The Pastor in his Personal Holiness as a Leader

Topic The pastor in his personal holiness as a leader Time October 2016 Place APC, South Africa

Leadership of God's people involves some obvious things. First of all, we need to know what is expected of us. As pastors we will find that in the Bible. Our people will also have certain expectations of us. Where these mesh with the Bible all well and good but there is clearly potential for a difference of opinion that has to be worked out. If you share the leadership, and we all do to some extent, be clear on how it works. What exactly is the relationship between the pastor and other elders, the pastor and deacons, the pastor and the church meeting.


When we spoke of being a pastor or shepherd we spoke of the importance of knowing your people. Don't forget that. You need to know too what needs to be done and when a particular task needs to be done. Derek Prime has written, “It is not enough to know what needs to be done; when it is to be done is just as important.” (A Christian's guide to leadership). We need to wait on God for his timing in all things. The other thing here is knowing how it is to be done. How important that is.
Prime suggests eight things that follow on from these basic assumptions – knowing your own mind, showing how things are to be done, being concerned for reasonable progress, having some 'go' about you, being a confirmed optimist, seeking to be far sighted, practising honesty with integrity, aiming to encourage new leadership. In it all we must always remember Christ's own example.
In the rest of his book he talks about good personal relationships, delegation (which is so important), efficiency and so on. What we want to focus on, however, is personal example and that really takes us back to the whole matter of the importance of holiness in our lives. It is too easy in the midst of our daily tasks as pastors to let personal holiness slip to the bottom of the agenda in our thinking. It must not.

So let's think about our own holiness. To be a pastor is not simply a matter of preaching - passing on information to others merely. The man himself is fundamentally important. He must be prepared for this work. Elders we are told (Titus 1:8) are to be self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. Like Paul we must be holy, righteous and blameless … among those who believed. Many have recognised this. John Owen, in his An Inquiry into the Original Nature, Institution, Power, Order, and Communion of Evangelical Churches in Volume 16 of his Works says pastors must, among other things,

Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this, they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part unprofitable towards others. It is to such men, attended unto as a task for their advantage; or as that which carries some satisfaction in it from ostentation, and supposed reputation wherewith it is accompanied. But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others, which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on, and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others, will scarce make it savoury unto them. Yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided maybe poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word doth not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woeful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls, is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words, and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit. ….

In 1849 Robert Murray M'Cheyne wrote to a fellow minister, Daniel Edwards

Get your texts from God - your thoughts, your words, from God. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousands words spoken in unbelief and sin.

Before leaving Palestine he wrote to William Burns

Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people. (Memoir and Remains 178)

He also wrote to Burns (241, 248, 254, 273)

I feel there are two things it is impossible to desire with sufficient ardour - personal holiness and the honour of Christ in the salvation of souls. … Oh, cry for personal holiness, constant nearness to God by the blood of the Lamb! … Seek advance of personal holiness. It is for this the grace of God has appeared to you. … Seek much personal holiness and likeness to Christ in all the features of his blessed character. Seek to be lamb-like, without which all your efforts to do good to others will be as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

And to Edwards (362, 180)

Lead a holy life. - I believe, brother, that you are born from above, and therefore I have confidence in God touching yon, that you will be kept from the evil. But oh! study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this, Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two, - your life preaches all the week. Remember, ministers are standard-bearers. Satan aims his fiery darts at them. If he can only make you a covetous minister, or a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry for ever. Ah! let him preach on 50 years, he will never do me any harm. Dear brother, cast yourself at the feet of Christ, implore his Spirit to make you a holy man. Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine. …

I know some preachers who perhaps are not the most interesting or the best in some ways but they are godly and because of that they can look you in the eye and tell you the truth. We need more men like that. So what can we say practically about this matter of holiness?

Perhaps the best thing I can do to help you here is to take you to Colossians 1:9, 10 where Paul prays for the Colossians, to see what we learn about practical holiness there. Paul says

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

We can sum up what Paul wants for them by saying he wants them to grow spiritually. Leaning on Joel Beeke's Developing spiritual growth, we say that this growth must be growth in knowledge, practice and experience. I want us just to look at growth in practice today. I think we can get at this best by asking three questions that arise from the three phrases in the prayer so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work ….

1. Are you growing according to the pattern Christ laid down?
Paul's prayer for knowledge is so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord, etc. So
1. Are you living a life worthy of the Lord? In 1981 American tennis player John McEnroe won Wimbledon for the first time aged 22. Now when you win Wimbledon it is the custom for the All England Lawn Tennis Club to invite you to be a member. McEnroe, however, had quite a bad reputation for noisy outbursts on court and didn't come to the winners dinner so they decided not to invite him. They didn't consider him a good example to young people. He was not worthy of the honour. He lost the final the following year but was well behaved so they welcomed him in.
Here Paul talks of living a Life worthy of the Lord. The idea is not that we can earn a place in God's kingdom. No, that is given to us despite our sins. Rather the idea is that we should live a life appropriate to having Christ as Lord. A person who is growing spiritually will increasingly be living a life worthy of the Lord. The inappropriate will increasingly fall away. As we grow in knowledge we'll not only see the anomalies in our lives but seek to do something about them.
This idea of walking worthy is a common one in Paul. Eph 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Phpns 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. 1 Thess 2:11, 12 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God. 2 Thess 1:11 we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling.
Christ should be a pattern for us in our daily lives. If he is truly our Saviour then he also ought to be our exemplar too. We ought to walk in his footsteps.
2. Are you practising self-denial and humbly serving? Puritan Thomas Watson says “the right manner of growth is to grow less in one's own eyes”. One of the most obvious things about Christ was his self-denying and humble nature. That ought to be our attitude too. Beeke quotes Packer

Pride blows us up like balloons, but grace punctures our conceit and lets the hot, proud air out of our system. The result (a very salutary result) is that we shrink, and end up seeing ourselves as less - less nice, less able, less wise, less good, less strong, less steady, less committed, less of a piece - than ever we thought we were. We stop kidding ourselves that we are persons of great importance to the world and to God. We settle for being insignificant and dispensable. Off-loading our fantasies of omnicompetence, we start trying to be trustful, obedient, dependent, patient and willing in our relationship with God. … We bow to events that rub our noses in the reality of our own weaknesses, and we look to God for strength quietly to cope.

This is part of the work of mortification or putting sin to death. When we see (like John the Baptist) that he must increase and I must decrease then we begin to grow as believers.
I like the story of the boy out with his father, a farmer, looking at a field of corn. The boy remarked on how he liked to see the corn standing tall in the field. His father on the other hand preferred the corn that was bowing down because that was the corn that he knew was full.
Are you practising self-denial and humbly serving? There is no spiritual growth without it.
3. Do you see yourself as a servant and are you submissive? Matthew 20:25-27 You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The issue is not authority but about how we use our authority. Paul says (2 Cor 4:5) We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. A servant spirit, a servant heart is so important.
When we think of spiritual growth we tend to think of doing great exploits for God perhaps but really the chief thing is learning to submit to God – to his will, his power, his honour and glory. Calvin says somewhere “Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishment”. That's the attitude, pressing on and not becoming distressed at how little we've done.
The submissive spirit we are talking about is exemplified in the attitude of William Carey when, in 1812, his printing house in India accidentally burned down. Paper, new type, irreplaceable manuscripts - all were lost. His reaction? ‘In one night the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the divine ways! I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection I could, and contemplated the Mission with, perhaps, too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low that I might look more simply to Him.’ That Sunday he preached from Psalm 46 on God’s right to do his will, and our duty to acquiesce. He wrote to Fuller, ‘The ground must be laboured over again, but we are not discouraged ... God has a sovereign right to dispose of us as He pleases.’
2. Are you growing in pleasing God?
Paul says the goal of his prayer is not only that you may live a life worthy of the Lord but also that you may please him in every way. 1 Thess 4:1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Eph 5:10, interestingly, is Find out what pleases the Lord. Presumably to do what pleases him. More questions
1. Is pleasing God central in your life? It's very easy to slip into a way of thinking where we become more concerned with what others think of us than with what God thinks of us. That must never be the case. 1 Thess 2:4 We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 2 Cor 5:8, 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. This determination to please God rather than men comes out elsewhere. It ought to be what drives us too.
Sometimes you might hear someone say “I did it just to please him” referring to their spouse. Doing things to please others is fine, of course, but what should drive us above and beyond everything else is doing what we do to please God.
In the film Chariots of Fire about the 1924 Olympics and Eric Liddell, the Christian who becomes one of the finest runners in the world there is a scene where we know his sister, Jennie, wants him to leave competitive running to join the family on the mission field in China. Jennie feels Eric is putting running ahead of serving God, and she questions his commitment. Eric attempts to help his sister see his point of view. He announces with a smile, "I've decided I'm going back to China. The missionary service has accepted". Jennie interrupts him. "Oh, Eric, I'm so pleased." Eric continues, "But I've got a lot of running to do first. Jennie, you've got to understand. I believe that God made me for a purpose, for China. He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt. You were right; it's not just fun. To win is to honour him." Now whether it happened quite like that and whether Liddell read it right if it did that is the attitude we're talking about.
Are we determined to seek always to keep pleasing God not anyone else central?
2. Are you seeking to be sanctified, remembering it is not the same as justification? Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the difference between justification and sanctification. Both are free gifts from God and flow from the work of Christ on the cross. Both are found in all believers and begin at the same time. Both in a sense are necessary to enter heaven. Luther once said "There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow."
There are differences though. Yes, we are justified by faith in Christ and so legally or forensically we stand perfect before God in Christ. Nevertheless, we are called to be holy and to be increasingly holy in our actual lives, the work of sanctification. Increasingly we should be seeking to please God – not because we will not be acceptable to him otherwise but because we will not be growing spiritually, in sanctification otherwise. The differences are worth knowing and remembering
1. One - something is done for you, one – something is done in you.
2. One enables you to acquire Christ’s righteousness, one enables you to acquire your own righteousness. In sanctification we acquire our own imperfect righteousness through the Spirit.
3. One is not a matter of good deeds at all, one very much is.
4. One is complete and finished from conversion, one is never complete until heaven.
Perhaps we can think of the difference between a house and a home.
5. One does not grow or increase, one grows and increases throughout life. You can’t be more or less justified – you either are or are not. Sanctification, however, has many degrees. Take the army. On one hand you are either in it or out of it but within it there are many ranks.
6. One has to do with your standing before God, one with the state of your soul.
7. One gives authority to enter heaven, one prepares you to enjoy heaven. Take a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. There is the ticket you need to get in and the clothes you wear at the event.
8. One is God’s work outside you, invisible to others, one God’s work within you, obvious to others.
3. Are you serving God not men and seeking his reward not theirs? To be very practical we must examine ourselves and probe to see the extent to which our lives are conforming to what we profess. We ought to remind ourselves constantly of the judgement day when the whole truth will be known. We ought to be living in the light of that day even now. One thing that we should not be afraid of thinking of is the reward for the righteous on that day. There will be a well done good and faithful servant for all on that day. Further, think about verses such as Matthew 10:41, 42 where Jesus says Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
In The Weight of Glory C S Lewis apparently says that believers can underestimate the full riches God has for his children.

… If we consider … the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures … like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

In The Problem of pain he says

We are afraid that Heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only he pure in heart want to.

He also says somewhere

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of rewards makes the Christian's life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connection with things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it.”
3. Are you growing in spiritual fruitfulness?
The third phrase bearing fruit in every good work again prompts a question, which we can break down into three further questions. The idea of spiritual growth leading to the bearing of fruit is an easy picture to get and a common enough one in Scripture. In John 15 Jesus speaks about his being the vine and his disciples the fruit bearing branches. Philippians 1:11speaks of the Philippians being filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God. The whole point of growing a vine or apple tree is that there may be fruit. Three further questions then
1. Are you healthily active? Fruit doesn't simply refer to the people we may bring to Christ. Fruit stands for all the things we do in Christ's kingdom. If we are really growing spiritually it will not be just our attitudes that change but our actions too. James is very hot on this. In 1:22ff he says

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

He goes on in Chap 2 to remind us faith without deeds is dead. So, is there fruit? Is your Christian life productive?
2. Are you remaining in Christ? In John 15 where Jesus has a lot to say about Christians bearing fruit he says strikingly (15:4) Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. Although there needs to be activity in our lives it needs to be a healthy activity. Such activity will be healthy only if we are remaining in the Lord Jesus Christ at all times. He says I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
A branch will not produce fruit if it doesn't remain in the vine. The warning is that If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. Another illustration might be the way a dirty dish may be very hard to clean if left out overnight but soaked in water in the sink that will make a big difference.
Jesus goes on to say If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This leads us onto the third and final point I want to make.
3. Are you making good use of the spiritual disciplines? In 1 Tim 4:7 Paul says Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. The word translated train is an interesting word. It's where we get our word gymnasium from. A lot of people today are convinced abut the importance of going to the gym regularly. They are convinced that Paul is right when he says that physical exercise is of some value. What most people have failed to get is that godliness has value for all things. This brings us to the importance then of spiritual disciplines.
By spiritual disciplines, sometimes called spiritual exercises or practices, we mean actions and activities that we undertake for the purpose of cultivating spiritual growth. Given that we need to grow spiritually the question comes as to how we are to grow. If we are to be fruitful, how are we going to be fruitful. The chief answer is through spiritual disciplines. Beeke mentions 16 altogether. That may sound a lot. I found a list of 27 elsewhere. As Beeke freely admits in the end it all boils down to prayer and reading the Word. I think it's always good to look at this subject.
Beeke lists four personal disciplines. We could add more but let's stick with these. He quotes Austin Phelps in The Still Hour saying

It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.

We need to find time, as difficult as that may be sometimes, to be alone with God.
1 Read the Bible regularly for yourself. This is the first, the most obvious thing. If we don't get to know the content of the Bible and continually remind ourselves of it then how are we going to grow spiritually? How are we going to bear fruit? In John 17:17 Jesus prays Sanctify them by the truth. He adds your word is truth. Ps 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Beeke also recommends singing Scripture and some of you will find that useful. Learning Scripture is also a great thing and there are lots of helps. The main thing is first to read it. There are various schemes that will take you through the Bible in one year, two, three, whatever. I think there are schemes that distinguish weekends from weekdays too and even more flexible schemes. There are also buy one year Bibles set out with daily readings all in one place for the day. This is something we must be committed to. When we fail to read on a certain day we shouldn't be too discouraged but start again as soon as can. It's a bit like falling off a bicycle. Get on again.
2 Meditate on the Bible regularly. Someone has said that reading the Bible without meditating on it is like trying to eat without swallowing. The godly Bishop Joseph Hall once wrote

Remember, it is not hasty reading, but seriously meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee's touching of the flowers that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon them, and drawing out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian.

Spurgeon once remarked that

Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather let my soul soak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!

Col 3:1, 2 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. There is no better way to do that than by meditating on Scripture. In Psalm 1 we learn that the godly man delights in God's law and meditates on it night and day.
The circumstances are different for all of us but we ought to be finding time – if not every day at least more than once a week to meditate on the Word of God. Beeke suggests a Puritan method.
  • 1 Pray in order to focus the mind on the Scripture
  • 2 Read the verse or two you want to meditate on
  • 3 Repeat it over and over, learning it as you go
  • 4 Think carefully about the verse or verses – what it means, its context, its applications
  • 5 Stir your heart to appropriate affections of love, joy, grief, hope, etc.
  • 6 Arouse your soul to make specific resolutions coming out of the verse
  • 7 Conclude with prayer, thanking God and praying for his help to act in light of the verse
3. Pray. We should pray before and after we meditate. We should also pray giving thanks to God and praising his name and confessing our sins. Then there is the whole matter of intercession.
We will surely want to pray for our families. In some cases that will mean that we pray longer and longer. I remember hearing Joel Beeke give an anecdote about his mother some years ago. It involved them waiting for her to come for some reason and her taking a long time because she was praying. More recently he was saying that his mother was the mother of a large family and had a vast number of grandchildren and great grand children. No wonder, she needed to pray so long!
We ought to be praying for a our flock too. Start with the elders, perhaps, then the deacons, then as many members as you can plus members of the congregation. We ought to pray too for others – ministers, missionaries, neighbours, different agencies that seek to reach out.
The truth is that if we are going to do this properly then we need to find time each day to do it. Ora et labora is an old Latin phrase often used. Prayer and work. Beeke draws attention to Nehemiah 4:9 where Nehemiah says that when under threat we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. It reminds us of how Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have said “Trust in God and keep your powder dry”. Beeke uses the picture of using two oars to row a boat. Or to use a football illustration – the best players learn to kick with both feet.
I think this is a useful way to think about things. If we think only about our daily tasks we'll remain prayerless. If we just think of prayer we may prove useless but if we think of the two together that will be best. In the morning you are bound to be thinking of the tasks ahead that day. Pray about them then. As you begin tasks pray and as you go about them too. They say that when Luther was once asked what his plans for the following day were, he answered: “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
If we are going to grow in grace then undoubtedly we need to pray more in private. Beeke quotes Archibald Alexander helpfully too saying “Pray constantly and fervently for the influences of the Holy Spirit. No blessing is so particularly and emphatically promised in answer to prayer as this”. So private prayer then. This is important. We may fail many times but must keep returning to it.
4. Try keeping a journal. Beeke suggests this. Personally, I vary on this but there is some merit in simply writing down how you have spent the day in order to encourage wise use of time and so that we do not completely fritter it away. It also helps with self-examination. Sometimes we can see good or bad patterns developing in our lives by this means. Beyond keeping a diary we can write down our personal thoughts and how we are communing with God. It is from this sort of journaling that diary keeping has sprung. If you do it you can read over it in years to come and learn from it.
Not all of us will want to to do this but some may find it helpful. It is ideally a daily thing but a weekly journal can be useful too. A lot more could be said but we will leave it there for now.