Monday, February 13, 2012

Guard the Gates--Part 3

Continuing this series on Guarding the Gates, which in concept really speaks of guarding the mind, we come to the third thing that can help you. In review, the first thing to do to guard the gates is to be given to study and the second thing is a minister has to be given to prayer. The third guard that you can put at the gate is a quest for personal holiness and godliness.

In the first post on study, I mentioned the fact that when a man gives himself to disciplined and sanctified study, the stretching of the mind will directly affect the growth of the soul. Simply by nature of the study, the exposure to things in the Scriptures and the accompanying books the minister has available to him, we begin to understand how holy God is and how important it is for us to have acclimate it into our lives.

Holiness is important because of the nature of the work that a preacher must do. Never will I forget the story that was told in the very first class when I begin RN school in March 1985 that was told of Lewis Semmelweis. He was the guy who was laughed at because he outrageously claimed that dirty physicians’ hands were responsible for the death of the mothers who were dying from child-bed fever. He was certain that the germs that were unseen were the culprit that was literally killing these young mothers.

I would be so bold as to assert that if my hands, heart, soul, and mind are not clean it will have some measure of impact on the congregation that I serve. In my mind, this ought to place a greater sense of responsibility on all men who bear the vessels of the Lord and they must be clean (Isaiah 52:11)! I also believe that for those who are quibbling about standards of holiness and are attempting to accuse those who are ardent adherents of a separated life of living in a condition of holiness that perhaps your vision has been clouded by the mists of worldliness that are so prevalent in our generation. We wouldn’t dare want a surgeon to operate on us if he had just come in from working in his garden and therefore a minister who has no real cleanliness of holiness about him shouldn’t be operating in the pulpit.

Jude uses strong words when he tells us that we will have to contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. The faith is that dogma of doctrine that defines how to get into the church, who the church is and where it is to go. All of these components of the faith, while intricate, are very simply carried out by a man whose gates (mind) has been guarded by holiness. Jude when he spoke of the nature of this faith he also clearly stated that we have no right to modify it but the risk of it being altered escalated when there was a unholy alliance with “certain men” who managed to creep in “unawares.” Doctrinal purity and commitment to holiness will require vigilance on the part of clean men who have allowed personal holiness to be a guard at the gate.

The question may come about as to how are we give ourselves to personal holiness? There are some points to remember in this quest for holiness. First, a man has to understand that he is only fit to preach if he has a clean life. I am drawn over and over to the writings of Paul to his sons in the faith, Timothy and Titus, and routinely he uses words to describe the character of those qualified to minister. I am going to give you a list of words that is not all inclusive from the ESV that Paul used and these are from 1 Timothy (you can glean many other nuggets if you browse through the other two P.E.’s):

• Don’t teach any other doctrine.
• A pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.
• Wage a good warfare by holding faith and a good conscience.
• A peaceful and quiet life.
• Godly and dignified in every way.
• Lift holy hands without anger and quarreling.
• A noble task.
• Above reproach.
• Husband of one wife.
• Sober-minded.
• Self-controlled.
• Respectable.
• Hospitable.
• Able to teach.
• Not a drunkard.
• Not violent but gentle.
• Not quarrelsome.
• Not a lover of money.
• Manage his own house well.
• Keeping his children submissive.
• Not a recent convert.
• Well thought of by outsiders so he may not fall into disgrace.
• Train yourself for godliness.
• Command and teach these things.
• Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
• Do not neglect the gift which was given you.
• Practice these things, immerse yourself in them.
• Persist in this.
• Encourage.
• Flee.
• Pursue.
• Fight.
• Take hold.
• Guard the deposit.

What you will soon discover is that when you pursue these character traits that these things have a unique way of creating a sense of personal holiness in you. At some point in the near future, go to the business/leadership/management section of your local Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million and compare Paul’s list with all of the men who are writing how to be successful and you will find encouragement toward things that are diametrically opposed to what Paul was telling us to do. Which way from here? It is my encouragement for you to invest yourself in the Pastoral Epistles so you can find the right direction.

The second way to put a guard up at the gate in the area of personal holiness is to remember the company that you are in. God purified Isaiah and then sent him to preach to the nation. The priests under the constraints of the Law in the OT had to be cleansed first and then they were able to minister to the nation. You find this being fleshed out in Nehemiah (12:30) when the Levites first cleansed themselves and then cleansed the people. I am in the company of men that were clean as they brought the gospel to the places that God had called them to go. Thomas Manton said, “Either your doctrine will make your life blush, or your life will make your doctrine blush, and be ashamed.”

The third way to put a guard at the gate of personal holiness is to not let disappointment or hardship cause a breakdown in your defenses. This can happen to spiritual leaders when they fall under the pressure of pastoral anxiety. I have had a few to tell me that I ought not to worry about the sheep God has called me to take care of but I have discovered the more that you love something the more intense the concern for them. The pressure of pastoral anxiety is a necessary cross for every pastor to bear. Sometimes those things that bring on this nagging sense of worry is having to endure critics, gossip, opposition, division, strife, misunderstanding, bitterness, and a general sense of negativity. That can be a great strain on your personal holiness and it usually comes to us in the same form it came to Moses—anger. He got angry with the people and he struck the rock instead of touching it. His personal holiness was violated in a very public way. Be sober, be vigilant, be alert, be awake when you find yourself in this area that you may compromise.

Obviously there are other areas that you must use to guard the gate of personal holiness that could be explored. However for the sake of time, I hope that I have merely primed your soul with a cup of water that brings forth a river of thought and meditation over the next few days.

God Bless and thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson

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