OceanSide church of Christ

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Talking the Talk, but Not Walking the Walk

Victor M. Eskew


          One of the keys of effective leadership is to be an example to those who are following you.  A leader is one who must not only talk the talk.  He must “walk the walk.”  Some say he must “put up or shut up.”  If a leader’s life does not parallel his message, he will be ineffective.  Those who hear him speak will disregard his words.  A man who will not conform to the principles he declares must not believe them to be of value.  The followers see this and also discount the value of the principles that are taught by the leader.

          The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had this problem.  In His rebuke of these Jewish leaders, the Son of God noted the problem.  “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:  all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works:  for they say, and do not.  For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on man’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:1-4).  Needless to say, the Pharisees had lost their effectiveness as leaders.  It is not surprising that when Jesus came along that the people readily accepted Him.  He was a man who practiced what he preached.  “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).

          As a whole, it seems that the Jews suffered from this same malady.  They viewed themselves as the teachers of the law.  They applied it critically to others.  However, they themselves were guilty of the things they condemn others of doing.  Paul confronted their behavior in the second chapter of Romans.  “Behold, thou art called a Jew…and knowest his will…and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind…an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes…Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest not thyself?  Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?  Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?  Thou that abhorest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?  Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? (Rom. 2:17-23).  These Jews were great at teaching the law.  They had extreme difficulty, however, keeping the lay.  Their practice just did not measure up to their preaching.  This contradiction caused others to be adversely affected.  “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Rom. 2:24).

          It is very easy for us to become like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and the Jews of Paul’s era.  Proclaiming the truth to others is easy.  Practicing the truth in our own lives, however, can be a challenge.  Parents are often faced with their inconsistencies.  The ones who point them out many times are their children.  Dad tells his children not to smoke while holding a cigarette in his fingers.  Mom tells the children to enjoy worship as she pushes them out the door to get on the church bus.  Children are punished for lying on the same day that mom called in sick to her employer to enjoy some time with the kids.  Paul’s words shout out loud to such individuals:  “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest not thyself?”

          Another group that must deal with the matter of inconsistency and hypocrisy is preachers.  Week in and week out, preachers address their congregations.  They seek to exhort the church to more faithfulness and godliness.  They encourage them to be actively engaged in the work of the church.  Sometimes, however, their lives do not match their message.  They exhort the members to do personal evangelism, yet the preacher hardly ever conducts a Bible study with others.  They tell the members to be actively engaged in good works, but they miss many church activities.  They reprove the members for not submitting to the elders, yet they do not submit when the elders’ directives do not please them.  Members of the congregation are watching.  They see the inconsistencies.  They are both confused and angered when the life of their leader fails to conform to his message.  Again, Paul askes:  “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest not thyself?”

          In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave the cure for this undesirable trait.  It is found in Matthew 7:5.  “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”  We often call this “cleaning around our own doorstep first.”  When the leader’s life conforms to his message, the crowds will more eagerly follow.  They will see an individual who believes in and lives out what he proclaims to others.  They will say of their leader:  “He is a man who walks the walk.”