My mother taught me the old adage, “I can’t hear what you say because I see what you do.” In other words, when our lives do not align with our speech, then our message is unbelievable. This is a sobering reality for pastors. How many times have we unwittingly undermined by our lives what we have preached with our lips? What do we really communicate when we preach forgiveness but harbor grudges? Or when we preach humility but live pridefully? Or preach joy but never exude it?
Our people learn as much from our lives as they do from our words. Surely this is why Paul admonishes the young pastor, Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Both sound doctrine and sound living are required for a fruitful ministry.
In “A Sermon to Ministers and Other Tried Believers” Charles Spurgeon makes this very point. His text is 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” The following extract from that message is particularly directed to pastors. As those who are entrusted with the responsibility to preach God’s Word to God’s people, we must never forget that we are also responsible to apply that Word to our own lives first.
Let me add, that you ministers ought to cast all your care upon God, because it will be such a good example for your hearers. Our people learn much from our conduct, and if they see us fretting, they will be certain to do the same. You preach faith, do you not? How sad it will be for you to be convicted of unbelief! Our own words may condemn us if we are anxious. Once when I was unduly depressed, my good wife said to me, “I have a book here which I should like to read to you.” It did me good to hear her read, but I felt myself rebuked by every word. I half suspected what was coming when she said, “That is your own, recollect.” She had been giving the doctor some of his own medicine. What a many things you have said, my brethren, that will condemn you if you do not trust God! Is it, after all, mere talk? Did you mean what you said, and is it true? Or have you merely been repeating official dogmas in which you have no personal confidence? Is the providence of God a myth, or a living, bright reality? “Here,” said a quack in the market-place, “is a medicine that will cure coughs, colds, consumptions [the fellow coughed horribly at this point]. It is of such efficacy that it would almost restore the dead. [Here he coughed again.] Nobody need remain a sufferer—he has only to buy a box of these pills”—[here the quack’s own cough prevented him from speaking]. Ah! laugh on, laugh on, brethren, only mind that nobody laughs at you for doubting while you extol faith. We must show in ourselves that faith in our God is a healing medicine, or men will not believe us; we shall make Christ himself seem to be a pretender, unless we practically prove that we have been healed by him. Let your people see in you what comes of trusting Christ; let them see what cheerfulness, what hopefulness, what buoyancy of heart come to those who trust Christ, and cast all their care upon him.