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Volume 13, Issue 5: Poimen

Pastor Traps: Glory

Joost Nixon

Last issue began a multi-part series for this column—a series devoted to the taxonomy of pastoral sin. In so doing we have passed by the more common household pests, and devoted ourselves to the leviathans and behemoths of pastoral iniquity—those large enough to destroy a household with one swoop of the tail. They exist in innumerable forms, but generally can be listed under one of three groups: greed, illicit sex, and pride. This issue and next we will look into the causes and consequences of pastoral vainglory.

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).
Peter here calls us to be vigilant, and a great place to begin is by taking heed to the context of the verse. Laying aside exegetical minutia, the reader will notice two obvious contextual cues glaring at him. First, Peter had just finished exhorting elders in verse four. And second, the call for humility pervades this section (v. 3, 5, 6). It is only then we are told the devil considers us the equivalent of Ding-Dongs and Twinkies.
Peter is speaking to known sins of pastors, temptations they must regularly face. We must be vigilant because pride is as subtle as it is devastating. Indeed, most pastors do not begin their ministries with swollen heads, but are rather stooped by a sense of their own insufficiency and wobbling under the weight of new responsibility. Yet with discouraging frequency the seasoning of experience often comes with the leaven of pride.
There are many underlying reasons why humble godly men are transformed in time into bombastic arrogant fools. One of them is the loftiness of their office. Preaching God's Word is a glorious and mysterious calling. In it, God requires preachers to accomplish that which is, without His agency, an utter absurdity. Preachers are required to stand in the place of Christ and unfold the very oracles of God (Rom. 10:14; 1 Pet. 4:11). Perched at such heights the air can be rather thin, and the effect dizzying. The longer one remains there, the more persistent the notion that the authority flows from his person, and not from the Logos, the living Word who has spoken. Of course, no pastor I know would ever have the hubris to assert this publicly—the lie occurs in the secret whisperings of their hearts.
A related reason pride grows in the pastoral heart is when the work of the Spirit is falsely attributed to their own pulpiteering. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has spoken eloquently about the "romance of preaching." Preaching is not mere oration, for when biblical preaching occurs, the Holy Spirit is sovereignly engaged to work in whatever manner suits Him: to harden, dim, and deafen, or to soften, unveil, and open. Consequently, a preacher is simultaneously an active agent and a passive bystander. He cracks the text and clumsily attempts to aim the thing, and then he sits back and watches mysterious and marvelous things happen—things he can not honestly attribute to himself. Kingdoms rise and fall; troubled and broken marriages go on the mend; sullen and sour-faced teenagers find biblical joy; transients get lives; and atheists repent of their autonomous reasonings. In short, when the King's word issues forth, something worth watching always happens. But inexplicably, after years of watching Him work, some pastors begin to say with Nebuchadnezzar, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?"1 In short, we grow arrogant at God's blessing.
A third reason arrogance is a temptation for elders is the position of influence God has placed them in. We have already spoken of the influence of preaching, but there are other means God has given elders to shepherd His flock. A natural function of a pastor is giving biblical counsel to Christians struggling with sin. In this capacity pastors are exposed to enough transgression in people's lives to choke an elephant, and some of it, if it weren't so sad, would be ludicrous: "Mr. Smith, I think one reason your eye might hurt is that you've impaled it upon your shishkabab skewer." In such situations, the pastor may be tempted to adopt the insincere thankfulness of the Pharisee, "Lord, thaaaaaaaaaank you that I am not like this cheese ball sitting in front of me. " But you and the Lord both know how blockheaded you are—so why indulge in sinful comparison? Rather, bind the wounds of the sheep, give him a whack with the rod, and send him scurrying back to the flock.
But the pastor's counseling role goes beyond correction and rebuke. He's also sought out—and quite rightly—as one well-equipped with a knowledge of the Word.
Continued next issue

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