‘The first epistle to the believers in South Africa’

Leon Vivier

Theology graduate Leon Vivier asked himself: “What would an epistle by the New Testament writers to South African Christians today look like?” He came up with the “epistle” below, based on Scripture passages (NKJV) dealing with leaders and leadership.

From a South African, a servant of God, and a brother to the people in common faith.  To those who are called beloved in God may mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.   For I rejoice greatly when I see testified that, indeed, many of you have not grown weary and continue walking in the truth.  I know your tribulation and your poverty.  I know the slander of those who oppose you.   I know your works, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance.  I know that many of you have but little power, and yet you have not denied the heritage that is within this country.

But I have this against you:

That you have those among you who hold to the teaching of selfishness.
That you tolerate those who call themselves leaders whilst practicing immorality.
That you bear those who are evil.

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Therefore, although I was very eager to write to you about our common heritage, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the hope that was delivered to all South Africans. 

I know that many of you have tested those who call themselves leaders and found them to be false. Yet I still feel the need to write to you concerning those who try to deceive you. 

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who are designated for condemnation.   Ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God.  Bringing in destructive heresies.  Proclaiming, but not living, the hope that once was within all South Africans.  In their greed they will exploit you with false words.  These people, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme.  They are scoffers, grumblers and malcontents.  They are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favouritism to gain advantage.  They are easily tempted.  Lured and enticed by their own desires.  Their desires, once conceived, gives birth to sin. Their sin, when fully grown, brings forth death.  They swear by heaven and by earth and by other oaths.   But their “yes” is not yes and their “no” is not no. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.  They have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in their hearts. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They love gain from wrongdoing for they have hearts trained in greed. They boast in their arrogance and are false with the truth. They are worldly people. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are devoid of God.

But most importantly and above all: 

They promise freedom, whilst they themselves are slaves of corruption. 

For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

False leaders have arisen among you. They have forsaken the right way.  They have gone astray. They are like shepherds feeding themselves, rainless clouds swept along by winds, fruitless trees in late autumn, waterless springs, wandering stars.  It is these among you that cause divisions.  

Like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, they will also be destroyed.  For them the gloom of darkness has been reserved.  They will fall under condemnation.  Suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing.  For if God did not even spare angels from judgment then he certainly knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment.

What good is it if your leaders say they are good but do no good works?  Can good words save our country?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed, lacking in daily food, and your leaders say: “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” without giving them clothes and food for the body, what good is that?  So also, good words without good works is useless and dead. Most importantly: Since the judgment of God is true, what sort of leaders ought they to be?    

Although I am bold enough in God to command your leaders to do what is required, for love’s sake, I instead appeal to the leaders among you: 

Be doers of good.  Not hearers only.  Do not imitate evil but imitate good. Do good not by compulsion but of your own accord, not because you have to but because you want to. It is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Furthermore, whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.  

Be wise.   Wisdom is impartial, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, sincere, and full of mercy. By good conduct, show your wisdom.  If you lack wisdom then ask God who gives generously to all without reproach.    

Do not show partiality.   Has God not chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom?  Are the rich not the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?    Therefore, do not esteem a rich man above a poor man.   For if you show partiality you are committing sin.  You have not loved your neighbour as yourself.

Shepherd your flock exercising oversight.  Not under compulsion, but willingly.  Not for shameful gain, but eagerly.  Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to them. For an overseer, as God’s shepherd, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the truth as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in it and also rebuke those who contradict it.

Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not restrain his tongue then his religion is worthless.

Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive the truth with meekness.

Do not love your country or the things within it.  Instead, love God.  If anyone loves his country more than he loves God, then the love of God is not in him.  For all that is in this country — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not from God.

If you claim religion, then remember this: pure religion is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains before it dies. For your works are not complete in the sight God.    If you will not wake up, He will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour He will come against you. Therefore, live as leaders who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

For the rest of my brothers and sisters I say:  Not many of you should become leaders for you know that those who lead will be judged with greater strictness.

As for a person who stirs up division:  After warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.  Knowing that such a person is warped and sinful — he is self-condemned.

Avoid foolish controversies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  

You have heard it said: Give unto the government what is due to the government and give unto God what is due to God. Therefore, give your taxes and give your tithes. 

Be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.  Likewise, urge the children to be self-controlled.

Love your fellow brother and sister.  

Honour your leaders.  

Fear God.

I write these things to you, beloved, so that you may take care and not be carried away by the error of lawless leaders. Thus losing your own stability and truth. Worse, be lead into sin. I write these things because they are trustworthy, excellent and profitable for people. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who lead may be careful to devote themselves to good works. I write these things, confident of your obedience, knowing that you will do even more than I say. Blessed be the people of South Africa!

According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. To Him be glory, majesty, dominion and authority forever and ever.  Blessed be the God of South Africa!  Amen. 

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One Comment

  1. What a sobering message ! It speaks to all of us as believers, we are all at some level in some form of leadership……we are kings and priests. May the Lord speak to us, examine our hearts and bring us to repentance. May we turn back to Him and allow Him to make us a mature people sold out for Him. We cannot afford to follow man but rather turn to Christ and follow Him. Surely the Lord is looking for a Church that is yielded to Him in everyway, a united people with one intention, to bring Glory to God. Division in the body is devastating to the wellbeing of God’s people and it is holding us back. We may not agree on all aspects of doctrine but the essential message of the gospel is clear and accepted by us all.