I was reading my favorite author, Eugene H. Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, particularly written to shepherds or leaders in view. It is a book which strips off our pretentious and shallow rags, making us naked so as to put on genuine and fine garments.
I suppose, everybody admits that leadership is a role encircled with fiery temptations. Talking about the enticements leaders confront, Peterson speaks about “lower sins” which are easily noticeable:
If I kill a man, I know that I have done wrong. If I commit adultery, I at least have the good sense not to advertise it. If I steal, I make diligent efforts not to get found out. The so-called “lower sins,” the sins of the flesh as they were once categorized, are obvious, and there is not only a community of faith but a civil community that protests against their proliferation.
But there are hidden vices, which Peterson calls “higher sins”. These are not so easily discerned or visible like the outward form of sins. Diagnosis is humanly difficult. They are like germs invisible to our naked eyes. He writes:
Is this outburst of zeal energetic obedience or human presumption? Is this exuberant confidence holy boldness inspired by the Holy Spirit or a boastful arrogance fed by an anxious ego? Is this assertive leadership courageous faith or self-importance? Is this suddenly prominent preacher with a large and admiring following a spiritual descendant of Peter with five thousand repentant converts or of Aaron indulging his tens of thousands with religious song and dance around the golden calf?
Do you know these subtle and unseen sins, perhaps called ‘ulterior motives’, are more gross and hazardous than any other? Are you aware the reason why the Pharisees became the religious hypocrites of their time was that they focused on the visible evils while ignoring the invisible hidden vices in the heart? They hated Jesus, not primarily for breaking their traditions, but for exposing their evil hearts which was covered under the mask of devotion and ministry to God. O, may we not be overconfident of our integrity, for none of us are immune from this Pharisiac deception!
Ah, leadership—“in no other station do we have so many opportunities for pride, for covetousness, for lust, or so many excellent disguises at hand to keep such ignobility from being found out and called to account.” Right, who knows how much pride exists behind that growth, how much covetousness behind that pursuit, how must lust behind that purity, how much worst evils behind those excellent virtues! Who knows how many innumerable vices lurk behind the virtuous screen of leadership!
How difficult it is to identify the hidden evils! How tough it is to see the darkness in the limelight! And how tragic it is when we ourselves are unaware of the polluted motives of our heart under the guise of spiritual leadership! I fear, while people follow us, admiring us as great saints, our heart may further be degraded by unseen evils. O Holy Lord, have mercy on us and save us from our depravity!
The Holy Scripture affirms, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Thankfully, it doesn’t end there. It goes further, "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve" (17:10). True, only the omniscient Lord can bring to the shore the gigantic evils hidden in the sea of heart. Only He can deliver us from the evil one and from evil dispositions.
I can recollect numerous incidents wherein I conversed like an angelic saint but when I closeted myself in my room with my Lord, the Spirit of God revealed my demonic attitude of arrogance. I think, we leaders have to realize the grand responsibility which we have to faithfully carry on and at the same time recognize the deceptive, unrecognized, invisible evils in our heart which may compete to become the reasons for the acts we perform.
Peterson candidly pointed out, “Deception is nowhere more common than in religion. And the persons most easily and damningly deceived are leaders.” I cannot but agree to this statement. We leaders are more liable to deception and corruption than any person, for deception is all along in the form of good and not easily recognized and caught. The crafty old serpent’s strategy to knock down God’s men is not by luring them to visible sins but to obviously good things behind which the intentions are horribly evil.
Therefore, may we give ourself continuously to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier of our lives and the perfect leader to guide us into all the truth. May we not walk around with a sense of saintliness but with conviction, repentance and hunger for righteousness. May we give freedom to our closest ones to hurt us by removing venomous thorns from our lives. Let us walk humbly with the Lord before whom everything is uncovered and laid bare.
1. Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 14
2. Ibid., 14
3. Ibid., 15
4. Ibid., 14
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