Benefit of the Doubt: Part Three ~ When ego trumps calling

When you hear someone say, they have a big ego, what do you think it means?  What exactly is an ego?  Your ego is your conscious mind, the part of your identity that you call your “self.”  If you say someone has a big ego, then you are probably saying they are too full of themselves.  Ego feeds into our willpower and can, when healthy, help you focus on major projects, stay resilient when things go wrong, and it can help you grow.  But the ego can have the opposite effect when unhealthy.  Have you ever seen someone who listens to advice but rarely follows it?  Someone who never looks for flaws in themselves to improve, or make corrects to bad behavior?  Maybe they see others as beneath them or keep behaving poorly even when they are wrong.  And here is a big one, they alienate people over time.  You see, ego is your character, and character says everything about who you really are.

This is why Jesus taught in Matthew 7:15-20 to “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits…”  A false prophet does not necessarily mean someone who foretells the future, it can also be someone who is a religious impostor.  Jesus calls them ravening wolves, they are natural-born predators who hunt their prey under the cover of darkness, in other words, their motives are hidden. The religious impostors’ greatest tool is deception, untrue falsehoods, and use lying to ruse people.  They use dissimulation to hide their true motives.  Regrettably, pulpits today are full of such individuals.  Jesus said you will know them by their fruit…this means they can stand out, if you are rooted in God’s Word and have your senses exercised to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14).  For mature believers, whose spiritual senses are trained to distinguish between truth and error and good and bad conduct, wolves in sheep’s clothing are unmasked for what they are, impostors, sadly, their warnings to the body of Christ are most often overlooked.  The impostors’ motives are always guised as grace but is always selfish and destructive.  It is our responsibility to test Christian leaders to determine if they are genuine or not.

Their fruit is characterized by three things, lifestyle, character, and teachings.  How do they live? How do they act? And What are they saying?  These are they three areas that must harmonize as each always effects the other.  If a pastor or bible teacher has bad character, you can bet his doctrine is erroneous, even if they sound right.  Sometimes you just must look a little closer.  Their lifestyle is either lavish or in excess, often both.

Having briefly looked at ego, lets look at calling, then we will look at some examples of current bible expositors to see if they line up with Scripture in the three areas mentioned above.

Ephesians 4:1-3

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation (calling) wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Walking worthy of the vocation we were called to is simply God’s invitation to all to embrace the salvation provided in the crucifixion of Christ.  This calling applies to all who by faith have repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ to the saving of their soul.  This context also defines what our responsibility is within this calling, whether you are a pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, apostle, laymen, etc.  All are called, all are instructed to walk in this calling with “all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, and lastly, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  It doesn’t matter what your position or statis is within the body of Christ, we are all to strive to achieve these four objectives. 

Lowliness is having a humble opinion of oneself, our egos are to be put in check, there is nothing more destructive to oneself and others than an over inflated ego.  Humility is a hallmark of Christianity and Jesus Christ is our model (Phil. 2:1-8).  Meekness is another form of humility but has more to do with gentleness, having a tempered spirit.  Lowliness and meekness are coupled together just as longsuffering and forbearing one another are.  Humility and meekness are inward attributes, while longsuffering and forbearance are manifest in actions towards others in the body of Christ.  It’s important to understand this, because humility and meekness has to do with character, while longsuffering and forbearance is an exercise of that character to others.  When we do this, unity is never a problem.  Putting others before ourselves, building others up in the faith, is Christianity.

Like I said, these are just the basic principles accompanying salvation, all are to do these things, but church leadership has an even higher calling.  “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” – James 3:1.  Those who present themselves publicly as a preacher, teacher, bible expositors, etc. are judged with a higher standard than those who follow.  Church leaders will be held accountable for exemplifying Jesus Christ in their behavior as well in their words and actions.  They are not judged so much by what they accomplish as they are the character they reveal and the example they set.  They are judged more by who they are before what they do, however what they do exhibits who they are (Heb. 13:7).   

The role of Church leadership is to exceed that of Ephesians 4:1-3 as they are called to edification.  A word to the wise, any time you hear a preacher, teacher, or bible expositor use the word “authority” frequently, you might want to pause and take a closer look, its possible they are a wolf.  Wolves love the word “authority.”  Paul spoke of his authority only a few times and defined its purpose, for your edification.

2 Corinthians 10:8

For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed.”

2 Corinthians 13:10

Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.”

Edification is simply the building up of Christ body to maturity.  When I pastored, I told my congregation that I did not want to create a following, I wanted to create a movement.  I wanted to build people up to a level of maturity that they no longer needed a pastor, people who stood shoulder to shoulder with myself, even higher if I could.  This is one reason why the church no longer has an influence on the world around them.  The institutional church has created and assimilated people into a following role.  The average Christian doesn’t even know the bible anymore, yet they attend church services regularly.  You ask a Christian today why they go to church and more times than not their answer is for the worship service and the fellowship.

Ephesians 4:12 explains the reason Christ gave church leadership, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  If a church leader is not doing this, it is highly possible he or she is an impostor.   Church leadership is to equip the saints to serve, in turn, the body of Christ is built up.  We have to many egos in the pulpit today building their own legacy rather than building the church of Christ.  Paul served, even poured himself out as a “drink offering.”  “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” – Phil. 2:17

Pouring ourselves into others to help and build them up is simply the fundamentals of Christian character.  Anyone can tear down and destroy, it takes no character, no education or talent to do so.  To esteem others higher than yourself, to defraud yourself for the sake of others on the other hand is sure evidence of Christ’s work in you and serves as a witness for others to imitate.

I recently read through Revelations, a verse that caught my eye was Revelations 19:8.  Speaking of the bride it states; “She has been permitted to dress in fine linen, dazzling white and clean, for the linen signifies the righteous acts of the saints” (Amp.)  The righteous acts of the saints is speaking of the ethical conduct, personal integrity, moral courage, and godly character of believers (Amplified definition).  Revelation 14:13 teaches us that our deeds follow us into eternity, not just our labors, but who and how we are.  Character here in my opinion determines our clothing there.  What we do to and for fellow believers, how you treat them follows us to the bema seat.  In my opinion, there is going to be a lot of weeping there.  In the next article on “benefit of the doubt,” we will look at a few examples of men in ministry, we will examine their lifestyle, character, and what they teach as a teaching model of how to vet church leadership before you place yourself under them.  Some simple and practical principles to help people recognize the wolf from the shepherd.  Its kind of funny because at the writing of this article, God is testing me on this very subject.  I’m currently looking at a pastor we are thinking of placing ourselves under.  And as you will see, in the next article, the first area and most obvious area to examine is what they teach.  It takes some time to determine their lifestyle and character.  But, what they teach is a good indicator of character and lifestyle. 

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