We were recently talking to a friend about swearing. Regarding that, he said, “a pastor is held to a higher standard.” I countered back with, “and that’s not right.” He replied, “It’s in the Bible”…. Okay, touché. I decided to look up the verses to see exactly what the Bible is saying about this because it just didn’t sit quite right with my spirit.
I cracked open google to find these verses, and my Bible to read the entire books in context, understand who is talking to who, and why the book was written. Context is extremely important for complete understanding. Last night among 4 entire books of the Bible, I read James and Titus. I took extensive notes.
Let’s start in James. In the chapter before going into what a Pastor should look like we are prefaced with this:
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).
So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2: 12-13)
I do not think that this reminder of living according to the finished work of Jesus Christ (the law of liberty) was put before all of the guidelines of a pastor on accident.
From what I gathered, Pastors are indeed held to a different standard. James 3:1 flat out says that teaching is not a calling for everyone as they “shall receive stricter judgement.”
I’d like to start out by pointing out that it does not say “From God.” It just says “stricter judgement” in general. The meaning of that is left for interpretation. However, the most obvious answer is usually the answer. It is obvious that pastors receive strict judgment from all the eyes watching them.
Many people can slip up and make mistakes, and it goes by unnoticed. However, all eyes are on a teacher of God’s word. Some people are just waiting to have something to pounce on or to point out. Other people put teachers and pastors on a pedestal and follow them as if they are somehow exempt from being just a man.
When a pastor fails, and I don’t say “if” I say, “when” because he is just a man, and he WILL fail, it can rock people’s faith. It takes a special kind of person to be able to handle this kind of pressure of being under a microscope. It takes a father’s heart to guide and love an entire church full of people with different core sensitivities, upbringings, and opinions.
Continuing on with my research, I found that every place I read about important qualities in a pastor mentioned having control of one’s tongue. Over and over it was also very specific about a pastor or his wife not being gossips. A pastor’s speech should be edifying, building people up, and preaching sound doctrine of the law of liberty or the freedom that is in Christ Jesus. James 3:5-11 talks about the tongue being like fire that can be wonderful, but also incredibly destructive. A pastor is put in a position of power, and taken seriously because of his title. He can share the love of God and edify people, or he can twist the gospel and tear people down unintentionally by lack of full understanding and comprehension of God’s word or by utilizing his position for his own gain.
This leads me right into Titus 2:7 where Paul tells Titus, “in all things show yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”
I read this part and thought, “Wow, Jon was right. Pastor’s probably shouldn’t swear.” However, not for the reasons I would have originally thought about it being some kind of “Are You Holy Enough” requirement of God. It seems to me to be a layer of protection for the pastor against the strict judgment of the people.
Swear words are just words that express a particular feeling. When used correctly they serve a very important purpose in expressing oneself. They can be overused and that makes someone look classless and uneducated. Just like over using the word, “like” or “umm” can make someone appear ignorant.
However, Christians are particularly caught up on these words and despite a lack of Biblical evidence saying that we should not use certain words, it is a distraction nonetheless. As the book of Titus says, it may be wise for a pastor to refrain from using language that someone looking to tear him down can use against him. While stupid, in my opinion, that this is such a thing in the Christian community to begin with, it could be a means of self-preservation for pastors in a role that is challenging enough.
However, I would like to throw in my two cents that even Paul utilized the word, “Dung” in Philippians which is equivalent to today's, “shit.”
Additionally, the Bible is extremely clear about gossip being a sin and something that should not be happening at all in the church. Unlike swear words which are just words, this actually hurts people and stops a lot of people from coming to church. However, the church is a cesspool of gossip with the breeding grounds often being prayer groups. They do it in the name of Jesus nonetheless!
A lot of Christians are quick to judge and condemn people attracted to the same sex, people swearing, people having sex before marriage etc. However, if you read the book of Romans you clearly see that all sinners including those who gossip and envy are on the exact same playing ground as murderers.
I actually feel bad for pastors who don’t have a radical understanding of God’s grace and mercy. To me, it seems like a glass isolation prison. The rest of us “good christians” feel pressure to put on a façade and always act like we got it all together, like we rarely sin, and are always joyful and happy to make sure people think we are spiritual and holy enough. We go to church with our plastered on church smile and pretend like we didn’t just bicker with our spouse on the way in or get super mad at the guy who just cut us off in traffic. We hide our flaws and what we consider to be shameful aspects of ourselves to fit in with our fellow church goers and even from ourselves sometimes.
So many Christians are still living in the shackles that Jesus died to free us from. It reminds me of a line in the Eagles song, Already Gone. "So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key." Many of us are still in chains, but at least we aren’t in a glass prison like the pastors. We are just the church goers. Imagine the pressure put on these poor people. No wonder why so many well intentioned pastors break and do things like cheat on their wives. They are surrounded by people, but they are alone with their humanness. Isolation makes people crazy.
As Brene Brown says, “The opposite of belonging is fitting in….true belonging never asks us to change who we are. It demands that we be who we are. If we fit in because of how we have changed ourselves, that is not belonging. You’ve betrayed yourself for other people, and that’s not sustainable.” She talks about how we as human beings are wired for connection. People, pastors included, need to be understood and loved for who they are. Flaws and all. The way that many churches operate now is not how God intended it to be.
Because of the cross, we can remove the fig leaf. We can be real with ourselves and others about our struggles and vulnerabilities.
The Bible tells us not to forsake the fellowship I believe because God understood the importance of connection. Countless people go to church, but lead secret lives. Are we really fellowshipping if the true us isn’t showing up? I’d say that’s the real meaning of “forsaking the fellowship.” Can we even call this inauthenticity “church?” I am overwhelmed by the fakeness that group think Christianity produces.
I offend people when I say that I don’t want to be associated with most Christians. The reality is, I don’t. I want to be associated with Christ. He paid the price for our sins on that cross, so we could walk in freedom and confidence that nothing we do can separate us from Him or His love (Romans 8:38). We can be honest now about who we truly are. We don’t need to jump down other people’s throats when we find out that they are “sinning” in a different way than us. For the love of frozen yogurt, people, “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Let’s stop putting this pressure on pastors. Let them be what they are: a mortal, imperfect, loved, and forgiven child of God saved by Jesus Christ’s free gift of the cross.
My research provoked so much more understanding and thought, but for now, I’m just going to end with this, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Jesus Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Phillipians 3:8-9