Sin is no respecter of persons. It does not care what your name is, what your title is, how successful you are, or how large your platform is. It’s not impressed with how long you have been in ministry, how big your church is, or what degrees you have hanging on the wall.
It does not care.
This is important for us to remember as we labor to pastor churches. We too need the gospel we preach. We need the hope it offers. We need the strength it provides. We need the direction it gives. We also need the confrontation. The gospel confronts us with the reality that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves, and have no power in our own flesh to please God.
I believe this theologically. I know the Bible teaches this. Where I struggle—among the many areas—is not living like I believe it is true. I take sin seriously, and I try to take inventory regularly of my actions and heart. I go astray by thinking I am immune to the “big” disqualifying sins. You know, the BIG ones! I theologically know I am not immune, but I often secretly tell myself that I would NEVER do those things.
I’m sure other pastors have said this too. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the endless string of pastors who have publicly fallen and been disqualified from ministry for moral failures uttered similar things to themselves at some point. Oh, how deceiving sin can be!
In the last several years, we have heard story after story of pastors being removed from ministry. There are big names like Driscoll, Tchividjian, Patrick, and Noble. There are others names that are known by fewer, and even more names of men not known at all. The trend is unsettling.
Every time one of these stories breaks, it is crushing. I go through cycles of anger, sadness, cynicism, and confusion. How could these men do this? How does this happen? Do they realize the cost? Did they not foresee the consequences? These questions keep going through my mind with no satisfactory answers.
Inevitably I come to this conclusion and heart posture: If I do not guard my heart and discipline my body, I too am capable of unimaginable destruction. This conclusion better be the one we all reach because it is the truth. We are capable of wrecking our lives so quickly. It takes years and years to build a reputation of faithfulness. It can be destroyed in a moment of foolishness.
The apostle Paul understood this about himself as well. He writes about this to the church in Corinth. His words are important for us to hear and absorb as pastors and shepherds in the church.
24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. 26 Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.—1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ISB)
Paul eludes to the labor, determination, self-control, and discipline athletes exhibit. Only one runner in the race wins the prize. Nobody runs to say they participated. They run with the goal to win. We can understand this. The reason athletes train so hard and monitor their diets is so they can be the absolute best they are physically capable of being. They want to succeed. They want to win.
He then takes this premise and concept—Paul was the original Jesus Juker—and flips it on its head. These athletes compete for something that will perish and fade. Not us! We labor for a crown that never fades. Our striving, our training, our ministries, are for something eternal. They are not for trophies, contracts, or endorsements.
We are all nodding and in agreement with Paul. Yes, our ministries matter. We labor for the things that have eternal consequences. Then Paul, having laid out the stakes, expresses how he lives in light of such an incredible responsibility.
He does not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one—think Glass Joe—beating the air. He is not random in his preparation. He is not sporadic in his training. He is not flippant. Instead, he disciplines his body to bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, he would not be disqualified. This is vital to grasp. He disciplines his body and fights to bring his flesh under control. Why? Because he knows that his flesh has all the power in the world to disqualify him from ministry. He knew his heart was capable of leading his body into places he could never imagine. Sin is no respecter of persons—not even of Paul.
Brothers, if the apostle Paul understood his weakness and frailty, how could we ignore it? If Paul realized that staying qualified for ministry would require a daily, intentional disciplining of his body and soul, how much more of us who would say we are far less than Paul?
How do we do it?
- Recognize the danger of sin. You must recognize the danger sin poses to you. You can’t play around with it. You cannot manage it. As John Owen famously quipped, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Go on daily ‘search and destroy’ missions for the sin that lurks in your heart.
- Engage in spiritual disciplines. You need the daily infusion of the Word in your heart. You need to plead and pray for God’s strength and grace to be supplied. You cannot afford to miss devotional time. Seek God’s face in these times of disciplined action.
- Be in community. You need people you can be honest with. You need to be transparent with trusted friends. Confess your sin. Expose your weaknesses. Give permission for hard questions to be asked.
Sin is no respecter of persons. Unless we discipline ourselves and engage in the battle against sin daily, we could all find ourselves disqualified from ministry. We labor for something far too important to get disqualified by sin. So discipline yourselves.