SAVING OTHERS BUT NOT OURSELVES

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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 KINGS 24:8-17; PS 79:1-5,8-9; MT 7:21-29 ]

The world has come to the stage where leaders are no longer trusted. Unfortunately, the greatest disappointment is when religious leaders who are supposed to be moral markers fail in their leadership and in their way of life. Hence there is a growing distrust in the institutions as they are no longer viewed as protectors and guardians of the people’s morality and justice.

Is it because the world’s level of morality is degenerating? Perhaps so, but this might not be the real picture. Since the beginning of time, in the history of Israel, there has always been bad and evil leaders. It is true everywhere in the world and in every sphere of life. That is why it is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I suppose the real reason why we see so many evil and self-centered leaders is because with social media they are easily exposed for their double dealings, and people today are also better educated and informed and so are able to tell if the leaders are following the rules they set for others. In the early days, one could cover up quite easily one’s evil deeds by using their authority to instill fear in their subordinates to keep them quiet.

What, then

, do we do when we find leaders who do not walk the talk, or worse still, deliberately cheat using their office and influence? This is what the Lord said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” (Mt 23:2f) If they are teaching the truth, even if they do not practise what they teach, it is still the Word of God and we must therefore listen and obey accordingly. We must be focused on the content, not just the preacher or the teacher. Living out the truth is ultimately for our good and our salvation. It would be unwise of us to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must be discerning and not react to the imperfections and the sinfulness of our teachers and those in authority. We are not perfect ourselves and therefore we can afford to be sympathetic and compassionate with them when they too fall into the temptation of the Evil One.

But the real problem is, how do we deal with leaders who are hypocritical and living a double life without us knowing it until they are exposed? In public, they appear to be earnest preachers, sincere ministers, good workers, dressed in nice robes, making “their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” like the scribes and Pharisees. But in fact, they are simply putting on a show when they are quietly enriching themselves, living a spendthrift, luxurious and wanton life, irresponsible and lazy in their work, mixing only with the rich and powerful, and caring for their own interests.

The irony is that they seem to be producing the fruits that Jesus said we should look out for when discerning true leaders, ie, good works, miracles and healings, attracting great crowds of people, bringing much money to their projects and growing the Church as well.

But the Lord warned us immediately after giving us the rule of thumb for discerning good leaders, that good works alone does not mean that they are good. “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work miracles in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil man!” Indeed, good works alone need not indicate that they are saved or that they are holy men and women! They could be simply making use of religion to make money, enjoy a life of luxury, getting attention and fame for themselves, but in truth they are far from God. “From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (cf 1 Tim 6:3-5) Sound doctrine is not focused on personal gain but on the salvation of the souls of others.

This is why the Bible makes it clear that we are not saved by our merits but purely through faith in the grace of God that comes from the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. St Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God -not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph 2:9f) He repeated this in his letter to Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Tit 3:4-7)

How, then, do we see the value of their works, since they apparently bring many to conversion, even if they are imperfect to say the least? The truth is that good works can be produced either by the Holy Spirit. Even the devil can mimic good works as well. St John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1) Even if we do things from the wrong motives, God can make use of our good works for the conversion of many people. The devil on the other hand can also hijack our good works by tempting us to sin, as St Paul warns us. “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Tim 6:9f) In fact, greater is their punishment, like the evil kings of Israel, for their misconduct.

St Paul has this to say about those ministers and missionaries that have selfish intent in proclaiming the gospel. “Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:15-18) So we should rejoice that even if they serve imperfectly with impure motives or even deliberately with selfish motives, His gospel is preached to all who have faith and they are saved not by them but by Christ.

How, then, can we avoid being hypocritical leaders who harm not just our own souls but that of others? Jesus makes it clear that we need to have a personal relationship with Him. Otherwise, He will say to you, “I have never known you; away from me, you evil man!” A personal relationship with the Lord is the key to having greater faith in Him. Out of this faith in Christ, His grace will be at work in us and through His grace, we will do good works, not to gain our salvation as such, but to express a life that is under the reign of Christ and His kingdom. We do good not to earn salvation but to cooperate with His grace to live a good life, bearing the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (cf Gal 5:22)

This is what our Lord is asking of us, to build our House, that is, our lives on Him as the rock of our salvation. “Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against the house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock.” When our foundation is on the love of Christ for us and our personal relationship with Him, then we will not falter in times of trials and tribulations because we know that Jesus is with us and will supply all our needs and will strengthen us.

Most of all, because God is with us, He will make use of us more powerfully for His glory because of our greater receptivity to His grace than those ministers who are insincere and living a sinful life. Whilst it is true that God can still make use of them, the power of His grace is also limited by man’s personal response to His grace. So when we live holy lives in accordance with the Word of God founded in our personal relationship with the Lord, our ministry will remain pure and powerful in the name of the Lord. This is why we read at the end of the gospel, that “his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, and not like their own scribes.” Jesus did not simply teach but lived out what He taught and did good in the power of the Holy Spirit.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone.

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