The lead pastor of a fast-growing congregation is a charismatic speaker, a strong leader. He really knows his Bible!
But he believes his ideas are almost always best. Some staff members feel like he never listens to them. When conflict erupts, he throws others under the bus. When confronted, he minimizes—or lies about–his mistakes.
A TV evangelist fills arenas with crowds, writes best seller books, and powerfully communicates inspiring messages. But he also lives in a multi-million dollar home, owns a personal jet, and avoids preaching the “hard truths” of Scripture.
A campaigning politician quotes Scripture, promised to champion religious rights, and stakes out positions on wedge issues that resonate with religious voters. But she insults and lies about her opponents, surrounds herself with shady staff, disrespects subordinates, and tries to cover up her past wrongdoings.
Unfortunately, leaders like these enjoy massive support among millions of Christians. Of course, there is nothing wrong with pastoring a fast-growing church, preaching on TV, or seeking office. But when unscrupulous people do these things and Christians uncritically support them, there’s a price to be paid.
As Jesus warns, wolves can and do appear in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). How can we tell the genuine from the fake? How can we determine whether the fruit is good or bad (Luke 6:43-45)? Millions have been fooled by people who display “Christian labels.” But even rotten fruit can boast shiny labels. Fortunately, it’s not hard to tell the real from the fake when we ask the right questions. James spells it out:
“If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” (James 3:13-16 NLT).
- Bitter jealousy
- Selfish ambition
- Covering up the truth with boasting and lying
No matter how many “Christian labels” a person wears, these fruits are telltale signs of evil wisdom.
Wisdom from God looks altogether different (James 3:17). It is:
- Peace loving
- Always gentle
- Willing to yield to others
- Full of mercy
- Full of the fruit of good deeds
- Shows no favoritism
- Always sincere
“Look beneath the surface,” Jesus says, “so you can judge correctly” (John 7:24 NLT). When we let shiny labels on rotten fruit deceive us, God’s name is dishonored. When we exercise wise discernment and support those who exhibit true wisdom, we empower godly leaders and bring honor to Christ’s name.
- Evaluate 3 or 4 public figures using James’s two checklists. Does this assessment confirm or contradict the way most people perceive them?
- Look in the mirror. What signs of godly wisdom do you see? Do you find evidence of earthly wisdom that calls for repentance?
Illustration credit: J.J. at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons