The Bible tells us that we should first be accountable for ourselves. Christ famously said that we should first take the log out of our own eyes then we will see clearly to be able to take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye. Living above reproach is something every Christian should attempt to do.
The Apostle Paul said that he who is not willing to work shouldn’t eat, that “if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself,” and that those who refuse to provide for their own family have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers. Self-responsibility may not be a path to salvation, but it should be a consequence of it.
So how then should we as men live personally in light of what’s going on in the world?
Again, let’s go back to Paul. He lays out qualifications for leadership in 1 Timothy and Titus. He writes in 1 Timothy 3:1-2, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer [bishop], it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach.” Likewise in Titus 1:7, he writes, “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward.” Of deacons he says in 1 Timothy 3:8-10, “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity…these men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.”
Paul did not hesitate to credential himself by citing his own demonstrated character, such as in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, previewed in 1:5 where he writes, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”
That seems pretty straightforward to me – and a good principle for how all of us should aspire to “be above reproach” in how we live our lives even if we don’t want to be a church officer. “Present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:22)
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I’m attempting to apply that principle to my own life in four key ways. Here’s what being about reproach means:
- The pursuit of universal obedience to Jesus Christ
- Cultivating virtues and competences
- Discerning, aligning myself with, and speaking the truth
- Living congruently with my beliefs and statements
I don’t necessarily expect these to get me a good reputation in the world. It may even be the opposite. I don’t want to gratuitously pick a fight with anyone, but I’m much more concerned about being above reproach when it comes to what God thinks than I am what the world does.
2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” And 2 Timothy 2:21-22, “Now therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Do you know In John Owen’s Mortification of Sin he lists two preconditions for mortifying any sin: conversion and the pursuit of universal obedience. He says, “Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained.”
I see a lot of Christians today who are very conformed to the world, have a lax attitude towards sin and Christian duty in their own lives, aren’t people of prayer and fasting, aren’t serving their local church, etc. There’s a lot of room for improvement.
“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” (1 Timothy 3:2 ESV)
I’m not perfect myself, but I’m working as hard as I can. I want to be “all in” in terms of how I am personally living my life. Today in the Evangelical world we tend to view obeying God’s law too much as legalism. But for me personally, I can’t see how I can justify using a “gospel-centered” approach to life as a justification for a lax approach to obedience, even in the small things. Insubordination is not an option.
Universal obedience is also the original “Benedict Option.” In the words of Christ that conclude the Sermon on the Mount He says:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.
It’s hearing the words of Christ and actually acting on them that creates the sure foundation to survive any floods that come our way.
Virtues and Competencies
Think about the kinds of things Aristotle talked about in the Nicomachean Ethics, or the cardinal virtues of prudence, courage, temperance, and justice, but I use virtue here in the classical sense as encompassing qualities of personal excellence beyond the purely moral. Some virtues, such as the theological ones of faith, hope, and charity, overlap with the Bible. But others, such as perhaps physical fitness, are less directly Bible-related, hence a separate category.
Similarly, I want to become increasingly competent in my undertakings, to be a better writer, analyst, etc. In Masc #2 I talked about making a practice of continually learning new skills and practicing self-control. If you look at the church leaders that have managed to gain respect, it is often because they have shown to be highly competent in their undertakings. In general, think about someone like former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Or Steve Jobs. Obviously, they didn’t succeed 100% of the time. But they were far above the average leader we have today.
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7 ESV)
Not only do I personally want to acquire these capabilities and competencies, I want to pass them along to others, and use whatever I have acquired to help build others up behind me. Of all the people above me in life I’ve known personally, the ones I have the most respect for and loyalty to are those who made it their personal business not just to get a personally higher leadership role, but to bring many others up under them.
No one should be leading if he lacks virtue and competence, so we should cultivate both.
Discern, Speak, and Live the Truth
This is a huge problem, probably the biggest problem, in society and the church. One of the big reasons I started the Masculinist is because the church is not telling people the truth about too many things, such as attraction.
The elite of the Evangelical world are taking their cues from the secular elite consensus, which defines their truth on way too many topics. But that consensus is full of falsehoods, which is one reason our elite have failed.
“That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15 ESV)
Single motherhood is an inferior form of child-rearing compared to the two-parent family. Gender is not completely socially constructed. Being a “servant leader” does not attract women. Not getting married is a long term loser for most people. We need to have the courage to acknowledge these and many other truths, live by them, and especially to speak them. Charles Murray’s famous quip that the American elite “doesn’t preach what they practice” is on point. At some level, they actually do understand some truth and live by it personally, but they speak something else entirely. At a minimum, we had better be telling our families and local church community the things we’ve figured out.
Remember the first guiding principle of this blog: Solzhenitsyn’s famous dictum: live not by lies. Be a source of truth, not falsehood.
In Masc #14 I talked about the work of Nassim Taleb, which profoundly upends much of the falsehood put out by modern elites, and whose implications are profoundly favorable to Christianity.
One of his key principles, and one I’ve adopted for this newsletter, is skin in the game. Only take advice from people who have skin the game. Similarly, don’t tell other people things you aren’t personally doing yourself. I call this more broadly congruence. Our lives have to be congruent with our beliefs and professions.
When prominent older women who married young and devoted their efforts primarily to family and supporting their husband’s career preach lean-in feminism to young women, that’s not congruent. When retirement age white pastors who have no intention of going away dispense lectures on the need to diversify the leadership of Evangelicalism, that’s not congruent.
There’s certainly a place for people realizing that they sinned, made mistakes, and should have made different choices. There are plenty of areas I’d tell people not to do what I did. But if I want to do that I need to be clear that I admit my wrongs. That is, to the extent that it’s still relevant or possible, I’ve changed my actual pattern of life and embarked on a new path beyond one that was simply opportunistic.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Timothy 3:1 ESV)
Preach what you practice. Practice what you preach. Have skin in the game. Be congruent. Be Christlike.
I quoted some Bible verses but the above is not a theological tract. It’s a statement of how I aspire to live in this world and become part of a more worthy educated leadership class in America and a more worthy eldership in the church. I would encourage you to talk to your own pastor and bible studies about how to interpret and apply these scriptures.
While I’m concerned about capabilities, I’m more concerned about character. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t list intelligence as a qualification for leadership. It lists character and demonstrated competence in leading a man’s own household. The smartest people in the room, like the Pharisees, often didn’t possess or respond to the truth. God has “chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things that are wise.” That’s something that should humble those of us who like to think of ourselves as oh so very smart.
To make a fundamental change in the church and broader society, the educated leadership class must collectively and individually become worthy. That starts with taking responsibility for ourselves and being above reproach and competent in our undertakings.
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