There is a common idea around at the moment that what you do in private should make no difference to what you do in public. How you choose to conduct your life outside the workplace, say, or when you’re on holiday is up to you. So long as you can fulfil your public function efficiently and well, that’s all that matters.
Sadly the idea that we can break down our life into individual compartments, however tempting, is a fallacy. What a politician does in private can massively affect his credibility as a government minister. The affair the pastor conducts in secret will one day undermine his ministry – and, it should be added, destroy the faith of many who look on. Private and public inevitably collide, and where there is a gap between the two, the results are messy and hugely destructive.
Once a year I lecture on the Peninsula Gospel Partnership on the Old Testament monarchy (see tab above). We were looking today at the life of King David, a great king and shepherd over the people Israel, and one of the greatest public figures in Scripture. But his private life was quite a different story. After all that David achieves for his nation, there is one of the most wretched falls from grace in the Bible, in 2 Sam 11. It’s not just that he has an affair with the wife of one of his most trusted fighting men and then arranges for him to be murdered, which is bad enough. It’s the fact his whole lack of discipline has disastrous consequences for the whole nation.
Not only does David fail to discipline himself and rein in his desires, he also fails to discipline his children who then, one after another, prove their unfitness to be his successor. We have Amnon who follows his father example of sexual sin, and then some. We have Absalom who mounts a whole-scale coup d’etat. And we have Adonijah who decides off his own bat it’s time for him to be king. The private faults of David end up massively impacting upon all of Israel. So next time you hear a leader – be it a politician or a pastor or anybody else – say, “What I do outside my work (or ministry), is up to me”, take heed to watch that person very carefully. They are almost certainly storing up trouble for themselves and others.
So back to Lent. It’s easy to see our Lent discipline as a private matter that doesn’t have that much to do with our everyday lives. But if that’s how we view Lent, then I suggest we have missed the point. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert to prepare for public ministry. And that to me raises an important question. Whether or not we hold a particular office, how far does our Lent discipline prepare us for our public life day by day?