Now the overseer is to be above reproach…
1 Timothy 3:2
The world crouches in wait for the believer, seeking to weaken his faith, to stain his reputation, to discourage his service, to trip him up in some sin. We each live with this reality, and can get caught up in sin at any time. None of us is exempt. We each must keep watch daily.
The standard of God is holiness, nothing else and nothing less. Though we fail to measure up to this standard, it is still the goal toward which we strive, as His Spirit empowers us. To be a Christian means to give your life in the service of Christ and in the pursuit of holiness. Paul said that a bishop or overseer (and he was describing the pastor or senior pastor) must be above reproach – “blameless” in the King James. The words did not mean perfection, if they had no one would qualify, but that there would be no charge brought forward of immorality, dishonesty, unethical behavior, or false teachings. And if any inconsistency in his life is brought to his attention he would be quick to confess and forsake and make appropriate restitution and apologies. As a pastor and someone who knows intimately other pastors, I know too well that we each have our weaknesses. The issue is whether we are striving, “with all his power that so powerfully works within” (Col. 1:29), to be conformed inwardly and outwardly to His character.
But this is really the only standard for every believer, not just pastors. Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:27). This is also the blessed life. As we follow Christ so we enter into a life filled with the Spirit, filled with peace and joy and love.
The question is, then, Have you denied yourself today? Have you taken up your cross today? Have you put aside yourself to follow Christ today?
Living above reproach also means continually living and serving in the fresh power of the Spirit. What happened yesterday is not enough – we need God today. Andrew Murray wrote these words on John 15, about the pruning process of God’s vineyard – you and me, His family.
Consider a moment what this pruning or cleansing is. It is not the removal of weeds or thorns, or anything from without that may hinder the growth. No; it is the cutting off of the long shoots of the previous year, the removal of something that comes from within, that has been produced by the life of the vine itself. It is the removal of something that is a proof of the vigor of its life; the more vigorous the growth has been, the greater the need for the pruning. It is the honest, healthy wood of the vine that has to be cut away. And why? Because it would consume too much of the sap to fill all the long shoots of last year’s growth: the sap must be saved up and used for fruit alone. The branches, sometimes eight and ten feet long, are cut down close to the stem, and nothing is left but just one or two inches of wood, enough to bear the grapes. It is when everything that is not needful for fruit-bearing has been relentlessly cut down, and just as little of the branches as possible has been left, that full, rich fruit may be expected.
What a solemn, precious lesson! It is not to sin only that the cleansing of the Husbandman here refers. It is to our own religious activity, as it is developed in the very act of bearing fruit. It is this that must be cut down and cleansed away. We have, in working for God, to use our natural gifts of wisdom, or eloquence, or influence, or zeal. And yet they are ever in danger of being unduly developed, and then trusted in. And so, after each season of work, God has to bring us to the end of ourselves, to the consciousness of the helplessness and the danger of all that is of man, to feel that we are nothing. All that is to be left of us is just enough to receive the power of the life-giving sap of the Holy Spirit. What is of man must be reduced to its very lowest measure. All that is inconsistent with the most entire devotion to Christ’s service must be removed. The more perfect the cleansing and cutting away of all that is of self, the less of surface over which the Holy Spirit is to be spread, so much the more intense can be the concentration of our whole being, to be entirely at the disposal of the Spirit. This is the true circumcision of the heart, the circumcision of Christ. This is the true crucifixion with Christ, bearing about the dying of the Lord Jesus in the body.
God is always leading us in paths of righteousness, always toward a deeper dedication and experience. He can, in fact, never lead us in another direction. God’s pruning of our lives is working something good inside of us, causing us to depend on Him. If you have been placed somewhere where you need to depend on God more than before, thank God, because He has placed you in the path of blessing. Until we need Him, we will not seek Him. The first step toward the deeper life of the Spirit is normally begun from a moment of spiritual frustration and, sometimes, even failure.
Lord, prune us, cleanse us, fill us, guide us, use us. Amen.