If you read the title of this post, you just might have thought to yourself, “Consistency, thou art a jewel.” I had a prof in seminary that drilled that thought into his students’ heads and it was of course a lesson in practical theology that would stand us all in good stead throughout the years ahead in ministry. It is, like other spiritual disciplines, easier to talk about than to do consistently, but it bears heavily upon our spiritual state under the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit and our walk with Christ.
An enemy of the famed English pastor C.H. Spurgeon once meant to do harm to the man of God by charging that “Here is a man who has not moved an inch forward in all his ministry, and at the close of the 19th century is teaching the theology of the first century.” Spurgeon responded that it was his “greatest compliment.” At the close of the 19th century, humanism both in the British Isles and on the continent was really heating up through so called “Higher Criticism” as the Bible, under attack by liberal, primarily at first, German, theologians was not considered to be infallible. Church bodies in America were sending their most promising would-be ministerial candidates to Europe for their training, and they were coming back in the early 20th century espousing that heresy. That’s when the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies dominated the theological landscape; so, for an enemy of the preacher to charge in that context that he was still preaching the theology of the first century would have indeed been a real compliment.
Back to consistency. It has been an age-old problem with reference to one’s belief system verses behavioral practice. Jesus’ most “torrid” message is recorded in Matthew 23 when He excoriated the religious elite of his day for their inconsistencies. For instance, He said “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt.23:23) He went on to call them blind guides, which “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” That charge was one of about eight leveled at His Jewish contemporaries by Jesus in that classic sermon that Matthew records for us and at the heart of it would be the issue of being consistent in what you preach as opposed to how you practice; in “who you are” as opposed to “who men think you are.”
An illustration out of the pages of history might underscore the importance of being genuine and consistent in our beliefs and in our behavior. In Germany a Jewish boy loved and admired his father and followed his Jewish faith, being zealous in keeping Jewish traditions and attending the synagogue. But as time passed his family moved to another German city and his father would one day announce that the family would be joining the Lutheran church since most of the prominent business men of the city were Lutherans. Coming as a shock to the teenage boy, in time the youngster became bitter and would, in his adulthood, author the book Das Kapital, calling religion an “opiate of the people.” That once Jewish lad, confused and angry and eventually bitter, was known to the world as Karl Marx, one of the founders of the modern communist movement.
Paul was concerned about being consistent in his preaching and in his practice: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so, fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
All too often and painfully so we hear in our generation of those who once led ministries who have become what Paul feared becoming, castaways. It would be safe to say that the trip leading to spiritual disaster began with “little” inconsistencies.
I read a story about Ansel Adams who was a well-known landscape photographer. He once told a story on himself, stating that at one time he had studied the piano, showing some talent. At one of his first recitals, he played Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major. Adams says, “In some strange way my right hand started off in F sharp while my left hand behaved well in F major. I could not bring them together. I went through the entire nocturne with the hands separated by a half-step.” The next day someone jokingly said to Adams, “You never missed a wrong note.”
Humorous that story, but not so when the issues are as critical as they were when Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. So, contemplating all of this, I had to draw up a self-test of sorts to see how I am doing on the important question of consistency. Maybe you’d like to examine yourself (2 Cor. 13:5) too, so here are some things I have pondered:
- Am I the same person in the privacy of my home with my family as I appear to be in public with my friends?
- Do I practice when out of the public eye what I have preached and am preaching to others in public ministry?
- Do I show partiality to people who may appear to be people of influence, wealth or means as opposed to people who appear to have nothing?
- Do I hold myself to the same standards that I hold others to; i.e., do I criticize others for doing what I give myself a “pass” on doing? Do I judge their motives?
- Do I excuse inconsistencies in my life by making a difference between the “secular” and the “sacred?” For instance, do I excuse vulgar speech as just “barnyard” language or “shop talk?”
- Do I make corporate worship with a body of believers a priority, as much as is possible, when I am out of state, say, on vacation, on the Lord’s Day?
- Do I find myself judging people on the basis of outward appearance?
- Am I consistent in demonstrating love to those whom I may consider “unlovely” or “unlovable?”
- Do I allow my thoughts (inner, secret) to go to dark places or am I bringing every thought to the obedience of Jesus Christ with Phil. 4:8 as my goal?
- Do I watch on TV or on the internet things that I would be uncomfortable for my whole family to join me in watching?
Consistency, thou ART a jewel! None of us would score 100% on the above test but that does not mean we should not strive to be “true blue” in all these areas and others, lest we ourselves should become a castaway.
A fountain pen salesman persuaded a merchant to order a large number of the pens he was promoting. The salesman was writing the order in his book when the merchant suddenly ordered, “Stop! I am cancelling that order.” The salesman left the store angry and confused. Later the store’s bookkeeper asked the manager why he had cancelled the fountain pen order. “Why?” exclaimed the man. “Because he talked fountain pens to me for a half-hour, using a number of forcible arguments, and then booked my order with a lead pencil. His practice did not agree with his profession.”
How about ours?
“Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed; But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God….” (2 Cor. 6:3,4a)