Sincere: Pure, sincere, unsullied; found pure when unfolded and examined by the sun's light; free of deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness; genuine; real; unmixed; unadulterated.
"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-10
In a recent conversation with a sister in the Lord, we spoke of how one handles what might be called character flaws in church leadership. What does the life of a man/woman say about how God is using them, whether they have strayed from the faith, or even whether they have been called of God at all? How does the life they live reflect on the veracity of their calling and the fruit we are commanded to look for in elders? When is it appropriate to speak about such things? When is it time to turn away from such persons?
People often put others on a pedestal - even unintentionally. In doing so, we become defenders of men; identifying more with man than with God. I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, are you not yet still carnal?
No matter how wonderful the person or how sound the doctrine, ministers are simply tools used in the work of God. God's truth comes not from them but through them, as it is He alone who gives the increase. If our receiving of the doctrine taught by men means that we cannot acknowledge their human frailties, then we have stepped over into idolatry.
It is important for us to also remember that God does not call persons to public ministry because they have "arrived". Many Christians have the benefit (if it may be so called) of having God work on their shortcomings in private. Yet, others have no such luxury. Their weaknesses are instead held under a microscope for all to see because - by virtue of their calling - their lives have been made an open book. It is then easy for others to see and comment upon what might be seen as their personal failures.
Yet how many flaws exist in our own hearts which are not exposed because such are "secret faults" kept hidden from public view (Psalm 19:12)? Is it not a comfortable position to know that we can put on a public face of 'Christianity' at church, at work, at school, on the Internet, or with family/friends and never let the hidden things of the heart be known? Perhaps such is comfortable, but it is also damnable. For we are all called to ministry and therefore are all called to openness before men (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Yet, we cannot reach others by hiding ourselves; by being afraid of being seen for who we really are or even afraid of just being wrong. Too many think that Christianity is about a bunch of Church-speak: God bless! God is good! Praise the Lord!...or about Church-act: Going to church, Giving to church... It is only as we completely open up before God that He can use our sincere testimony before men, for His glory. This is why it is so important that we all be sincere.
"For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." II Corinthians 2:17
One example often used to illustrate the importance of sincerity is that of the potter molding the clay. Any imperfections in the created vessel would be revealed when it is placed in the fire to cure. An honest potter would of course set aside the blemished piece and start again. A dishonest one would fill the cracks with wax in order to hide the imperfections. The true flawed nature of the vessel of course would be revealed once one attempted to fill and use it. Therefore, it is claimed, potters began to use the Latin phrase sin (without) and ceras (wax) to mark work that was "sincere". While this illustration may not be historically accurate, it certainly gets to the heart of what it means to be sincere.
Yet not placing leaders on a pedestal or under a microscope does not mean that there are no standards for Godly leadership. Scripture establishes a standard of Godly living that is tied to a call for ministry. In fact, God indicates that the standard for such persons is even higher than for others (James 3:1). Those who are considered elders should be:
- Blameless - not hypocrites, but being found faithful; living what they teach.
- Vigilant - not given to worldly excesses, but sober.
- Of good behavior - not conducting themselves in a way that brings shame to or discredits their testimony for Christ
- Generous and patient
- Able to teach
- One whose own house is in proper order with children who are faithful and not unruly
- Not self-seeking or covetous
- Not new to the faith - so that they are not led astray by pride
"For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation [how one lives] in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward." II Corinthians 1:12
The true evidence of a man or woman of God is not the "wise words" or "good works" they offer, but the Spirit-filled life they lead. Is the witness of the Spirit and His fruit evidence in their lives? A true minister of the Gospel will not be ashamed to have their very lives examined because they understand that it is the living testimony of what God is doing - and has done - in their lives.
Just as with the potter and the clay, often what we are truly made of is not visible - even to ourselves - until we are placed in the fire. This is why we must all be sincere so that God can complete the perfect work He is doing in our lives.
We are also never called into a position of false servanthood or misdirected submission which requires us to ignore the lack of spiritual life in another Christian, especially an elder. There are some who say that God has established certain levels of authority in His church which would prevent a member of the Body of Christ from speaking to leaders along those lines. However, regardless of the role in which one is called to serve in the Church, we are all brothers and sisters. When in the right spirit - desiring to edify & restore - error can certainly be addressed, even amongst the leadership (John 18:19-23; Galatians 2:11-14).
"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Galatians 6:1
When are we going to start acting like a Body of believers and lay aside the religious bondage of Babylon? May we each endeavor to be sincere with ourselves and with others at all costs, not looking to "be" somebody but aiming to edify all in love. It is only as we do so we can truly function as a family and experience true fellowship with each other and with the Lord.
"Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." I Corinthians 5:8