The church is not meant to gauge the quality of a servant leader merely by how he preaches. Even the most skilled preacher can sabotage the impact and reach of his sermons if he lives a sinful life. Tragically, the church today seems to be suffering from an epidemic of pastors whose conduct denies the content of their message. Charles Spurgeon warned of this grave danger in his sermon, “Hypocrisy.”
The hypocrite can speak like an angel, he can quote texts with the greatest rapidity; he can talk concerning all matters of religion, whether they be theological doctrines, metaphysical questions, or experimental difficulties. In his own esteem he knoweth much and when he rises to speak, you will often feel abashed at your own ignorance in the presence of his superior knowledge. But see him when he comes to actions. What behold you there? The fullest contradiction of everything that he has uttered. He tells to others that they must obey the law: doth he obey it? Ah! no. He declares that others must experience this, that, and the other, and he sets up a fine scale of experience, far above even that of the Christian himself; but does he touch it? No, not with so much as one of his fingers. He will tell others what they should do; but will he remember his own teaching? Not he! Follow him to his house; trace him to the market, see him in the shop, and if you want to refute his preaching you may easily do it from his own life.  Charles Spurgeon, “Hypocrisy,” Sermon #237 in The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 5 (London, UK: Passmore & Alabaster, 1859), 98.
The apostle Paul recognized the critical importance of avoiding hypocrisy when he wrote to his pastoral protégé, Timothy: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12). The word translated “example” is tupos (from which we derive the English term type), which means “model,” “image,” or “pattern.” To use a pattern in making a dress, the dressmaker will lay the pattern on top of the material and cut the material to match the pattern. An artist uses a model so that he can reproduce it in his painting. When you set an example, you are giving people a pattern to follow. Someone once said, “Your life speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.”
The New Testament contains many injunctions for setting a pattern of godly living. Note these commands from the apostle Paul:
“I exhort you, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17)
“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things.” (Philippians 4:9)
“Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5–6)
“You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you . . . in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.” (2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9)
Paul wasn’t being egotistical when he commanded his readers to imitate him as he imitated Christ. He was simply exhibiting the character of a godly man who knew he was to be an example. Obviously Paul knew he wasn’t perfect, but it was his objective—as much as was humanly possible—to have the excellent, holy character his flock was to have. No man should aim for less than that and still be in ministry.
The author of Hebrews says, “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). When we minister, we are to lead lives that others can imitate. That’s a tremendous challenge, which is why James said, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). It’s a serious matter to teach error or live hypocritically. A man’s life must match his message. Tragically, many in the ministry today constantly violate this principle.
How to Be an Example
Timothy was young, probably under forty, and was therefore subject to a certain amount of questioning from older believers. So Paul told him that he had to command and earn respect if people were going to follow him. How was Timothy going to do that? By being “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity . . . an example to those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12). Let’s consider each of those vital categories.
The speech of the servant of God is to be exemplary. In Matthew 12:34 Jesus says, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Whatever comes out of the mouth reveals what is in a person’s heart.
Ephesians 4 tells us what our speech should be like. Verse 25 says, “Laying aside falsehood.” A servant of the Lord should never tell a lie, nor should he speak out of both sides of his mouth. Instead Paul says to “speak truth each one of you with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). We should speak the truth to everyone regardless of circumstance.
In Ephesians 4:26 Paul continues, “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” There’s a place for holy wrath and righteous indignation, but not for the sin of anger—especially the smoldering kind that persists into the future. No servant leader is to reach the point where he is so upset that his words are bitter, vengeful, or ungracious. His speech is to “always be with grace” (Colossians 4:6).
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.” The speech of a believer should never be less than pure. In the same verse Paul goes on to say that godly speech “is good for edification . . . so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
We are to be models of righteous living—people who live out our convictions based on biblical principles. The things we do, the places we go, the things we possess—any aspect of our life is like a sermon. That sermon will either contradict or substantiate what we preach.
Ministering in love doesn’t necessarily mean we’re to be a glad-hander and a backslapper. The apostle Paul and his co-worker Epaphroditus showed their love to the church by hard work (Philippians 2:27–30; 1 Thessalonians 2:7–12). Sometimes I have thought, Should I stay and spend myself at Grace Church, or move on to another ministry? Yet I know God has called me to give my life to the people of that church. That’s how my love for the brethren is expressed. We all are to offer self–sacrificing service on behalf of others.
The word translated “faith” (pistis) in 1 Timothy 4:12 could be translated “faithfulness,” “trustworthiness,” or “consistency.” Timothy was to be consistent, faithful, and trustworthy in his ministry. People can easily and eagerly follow that kind of leader. In 1 Corinthians 4:2 Paul says, “It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” Such traits separate those who succeed from those who fail.
The word translated “purity” (hagneia) refers not only to sexual chastity but also to the intents of the heart. If our hearts are pure, our behavior will be pure as well. History has shown us that a ministry can be devastated by sexual impurity, greed, or ambition on the part of its leaders. Men in leadership are vulnerable in that area when they let their guard down. We all must maintain absolute moral purity.
The spiritual virtue of our Christian lives is on continual display before a watching world—through our speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. To compromise on any of those character traits is to effectively sabotage the message God has called us to proclaim.
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