habit of brutal confrontation is genuine love because it exposes people to truth and causes them to repent.

But  Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13 – how it acts. It is patient and kind, not rude, self-seeking, or irritable. Most significantly, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It seeks the best in people and does not rush to condemn them as heretics. It builds up and doesn’t tear down, edifies, not destroys. The love Paul describes here is not a brutal, eviscerating love.

     2. Love only applies to those in the true “Body,” not to “heretics.

My favorite novel as a child was Tom Sawyer. In it, Mark Twain describes the Presbyterian pastor’s sermon Tom sat through as “an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.” Discernment ministries tend to thin the “elect” to a small company as well, an inner circle of the theologically correct. Commands to unity only apply within this circle. Those outside it are heretics, deserving of the Matthew 23 treatment. The need for love and gentleness and patience is abrogated by perceived theological error and becomes idolatrous, not virtuous.

This attitude is confronted in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, dealt with below.

The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)

Galatians 5 differentiates the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit working in us. The “works of the flesh” are abundantly evident, are they not?

 …hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy… Galatians 5:20-21

What is the work of the Spirit within?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

These are the things that are often seen as weakness and compromise, and here as idolatry! The Spirit draws us away from the outbursts of anger, away from dissensions and factions, from schisms, from strife and jealousy, toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and all that squishy, hippy-dippy stuff!

It is time we stop acting in the flesh and calling it the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12

There is a lot here, but I’d like to point out a simple truth.

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink. Indeed, the body is not one part but many. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

We are diverse – different gifts, different ministries, but Jesus died for ONE Body. Jesus died for UNITY and the Spirit works in us to produce UNITY. It is not idolatry to seek unity, it is obedience. It is difficult because we are fleshly and our hearts resist it, but if we wish to live in line with the purposes of Christ, we seek unity. If one does not seek unity he is working against Christ and his Spirit, not with them.

Ephesians 4

The first half of Ephesians describes the great work of Christ in redemption, how he died to save us by grace through faith and to build one new man out of the two – Jews and Gentiles. In Ephesians 4:1 he commands the Ephesians to live a life that is worthy of that salvation. No one can be worthy, be in Christ we can live a life that is a worthy reflection of the purposes of Christ in effecting our salvation. The rest of the book is a litany of imperatives describing how we can live “worthy of the calling you have received.”

But what does Paul begin with? What was number 1?

Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Yep, unity. #1. Numero Uno. Peace. Gentleness. Humility. In the power of the Spirit we, are to “make every effort” to maintain unity by “bearing with one another in love.” Paul thought unity was important. The first priority of a worthy walk was not contending for the faith or fighting false doctrine, but struggling against our flesh to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

John 17

This was not just Paul’s priority. The night before he died, Jesus poured out his heart to the Father, and he prayed,

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. John 17:20-21

The church is meant to reflect the perfect unity of the Godhead. One day, we will!

Of course, he prayed for “those who believe in me” and it opens the door to excluding those we classify as heretics. but that violates the entirety of the prayer. Yes, there are wolves among the sheep, but every sheep whose wool is a slightly different color than mine is not a wolf. We need to stop going nuclear on all doctrinal disagreement and dropping the h-bomb on everyone who doesn’t see things our way. Unity is something for which Jesus died and shouldn’t be lightly sacrificed.

Miscellaneous Verses

Jesus desired unity in the church and we should too. There are many such teachings in the Epistles.

  • Jesus made it pretty clear in John 13:35. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
  • In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul described the tendency to divide as an evidence of spiritual immaturity.
  • In 1 Corinthians 6, he said it was better to be wronged, even cheated, than to take another believer to court and create public discord.
  • In Philippians 2, Paul begged the church to complete his joy by unity, humility, and honoring (respecting?) one another.
  • In Colossians 3:14, Paul says, “above all these” characteristics of godly living, “put on love” because it “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
  • It is interesting that the very definition of a “false teacher” in Titus 3:10 is “one who stirs up division.”

Qualifications of a Pastor: 2 Timothy 2:24-26

When a church is seeking a pastor they generally say that he must meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This passage, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, is unfortunately ignored, but these qualities are as binding on leaders in the church as the others.

The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 26 Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Paul is instructing Timothy about how to deal with the false teachers that were plaguing the church at Ephesus. These are character qualities essential to a leader in the church. A man who does not exhibit these is disqualified from ministry – as unfit for pastoral ministry as an adulterer or drunkard!

  • He must not quarrel. He must not be bogged down in petty, angry debate that produces no fruit. This might have been a prophecy, Paul foreseeing the advent of social media!
  • He must be gentle with everyone. Even false teachers. Everyone. We do not pick fights or preach as if the death and destruction of the wicked give us joy. Again, gentleness is a command of God’s word and an essential quality of a man of God. A pastor who is not gentle, even with troublesome people, is disqualified from ministry.
  • He is able to teach and instructs his opponents with gentleness. Gentleness again. He does not bluster or shout, or call hellfire down on those who disagree. He gently attempts to instruct those, even those who disagree. This is hard, but so is rejoicing in the hard times, loving your enemy, and forgiving the one who sins against you. Everything the Spirit is doing in us is hard. But it is not optional for a man of God.
  • He must be patient. You see the true character of a man of God when he is opposed. Who likes that? But does he lash out in anger, call names, escalate the conflict? Or does he patiently respond with gentle instruction? That is what a man of God does.

I could go on and on and on. The New Testament’s highest value is the UNITY of the Body of Christ. We confront false teachers not because it gives us a sense of superiority and glee, but because these false teachers invariably insert themselves and their egos in the mix and produce schism in the church. They divide. Men of God work with all their hearts to be loving, patient, kind, gentle, and peaceful with others, even those who disagree or hold false ideas because that is what the Bible commands us to do. That is what a man of God does – he gently instructs, trusting the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to do the Work of God. If someone shows themselves unalterably to be an enemy of the Cross we are willing to stand – but that must always be a last resort, not a first response.

Never let anyone shame you for pursuing unity. It is not compromise to seek unity with all of God’s redeemed, it is obedience! Those who love Jesus and love the word of God will be agents of unity, not servants of division or soldiers of schism.

True discernment understands why Jesus died – to create ONE Body, an eternal people who will worship him forever in perfect unity – and devotes itself to serving that purpose here on earth. Anything else is error.

The Day After: Random Thoughts in a Weird World

Random thoughts after the divisive Alabama Senate race and the tragic story about Judge Pressler.

1. It is time that character becomes an issue once again in American politics. 

The truth is that sin, hypocrisy, and all kinds of darkness have always been a part of the American political landscape.

But not too many years ago, Christians held politicians to a certain lifestyle standard if they were going to gain broad support. A thrice-divorced man who boasted of bedding multitudes of women, many married, or a man accused by 9 women of sexual assault would not have gotten an evangelical majority. They just wouldn’t. No, we aren’t electing pastors and the standards of Timothy and Titus do not apply, but a basic character test once did.

And it should again.

Christians, when we line up to support those whose lives undermine what we claim to promote, it gives us a black eye in this world that already instinctively views us as hypocrites. When partisanship trumps character and Christians are willing to vote for scoundrels so the GOP wins, it does not help our moral claims.

Philip Nation had a Facebook post, which I will reference again in a moment, and I saw this meme on it, created by a man I don’t know, Matthew Lee Davis.

 

To me, that says it all. I think we’ve allowed partisan politics to let us forget who we work for and have become way too invested in the love of the world. When we compromise heavenly values for earthly gain (the very definition of politics) it is treacherous ground.

2. The fact that everyone is a sinner does not mean no one is virtuous. 

One of the tropes that the apologists for the morally compromised (but GOP) candidates say is some variation on, “There are no perfect candidates. Everyone is a sinner. We all have skeletons in our closets.” That is using a biblical truth to speak a moral lie.

Yes, we are all sinners. Yes, we have all done things in our past we aren’t proud of. I’m glad we didn’t have cell phones and Facebook in my college days or I’d be seeking how to delete and scrub a lot of stupidity out of the interwebs. But just because we’ve all done things we regret doesn’t mean there are no moral standards to be observed. We need a higher moral standard than “R” behind your name on the ballot.

Each of us has to decide what those moral standards are – your vote is your own. But to argue that because no one is perfect there is no moral standard for anyone – that’s ridiculous. I must make moral decisions and have moral and ethical standards.

  • I voted for the divorced Ronald Reagan. I would not vote for the thrice-divorced, enthusiastically adulterous, and sexually abusive Donald Trump. I drew a line.
  • I would vote for a moral Mormon (some of my closest friends disagree) because I am not voting for America’s Pastor-in-chief but I will not vote for openly immoral or hypocritical Christian.
  • I refuse to cast my vote for anyone who is either pro-choice (in any way, shape, or form) or anyone (and this is a newer commitment) who smacks of racism, alt-rightism, or anything like that.

You don’t have to agree 100% with my standards but you should strive for excellence. Don’t let the presence of sincause you to abandon the concept of nobility. Yes, all have sinned but that doesn’t mean that everyone is equally degraded.

And that leads me to point 3…

3. Back to Philip Nation’s Facebook Post!

He posed a simple dilemma.

Raise your hand if you feel politically homeless.

I am a lifelong and loyal Republican who has filed for divorce from the GOP. No sense going over the reasons – I’ve cataloged them before – but I have realized that the GOP is not committed to the things I’m committed to. It is a “say one thing, do another” party. And I certainly cannot join the party of perversion and death, the Democratic Party. I will no longer stay in one party just because, “they aren’t as bad as the Democrats.”

If we continue to vote Republican because they aren’t as bad as the Democrats, that is what we’ll get, Republicans who are marginally better than Democrats, and massive hypocrites.

I’ve explored third parties and haven’t found one yet. Some appeal to me in one area, but not another.

For the first time in my life I am a man without a political home. Maybe I should just spend more time working for the King of kings as an Ambassador of Heaven, as Mr. Smith mentioned above.

4. Stop with the “Innocent until proven guilty” thing. 

The presumption of innocence is a wonderful LEGAL concept. We are blessed to live in a country in which the government is required to prove your guilt and you are not required to prove your innocence. Thank God for that system.

But if I had a dollar for every weak defense of Judge Moore based on “he’s innocent until proven guilty” I’d retire tomorrow. People, the presumption of innocence is a legal concept, not a moral or biblical one. We are not required to withhold judgment until the secular courts decide his guilt. The Bible tells us a matter should be established by two or three witnesses.

Yes, we should not immediately believe every accusation. Dwight McKissic shared an accusation made against him that was false. Sometimes, the accused are innocent. But when a multitude of witnesses step forward to speak to an issue, we need not wait, as churches or as voters, for a legal determination.

5. In fact, pastors and other public officials, the presumption of innocence is ONLY legal!

Lets get real.

I have never been accused of any sexual misconduct (because I’ve never committed any – before marriage or since). But if a young lady stands up at church and speaks a word of accusation against me, I have a legal presumption of innocence, but in the eyes of the world, and even in the eyes of my church, I have a burden of proof. If I sit back and say, “prove it” I will likely be looking for employment. AND I SHOULD BE! If I am accused of moral sin I should defend myself.

One of my closest friends was accused of a heinous sin – the very worst. He was not guilty. His family knew it, the church knew it, even the authorities knew it. But he still had to answer the charges. Fortunately, he was able to show that the charges were false and was completely exonerated. But he couldn’t hide behind the presumption of innocence.

When  you are in a position of trust, the presumption of innocence is only a legal concept. Your character is at issue in leadership and you get no presumption there. You have to be tested and approved, not presumed!

6. Yes, there are liars, but most of them are NOT.

I just mentioned a false accusation against Dwight (a misunderstanding, not a lie) and a lie told against a close friend. Divorcing parties have leveled false accusations in custody hearings to gain an advantage. People have lied to humiliate someone else. Yes, it happens. But every time someone makes an accusation against a conservative religious or political figure, we cannot assume that they are lying.

The simple fact is that in the end, the vast majority of those who speak up are TELLING THE TRUTH.

7. Thank God women (and men) are speaking up.

If you silence someone who speaks up about abuse with shame, recrimination, or hate, you are part of the problem.

I do not know if the allegations against Judge Pressler are true and the lawsuit against him is perhaps the worst written thing in legal history (not written pro se). But please, Baptist friends, let us not go on the attack against Mr. Rollins and treat him like a bug to be squashed. Maybe he is a liar. If he is, I hope he is exposed and then the Judge and the other defendants sue the pants off him and his lawyer. But maybe he is telling the truth. Almost every one of these allegations shocks the family and friends of the accused. “No way he could have done that.”

Christian circles have a notorious history for pressuring victims to remain silent and of making them feel guilty instead of ministering to them. This must stop.

Thank God that people are finally finding the courage to stand and speak, to shine the light of truth on this ugly thing. It may be painful because we may find out some things that we don’t want to know about ourselves and our heroes. It has happened in Hollywood. It has happened on the left and the right in the Beltway. We have no idea where this trend will take us as Christians and as Southern Baptists.

But for the love of God, let us be the friend of the victims!

8. The cover-up is as bad as the crime. 

As certain offenses come to light we may also find out that people knew about these offenses and kept quiet. Hearing a rumor is one thing. I never act on gossip. A rumor is a rumor and we are not obligated to act on rumors. But if anyone in any leadership position in the SBC can be shown to have been made aware of accusations of molestation or other abuse, and helped to hide that abuse, that is a serious thing and should be taken seriously.

To aid and abet an abuser by helping him keep his sin hidden should not be excused.

That’s all I’ve got for now. This is one of those “William Thornton” specials – random thoughts. But I like his stuff so imitation is flatter and all. Of course, his are about half as long as mine, so….

Like congressmen, I reserve the right to amend and extend my remarks. The edit function is a wonderful thing.

(I’ve tried to do a little more editing recently – have done almost NONE here.)

 

 

 

Judge Paul Pressler Accused of Molestation in Texas Lawsuit

It is a sad day for the Southern Baptist family.

We do not know the outcome of this. Perhaps in time the allegations will be disproven and dismissed, or perhaps they will not. But today, one of the luminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention has felt the sting of accusation. An online journal called the Texas Monitor has reported that Judge Paul Pressler is being sued by a man named Gareld Duane Rollins who claims that Pressler molested him from the time he was 14 years old in 1979 through 2014.

Pressler forcefully denies the allegations. His law partner, Jared Woodfill, also named in the lawsuit, claims this is an attempt to extort money and embarrass the SBC. Rollins is also suing Mrs. Pressler, First Baptist of Houston, Southwestern Seminary, and Dr. Patterson. While it may be standard to cast a wide net to get include as many deep pockets in a lawsuit as one can, Rollins argues that the Conservative Resurgence was a vast conspiracy that enabled men to abuse women and children.

I read the lawsuit and though I am not fluent in legalese, I think I understood most of it. I have talked to several lawyers about this. The general agreement is that it is among the worst written lawsuits ever. One told me he was sure that it was “pro se” until he saw a lawyer’s name attached.

The fact that it is such a horribly written lawsuit does not make it either true or false. I would make some observations.

  • There are two main sections to the lawsuit. The first – “Threshold Matters” – is a rambling “expose” of the Conservative Resurgence, Rick Patrick’s screed against Calvinism at Chapel at Southwestern, and some random psychological insights (pages 3-12). Then, on pages 12-40 he lays out the alleged offenses. It begins with the allegations of molestation against Judge Pressler (no graphic details) and then turns to the “joint and several” liability of the other defendants. He attempts to apply the principles of joint enterprise and conspiracy he lays out in the “Threshold” section to assign blame to Patterson, the seminary, and the church.
  • He asserts that the CR is a joint (criminal?) enterprise designed to enable men like Pressler to exert control over women and children (or young men like Rollins – aged 14 when the alleged abuse began). He also accuses both Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson of being closet Calvinists (this will come as quite a surprise to many). He makes amazing claims about Calvinism (for instance, that only White people are elect). Somehow, he ties Patterson’s and Pressler’s “Calvinism” with the conspiratorial aspects of the Conservative Resurgence into a “Trojan Horse” that allowed them to control both the SBC and people like Rollins. The logic of the “Threshold Matters” section escapes me, but the result is clear. The Conservative Resurgence and Calvinism (which Patterson and Pressler both hold) were a joint exercise allowing men to control women and children and use them as they wish.
  • He makes unequivocal claims that Judge Paul Pressler sexually molested him starting when he was 14 years old and continuing until 2014.
  • He does not claim, as best I can tell, that any of the other defendants knew the molestation was going on, nor does he assert a cover-up. His accusations against them are that they were part of this joint enterprise and did not fulfill their “duty to exercise reasonable care” to prevent the abuse and to protect him from it. I am guessing that SWBTS and Dr. Patterson are hard at work seeking a summary judgment to have that part of the suit dismissed. Again, there is NO ACCUSATION of cover-up here.
  • The lawsuit comes across as a bit bizarre. But if the accuser is angry and bizarre it neither proves nor disproves the allegations.  He could be an unstable and bitter man making a false accusation. Or he could be bitter and unstable because of terrible things that have been done to him. That is for the legal system, not for us, to decide.
  • The plaintiff’s lawyer, Daniel Shea, is known for lawsuits against the Catholic church (he once sued the Pope) based on the molestation scandal. This seems to be his specialty.

I love the SBC and publishing this is grievous. Those who disdain our convention will rejoice at hearing an icon of our CR accused. But the day of sweeping these things under the rug has passed. The allegation has been made and Judge Pressler is now obligated to publicly answer it. It is news. It is public. We make no judgment as to the Judge’s guilt or innocence. in fact, we strongly encourage the reader not to do that.

Many will approach this with the presumption of Pressler’s guilt and will be nearly impossible to convince otherwise. This has already proven true on social media. This story has been out there for about a week, but we waited until Baptist Press (or someone else) went public. Some in social media have been circulating the story, often with false facts. Others, who are more supportive of the CR, may defend the Judge and disbelieve the accusations. This may become a bit of a Conservative Resurgence Rorschach Test. But this is very different than many of the situations that have played out in the news recently. There is, at this time, a lone accuser. That accuser is clearly angry and has an agenda. Is he angry because of the abuse or is he accusing the Judge because he is angry? That is beyond my knowledge at this point – or yours. We must withhold judgment. I would say two things.

  • People we would NEVER believe could be guilty have been proven guilty of vile sins.
  • People who have been accused of heinous crimes, and been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, have later been shown to be innocent; falsely accused.

Either a rush to judgment or a rush to acquittal or absolution is premature. Withhold judgment and let the court system do its job. Pray for justice. Either he did it or he didn’t. Let truth prevail.

I am no historian, but I cannot remember an accusation like this ever being made against such a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. This will be devastating – whether it is true or false. We pray that the light of God’s truth will shine and that justice will prevail.

A PDF of the lawsuit is available here. If you read it and see something different than I did, please let me know by email. I would encourage you to READ the LAWSUIT. It is genuinely weird.

Nothing is to be gained by exchanging comments here, and much could be lost. Comments are closed.

Here is a link to the Baptist Press article on the lawsuit.

And yes, if you are wondering, you read that right. The basis of this lawsuit is that Dr. Paige Patterson (and Judge Pressler) is a Calvinist who promoted the Calvinist doctrine of inerrancy as a part of a conspiracy to create an environment of authority and control in which men could control and abuse women and children. 

To Be Like Christ: When the Knife Sinks Deep

After nearly four decades in this job, I believe it is fair to say that the ministry presents unique challenges.

No, despite what we like to say when we are together boasting about who is the busiest, we preachers don’t work harder than anyone else. Every job has its stress and the people in our pews work hard and carry burdens just as we do. But there are challenges that face the man behind the pulpit (or sitting on the stool?) that the person in the pew may never understand. I have lived in a pastor’s home all my life – first as a pastor’s son and then as a pastor. Our families have all the normal stressors that other families have. Our marriages are not unendingly blissful and our kids are not perfect. We often feel crushed under the financial pressures and the pressure of eternal responsibility for the souls of men and women is constant. It is a tough world and ministry isn’t easy.

One challenge exceeds all others, though, in my experience. I saw it in my dad’s slumped shoulders and I’ve heard it in the voices of friends who have tried to express their hurt. And more times than I want to remember I have felt that knife slicing deep into my back, laying open my heart and soul. Do other people in other jobs feel this pain? I am sure they do, but it is endemic in the ministry.

When you serve as a ministry, you are going to be betrayed by people you thought you could trust. People you counted as friends will speak ill of you, falsely accuse you, and slander you behind your back. It ought to be written on your job description, pastor. You are called to serve people who will love you, bless you, and very often hurt you to the core of your being.

Moses knew the pain. How often did the people God called him to lead rebel against him? David knew it. His own son led a rebellion against him and his counselors turned against him. Jesus knew it. One of his closest friends turned on him and sold him cheap. his own countrymen rejected him and called out for the life of a criminal instead of his. Paul knew it. Demas forsook him because he loved the world more than the cause of Christ. It is nothing new, nothing unique. When you lead the people of God you will know this pain.

But it still hurts.

When someone you counted a friend turns on you it leaves you with a sucking chest wound in your soul. When you hear through the grapevine what people have been saying about you or your family, it becomes a fire of rage inside you. The false accusations, often with just a shred of truth, enough to make them believable to others, make you want to scream, cry out, or strike back. When a trusted ministry partner betrays you, you want to run away and hide or curl up in a fetal position in your bed and pull the covers over your head.

But no, my friend, you do not get to do that. You have a higher calling. You are a man of God. And sometimes, it stinks. It a call to live a supernatural, Spirit-filled life that shows Jesus to a fleshly, sinful world. When you are falsely accused, you do not get to respond like a normal human. You model Jesus. When betrayed, you represent Christ. You are called to live as Paul did, so you can say as he did, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

When Jesus was insulted, did he answer every accusation? Did he repay evil for evil? No. He stood silent before his accusers and on the Cross he looked down at the people who nailed him there and said, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemies, to return good for evil, to pray for those who persecute them, and to forgive others as they seek the forgiveness of God.

And he called us not to be so much models of success but of Christlikeness before our people. Our highest goal is to show people how a person controlled by Jesus responds to insults and injuries.

Is it possible that God puts us in positions of pain so that we have the opportunity to show Christ’s love to the people we lead? That is the essence of Christian leadership. Not motivation or organization or inspiration but demonstration – showing people what Jesus looks like by the way you live. Jesus suffered for the sake of others, laying down his life and enduring betrayal, slander, false accusation, and everything that has ever hurt us. He didn’t send his resume to another place that would receive him better. He persevered in love and grace and kindness to save people who sinned against him.

When are you ever going to have a better chance to be Christlike than when someone treats you badly? When you strike back, or fight fire with fire, when you return evil for evil, your flesh may be gratified but you are losing that golden opportunity to model Jesus to your people. We want the booming numbers but it is often when things are falling apart that the man of God is most successful in the eyes of God.

It is great when one wave of blessing rolls over the other and you can be Christlike in those times. But when the tide turns and the tempest rages, but you continue to walk in the peace of Christ, you are a true success. When you are walking the Via Dolorosa you can show your people what it means to take up your cross and follow Christ. Forgiving that friend who betrayed you or serving people who give you nothing in return, except perhaps grief – that’s what Jesus did. Show your people who Jesus is! In the power of the Spirit, do what God did for Israel and what Christ does for his church. Demonstrate faithful, enduring, unconditional love. Then you can truly say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

Ministry is never going to be easy in this world. Dysfunctional homes have produced dysfunctional children who grow up to be dysfunctional people with dysfunctional marriages. They gather to worship and bring their dysfunctional selves to church. And standing in the pulpit is a man with a heaping helping of his own personal dysfunction. You know it and I know it. My biggest enemy in the ministry is ME. We are sinners called to minister God’s righteousness to sinners and that process can be messy. There will be “dysfunction relapses” during the process and sometimes you will take the heat.

In the middle of the mess, you will feel the knife in your back. A leader you thought stood with you will suddenly oppose you. That friend you counted on will undermine you instead. You will get no credit for the things you do and you will take the blame for things you didn’t do.

Welcome to the ministry, my friend.

So, what will you do then? If you are one of those people who has to answer every insult, correct every false impression, return tit for tat, and fight fire with fire, then you will never be a man your people can imitate if they are seeking to become like Christ. For the love of God, find another job because the ministry is a call to something higher and infinitely more difficult. We are called to bite our tongues and take our pain to God. Ours is to live the Cross, not just to preach it. We must demonstrate the reality and power of redemptive suffering as we lay down our lives for the spiritual blessing of others. We love our enemies because it is more important that they love God than that we settle the score. We forgive those who sin against us because Christ forgave us and he drives our actions, not our emotions. We are good to those who are not good to us because that is exactly what Jesus did when he came into this world. God demonstrated his love by sending his Son for those who sinned against him and called us to live out the gospel by loving those who sin against us.

Can we admit something, fellow pulpiteers? We care way too much about the opinions of man and the approval of the world. We want people to like us and we want to be recognized as successful. That’s why these things hurt so much. But we are called to do two things. First, we are called to live for the pleasure and approval of God – his is the only applause we should seek. And in our relationships we should be seeking not to gain the approval of people but to represent Christ to them. Please Christ and represent him to our people.

So, when we are injured and betrayed, when we feel the knife sinking into our backs and piercing our souls, it is not a sign to start working our resumes but an opportunity, perhaps like no other, to show people how Christ lived. It is not an excuse to fight fire with fire, but to let rivers of living water flow from within and drown out that fire. It is an invitation from heaven to walk in Christlikeness in a way that no other opportunity affords.

When the knife sinks in, that pain is your reminder that you are called to imitate Christ so that those you lead can learn to imitate Christ as well.