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Leadership always involves conflict. John Newton’s famous letter on ‘controversy‘ observes how easy it is for criticism to create Pharisees. ‘Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.’

All leaders, and especially Christian leaders, must be on guard against this inevitable temptation and this terrible sin. It is natural, when under criticism, to shield your heart from pain by belittling the critics in your mind. ‘You stupid idiots.’ Even if you don’t speak outwardly to people like Moses did, you do so inwardly.  That will lead to self-absorption, self-pity, maybe even delusions of grandeur, but the great sin is that the growth of inner disdain leads to pride and a loss of humble reliance on God’s grace. Moses treated God with contempt when he became contemptuous toward his people.

This is what leaders face. Is there any hope for us? Yes, because we are in a better position than Moses was for understanding the grace of God. Don Carson writes: ‘In light of 1 Corinthians 10:4, which shows Christ to be the antitype of the rock, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the reason God had insisted the rock be struck in Exodus 17:1–7, and forbids it here, is that he perceives a wonderful opportunity to make a symbol-laden point: the ultimate Rock, from whom life-giving streams flow, is struck once, and no more.’

– Tim Keller

*Words found in Redeemer City to City Blog – “Speaking With Contempt” by Tim Keller