What’s your epitaph?

As a youth pastor, I am keenly aware that my actions have a significant effect on those to whom I minister. But, oftentimes, I am tempted to think that I can isolate areas of my private life with no affect on my ministry. As a leader, minister, or parent it is tempting to think that our private sins (either of commission or omission) can be effectively isolated from our ministry or realm of influence, since “what they don’t know can’t hurt them.” But this path of thinking is not only dangerous, but flat out wrong. Having just finished reading the books of the Chronicles, i was struck by the repetitive epitaphs given for each of the kings. Of course, these epitaphs are no theological secret, but what struck me most was the close, inevitable parallel between the kings’ epitaphs and those of their people. For example, take II Chronicles 33:2-6:

And [Manasseh] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord…And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger…

But the effects of Manasseh’s evil were not confined to himself, or even just his family:

Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. (II Chronicles 33:9-10)

Again, in Manasseh’s life we see a parallel between his actions and the peoples; this time, however, it is a somewhat more positive one:

And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God. (2 Chronicles 33:12, 13, 17 ESV)

The people continued to sacrifice unlawfully outside of Jerusalem, but when Manasseh repented of his idolatry, they did as well. A final example will sufficiently make the point, I think:

And [Josiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them…Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. Then he made all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin join in it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. And Josiah took away all the abominations from all the territory that belonged to the people of Israel and made all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord, the God of their fathers. (2 Chronicles 34:2-4, 29-33 ESV)

Of course, there are many more similar examples throughout Kings and Chronicles, and even throughout the rest of the Bible, for that matter. I chose these examples, though, because they closely mirror three positions that I see many churches and families in. Few churches that I know of would willingly classify themselves in the first category–as “Manessehites.” After all, “we don’t practice idol worship or child sacrifice! We worship God!” However, far more churches and families fall in this category than would admit. These churches and families, led by pastors and parents with only a thin veneer of religiosity, are headed down a one-way path to destruction. These pastors and parents, while not openly condoning idolatry or paganism, secretly endorse such through their lifestyles. Addicted to a career, money, cars, and success (or worse, drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.), they unwittingly sacrifice their children and church on the altars of their addictions. They may attend church, pray, and even tithe, but “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19 ESV)” They fall prey to the lie that their private actions can be separated from their sphere of influence. It is easy to see how sins of commission (drugs, alcohol, sex addictions, etc.) could negatively affect those who know they exist (be it church members or children), but what about secret sins and sins of omission? Could a pastor’s secret and unknown addiction to pornography, or his lack of daily devotion or prayer really cause his entire congregation to fall into the same sins? The connection is less explicit, but it is there, nonetheless. A pastor whose affections are stolen away from God for his addictions is less passionate in his preaching, less convicting and bold in his proclamations against sin, since every condemnation he issues against such is inevitably directed toward himself. These pastors tend to skirt around these delicate issues with less conviction, much like David after his sin with Bathsheeba could not find the moral conviction within himself to put his son Amnon to death for his rape of Tamar or Absolom for his murder of Amnon, since in doing so he would have to condemn his own sins of adultery and murder. Pastors who fail to maintain their prayer life experience less answers to prayer, thus decreasing their convictions on the necessity of prayer. Pastors who fail to maintain their daily Bible reading find fewer new observations in God’s word, and as a result, their preaching is weak and feels recycled. Failing to find anything new and instructive in the text, they resort to substituting clever stories and illustrations for the meat of the word. A church can only survive so long before it begins to feel the effects of its pastor’s private sins. Children whose parents fail to maintain their prayer and Bible reading will not have that model of daily devotion. Children whose parents tell them “do what I say, not what I do” will quickly recognize the hypocrisy for what it is. The truth is, half-hearted devotion to God will always spill over into one’s sphere of influence, be it a church or a family. You can’t isolate your personal life. So the question is, what kind of influence do you have over your family or church? Are you sacrificing your children on the altars of your career or addictions? Are you imitating half-hearted devotion to God, such that your children will be half-hearted Christians, worshipping God, but in a manner he forbids? Or, are you, like Josiah, modeling heartfelt humility and repentance over sin, demonstrating a passion for God’s Word and serving God with all your heart and soul? Your kids and your church will show the fruits of your affections. After you are gone, will the legacy that you leave behind prompt your kids and your church to be completely devoted to God? What will your epitaph be?

One thought on “What’s your epitaph?”

  1. Challenging post . . . very true reminder for all of us who claim to represent Christ. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    Like

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