In a previous article, I made note of a few things the church needs in order to grow.
For the present installment, I highlight a number of personality-types which the church does not need — things which serve to frustrate the wellbeing of the church, and which, therefore, ought to be expunged from our midst.
By divine ordination, congregations in the New Testament were overseen by a plurality of elders (cf. Acts 11.30; 14.23; 15.2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16.4; 20.17-18; 21.18; Phil. 1.1; 1 Tim. 5.17; Jms. 5.14). No single disciple was ever permitted to exercise exclusive authority over the congregation, nor are there any biblical examples authorizing such.
Still, that has not prevented many from doing just that. Power-craven individuals, drunk with the lure of iron-fisted control, often go to great lengths to consolidate their dominance over the flock of Christ. Bully tactics, slander, back-door “wheeling-and-dealing” are just a few of the contemptible antics employed by the congregational dictator.
And when such devious machinations are brought to a head, and the dictator has won over a sizable enough number to his side, he will often resort to expelling his detractors out of the church, by force if necessary.
The beloved John wrote to a congregation experiencing this very predicament. His name was Diotrephes. Inspiration describes him in the following ways:
(1) He “loves to be chief over” the church (3 Jn. 9). The original word suggests a desire for preeminence — to be the foremost disciple.
(2) He refuses to “accept” John’s authority (ibid.). His word took precedence over the apostles’.
(3) He “prates against” John and his company. This word literally signifies, to bubble up. It refers to overflowing speech that is empty — bold in its presentation, but weightless in its slanderous accusations (cf. Jms. 4.11; 5.9).
(4) Furthermore, the dictator is “not satisfied” with merely slandering his detractors. Instead, he begins culling the congregation, “forbidding” the brethren from associating with those who object to his actions, and even “banishing” (literally, to “throw out”) from the church those who would dare contravene (cf. 3 Jn. 9-10).
Church-dictators are “evil,” and are not to be imitated (3 Jn. 11). Individuals of this variety must be sternly warned, and, if necessary, spiritually disciplined, both for his sake, and for the sake of the congregation at large (cf. Titus 3.10-11; Rm. 16.17-18).
Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably (since they are both rooted in feelings of resentment), but there is a difference between them.
Jealousy is often the result of wounded love — when others encroach upon or threaten to undermine that which is rightly (or exclusively) ours. Jealously, therefore, can be viewed in a positive light (cf. Ex. 34.14; 2 Cor. 11.2-4).
Envy, on the other hand, is an insidious disposition — the result of lovelessness (1 Cor. 13.4). Never is it viewed positively in the Scriptures.
Envy encroaches upon or threatens to undermine that which belongs to others. It resents the good fortune of others, and seeks either to (a) acquire that fortune for himself; or, (b) if he can’t have it, at the very least, to strip that fortune from his neighbor.
There are scores of illustrations of envy in the Old Testament — Cain envious of Abel (Gen. 4.1ff); Rachael of Leah (Gen. 30.1ff); the Philistines of Isaac (Gen. 26.14ff); Joseph’s brothers of Joseph (Gen. 37.11; Acts 7.9); Korah, Dathan, and Abiram of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16). In each case, destruction and sin are invariably left in envy’s wake.
Envy was the monstrous fiend responsible for putting our Lord upon the cross (cf. Mt. 27.18; Acts 7.9; 17.9). Can it really be supposed that envy’s presence in the church — the Lord’s body — will be any less destructive (cf. Gal. 5.26)?
“A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones” (Prov. 14.30).
The fault-finder is never happier than when he is engaged in criticism. In his warped frame of mind, he believes he can bolster himself through blaming others. But he is sadly mistaken.
There are three kinds of fault-finders: the falsifier, the hypocrite, and the injurer.
The falsifier condemns erroneously, either with deliberate intent (Mt. 26.59ff; cf. Mt. 19.18), or through ignorance.
Eli was quick to excoriate Hannah for being drunk; but he did not realize that, far from being drunk, she was, in reality, praying to the Lord (1 Sam. 1.12f).
The scribes of Capernaum accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be able to forgive sins, but they were ignorant of his divine nature (Mk. 2.5-12).
In either case, those who spread false accusations must themselves be brought under scrutiny (Mt. 7.1-2). Only then will falsehoods have a chance of being squelched (1 Tim. 5.19).
The hypocrite blames others for things of which he himself is guilty.
Judas once criticized a woman for anointing Jesus with a pound of very costly oil, claiming it was a “waste,” for, ostensibly, they could have sold the expensive emollient and given the proceeds to the poor. In reality, he cared nothing for the poor, but, in his hypocrisy and greed, he wanted the funds for himself (Jn. 12.3-7; cf. Mt. 26.8f).
When Jesus said: “judge not that you be not judged,” he did not condemn all judgment (cf. Jn. 7.24). Rather, he reminds his audience of the danger of judging others hypocritically. How can a man concern himself with a splinter in his neighbor’s eye, without first being concerned about the giant plank of wood in his own eye (Mt. 7.3)? His conclusion was this:
“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Mt. 7.5).
Helping others with their own problems is virtuous, provided you first have shown a willingness to address your own.
The injurer finds fault based on truth, but does so not to help the situation, but only to wound the guilty party.
It is one thing to warn someone of their error so as to save their “soul from death” (Jms. 5.19-20); it is another thing to flaunt it in front of others, or to remind them persistently of their guilt.
Love “does not rejoice in iniquity” (1 Cor. 13.6). Those who view another man’s guilt as a juicy morsel are themselves guilty.
What’s more, inspiration declares that love “bears all things” (1 Cor. 13.7). This term has to do with covering so as to conceal. A form of the word is used of a roof covering a house (cf. Mt. 8.8; Lk. 7.6).
Hence, the righteous man will do all he can to prevent news of another man’s guilt from spreading publicly. Even if the sin has deeply wounded him, he bears it as long as possible, and refuses to vent the error to others (cf. Mt. 1.19).
The disciplinary instructions of Matthew 18.15-17 reflect this disposition perfectly, as the public broadcasting of guilt ought to be the last step taken to correct the offender’s actions — and even then it must be done (a) with humility; and (b) with the offender’s best interest in mind — not merely to make the victim feel better.
“A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Prov. 29.11).
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins” (Prov. 10.12).
“He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends” (Prov. 17.9).
J.W. McGarvey once wrote:
“The Christian must not be censoriously judicial, but he should be discriminately judicious” (263).
That statement sagely displays the difference between a fault-finder and a fault-corrector.
Of all the destructive hindrances to the church’s wellbeing, self-righteousness can be the most deceptive, and therefore the most pernicious.
The self-righteous individual, brimming with confidence, maintains an aura of virtue. His seemingly holy charisma can be highly infectious.
Take the Lord’s parable of The Pharisee and The Tax-Collector, for example (Lk. 18.9-14). The self-righteous Pharisee is not a man who, outwardly, appears wicked. Many exemplary habits disseminate from this man.
First, he appears to be devoutly religious, and deeply spiritual. He was prone to prayer, and he “fasted twice a week.”
Second, he appears to be a decent, moral man. He abstains from extortion and adultery, and attempts to live uprightly with other men.
Third, he appears to be a generous man, giving ten percent of everything he acquires.
Though such pursuits are commendable, man must ever bear in mind that he is but an “unprofitable servant,” doing only “what was our duty to do” (Lk. 17.10). And though we may become righteous (1 Jn. 3.7; 1 Tim. 6.11; Mt. 5.6), we can never truly become righteous enough, for the debt of our sins is impossibly enormous (cf. Mt. 18.24-25). We are yet as “filthy rags,” which can only be cleansed by the mercy of God (Isa. 64.6).
Hence, the disciple of Christ must always tread lightly, with meekness and fear (1 Pt. 3.15). He must not be brash, or loud-mouthed. His personality must ever take a back seat to the humble character of Christ, which ought to be living inside of him (Phil. 2.1-5). And he must daily remind himself of the depth of guilt he brought upon himself, and of who brought him to his present state of righteousness.
“Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men” (Ps. 9.20).
“I said in my heart, ‘concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals” (Ecc. 3.18).
Many teach that it is impossible for a child of God to become lost — that once they are saved, they are always saved. But that is grossly unbiblical (cf. Heb. 3.12-19; Gal. 5.4; 2 Pt. 2.20-22; etc.).
Furthermore, those who quit the faith may not have a direct negative influence on the church, but they can profoundly discourage the brethren by their departure.
Paul once esteemed a disciple named, Demas, as a “fellow-laborer” (Phile. 24). Approximately five years later, however, Demas had “forsaken” him, preferring the present world to the next (2 Tim. 4.10). This surely was a stinging loss to the apostle (cf. 1 Cor. 3.15; 9.1).
Judas likewise was “numbered with” the apostles and “obtained a part” in the Lord’s ministry. But he “fell” from “this ministry and apostleship” “by transgression” (Acts 1.16-17, 24-25). By his betrayal, he caused the rest of the disciples to forsake the Lord too, even if only temproarily (Mk. 14.43-50).
Accordingly, those who turn back are not “fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9.62). Only those who “endure to the end shall be saved” (Mk. 13.13).
Human bodies occasionally contract various diseases and cancers, which need to be promptly eliminated in order for the body to remain functional. If such maladies are not expelled, the body will inevitably perish.
Equally so, the Lord’s church must be vigilant to rid itself of the various spiritual cancers which plague it, lest it is consumed by iniquity (cf. Rev. 2.17-22).
And let us all, individually, examine ourselves daily, lest perhaps we become responsible for hindering the wellbeing of the Lord’s body (cf. 2 Cor. 13.5; Heb. 2.1).
This is a series of articles, with the following parts:
The Lord's Church (6): Its Hindrances
McGarvey, J.W. and P.Y. Pendleton. The Fourfold Gospel. Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Foundation, n.d.