Going into pastoral ministry puts a target on your back. Staying there for even a little while means you’ll get hit. The enemy loves to attack people on the frontlines of kingdom advancement. And his primary weapon of choice? Accusation. After all, “the Satan” means “the accuser.”
Sometimes these accusations come to us directly. Feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and self-doubt can manifest in our thoughts seemingly out of nowhere. But accusations are also channeled through other people. The keyboard warrior on social media, the person who visited your church once, or even the long-time member who suddenly has concerns over the direction of the ministry—they can be the instruments through whom Satan wants to steal your confidence in your calling.
To be sure, not all criticism and feedback are unfair accusations. We should default to a posture of humility and receptivity, eager to learn and grow. But we can all think of times when the accusations against us are anything but legitimate. Someone assumes the worst of our motives, or they tell us it’s clear we don’t care about something when we know our care keeps us up at night.
How do we press on? How do we maintain our resolve without feeling the need to defend ourselves?
Loving the Hurtful
If we’re not careful, we’ll find the answer in a dangerous place: apathy. You can’t get hurt if you don’t care. As C.S. Lewis reminds us,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one . . . ”
We can protect ourselves from others by simply not loving them. But our calling as pastors is to love and care for those whom God has entrusted to us. We cannot lock our hearts up; we must tether them to our flock. We must love the very people whose assumptions and accusations often wound us.The enemy loves to attack people on the frontlines of kingdom advancement. And his primary weapon of choice? Accusation. Click To Tweet
Fortunately, the great Shepherd gives us another way. Jesus faced false accusations. Indeed, he is the only person for whom all charges of evil were 100 percent false. And yet, his heart remained full of love—true, sacrificial love that led him to lay down his own life. And as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus faced these false charges without defending himself. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
How do you care for people and yet not care about their false charges? How did Jesus, knowing his innocence, stand resolute before Pilate and the crowds? How did he carry his cross to Calvary, knowing he didn’t deserve the charges levied against him and the fate that awaited him? How did he absorb the insults hurled from the guards and the thief on the cross next to him?
Vindicated in Resurrection
1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit.” When the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, it was a declaration of innocence. It was God’s announcement to the world that Jesus did not deserve the unjust verdict he endured. He was righteous. Jesus didn’t need to defend his honor in the face of unjust charges because an undeniable, irreversible declaration of his innocence would soon ring through the cosmos on Easter morning.
We often think of our justification as linked to Jesus’s death on our behalf. But it’s more proper to think of it as linked to his resurrection on our behalf. To be vindicated is to be justified—to be declared righteous. In Christ, we are justified because he is justified through his being raised from the dead. Paul says, “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:24–25). When we are united to Christ by faith, his justification becomes our own. We are vindicated in him.
It’s no wonder, then, that Paul says he couldn’t care less what people thought of him when talking about his ministry. “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court” (1 Cor. 4:3). Why can Paul say such a thing? He tells us it’s because “It is the Lord who judges me . . . each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:4–5). If you are in Christ, then the judgment and commendation you receive are the same as the ones he earned in his perfect righteousness.
Resting in God’s Judgment
The answer to unfounded and unfair claims against you is not to try to justify yourself but to rest in the eternal justification we have in the risen Christ. No charge against you can put Jesus back in the tomb, and so no charge against you can have any bearing on your standing before God. We need not fret over defending ourselves because we have the greatest court defense in history—God’s announcement of innocence. We can, like Christ, absorb the assumptions and the insults because, like Christ, our vindication doesn’t come from others but comes from God’s declaration over us. No charge against you can put Jesus back in the tomb, and so no charge against you can have any bearing on your standing before God. Click To Tweet
That reality, when truly grasped, becomes an impenetrable armor that all false accusations glance off of. When we know that someone doesn’t have the whole story, that their assumptions are unfounded, and that their claims are irrational and untrue, we, too, can open not our mouths. We can press on in our calling. We can be assured that the only judgment that matters has been won for us in the resurrection of God’s Messiah, who was raised for our justification.