There was always a risk that the priests, once accustomed to dealing with holy things, would be tempted to treat God’s holiness casually. The dramatic deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, on the very first day of their priestly ministry, clearly demonstrated the danger of such over-familiarity (Leviticus 10:1,2). They had been given very clear and precise instructions on the use of incense in the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:7-9) – but wantonly chose to disregard them. If they had been allowed to get away with such disrespect, the rest of the people would have been encouraged to follow suit. So God made an example of them (as He would do again with Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:1-5 – as a warning to the Church).
To be so close to God is a tremendous privilege, but it brings with it a correspondingly awesome responsibility (Luke 12:48). This is one reason why we Christians cannot just live as we like; as God’s priests, we are called to display the values and lifestyle of His Kingdom before the rest of the world. And if this is true of every ordinary church member, it is even more true of those called to positions of leadership, because they wield such tremendous influence over those who follow them. “Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12) That example had better be a good one!
So church leadership cannot be open to anyone and everyone. Those who are appointed to lead God’s people must have a proven ‘track record’ of personal holiness (I Timothy 3:1-5), and they and their families must be committed to even higher ethical standards than the average believer. This may mean avoidance of some behaviours that would be acceptable in other contexts; the priests, for example, were forbidden to consume alcohol or use any other ‘mind-altering’ substance while on duty (Leviticus 10:8-11). Our spiritual leaders must have clear and sober minds at all times.
If we view professional Christian ministry as ‘just another job’, we are forgetting its unique character. In every age and culture, certain sins are so common as to be considered almost normal; so in these days of sexual permissiveness, how many potentially good ministerial candidates are in their second or even third marriages, or are living openly in gay relationships? Should we relax the rules in order to keep in step with the spirit of the age? Tempting though it is, the consequences for the church could be devastating. “The overseer is to be above reproach…” (I Timothy 3:2)