Results tagged “Pride” from Reformation21 Blog

A Censorious Spirit

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Sinclair Ferguson once lamented the fact that whenever he overheard others discussing some public theologian or individual at a conference, the statements were almost always prefaced with a negative comment such as, "Well, you know, the problem with him is..." Sadly, those sorts of conversations are far from uncommon among those of us who have been in the church for any length of time. We are all almost certainly guilty of making similar statements about brothers and sisters and, we have, no doubt, been the objects of such pejorative statements. So what are the marks of this all too common spiritual deficiency? And, how can we check our spirits so that we rid them of this censoriousness? 

In what is arguably one of the most important books ever written, Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards sounded the theological alarm about a censorious spirit being contrary to Christian love. In the course of his sermon on this subject, Edwards set out three ways "wherein a censorious spirit or a disposition uncharitably to judge others consists:

  1. A censorious spirit appears in a forwardness to judge ill of others' states.
  2. A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' qualities; to overlook their good qualities, and to think them destitute of them when they are not, or to make very little of them, or to magnify their ill qualities and make more of them than they are, or to charge them with those ill qualities of which they are free.
  3. A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' actions.

First, A censorious spirit appears in a forwardness to judge ill of others' states. When we are not walking in love toward others in the body, we are apt to make a sinful judgment about the spiritual condition of another based on our own faulty assumptions, observations or presuppositions about them. Edwards wrote:

"Persons are guilty of censoriousness in condemning others' [spiritual] state when they,

...condemn others as hypocrites because of God's providential dealings with them, as Job's three friends condemned him as a hypocrite for the uncommon afflictions with which he met...

...condemn them for those failings which they see in them, which are no greater than are often incident to God's children; and it may be no greater, or not so great, as their own, though they think well of their own state...

...condemn others as those who must needs be carnal men for differing from them in opinion in some points which are not fundamental.

...or when persons judge ill of others' state from what they observe in them for want of making due allowances for their natural tempers, and for their manner of education, and other peculiar disadvantages, under which they labor."1

Second, a censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' qualities. When we are not walking in love toward other professing believers, we are often quick to see the worst in others and slow to affrim the best in them. Edwards explained,

"Some men are very apt to charge others with ignorance and folly and other contemptible qualities which in no way deserve to be so esteemed by them.

Some seem to be very apt to entertain a very low and despicable opinion of others, and so to represent them to others, when a charitable spirit would discern many good things in them, and would freely own them to be persons not to be despised.

And some are ready to charge others with those morally ill qualities from which they are free, or at least to charge them with them in a much higher degree than they are really in them. Thus some have such a prejudice against some of their neighbors that they look upon them as much more proud men, or more spiteful and malicious, than they really are." 2

Finally, A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' words or actions. When we are not walking in love with other believers, we are ready to have evil suspicions about their words and actions, without any justifiable reason or evidence to think evil of them. Edwards noted,

"A suspicious, jealous spirit, whereby persons are apt to be jealous of others, of their being guilty of such and such things when they have no evidence of it, is an uncharitable spirit, and contrary to Christianity. Some persons are very free of passing their censures on others with respect to those things which they suppose they do out of their sight. They judge they commit such and such wickedness in secret and hid from the eyes of men, or that they have done thus, or said thus, among their companions or those who are united with them in the same party or design, though they keep it hid from others who are not in the same interest. These are the "evil surmisings" spoken of and condemned in 1 Tim. 6:4.

...Very commonly persons show a very uncharitable and censorious spirit with respect to others by being forward to take up bad reports of persons. Merely hearing a flying ill report of a person is far from being sufficient evidence against persons that they have been guilty of that which is reported. Yet, it is a very common thing for persons to pass a judgment on others on no other foundation.

...It is very common with men, when prejudiced against others, to put bad constructions on those actions or speeches of others which are seemingly good, and as though they were performed in hypocrisy. And especially in the management of public affairs, or affairs in which others are concerned with them. If anything be said or done wherein there is a show of concern for public good, or for the good of their neighbors, or the honor of God, or the interest of religion, others will be ready to judge that this is all in hypocrisy; that the design really is only to promote their own interest, or to advance themselves, that they are only flattering others, that they have some ill design all the time in their hearts."3

This ought to convict us deeply of how often we have harbored subtle censoriousness in our hearts toward those we ought to have loved the most. Instead of rushing to the worst possible conclusions about others, we ought to consider our own failings and sinfulness. This is such a challenging yet richly rewarding goal for us to pursue. The more we focus on our own hearts and motives, the less we will sinfully judge others in the body of Christ. The more we see our own sinfulness and need for the Savior, the more we will extend the same grace to others we profess a need of for ourselves. The more readily we extend love to others and are committed to thinking the best of them, the more our words and actions toward them will reflect the deep, deep love of Jesus.


1.  Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings ed. Paul Ramsey and John E. Smith, vol. 8, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989), 285.

2. Ibid., 286

3. Ibid., 287

Navigating Dangers and Temptations in Ministry

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Throughout my twenty-plus years of following Jesus Christ and serving in His church, I have repeatedly seen pastors disqualify themselves for ministry. The moral failures of such ministers have led to confusion, pain, and even a crisis of faith for many. Of course, there are those who occupy a very public ministry who fail, but I have seen just as many, if not more, who crash and burn in smaller local churches. I have witnessed, first-hand, as denominational leaders, pastors, and Sunday School teachers entangled themselves in sin that could have been avoided. And whenever I see this happening, I am simultaneously saddened, frustrated, and scared. As our church continues to raise up, install or send ministers into pastoral ministry, I find the need to address this issue all the more pressing. Not merely the failure of public ministers, but the danger we all face as leaders. Do not be deceived, we are all tempted in ways that can bring far greater destruction to the glory and honor of Christ (not to mention to our family and church members) than we could imagine. The question is, how do we navigate the treacherous waters of such dangers as we seek to serve the church?

There is no simple policy that we can implement to protect us. No promises we make to our wives, nor any programs we install on our computers will save us. Only Jesus saves. But there are four principles that should guide us through the dangers and temptations connected to ministry. In fact, these principles are not only for leaders, but for all of God's people.

Stay Humble

"Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The real danger of sin and temptation is not so much in the world as it is in our own hearts. Every one of us is capable of grievous sin and rebellion. James reminds us that we are tempted not only by outside influences, but by our own desires which ultimately give birth to sin (James 1:14, 15).

The problem is not that we are ignorant of this truth, but that this theological truth has not sufficiently taken root in our hearts. We agree that it is theoretically possible to fall, but we don't believe it will actually happen to us. We convince ourselves that, for whatever reason, we are beyond the risk of losing our marriages and ministries. We aren't. You aren't. Knowing and embracing the frailty of our own souls is key to depending on the grace of God in all of life. Knowing that we must "take care" lest there be in any of us an evil, unbelieving heart" leads to humility. (Heb 3:12) And it is the humble who know their need of Christ's preserving grace and their hope in the midst of trials and temptations. Be humble, or you will fall.

Stay Safe

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16).

The answer to avoiding sin is not in policies and protocols, but there is wisdom in arranging our lives strategically to avoid unnecessary temptation. 

One of my pastor friends never travels alone when speaking in other locations. He brings another man with him for mutual encouragement and accountability. This brother is a trustworthy and godly man, but he knows his heart and the world well enough to protect himself from even the possibility of danger. Another pastor friend of mine doesn't spend time alone with women who are not his wife. However, life doesn't always cooperate with our protocols, and he found himself in a situation that required him to drive a young lady home. Again, this is a godly man, and let's assume this was an upright lady. Nevertheless, in this situation he immediately phoned his wife to tell her what was happening, but she was unreachable. So he called me to let someone know. 

Staying safe doesn't mean avoiding all danger or secluding ourselves from real-life ministry, but it does require careful, thoughtful living. Living carelessly in the world with a sinful heart will eventually lead anyone into unnecessary temptation and potentially into ruin. I have seen men fall, but I have also seen men falsely accused. A humble heart will encourage us to stay safe.

Stay Honest

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another..." (James 5:16).

The person who cannot be honest with himself or others is the one who will live out a superficial faith that cannot weather the storms of temptation. We must know our own weaknesses, tendencies, and desires. Knowing our fruit sins (complaining, for example) is good, but discovering the root sins that feed the fruit sin (in the case of complaining, namely, the pride by which we convince ourselves that we deserve better) is more helpful to knowing ourselves and where we need to exercise care. 

Staying honest must go beyond ourselves to include others. Honesty with our spouse, friends, and leadership is one of the means God has given us to curb sin and kill temptation. As repenting, believing saints, we are called to confess our sins to one another, and encourage one another lest we find ourselves hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). Staying honest is both personal and communal, and it protects us from pretending we are okay when we are not, and performing as if all that matters is what is going on with us externally.

Stay Close

"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you" (James 4:8-10).

The true essence of keeping ourselves from the danger of sin is staying close to God by faith in Christ. This is the ongoing work of communion, or abiding in Christ (John 15:1-5). Those who are actively seeking the things above, where Christ is, are those who are not distracted by the enticements of the flesh or the devil. 

Staying close to God is found in the exhortation to "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23). John Flavel once helpfully explained what it means to keep our hearts in his classic book, Keeping the Heart. He wrote, "By keeping the heart, understand the diligent and constant use of all holy means to preserve the soul from sin, and maintain its sweet and free communion with God."

We can preserve our souls from sin and maintain an experiential closeness to God through "all holy means", or what is commonly called "the means of grace." The ministry of the word, prayer, corporate worship, etc. are the means by which God exposes our sin, shows us our need for Christ, and increases our faith. Those who wander from God's means are far less likely to run to Him in their hour of need.

Christians fall (Prov. 24:16). Pastors fail. But much of our trouble can be avoided by remaining humble, living carefully, maintaining honesty, and drawing near to God. May His grace abound in each of us and protect us from the danger in the world, and the more subtle dangers that lurk in our hearts.


Joe Thorn is the founding and Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL, and the author of Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself (Crossway/ReLit). He was a contributor to The Story ESV Bible and The Mission of God Study Bible. Joe is a graduate of Moody Bible Inst. (BA) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv). Joe blogs at joethorn.net He and his wife Jen have four children. You can find Joe on Twitter at @joethorn.

"In time," Luther opined, "my books will lie forgotten in the dust." This was no lament on the Reformer's part. In fact, Luther found much "consolation" in the possibility -- or rather likelihood -- that his literary efforts would soon fade into oblivion. The dim view he apparently took of his own writings was intimately related to the high view he took of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, his high view of Scripture resulted in a rather dim view of all other writings, not just his own. "Through this practice [namely, writing and collecting books]," he wrote, "not only is precious time lost which could be used for studying the Scripture, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench." Making the same point in more colorful terms, Luther complained of the "countless mass of books" written over time which, "like a crawling swarm of vermin," had served to supplant the place which should belong to "the Bible" in the life of the Church and her people. In sum, Luther judged that folk would be better off reading and hearing the Bible than reading and hearing anything which he or anyone else had written, and the last thing he wanted to be found guilty of was producing words which distracted anyone from the Word.

On this score, Luther discovered hope that his own works would be soon forgotten in the sheer number of publications competing with his own in his day. "My books... will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches."

A second reason Luther took a dim view of his works is that he understood rather well how literary accomplishments can foster pride. In this regard, the Reformer offers some harsh -- and, true to form, fairly entertaining -- words to those who become inflated on the basis of their publications. I suspect, though it would be difficult to prove, that he addressed a proclivity he discovered in himself with his words. "If... you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books...; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it -- if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you and say, 'See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books.'" If, in other words, you write with the intent of garnering man's praise, and/or find yourself thriving upon the same, then go the extra mile: deck yourself out like the ass that you are and really draw attention to yourself.

I would guess that Luther's acute sensitivity to the dangers of pride that exist to writers, and his warning against publishing towards the end of bolstering one's ego, hold special relevance in our day, where one needs merely an internet connection, rather than a willing publisher, to broadcast his/her literary words of wisdom. I suspect, in other words, that blog posts and tweets have exponentially increased the existence of that specific kind of pride which Luther names in the quote above. His words are, in any case, a worthwhile reminder of the perils that threaten anyone who finds himself or herself in a position to put words on paper (or screen) which others stand likely to read.

Luther also offers some wonderful advice on how to write in a way that isn't directed towards self-promotion and pride. "All other writing" -- that is, writing other than Scripture -- "[should] lead the way into and point toward the Scriptures," rather than lead from and obscure the same. Words written in the service of Christ, in other words, should lead others to "drink" directly "of the fresh spring" itself -- that is, the Bible.

In my judgment, Luther's works accomplish the very thing he here suggests should be wrought by "all other writing" -- they lead one into a fuller and richer appreciation of Scripture, and of the one whose person and work Scripture ultimately proclaims. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that Luther's books have far outlived his own expectations for them.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.