After preaching through Malachi 2:1-9 on Spiritual Leadership on Sunday, I told my wife that the difficulty would come in trying to embody the type of brave, loving leadership God desires for His Church. It is easy to talk about being brave, but the confronting of others or being confronted by others is one of the scariest experiences of community life, yet, at the same time, it is also one of the most spiritually rewarding. The problem in Malachi 1:6-14 was a conspiracy of complacency between the spiritual leaders and the people. What the people were bring for sacrifices was unacceptable to God as expressed through His law and the priests had refused to confront the people of Israel. The failure of the spiritual leaders to confront and correct led to a curse on those leaders, which amounted to the loss of their spiritual authority and the spread of spiritual apathy throughout the land of Israel. Spiritual courage especially among leaders is the main counter-weight and one of the cures for spiritual-apathy. Any church that desires a healthy climate of discipleship must be a body lead by spiritually courageous leaders that embody for the people loving, brave leadership that the people themselves are to imitate. However, I wanted to throw out a few cautions when seeking to develop this climate as there are some pitfalls to be avoided.
Just like everything else, it is possible for us to run from one extreme to another. I have seen leaders, who were genuinely trying to develop a healthy culture of discipleship, go way overboard with the concept of spiritual bravery. Pretty soon, there is a sin in everyone’s life that needs to be confronted and instead of developing a healthy culture of discipleship they have developed an unhealthy culture of judgment. It is important to be a man or woman that is engaged in a life of worship. In other words, to quote Jesus, before we go around pulling splinters out of other peoples eyes we need to deal with the logs in our own. That is why Malachi begins in chapter one with us examining our sacrifices. What are we bringing to God? Once we are sure that the stuff of our worship is not sick, lame, rotten, or stolen, then and only then do we move into a place of spiritual health ourselves. It is usually then that God begins to use us in the lives of others to bring help and healing. Interestingly, this new found honor, comes because we have placed renewed honor where it belongs, with God rather than men. It is God that then begins to establish and give to us a spiritual authority. Spiritual leadership is a moral leadership and moral leadership is not conferred by titles. The giving of a title comes through an institution and is an institutional form of leadership. Jesus held no titles, had no degrees we know of, yet he changed the world through moral leadership. You and I heard the Gospel, the story of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and fell in love with Him, were baptized, and began to follow Him. All authority in heaven and earth was given to him by God at His resurrection (Matthew 28:18), yet God says to Jesus in Psalm 110, that
“Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.” – Psalm 110:3
Translation, the beauty of the Son of God and His ministry will be expressed by His followers freely offering themselves to Him out of love. That is the beauty of moral authority, it comes freely to the one on whom it is conferred.
So what do we learn from this? Jesus, many times, patiently endured the foolishness of His followers without saying a word. Many times He waited on them to ask Him a question, which gave Him an opportunity to point out their sin in such a way that caused them to love Him all the more instead of being repelled by Him. This is the art of Christian confrontation, it is much different than the type the world practices. The idea that you keep your heart before God, allowing Him over time to establish your spiritual authority, so that through fellowship and friendship you get to begin to help others, who freely come to you, answer some tough questions about their own soul is an incredible privilege, which, if you have not experienced, is nearly indescribable. Let me just say it is awesome. Especially if you were like me, in my early Christian life, a know-it-all jerk for Jesus who went around tinkering with other people’s souls without them asking. That is a tough thing to admit, yet nevertheless, it is all to true. I found that if I didn’t assert authority but rather waited for the spiritual authority that God alone can give, that my usefulness in the masters hands was multiplied because I was an instrument yielded to His use and purpose not my own. In fact, I pursued being a pastor for nearly 12 years, and only after I had given up the pursuit and settled into a life of obedience did God find me useful for the office. The fact is I was pursuing institutional authority, a title, only when I gave up the pursuit of institutional authority was I fit for spiritual authority.
What am I driving at here? A healthy culture of discipleship is one driven by spiritual authority not institutional authority. Strive to keep your heart before the Lord, be faithful to him, and spiritual authority will come to you whether you want it or not. People will seek you out, they will value what you have to say. You will find it a rare thing to have to boldly confront others. But if you find it necessary, and sometimes it is, as Jesus’ life and ministry proves to us as well. Here is some advice based on the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians to help.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1
- Make sure that your confrontation of a brother or sister is truly warranted. Nothing can be worse than receiving a false accusation. Take care that the reputation of the person to be confronted stays intact until it is clear that repentance is not forthcoming, as then it must be told to the church. (See Matthew 18)
- Make sure your own heart is immersed in grace and that you are the right man or woman for the job. The “you who are spiritual” lends to the idea that you are mature enough and experienced in the ways of grace as well.
- The goal is always restoration in a spirit of gentleness. Confrontation is not you being a jerk for Jesus but it is you seeking the restoration of a soul to God. Jesus was gentle most of the time. There is a place for a tough word, but it is rarer than we think.
- Always keep in mind that you are human and subject to the same blindness and failure as you are witnessing in them. A couple hours, days, or years later you may find yourself in the exact same place.
But above all, remember to strive most of all for the honor, authority, and exaltation that comes from God alone, following the example of His Son who was obedient unto death.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” – Peter 5:6