“So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
No one likes a hypocrite. There’s just something inherently wrong, evil even, about someone who actively seeks to convince those around him to do one thing while personally doing something else. It makes our skin crawl and gets our justice hackles raised higher and faster than just about anything else in the world. Sometimes hypocrites knowingly embrace their hypocrisy because of the personal gains it allows them to enjoy. Sometimes, though, we can fall into hypocrisy without realizing it. For all of its lack of intentionality, though, that can be the most dangerous hypocrisy there is. It’s also what Paul warns against here. Let’s talk about it.
As we talked about yesterday, life is a grand race. There is a prize at the end too for those who can claim it. Winning this prize doesn’t come in quite the same way as other prizes do, though. This prize isn’t claimed by great and strenuous effort on our part. It is claimed when we recognize the insufficiency of our own efforts and instead trust in the work that has already been done on our behalf. When we mount this challenge–and it is quite a challenge–the prize will be ours.
Claiming the prize is a great and good thing. There is no doubt about that. But, there is a tendency to treat that as the end of the journey. We get to the crest of that hill and have arrived. And that’s true in part…but only in part. You see, once we have claimed the life prize as our own, we have to actually start living the life we have claimed. This is of an equal importance as the claiming itself and is where things get really difficult.
The challenge here lies in the fact that even though we are new in Christ and have the help of the Holy Spirit to propel us down the road in His direction, everything else in us still leans back in the our former direction.
One of the fundamental laws of motion is the law of inertia. It basically holds that things will tend to continue in the way they are going unless they are acted on by some external force. Well, our quest to live the life of Christ works on a similar principle, but in a twisted form. Our normal direction is away from Christ. Unless we are actively being acted on by an external source–the Holy Spirit–we are going to move away from Him.
But, the Holy Spirit isn’t the only external force we need. We need people who will help us on this journey. This is the role God has designed pastors and other spiritual leaders to fulfill. If you are someone whom God has placed in this kind of position, you need not ever underestimate your importance to the lives of the people you impact. Sometimes it takes a lot of outside force to keep someone from moving in a direction they shouldn’t go. But sometimes it takes just a little. And once someone is up and running, it often takes just a little bit of outside force to keep them moving. What this means is that you might be able to keep a whole lot of people moving in the direction of Jesus all the while you are starting many more down the path for the first time.
In other words: You matter. A lot.
But–and this is where Paul’s words come into play–that law of spiritual inertia doesn’t just come to bear in the lives of the people you are shepherding and teaching and encouraging and challenging and the like. It comes to bear in your own life as well.
One of the worst things in the world is to see someone who once claimed to have reached the prize of life begin living consistently in a way that suggests they never actually did. This is especially true when you’ve been the one coaching them along in the direction. What’s even worse, though, is to see one who has been a coach fall short because of some unaddressed oversight in his own life.
Let me make that more personal: The worst thing in the world is spending your life leading others in the direction of Jesus only to discover that you have fallen away from Him yourself because you weren’t tending to your own spirit and receiving the very mentoring and counseling you had spent your life giving to others.
Paul understood this fear. He feared it himself. Rather than simply fearing it, though, he did something about it. He lived a life of incredibly strict discipline with many guardrails firmly in place to make sure he didn’t leave the path of life as he worked to keep others on it.
Pastor, church leader, teacher, your work is far more valuable than you realize. Don’t ever doubt that. But, you are susceptible to the same faults and failings as the people you are leading. I am no stronger than the people I lead. The inertial pull of our former self tugs just as strongly on us as it does on the people we lead. If we don’t work diligently, seeking out the very same counsel we give, we will fall prey to it. We will be revealed to be merely actors playing a part and nothing more. We may be incredibly effective actors, completely fooling the people around us. But the Stage Manager always knows who’s who when the curtain falls. Let’s do everything we can to make sure our face isn’t revealed to be a mask in the end.