Knowing Who to Follow

Biblical instructions on how to discern godly leaders

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

~Hebrews 13:7

We’re all called to follow someone. But we shouldn’t follow everyone. We all need to be shown the way. But only some know the way to show us.

It’s a biblical as well as sociological axiom that we as humans need to be led. The man who claims to be self-taught and self-constructed is also self-deceived. God designed humans such that the patterns of the masses are shaped by the convictions of a few. Christians are no exception. How God’s people live and for what they live are largely influenced by their leadership. Churches need leaders, just as sheep need shepherds (Mark 6:34; Jeremiah 23:1-4). Like teacher, like student; like priest, like people. All of us will become like the ones who lead us (Luke 6:40; Hosea 4:9).

Yet, we’re not called to follow everyone. There’s as much warning in the Bible about false teachers as there is description about godly ones. As Christians, we’re not only called to humbly follow our leaders…but are also responsible for wisely choosing which leaders to follow. Thankfully, the inspired and inerrant Word of God gives instructions to the sheep regarding how to discern the sheepdogs from the wolves. How do you then, as a believer, discern which leaders in the Christian community to submit to and imitate? When you walk into a church and hear – or meet – the pastor, what’s the paradigm by which you ought to evaluate him? There’s a difference, after all, between being unfairly judgmental and being prudent.

Hebrews 13:7 gives the answer: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

In other words, listen and look. Listen critically and look carefully. To know if a man is worth following, listen to what he teaches and look at his life.

#1: Listen to what he teaches

How a man teaches is important, but what he teaches is vital. Substance trumps style, always. True, most pastors will bring a Bible up with them to the pulpit. But there’s a difference between preaching with the Bible or about the Bible and preaching the Bible itself. According to Hebrews 13:7 calls us to remember those “who spoke the word of God to you.” Simply put, a godly leader or pastor will preach and teach none other than the Word of God. Granted, some of them may come across as boring. Some may lack energy. Some, you may feel, simply don’t “connect” or “relate” to you. But the man to be followed is he who faithfully exposits the Scriptures alone, and does so both in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2). Different churches and different ministers will speak and dress differently, and that’s ok. There’s no need to create a standard about which the Bible doesn’t. But at the end of the day, God has determined to speak to His people – you included – each week through His Word. Follow the leader who will voice it to you through the preaching of the Word.

#2: Look at how he lives

Faith must be walked as well as taught. We tend to look at how people look more than on how they live and what they live for. That’s why Hebrews 13:7 reminds us to consider “the result of their conduct” before we follow. Some versions have it as “the outcome of their lives.” If a man is a faithful expositor and instructor of the Word, he may be worth following. I say “may” because, well, he may not be. Godly leaders are not perfect in their faith, but they do practice what they preach and are proven over time (cf 1 Tim 5:24-25). Look, then, at the outcome of a man’s life. The outcome – the fruit. That means his character. That means his perseverance in the faith over a period of time through various trials. That means the people who he has impacted and influenced. That means the body of work God has accomplished through his faithful laboring. That means the condition of his household. Does he, in his manner of speech and conduct in all spheres of life, remind you of the Christ he claims to follow, such that if you imitate him you’ll imitate Christ (1 Cor 11:1)? God, after all, designed for you not only to hear His Word each week, but to be conformed to His Son’s image in all that you do (1 John 2:6). The man who models Christ-likeness, charismatic or not, is worth following.

The ball’s in your court. Choose your leaders wisely. Choose your leaders biblically. For who is ahead of you is what will become of you.

Advertisements

Even Model Christians Can Struggle in Sexual Purity

Having the proper perspective toward men struggling in the area of sexual purity

A renown evangelical preacher once said that habitual struggles with sexual immorality are, without exception, indicative of spiritual immaturity. Below is the quotation that he made:

“And yes, if a person in the body, who is not disciplined, because they truly show signs and fruit of conversion, but are struggling in a certain area, this area of sexual immorality, then, here’s a few things I think we need to look at. First of all, as we’ve seen in the Book of Acts, no matter what else they know, they’re immature. No matter what else they think they know, they’ve not even reached the first rung of a Christian ethic being applied to their life. They should never be given a ministry in the church while they are struggling with this matter.”

I truly respect this preacher for who he is, what he preaches, what he lives for, and how he lives it out. But in this statement, I have to respectfully disagree.

First, it can be a misdiagnosis; I don’t believe that the Bible makes that kind of a sweeping correlation. Second, it can be damaging; such a belief has led may pastors, ministers, lay-leaders, and counselors to deal with men in their churches struggling in this area in a manner that has been largely unedifying.

When I was first ordained for the gospel ministry, I was asked by my Greek Professor (who I opted to be part of the ordination council) how I would help a young man who was struggling with pornography. The reason why he asked this was because ministering to men in the church will inevitably result in having to exhort young men in this very issue. Generally speaking, young adult men in the church will struggle with sexual purity. It doesn’t take rocket science to deduce this; it only takes a few years of being in the men’s ministry in your local church. It can be true for men of all ages, but it’s particularly volcanic for those hovering in their twenties and thirties. I once told a fellow pastor that biblical counseling for men is euphemistic for the sex and purity talk. I specifically identified young men “in the church” above, as the struggle against sexual purity is not one that solely plagues non-Christians; it plagues all.

I’ve also come to observe over the years that, for men, this particular struggle tends to be unique in the effect it has on men and also the trajectory with which men learn to overcome it. First, it’s unique in the privacy with which it plagues. Christian men simply have a difficult time being fully transparent about the full nature of their struggles with lust regarding, history and habit alike. Second, it’s unique in the shame that men feel regarding continual struggles. While all sin is offensive in the eyes of a holy God, to think that men exhibit equal sentiment toward frustration with co-workers as they do in the weekly stumbling into pornography is simply naive. Third, it’s unique in the nature of progress. Tell a man upon conversion to stop dropping expletive bombshells, and he’ll stop tomorrow. Tell him to stop masturbating, and you’re in for a five-year battle. Fourth, it’s unique in that it takes marriage to fully overcome the struggle (cf 1 Corinthians 7). While it’s true that the Spirit empowers us to overcome the dominating power of all sin (Romans 6), some sinful habits are quite frankly tougher to break than others (Romans 7). And those habits related to sexual purity tend to have the thickest shackles. Be naive about these realities, and you’ll more than likely fail to minister to the young men in your church the way you ought.

The Bible is not silent on how to approach struggling believers – be it with sin or suffering. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, calls for us to admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, and be patient with all. What I failed to realize early in ministry was that, for the most part, Christian men struggling with sexual purity aren’t being unruly. Much of the time, they’re faint-hearted. True, there are always those men who hypocritically claim to love Christ and live in gross immorality and vehemently refuse to repent from it (cf 1 Corinthians 5-6) and must be exposed for such. I do agree that at times, the presence of a certain level of sexual immorality can indicate the reality of an unregenerate heart or a very immature one. But in sound, Bible-teaching churches, these are exceptions and not the norm. The majority of the men in these congregations who will admit to struggling with purity of some sort are not living with their girlfriends, are not in adulterous relationships, and are not soliciting prostitutes during the week. Most of them are sitting in the pews absorbing the Sunday sermon, faithfully serving in various ministries, are seeking accountability in small groups, and are looking for books and articles online that speak on the topic of their struggles. The majority of them are at the point of despair, questioning the integrity of their faith as a result of it, timid about doing any kind of church ministry, confused about their standing before God, and are desperate for solutions for success. Discouraged, shamed, humbled, insecure, confused, and desperate men don’t need to be hammered. They need to be encouraged and guided.

So what is it with the tendency amongst pastors, disciplers, and counselors to hammer the young men of the church for struggling with these things? The hammering happens from the pulpit, in books, and in one-to-one counseling sessions. Don’t get me wrong; sexual impurity is a serious sin that has serious consequences against which a man ought to vehemently guard himself. And yes, absolutely, we ought to preach against it, especially in our day and age where immorality of all breeds is not only tolerated but embraced. But I do believe that we inappropriately employ the hammer when we lead faint-hearted men to think that their struggles are wholly indicative either of the integrity of their faith or the genuineness of their growth. We also cause unnecessary damage by leading them to believe that their struggles with purity will forever prevent their future from marriage from reaching the fulfillment that God designed marriage to have. I myself have erred in the past in saying such things. I’ve heard others do so as well. And it hurts more than helps.

It hurts more than helps, because it fails to unveil the reality that, at times and to some degree, even model Christians can struggle with some form of sexual impurity.

Need proof? Look at the Scripture. Specifically, look at the Thessalonians.

The theme of 1 Thessalonians is “The Model Church.” Why? Because the Thessalonian church was indeed a model church. They were, as Paul said, an example to all the believers in the region (1:7). Unlike the Galatians who flirted with false gospels and the Corinthians who swam in carnality at which even Gentiles gawked, the virtuous character of the Thessalonian Christians made them deservedly reputable amongst the early church community. These were Christians marked with genuine faith, hope, and love (1:3), who had genuinely repented from idolatry to serve the living and true God (1:9), who had sincerely received the word of God and in whom the Word of God was truly performing its work (2:13), whose character and devotion to Christ had proven itself under the pressure of suffering and persecution (2:14), and who consistently practiced love to one another and to those around them (4:9-10). The Thessalonians were, in every respect, an exemplary church made up of exemplary Christians. Hence, the main exhortation from Paul to them was not harsh admonition, but to excel still more in all that they were doing (4:1, 10).

One of the ways they would excel beyond the character that they had already attained was to abstain from sexual immorality (4:3). Apparently, even this kind of a faith-filled, love-abounding, and hope-anchored model church still struggled with the oh-so-common problem of lust. They weren’t at the level that the Corinthians were (cf 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:12-20), but the struggle was still there.

Alongside the accountability and the plethora of Christian literature written on the topic, having a proper perspective toward a Christian man’s struggle against sexual immorality. Pastors, leaders, disciplers, and counselors of men ought to be cautious about judging the maturity of a man based on the presence of struggles in the area of sexual purity. The truth is that some of the most quality men I’ve ministered to and alongside have struggled with it. We have to be careful with putting the same blanket over all kinds of sexual sin. Obviously, not all sexual sin is created equal in terms of its natural consequences. All sins are created equal in terms of its unrighteousness and the need for Christ’s atoning sacrifice that it warrants for the one who commits it. But a man who refuses to leave an adulterous relationship will be disciplined by the church; a man who is caught viewing a pornographic website won’t.

Equally vital to having a proper perspective is knowing how to give the proper encouragement and hope to the young men struggling with purity. Enough of this “once you view a pornographic image, it’ll be seared in your mind forever and will forever haunt you even in your marriage” talk. You may not be wrong in saying it, but you end up sending the wrong message. The truth is, many of the men who struggled with purity in their single years end up not only overcoming it, but today are themselves exemplary husbands, fathers, and church leaders. God, after all, is able to fully sanctify a man (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and work all things from his past to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

So give young men hope. Give them hope that, even in their struggles, their faith may very well be real and growing. Give them hope that, in spite of the repeated stumbling, sanctity awaits.

Study the Buck. Don’t Shoot it. 

Recovering the essential skill of listening

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” ~Proverbs 18:13

I’ve seen it time and time again. A young man gains solid biblical teaching from a sound, biblical, evangelical church. He immediately adopts the Ezra 7:10 mentality, becoming eater to study, practice, and teach the Word of God – formally or informally. Discipleship, counseling, and leading small groups becomes an ambition for his zealous soul. But rather than treating the sound doctrine he learns as lenses through which to understand the world around him more clearly, he stores them as bullets for his rifle. He then sets out on a hunting expedition, also known as his first discipleship or counseling where he is the mentor rather than the pupil. He braces himself, waiting for the buck – also known as the erred statement of the person with whom he’s meeting – to emerge from the forest trees. The moment of truth arrives when the buck emerges, and he does what a good hunter does: he fires and hits his target. The buck falls lifeless. The young hunter-minister stands proud of his great aim, having corrected his erred pupil with a series of theological bullets. 

The problem, however, is that he wasn’t supposed to shoot the buck; he was supposed to study it. Don’t get me wrong; there is a place and time to shoot. But the man of God is a shepherd more than a hunter. He shoots at the wolves, and not at the bucks. And not at the eagles or the foxes. 

People have asked me in the past what I believe is the most important skill in life and ministry, particularly in the realm of pastoral and biblical counseling. I always find it difficult to answer that question, but what I can answer is what I’ve observed to be the most neglected skill in the reformed, evangelical community – and even amongst pastors and leaders. And that is the skill of listening. 

For a minister – be he a pastor, preacher, mentor, evangelist, or counselor – there is a time to teach and a time to listen. Ministers wholly committed to rightly interpreting and communicating the Word of God (and praise the Lord for this) often make the mistake of treating every time as a time to preach and teach. Their counseling and discipleship meetings become forty-five minute Bible expositions. But when you’re always teaching, you’re never listening. And if you’re never listening, then you’re never learning. And if you’re never learning, the Bible calls you foolish. And as a result, many people in church are hesitant to be honest about the reality of how they’re doing and what’s happening in life. Their to expose the critters of their heart, even the harmless squirrels and badgers, comes out of the fear that they’ll get rifled one after the other. I’ve surveyed a number of folks – particularly young men – about this very thing. Why are they afraid to be honest? At times, it’s pride. But the majority of the time, it’s because a previous attempt to be transparent about the realities of life has only triggered an barrage of counsel from answer-happy pastors. You can’t blame them. Why would they want to be honest with someone who won’t listen? I for sure wouldn’t. Would you?

For the record, the goal of a counseling and discipleship meeting is not mere comprehension of a person. The goal is, well, to give counsel or instruction. I’m not denying the importance of the didactic component in these settings. Helping involves more than hearing. But you can’t help when you don’t hear. Counsel and instruction – even if it is biblically sound – must be given as appropriate to a person’s condition or circumstances. There is such a thing as saying the right thing to the wrong person, or to say the right thing to the right person at the wrong time or in the wrong way. One of the antidotes to this is the application of skillful listening. Only when you put down the rifle and take out the specs will you realize that, at times, what you thought was a wolf really was a stray husky that looked like a wolf but is harmless to the sheep. Only then, will the rest of the critters of a man’s heart emerge for you to observe. Only when you listen will you truly understand. And only when you understand are you in a position to give counsel or instruction. Consider the following Scripture:

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” ~Proverbs 18:13

“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but the man of understanding draws it out” ~Proverbs 20:5

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” ~Proverbs 18:2

Study the buck. Don’t shoot it. 

A Fellowship of Men in the Presence of God


Reflections on the 2017 GBF Men’s Retreat

And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. 

~Mark 6:31-32

This past weekend marked my first experience at a men’s retreat. And it was awesome. Or should I say, uniquely awesome. 

A bit ironic, perhaps, given that speaking and exhorting the men of the church in whatever capacity induces the strongest heartbeat in pastors and ministers. Ironic, surely, given that counseling, discipling, training, ministering with and being educated alongside men has comprised more than a good slice of my life’s pie. Pastors’ conferences, men’s breakfasts, church leadership get-always, I’d been to them all. But an all-inclusive men’s retreat – it was, for some reason, my first. I hope it won’t be the last. 

An Ancient Activity

The gathering of a select group of God’s men to a secluded area, away from the regular responsibilities of daily life, for a concentrated time to absorb the Word of God and be refreshed by the company of one another is no novelty. If anything, it’s a classic endeavor. Christ would frequently take His twelve to the mountains or secluded places for prayer, teaching, or simply rest from the crowds. At the GBF Men’s Retreat, we weren’t Christ and His twelve, but we were a group of twenty-three saints tucked away for an over-night get-away at the American River – a couple of hundred miles away from our home base in Silicon Valley. Engaged we were in an ancient activity. There’s something special about tapping into the classics. 

Pondering the Person of Christ

On Friday evening, the men opened up the Word of God together, specifically from Mark 14:26-50, and studied Christ while examining ourselves from the same passage. We first examined the fleshly traits that so often beget us and hinder us from a full-fledged pursuit of biblical masculinity – conceit, casualness, and cowardice. Then, in the subsequent session, we pondered the godliness of Christ as laid out in this near-apex of the Scriptures. There was Christ before us – the seeking man, the suffering man, the submissive man, the settled man, the sacrificial man. Christ may not have not been present with us in physical body, but His person was made vivid through the revelation of the Bible. And contemplate Him we did. Then, on Saturday morning, we went rafting. 

In the Presence of the Untamed God

It’s every little boy’s dream, only it was different as a grown man. Rafting is every bit as humbling as it was exhilarating – not because any of us fell into the river, but because the river wouldn’t listen to us. We could only navigate through the river’s rapids and currents; we couldn’t command them. The American river flowed at a direction and with a vigor wholly independent of our will, causing me to consider that the majority inanimate earth remains untamed. Yet, even this river flowed only by the decrees of Almighty God. I was reminded once again – as I’m sure were the rest of the men – that it isn’t the river that is untamed; it is the Lord Himself, to whom the entire universe belongs and obeys (cf Job 38). There is nothing that a man needs more than to realize that he stands perpetually in the presence of the untamed God. 

Witnessing the Work of the Spirit

But the 4 hours of rafting left us with a good 16 hours (for you math geeks, I subtracted the time spent rafting and sleeping) together. That’s 16 hours driving together, stomaching steaks and scrambled eggs together, studying the Word together, exploring the camp grounds together, sitting around lanterns (or, rather, lantern-looking flashlights) rehearsing stories together. It was “male-bonding” as it’s normally termed, only it was everything but normal. It was unique – not because it’s unique for a group of twenty three men to do all these things together over a weekend, but because it’s unique for a group as eclectic as ours to have done so. The oldest man in our group was a grandfather in his late 60s; the youngest, 15 – an incoming junior in high school – with everything in between and with roots from different farming grounds. Some were born and raised in California; others from Idaho; some, from China, Kuwait, and Hawaii; others, from Virginia and Tennessee. The group consisted of engineers, collegians, writers, business owners, and pastors. Some were athletes; some were artists. A homogeneity meter of virtually zero. But this is the nature of Christ’s church, whose fellowship spans every culture, generation, ethnicity, occupation, and socio-economic background. I’ve been around the block long enough to realize that not all local churches reflect this. And so to witness the diversity amongst the men present – to witness the fellowship of our church’s men break through the barriers that normally confine immunities and social groups – was witnessing a redemptive work covered by the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints (cf Galatians 3). 

So there you have it: an overnight trip to the American river with twenty-three men engaging in an ancient activity of pondering Christ apart from the normal responsibilities of life, in the presence of the untamed God, witnessing the redemptive work of the Spirit. That, my friends, was the 2017 GBF Men’s Retreat. 

Reflecting on the Value of the Church

A message I shared at our lastest GBF Camp weekend

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” ~Matthew 16:18

What is the value of being involved in the life of the church? 

Is it worth meeting new people who could potentially hurt you? Is it worth of submitting to imperfect elders and pastors to guide you in your spiritual life? Is it worth getting the family up during a Sunday morning after a long week just to make it to Sunday School and Sunday service when a family devotion at home while listening to an online sermon from John Piper may sound like a better bargain? Is it worth the hassle of having to find a babysitter at the end of a long week so that you and your wife can attend a mid-week Bible study with people who you don’t even “gel” with? Is it worth being involved in the church, when there are so many other things that seem to be screaming for your attention?

These questions are rooted in a more foundational question: what is the real value of the church? Church life, after all, is not the only component of Christian living. There’s personal devotions, marriage, family life, work, school, physical health, financial and material stewardship, relationships, and recreation to note the majors. And so there’s a growing trend – and an alarming one – of Christians attempting to live out their Christian faith without a significant involvement or investment in the church. I’ve seen this as a pastoral minister and Christian educator; Christian families, be them genuine or nominal, are investing so much energy into every major (and minor) facet of life except for the ministry of the local church. The issue is not a lack of time or energy. The issue is the failure to value an eternally valuable institution. 

Every Christian, you and me included, ought to examine the level to which he values the church as reflected in his life. And before that, every Christian ought to understand the actual value of the church. And even before that, every Christian ought to understand the fleeting value of the world. 

First, consider that the world as we know it is losing its value, because the world as we know it is headed toward decay. Read the book of Revelation in case you aren’t sure. Consider that the natural world, regardless of all efforts of environmental and ecological conservation efforts, will head toward destruction (things look a lot different than they did in Genesis 1-2). Consider that human society, from a moral and political and sociological perspective is decaying. Warfare is, as been, and will continue to be rampant and is only growing more massive in its destructive properties (nuclear weapons didn’t exist back in the days of Joshua). Terrorism is at an unprecedented level; mass killings by one man are more possible and frequent. Immorality is at an all-time high; there is no new sin under the sun, but the public embracing and endorsement has reached new heights. Consider that the family unit, though ordained by God to be the building unit of society, is temporal in its nature. Marriage ends when death does you part; parenthood ends (or should end) when children graduate from high school. Finally consider that your outer self is in a decaying process. Regular gym workouts, scheduled, and organic nutrition cannot prevent the onset of physical death; they only delay it. Consider, brother, that the world as we know it is losing its value. 

It is in the context of a decaying world that the Christian ought to then consider the value of the church. For the record, the church on this side of eternity is far from perfect. Nor is local church involvement meant to be all-consuming for the believer. But unlike the natural world, human society, and the outer self, the church is of eternal value because Christ promised its indestructibility. Listen to His words to the apostle Peter: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). While Christ is currently sustaining the universe until its decay, He is currently building His church toward glory. This is the work of the Lord. This is what Christ is doing. This is the project He is undertaking. This is how He is currently furthering His kingdom. Each day that passes by, the world heads to decay while the church gets larger and more glorious. And how is it that Christ is building His church? Through one saved, sanctified soul at a time. It was the church that Christ gave up His life for and purchased with His blood. It is the church that Christ is continually sanctifying with the washing of His Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is the church to whom, in the midst of massive global destruction, Christ will be wed in heaven’s marriage feast. 

So what is the reward then for the believer who invests his life in the building of God’s church? It is that he will have invested his life endeavors in an indestructible institution. It’s that plain and simple. What remains to be proven is whether the lives of the Christians in our country will reflect such a truth.  



Identifying and Avoiding the Gossip

“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” ~Proverbs 11:13 

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” ~Proverbs 20:19 

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down…The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” ~Proverbs 26:20, 22 

I was taught as a child not to associate with strangers. Later, in my budding years as a Christian, I was told not to closely associate with false teachers and unrepentant sinners. But it was only after marrying a prudent woman of God that I was warned not to associate with gossips. For her wisdom I thank the Lord everyday.
Scripture says, after all, to love all but never to associate with all. The Scripture says to do good to all, but to walk closely with a select few. But this particular dissociation with the gossiper wasn’t always mentioned or stressed in the Christian circles of which I’ve been a part. Perhaps it was because gossip is sometimes difficult to identify. But perhaps, it’s also because gossip is naturally hard to both avoid or abstain from. 

Before gossip can be avoided, it must be identified. And before it can be identified, it must be defined. Gossip is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Gossip is more than just speaking ill of others or revealing the most private of information. Proverbs 20:19 defines a gossip as one who habitually reveals information, period. There’s a difference between testifying truthfully about a situation or person and spreading information about a person in an unsolicited or unwarranted manner. Gossipers are those who inherently have very little – if any – respect for the privacy of people and their lives. To them, information gathered is information to be dispensed. There habitually spread the details of peoples lives – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the neutral – over the community like butter over bread, using the very butter knife of their tongue. While they are not always malicious (engaging in gossip does not always necessitate evil intent), they simply like to be in the know and make known. You know a gossiper by the sheer amount of time he or she spends talking to people about people. They have a natural instinct to expose, rather than protect, the details of the lives of the people around them. 

Gossipers make an easy living in this world because people are naturally curious about people. It’s not surprising that tabloid magazines never go out of print, for the the human flesh naturally finds gossip delectable (Proverbs 18:8). You’d expect the circulation of such behavior in the world, but it’s more unfortunate when it is both present and cultivated in the church. I have personally been a part of church circles and church affinity groups in which gossip was simply the currency of the fellowship. Such behavior caused a considerable amount of pain and grief for both me and my wife, and we have since learned to be careful with the people with whom we choose to confide and spend time. 

Thus, I’ve learned to identify the gossip given the definition above. They’re actually not difficult to spot, as they are often revealed by two things: 1) what they tell you about others 2) the kind of question they ask about you. A gossip will habitually tell me things about people that I have honestly no business knowing and that I didn’t ask about. The information they share about people are neither purposeful or encouraging. Gossips, without your inquiry, will tell you what Bruce likes to eat for dinner, the marriage problems and Mike and Shelly are experiencing, the after-school activities that Katie takes her kids to, how Aaron asked Amber out but was rejected, and how Wes is not going to Cornerstone Bible Church. Conversely, gossips will also ask you questions that are “probing.” – not because they themselves are trying to get to know you or learn from you, but because they need some currency to spend. I can identify a gossip when there is a disproportion between their level of closeness to me and the things that they inquire about me, my family, and my ministry. I find it particularly sad when close friends learn about the particulars of my life from individuals with whom I rarely interact, but it happens. 

Once identified, the Scriptures are explicit: “Do not associate with a gossip” says Proverbs 20:19. Gossipers are not to be hated or mistreated or slandered. But they are not to be associated with. They are not spend considerable amount of time with. They are not to be confided in. They are not to be walked closely with. It’s not about playing favorites; it’s about playing wisely. If you desire to navigate through this side of eternity skillfully in such a way that maximizes your involvement in the furtherance of the kingdom and your influence in the disciple-making process for the glory of Christ, the relational sphere in which you integrate yourself matters dearly. That means who you walk with and who you avoid are no minor issues. So stay away from those people who make a living by telling you about others and telling others about you. You life and ministry will be richly blessed should you do so. 

Let the Teachers in the Church be Few

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” 

~James 3:1

Let the servants in the church be many; let the teachers in the church be few. 

With regards to the mass percentage of formal Bible teachers in the church, the Bible is not silent. James 3:1 is explicit: “Let not many of you be teachers.” For the record, there is a degree to which all Christians are called to teach in an informal sense (Colossians 3:15-16). The commission of discipleship is given to all believers (Matthew 28:18-20). I believe that, in this epistle, James is referring to formal teachers in the church body. The culturally Jewish community of believers he was addressing most certainly understood the concept of recognized teachers of the Scriptures within the community of God’s people. In the Old Testament, teachers of the Law had to be appointed, vetted, and trained. Never were they the majority; never were they self-appointed. While the twenty-first-century church doesn’t have scribes and priests, formal teachers do exist in the form of preachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and biblical counselors to name a few. Such positions tend to be highly coveted. Over the years, I’ve seen countless individuals approach the pastoral staff of the church claiming that God has placed it in their heart to be formal Bible teachers. I’ve heard a number of them say that they’re “bored” at church…mainly because the capacity in which they serve doesn’t involve formal teaching. The problem is not that they feel this way. The problem is that there are too many of them that feel this way – because there isn’t room for all of them. By God’s design, the formal teaching ministry in the local church was meant to rest on the shoulders of a select few. The saint who claims, then, to be gifted at teaching and desires to serve formally in that capacity in the church ought to doubly examine himself, lest he be self-deceived about his perception of his giftedness or qualification (cf.1 Timothy 1:7).

The call for teachers to be few in the church may seem impractical and even unfair, but it is not without reason. James gives the reason in the second part of verse 1: “…knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Again, James’ culturally Jewish audience would have understood this. The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with denunciations by God toward false and careless shepherds, prophets, priests, and scribes. Christ Himself reserved His harshest diatribes toward the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes during His earthly ministry. James’ audience knew that God’s strictest judgments were reserved toward those who promoted themselves as the formal teachers of Scripture. From my own observations, most overly-eager beavers see formal teaching as a means for personal ministry satisfaction, in the same way many of today’s millennials talk about job satisfaction. Butt they are often unaware of the gravity of the commission. Teaching God’s Word is task of great gravity because of the gravity of the Word of God itself. James refers to the Scriptures as one that is able to save the souls of people (1:21). Whether a person rightly understands, receives, and responds to the Word impacts his eternal condition. Those who are self-absorbed in their pursuit of personal ministry satisfaction are not fully aware of the severity of the judgment that would befall them had they put it upon themselves to formally teach the Scriptures on a regular basis. A church whose body rightly understands this would only have a handful of its people desiring to take up the task. And even those who were willing, able, and gifted would do so with great fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:2-4).  

So, then, let the servants be many; let the teachers be few.