What’s a nice guy gotta do?
Whenever discipline is suggested as a possibility in dealing with chronic problem members, those who have an obvious, malevolent intent to hurt the leadership, we’re admonished to be more Christlike when dealing with them. Meaning, of course, that we must never suggest discipline or anything that will be considered negative. We must always be cheerful and gentle, never hurting the feelings of the offender, always and in every detail coming as close as possible to that superhero of the modern church: the “nice person.”
The nice person is to the church what the Olympic athlete is to the world of amateur sport and the Hall-of-Famer is to professional football. We’re taught that Jesus is the model of this person who never gets upset or angry, who never uses harsh words or does socially unacceptable things. True?
A straightforward reading of the New Testament dispels such mythology about Jesus as well as his disciples and apostles. No such Jesus existed in the first century, but this is the person who has come tottering feebly into the modern era, making sure that no one is ever offended for any reason and, above all, maintaining an appearance of smiling approval when dealing with church problems.
We should certainly be Christlike when dealing with the kinds of problems set before the church today. We should try to determine as clearly as possible exactly how Jesus would respond to those most resolved to destroy his church. But how do we establish this model? We can look at both the Gospels and the Epistles.
In the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates a phenomenal patience and kindness toward sinners, risking his reputation at every point just by being with those no one else dared to be seen with. He pardoned those who regretted their sin and desired repentance and forgiveness. He held out his hand of acceptance to anyone who wanted the kingdom of God and was willing to follow him into it.
On the other hand, he was a lion when confronting religious hypocrisy, exploitation of others, false faith, disregard for the weak, dishonesty, and the like. He opposed those who, by their behavior, obscured the face of God for others. He was led by the Spirit of God and gave evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit” in his behavior. That fruit is clearly depicted in Paul’s writings, illustrating the presence of the Spirit in one’s life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Christlikeness exhibits the fruit of the Spirit, yet with the strength required to contend for the faith by dealing unflinchingly with evil in the church. It’s the same as Spiritlikeness—a total, fearless response to any force or person threatening to neutralize, undermine, or destroy the body of Christ.
Whoever claims the name of Christ but resolutely refuses to treat others the way Jesus commanded is to be regarded as an unbeliever (1 Cor. 5:11–13). Whoever runs roughshod over the standard of behavior clearly put before us, without any signs of repentance or sorrow on his part, is to be corrected or, if necessary, even expelled from the fellowship of the church until he turns and repents (1 Cor. 5:4–5).
The primary motives behind such harsh judgment are both the desire for the purity of the church as well as the recovery and redemption of the offender. In other words, in some cases the only authentic expression of true love is that of tough love. Anything else isn’t really love at all.
So what does it mean to be a Christlike leader?
To be Christlike is simply to be like Christ, to live by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to act in accord with the standard of behavior preserved for us in the Scriptures. It means that we’re to be prepared to fight when it’s time to fight, to forgive when it’s time to forgive, and to possess the God-given discernment to know the difference between the two.