by Ken Idleman
On many occasions in the Old Testament, the prophets served as God’s spokesmen to confront the shepherds of Israel for the cardinal sin of any recognized spiritual leader: hypocrisy. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ most scathing rebukes were directed at the religious leaders of the Jewish people for the same reason. We recall His refrain through Matthew 23: Woe to you teachers of religious law and Pharisees – hypocrites!… (verses 13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29).
Generally, a hypocrite is an actor who practices the opposite of what he preaches. His outward appearance does not match his inward condition. We have been inundated in recent memory with graphic illustrations from the past lives and the present leadership of political leaders “on both sides of the aisle.” But, really, we have been seeing this with regularity since the 1960s. Politicians verbally persecute others, later to be caught in the same vices. Pastors vigorously attack certain sins, only to be exposed for secretly indulging in them. Humanitarians claim to stand with the poor, even though they themselves quietly live self-indulgent and lavish lifestyles.
Now, of course, we know we are all fallen sinners, so we all have varying degrees of hypocrisy in us. We can all identify with the words of Paul in Romans 7:15, I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Only Jesus was truly without hypocrisy. Only He could challenge His enemies in John 8:46, Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?
So let’s be honest. Hypocrisy is a common tendency in us all. And it is a pitfall especially pernicious for any leader that helps to maintain the moral compass: parents, pastors, teachers, judges, politicians…
But here’s the thing: God’s Word makes it clear that those who lead, who teach – anyin positions of influence – will be judged more strictly. That is, leaders are held to a higher standard. Look at James 3:1: Not many of you should become teachers [leaders], for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Alongside this, remember Paul’s words about a higher standard in 1 Corinthians 9: Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals? Don’t we have the right to bring a believing wife with us as the other apostles do?… Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves?… We have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ, (verses 4-6, 12, NLT). Therefore, leaders are justifiablyexpected to be the private personification of the doctrines, values and behaviors that they represent publicly.
With this in mind, no one should consent to wear the leadership mantle without embracing the personal implications of this trust! We can’t be perfect, but we do have to commit to being perfected. We don’t have to be completely consistent, but we do have to be worthy of imitation. We must be able to say to those we lead, just like the imperfect Paul said (1 Corinthians 11:1): And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.