Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV
John Piper decided to weigh in on the personal merits of now former President Donald Trump in regard to his character just before the election of 2020. Specifically, he decided Trump was disqualified because he was guilty of “sexual immorality, boastfulness, vulgarity, and factiousness.” Of course, we all know he is on his third marriage. Yet some of us voted for him because he championed policies we deemed right and constructive to the country (or just because our ancestors faced dogs, hoses, nightsticks and jail so we could have the right to vote, period).
Trump is not the beginning of the bifurcation between public persona and private character. There have been a train of leaders that have suffered from that split, among them civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, former President Bill Clinton, America’s Dad Bill Cosby, televangelist Jim Bakker and the late apologist Ravi Zacharias. (At least Joshua Harris admitted his apostasy and got out!)
At some point, Americans decided that it didn’t matter what people did in their private lives so long as their public persona or performance was in place at the highest level. Gone are the public admonitions that what you do in private matters before God more than what people see in public. Although people lay the cause of this at the feet of post-modernism, the Apostle Paul forces us to realize this duplicity has been part and parcel of human nature since the Fall. Jesus decried those who would do many mighty works in His name in public, but in the secret chambers of their heart had no relationship with Him. James slammed down the gauntlet against those who heard the word (let alone speak it) but yet simply did not bother to walk according to it. What has God called us to do?
This passage lets us know that life in Christ is a race and that to run that race and win the “prize of the upward call of God” (Phil 3:14), we have to keep the body under discipline so that its weaknesses and passions don’t disrupt our pursuit of the prize. By extension, Paul is telling us that to assume we can let ourselves go and still do public life in Christ with integrity is fooling ourselves. Our broken heroes show us that even in areas of vocation and culture making, character matters. The private self and public servant must be one person, not two. This necessarily means when we do sin in thought, word, deed or affections, to maintain integrity before God we confess our sin and receive His forgiveness. This was the mark of King David’s life that was missing from King Saul’s.
Pray for us who are leaders – pastor, elders or lay leaders – and for each other that we can always stand before God in good conscience, for in so doing we can stand before each other.
And by the way, vote your conscience. I’m not here to tell you who to vote for when election time comes again. Sometimes the choices are what they are.