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  • Writer's pictureDwight Smith

Be Careful About Who You Follow

How often have I heard people “brag” on their pastor, or their favorite speaker. “My pastor is so eloquent, or funny.” “My pastor is so humble, or great or.......?” Just today a recognized Christian leader who died  was hailed as being a giant figure. 

 We do godly leadership a disservice when we think of them as 'great', or 'giants' or 'our favorite'. Or any other superlative for that matter.

I cringe when I hear people talk about Christian leaders in this way. They are great men or women of God!!! The appreciation is understandable, as these people have given us thoughts and encouragements that have inspired us. 

However, such statements hold at least two great dangers for all of us. 

First, we have put our eyes on men and women when what they said or did should have clearly lifted our gazes to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We should have been reminded of the words of Paul, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  (1 Corinthians 1:31)

Second such inappropriate acclaim too often causes such “great” leaders to forget that we, all of us, are less significant to the kingdom of God then we too often think we are. We begin to compare one to another. 

In Matthew 23 Jesus warns the disciples about such comparison that leads us to differentiate one from another. He concludes, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

We need to be reminded more often of the words of Paul to the Corinthians. We need to think of ourselves with more eternal weight in mind, “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29). 

Or, as Paul has already said, “What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

Paul’s statement is consistent with the warning of Jesus to the disciples. The only glory we have is the glory we have in the Lord; as he expands further in chapter one of 1 Corinthians. 

God’s salvation does not conform to human expectation. Like everything connected to God, it is upside down to human reasoning. The weak inherit the earth. The foolish confound the wise. And, in the final analysis, any thought about the “foolishness” of God and His ways is in comparison so much wiser than the “wisdom”’of the world as to make our wisdom foolishness. 

That’s the context. But, by extension what does it mean to those of us who stand in the midst of Christ’s people to “represent” God today? At the very least it demonstrates that we, all of us, need to be reminded regularly, “That no flesh should glory in his presence.

As he has already said, who is the most important, Paul or, Apollos or you fill in the blank. 

What then is the measure of a man or woman  that should be evident when “great” people are thought about or have crossed into the presence of their Heavenly Father? 

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” 

(1 Corinthians 4:1-2)

All Christian leaders are stewards of something that does not belong to them. The message is not theirs. The calling to represent the message is not theirs. The gifts needed to fulfill that calling are not theirs. The opportunities into which the Holy Spirit has prepared that the message is to be declared is not theirs. And, the results are not theirs. 

Being so, there  are questions that come immediately to my mind when I read Paul’s words...

First, What kind of people did they leave behind? People who stand on their own in daily intimacy with the Father in His word? Or people who need to be fed too often by the words of their “great” one?

People who show that they understand our sojourn, that we have been recreated for an eternal purpose?

People who have invested their lives in the expansion of the kingdom of God, even if nobody knew who they were?

People who have an eternal grip on their assets, and you can see it in their life choices?

People who view the world for what it is. “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16)

Second, what kind of a personal reputation did they leave behind?

Did they reject the acclaim?

Did they give away the influence that came with it? I have become much more convinced in these days that I will do nothing that I cannot do through someone else! It seems to me to be the most reflective meaning of facilitating the saints to do the work of the ministry. 

Did they train up younger leaders to walk with God? As I have so often said, leadership, especially older leadership, would be much wiser to invest a majority of their time in forming and training younger leaders, rather than a position in the organization! 

Third, did they realize how incomplete they really are? The Lord Jesus had a similar discussion with the disciples before He went to the cross in Mark 10. In this dialogue the apostles take on the accepted idea of leadership around them in both the Roman empire and the Jewish nation. Man easily gravitates to issues of authority. Who is in charge? But in the kingdom of God and of His Son, this is a nonsense question. 

God is in charge and His Son administrates that authority. All authority in heaven and upon earth has been given to the Son. So, Jesus reminds the disciples that such authority as they are envisioning is inappropriate, “not so among you!” My kind of authority says Jesus is most expressed in servant, slave, giving your life in exchange for others as I am doing. 

That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31)

The difficultly for many of us in ministry to and among Christ’s people is maintaining a correct view of ourselves. Of the many things that Paul is saying to the Corinthians is at least this one strident statement: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.

That seems to leave no room for debate. There is no person who will be able to or allowed, to think that they have reason to think of themselves as qualified, deserving, able to stand in his presence, now or forever. 

As responsible as we indeed are to “lead” in the midst of Christ’s people, there is an even greater need to realize that “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” are ours only in Jesus Christ. We will never stand before God, now or in eternity, except as we stand in the only “flesh” that can stand before Him. The obedient, sacrificing, perfect Son of God, the God/man, Jesus Christ. 

Do we need to publicly do more to impress this on ourselves and those who “follow” us?

Let’s watch how we view people who lead us. Good leadership is faithful, nothing more!


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