The following is from Spurgeon’s devotional “Morning and Evening” for July 5th.
“We are quite apt to regard the apostolic saints of the first century as though they were “saints” in a more special way than other children of God … In thinking this way, however, we forget the truth that the closer a man lives to God, the more intensely he will mourn over his own evil heart; and the more his Master honors him in His service, the more the evils of the flesh tempt and test him day by day.”
As I read these words, I was drawn to think about this idea that the nearer a man lives to God, and the more God honors a man by giving him a place in service to the Lord, “the more the evils of the flesh tempt and test him day by day.” I asked the question to myself: How? How does this man see increase in temptation and enticement to sin? At first thought, when we hear words like these, “the evils of the flesh tempt and test him day by day”, we immediately think this must refer to items like sexual temptations, or material desires with greed and coveting involved. Certainly, a man close to the Lord and in service can be tempted in these areas as is evident when we see ministers of the gospel who have fallen into sins of immorality or are moved along by a thirsty greed for money. But really, these things are issues that would fall within what Paul calls in 1 Cor. 10:13 the temptations that are common to all man. So that is not really what Spurgeon is getting at here even though the apostles were normal men who could be tempted in these ways. So what is “the evils of the flesh which tempt and test him” if not these? I don’t want to minimize those sins, because they are and have been disastrous in leading to the fall of some, but I think what Spurgeon has in mind is something much more dangerous, something that has brought about the demise of far more ministers of the gospel.
The pastor/elder in the local church has a great responsibility to the truth. After all, our King Jesus did say “I am the truth”. To compromise truth, to any level, is to sit in error. Sure, there are varying degrees of error, and not all error is compromise to the point of receiving an anathema from the people of God, but all compromise in truth is to sit in error. The man who stands and unapologetically preaches the truth as revealed by God in His word is a man who is inviting hatred upon himself. Jesus said to his disciples whom he was to send out to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) So there is something common between Jesus and His disciples and I think the answer to this commonality is found in John 7:7. Jesus brothers (who don’t believe in him) are provoking him to go to Jerusalem to show the world how great he is and the Lord says to them “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” Jesus is hated for calling evil for what it is! So too, Jesus disciples who are called to do the same, these will also be hated by the world. 1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.
There is a great temptation far more luring than sexual temptation or the enticement of money in this. When sexual sin is engaged, though it can be hidden, when the veil is pulled back is easy to spot, but in this issue, a man can maintain the image of faithfulness to His Lord and respected position in the church simply by withholding a few of his words, and no one will ever even be aware of it. So in a moment when truth is needed this temptation comes, should he hold his tongue, after all speaking it will have consequences.
It’s easy for us to see how and why this hatred comes from the world, and why a man would be tempted as such. Think of all the sinfulness our world tolerates and even promotes. Sins which not that long ago were condemned even by non-Christians are now openly celebrated, and when a man stands and calls this out in truth, doing so as lovingly as he possibly can and calling people, even pleading with people to be reconciled with God, he will incur the wrath of the world. I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met who actually wants the world to hate him. But they will! And it gets worse.
We expect that kind of response from the world, but at least for the man of God serving in faithfulness to the truth, at least there is the church, right? In the church he will find comrades who love that same truth and serve that same God. In the church often we will even say to one another things like “if you see error in my life, if I need to be corrected, please come to me and call it like it is!” And this is how it should be. After all the New Testament does call us to put away falsehood and speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:2) and not to lie to one another (Col. 3:9), and these imperatives carry not only the weight of not speaking as to deceive each other, but also of not withholding truth which needs to be spoken. Yes, we are to do all things out of love for one another, baring with one another, building up, encouraging each other, yes of course, but we are to speak truth to one another as well, and that means if we see something, we need to say something. We need to do it in a spirit of humility and patience and for the good of the brother, but we still need to say it!
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always go as well as we might hope inside the church. The people of God, who are to be clothed in grace, sometimes don’t receive, in fact, very often don’t receive correction like they say they will “if you ever see anything” in their lives. When it comes right down to it, our flesh is still waging war against our nature as children of God and it strikes back at correction as if a self-defense mechanism, and far too often the Christian allows this to lead him/her. The claim at this point is that “your unloving”, or “too harsh”, or “insensitive” and “legalistic”. They will say “you think your better than others”, or that “you think you know everything”. You might hear the excuses “if you knew what it was like to be treated like I have” or “if you walked in my shoes”, but in the end, none of that gives approval for remaining in sin.
The pastor/elder has the responsibility to call it like it is both outside the church, and inside the church, and when he does, in both locales often his reward is the hatred of those he corrects. We might say “yes but this is true for all Christians, we are all told to call it like it is”, and it’s true, but the pastor/elder is responsible at a whole other level here. He is to be “judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1) and is to “give an account for your souls” (Heb. 13:17). The problem is the elder is but a man, and he too desires to be well received by those around him, especially within his own community inside the church. He has the responsibility to encourage, to instruct, to build up the saints entrusted to his pastoral care, and speaking truth is these areas can be hard enough, but he is also called to bring correction, admonishment (strongly/harsh correction if need be), rebuke, and even to remove members who are participating in sin and refusing to repent. He is to call out the adulterers yes, and we all agree on that, but he is also to call out the brother that refuses to offer forgiveness, and the sister who holds on to bitterness, and the child who rejects the authority of his parents. The problem is, within the church all too often, brothers and sisters hold on to their “right” to not offering forgiveness, or to harbor bitterness, or rebel against parents, and when they do, the result too often is hatred toward the man who called it out. I would not be the only pastor in history to tell stories of the loss of what were once very close friends and allies in ministry due to the speaking of truth where it personally involved an issue they needed repentance in. In fact, I’d dare say, this is an ever present problem for the man of God in pastoral ministry.
The evils of the flesh which tempt and test him day by day, for the minister of the gospel, more than any other issue involves the temptation to keep his mouth shut. That includes in his evangelism, in his teaching from the pulpit, and of course in his private counsel offered to members of his flock. I know of one minister of the gospel who was removed from his church for preaching from the pulpit through the gospel of Mark and daring to teach that divorce is sin when he hit Mark 10. I wish I was kidding, but this happens. This particular servant of Christ refused to compromise (praise God), and the cost to himself and his family was great, but had he caved, the cost he would face before Christ would be devastating. There is a great temptation there for the minister, when you know that’s who your preaching to, the temptation is to keep your mouth shut. To withhold truth he knows he should speak, (regardless of the setting) because if he says it, they might leave the church, or they might not serve anymore, or they might not chose to remain his friends, they might even lead an uprising against him and remove him from the pulpit and toss him out of the church.
But to withhold truth is to compromise truth and sit in error. To withhold truth is to allow the flock (or a member of the flock) entrusted to remain in a pasture eating poison or frolicking with the wild beasts who seek to devour. How can a man keep his mouth shut and not warn frantically one in such danger? But more than anything else, to withhold the truth is to be unfaithful to the Lord who has called this man to exactly that! Only if he loves himself more than His Lord, and more than these sheep can he remain silent. And no man is immune to the pull to love himself.
This leads me to one thought to close: These men who serve the Lord in this capacity, undergo a temptation as Spurgeon says where “more intensely he will mourn over his own evil heart; and the more his Master honors him in His service, the more the evils of the flesh tempt and test him day by day.” These have a solemn responsibility and greater accountability to serve in faithfulness. This being true, we must commit to uphold these men diligently in our prayers. If they are assailed day by day, we should not cease to pray for them day by day. Lift up his wife, his children in prayer for they walk alongside him in a way others do not. Pray for his time in the word, for his closeness with the Lord. Pray that God holds him faithful and that he would speak everything the Lord moves him to say, even correction when it is aimed at ourselves.