A Hazard to Myself
A few years ago, our church staff did a Myers-Briggs related exercise. Part of the exercise included noting some well-known people who share our specific personality types. As an INFJ type, I discovered that I share personality traits with both Jesus and Gandhi.
My first thought was that prior to this exercise, I had not known that Jesus and Gandhi took the Myers-Briggs! (Ha) My second thought was one of curious bewilderment, because another, much less noble figure was also identified as an INFJ. His name was Adolf Hitler.
This exercise points out what the Bible says about the human condition. In each of us, there is potential for heroic love and potential for unspeakable evil.
I look back on my days in seminary with great joy and awe as I see how God has used many of my classmates for good. Two of them are pastors with me at our church in Nashville. Another of them worships at our church and has spent almost two decades impacting college students at the university where he serves, as well as nationwide. Other former classmates have become authors, teachers, counselors, pastors, and thought leaders.
Sadly, there are also a few from our class whose stories have included adultery, divorce, abandoning their families, using illegal drugs, and leaving Christianity altogether.
It grieves me to see the moral collapse of those alongside whom I had once studied, prayed, worshiped, served, loved, and dreamed about the future of Christianity. It is sad to realize that not all of your friends are destined to finish well. It’s also a bit scary, to be honest.
This reminds me of a story I once heard about a famous pastor, told by his former intern. One time at a staff meeting, the intern recalls the famous pastor telling the entire staff that Satan has the power to tempt him in any number of ways, but that there is one area of his life that Satan will never touch: his marriage.
According to the intern, the famous pastor was caught in bed with a mistress less than one year after that staff meeting.
For pastors and all leaders, stories like these should cause us to pause and humbly admit our weaknesses and temptations. It is not only ancient biblical accounts that tell us how frail we are. It is also the stories of moral collapse “from the top” that happen every single day—even among the most well-intended Christian leaders. There is potential in every leader, even the most virtuous ones, to become caught in unimaginable transgression.
Think about it. If Abraham, the father of all who have faith, could offer his wife up twice to be sexually used by unsavory men in order to save his own hide, aren’t we also capable of protecting ourselves at the expense of others? If Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, could for many years live a lie concerning his birthright, aren’t we also capable of becoming liars? If Rahab, who is listed as an ancestor of Jesus, gave up her body as a prostitute, aren’t we also capable of immoral thoughts and behaviors? If Peter, one of the twelve Apostles and writer of two New Testament letters, could fall into xenophobic, exclusive behavior after Jesus had restored him to ministry because he was afraid of what other xenophobes might say, and if Barnabas, widely known as “the son of encouragement,” could stumble right alongside him, aren’t we also capable of excluding those whom Jesus embraces? If King David, who gave us beautiful worship poetry in the Psalms and who was identified by the Lord as “a man after God’s own heart” could abuse his power by forcing Bathsheba—the daughter of one of his most loyal friends—to sleep with him and then scheming to have her husband, also a loyal friend, killed to cover it up, aren’t we also capable of abusing our power to get from others whatever we want?
To these we could also add many of the titans from church history. John Calvin participated in the execution of a man, whose crime was disagreement with Christian doctrine. Martin Luther made anti-Semitic statements. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves until the day he died. Martin Luther King, Jr. was unfaithful to his wife as he traveled the country preaching from the Bible and leading the Civil Rights Movement.
On the one hand, I find the stories of such leaders strangely encouraging. If there is hope for these, then there is also hope for someone like me. On the other hand, their stories, their foolishness and their sin should instruct us and help us live differently. Their stories teach us the importance of guarding our hearts, because our hearts, especially when we think we are not vulnerable or susceptible to sin, are more vulnerable and susceptible than ever:
“Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed, lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
Are you someone–perhaps a leader–who thinks s/he is not vulnerable? Are you like the person who looks at the acorn and thinks that such a little thing could never become an oak tree, or a forest, or a forest fire? The sin in our hearts is the acorn. It has the power, if not crushed, to germinate, to become a sprout, and then a tree, and then an entire forest.
This is in part why Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount not only against adultery, but against lust in the heart. This is also why he warned not only against murder, but against a grudge in the heart. Because every adulterous fling begins with a “harmless” thought or glance, and every murderous rampage begins with an itty bitty grudge.
So then, wherever our hearts are vulnerable, it is essential to crush the acorn before it becomes a sprout; to dig up the sprout before it grows into a tree; to chop down the tree before it becomes a forest; to plow the forest before it takes over more and more land.
God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it.” Master the sin, Cain, lest the sin gain mastery over you. Crush the sin, Cain, lest the sin end up crushing you and those around you.
As the wise Puritan, John Owen said, “Always be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”
And then there is Pink, the rock star, who sings words that should be a daily refrain for every leader—or human being, for that matter—who is self-aware
“I’m a hazard to myself.
Don’t let me get me.”
God have mercy on us.
God protect us.
God save us from ourselves.