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Practice What You Preach
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An election year is upon us, a time when the candidates’ words are carefully recorded and compared to what they said before, and how their personal lives match up to their words. It’s not always words that persuade the public—it’s body language. As the proverbial proverb says, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Being a teacher is an especially weighty responsibility. James warns, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Teachers instruct others in order to guide their life, so the teacher’s life should be in line with what is taught. The teacher must be a model—a living lesson.
Recently, I addressed some seniors on three topics: “The Problem of Evil,” “Perseverance,” and “Job.” These are three weighty and controversial topics, and, of course, I had all the answers. Well, I had the Bible’s answers, so I knew I was right on target.
Wouldn’t you know that I immediately became a target myself. That’s nearly always the case. The apostle Paul said, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, NKJV). If we think we are standing firm, we become a lightning rod for Satan’s attacks, resting on a foundation of our own weaknesses. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, who also fell rather loudly, cautioned, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
As we deal with this latest setback, I am haunted by the words I spoke in those lessons. Did I really believe them? It was easy to be glib behind a lectern, sprinkling the lessons with the appropriate Hebrew and Greek terms, and the usual ad libs for comic relief and illustration. I could address others’ problems, and even sympathize with some, then walk away to eat lunch. But now the spotlight is on me. How will I respond to trials? Do I really believe what I said in front of God and everyone?
Peter, the great apostle, had to eat his words when he vowed, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Matthew 26:35). Not long after, “Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, ‘Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Hasty words came back to haunt Peter when the pressure was on.
The Pharisees were the religious group that most fiercely opposed Jesus. They preached the Word of God, but when the Word of God showed up in person, their actions were exposed by the light of his life, and they were shown to be hypocrites. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach’” (Matthew 23:1–3).
Paul’s admonition to pastors applies to all men and women: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7, 8). If we aim to teach others, we must live out that teaching so that the enemies of the gospel cannot accuse us of wrongdoing.
Of course, circumstances often prevent us from keeping our word, and, while we are still in this world, we will stumble and make mistakes. After James warns about the stricter judgment for teachers, he allows, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3:2). However, it is the consistent character of our life that is under scrutiny.
Paul contended with those who claimed that they were favored by God because they kept the law: “If you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:17–24). In other words, people’s impression of God is based on whether or not you practice what you preach.
Peter vowed to never deny his Lord, but he did three times. However, he was grieved over his sin and was, therefore, restored three times (John 21:15–19). It’s called practice because we never perfect our obedience. But we must keep at it, because we are always on stage.
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10 May 2009
I read this article that brought me much retrospection, and three words came to mind because of it: Integrity, Credibility, and Accountability.
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