When you read a list of professions from earlier times, it reads like a roster of surnames. That’s because people were identified by what they did for a living (as opposed to recently, when we pay attention to what’s on their iPod). John Smith was a person named John who worked as a blacksmith; Bill Sawyer was a lumberjack, and so on. In India, in the Parsee community, you’ll find people with surnames such as Contractor, Doctor, Engineer, etc. But watch and see: when someone asks, “Who is he;” “Who is she,” invariably, people start to describe what they do and with whom they are associated. “Oh, he is a salesman over at the Ford dealership,” or, “She is the preacher’s wife.”
So who are you? How would you be identified today if someone in the crowd of people asked a friend who you are? How would the people expect you to behave? Would they have a right to expect more of you than someone whose profession identifies them as something else? Are you the wife of the local doctor or school principal? Are you a Bible class teacher? Are you a mother? Are you the sister to any one of these?
The world expects a certain behavior of some people. Under the Old Testament, it was no different. The priests were spiritual leaders of the nation of Israel and were not to marry a widow, a divorced woman, a profane woman or a harlot (Lev. 21:12-15). There was a higher standard expected of spiritual leaders and their wives. Obviously, leading by example is one of the ways spiritual leaders do their work. The wives are naturally an extension of their husbands, so they too are expected to be above reproach.
The children of priests also were held to a higher standard. For example, if the daughter of a priest were to play the harlot, she was to be burnt with fire (Lev. 21:9). That was a much stronger punishment than for other men’s daughters who committed the same crime. More was expected of priests’ daughters because they had been entrusted with more (Luke 12:48).
How was Jesus identified when people asked who he was? “And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (Matt. 21:10-11). There are two identities associated with Jesus. The ones who wanted to defame him made reference to the fact that he came from Nazareth—a despised place (John 1:46). Yet the ones who were his disciples remembered that he spoke for God (John 7:16). Jesus did not “live down” to the scoffers’ expectations of him, nor did he live in such a way to justify their disbelief of his teaching and his miracles.
Whether we consciously judge or not, almost all men expect everyone else to be “perfect,” whether in driving, keeping one’s place in line, performing an operation, directing traffic, rearing children, etc. Naturally, expectations for spiritual leaders and their wives are no different.
Part of man’s judgment is based on the amount of power or money with which they have been entrusted. “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). The ten-talent man was expected to produce more than the five-talent man.
Our spiritual leaders (preachers, elders, deacons, Bible class teachers) are in a position of speaking for the Lord (Matt. 23:1-3) and as such are expected to obey the commands they impart to those who have not yet obeyed. “With what judgment we judge, we will be judged…” whether by God or men (Matt. 7:1-3). Even though some may judge others harshly, they expect to receive lenient judgment for themselves (Rom. 2:1-2). Nevertheless, the way they judge is the way they will be judged, whether by God or man. The Jew assumed a position of authority for God (Rom. 2:17-20). Nevertheless, the world condemned him for his hypocrisy (Rom. 2:21-24).
When someone describes what you “do,” will they be able to say, she is a preacher’s wife, a Bible class teacher or an elder’s wife—a leader of the people who is above reproach? When someone asks where you attend church, will they say you are a member of the Lord’s body and a faithful Christian? We all should live in such a way that Christ is not ashamed to call us his own.