By Thomas S. Neuberger, Esquire
April 4, 2014
“Encourage and challenge others to persevere in doing what is right.”—Billy Graham (2011)
Soon I will have been a practicing attorney for 40 years, both locally in Delaware and in the trial and appellate courts throughout the country. As one’s stamina fades with age it is right to pass on to future attorneys some lessons from my past.
Lawyers have specific gifts and talents and if they are willing God will provide opportunities to use them. God does have a plan for each of our lives. So if you are called to be an attorney, be open and He will do mighty things through you.
I have learned many things over the years legally, but personally, and more importantly, I have learned unfortunate lessons about attorneys who openly declare themselves to be Christian or trade on the name of Christ in their careers. Christian lawyers are generally second rate. They fellowship, they do not work hard, they have no perseverance, they are chicken, and they fumble the ball.
I have watched and worked with and even opposed Christian lawyers throughout the country. I have seen them do their real estate, close their big deals, negotiate leases, do probate and even defend pedophile priests. I have been in their fellowships. I even know of them getting involved with non-controversial issues. But are they the lawyers the Lord has called them to be? Let's see what the scriptures say about this.
I believe the scriptures tell us at least three things about the kinds of lawyers we should be. (1) We should have a zeal for God that consumes us. (2) We should be the best. (3) We should win the world for Christ. That is the standard we should be raising and following.
I. Zeal for God
The scriptures demand that we have a zeal for the things of God. Paul, for example, was a man zealous, fervent, earnest, passionate for God. In Acts 22:3 he tells us that he sat at the feet of Gamaliel and "was zealous towards God." Then he was knocked off his horse and he met Jesus. Interestingly, the Lord told him he was going to become a doer, an activist. He said, "rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do." (Acts 9:6) He then became a doer, someone zealous for Jesus.
Look at his missionary journeys. He would go into a city and stir up the people. He was a troublemaker wherever he went. He told Titus that Christ "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all inequity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." (Titus 2:14)
Zealous of good works! That tells me that Jesus wants us to be "zealous for good works." It doesn't take much interpretation to understand the plain meaning of that statement. We are to be zealous of good works. But are we?
I am afraid that most of us are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. If we look at the book of Revelation, chapter 3, beginning at verse 14, we see what Jesus said to the church at Laodicea:
"I know your works, you are neither cold nor hot! Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth."
Maybe we were hot once, zealous for good works. Maybe we were committed once, but are we lukewarm now? If we are not zealous, I merely note the Lord's own judgment. If we are lukewarm, he will spew us out.
If we have zeal we do not care about the odds. We do not care that we face the disapproval of our brothers at the Bar. We do not care that they think we are crazy. We do not care that they believe we are fanatical. We do not care that the ACLU thinks we do not have a chance. Instead, we remember what Joshua said, "one man of you shall chase a thousand: for the Lord your God, he fights for you, as he hath promised you." (Joshua 23:10)
b. Prophets of Baal
Look at what one man of God with zeal can do. In I Kings, chapter 18, we have the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Interestingly, in verse 21, we see that the people were lukewarm. Elijah asked them: "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered not a word."
We should know the rest of the story. He challenged them to call down the name of their God on the offering and stated that "the God who answers by fire, he is God." All day long they prayed to Baal. Elijah mocked them and the devil when he said: maybe Baal is musing, maybe he has gone outside, maybe he is on a journey or asleep. (Verse 27) Then Elijah built an "altar in the name of the Lord." (Verse 32) He made the task even more difficult and covered the offering with water three times and prayed to "the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel." (Verse 36) And the fire fell and the people called – "the Lord, he is God, the Lord, he is God." (Verse 39) Then he executed the 450 false prophets.
Now that is zeal and 450 to 1 odds did not deter him.
Look at Nehemiah, a man of God called to fulfill the vision to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. This man was a servant of the Persian king. Under the Persians, the Jews were being allowed to return to Jerusalem after the exile. The political forces in the area were not happy with their return. Efforts to rebuild the wall had been stopped by royal decree. Did this stop Nehemiah? Did he allow fear, that it would be interpreted to be treason to ask to rebuild the wall, to deter him? He went to the king and not only did he get permission to rebuild the wall but he was made governor of the area and the king even gave him the materials for the wall and the gates of the city.
Was he later deterred by physical threats from neighboring governors? No, they built with one hand and kept a sword in the other. Was he deterred when Sanbalat and Tobiah mocked him, when they threatened him, when they intrigued against him?
No, he held on to the task God put in his heart and he achieved it despite the obstacles. He was single minded. He was zealous for good works. Are we? Or are we just lukewarm?
If we really believe the scriptures we also strive for perfection in our work for we know that the Holy Spirit lives in each and every one of us. I Corinthians 4:16; 6:19. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and the spirit of God dwells in you?" We also believe that Jesus lives in us. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ lives in me." Galatians 2:20.
In us lives perfection and quality. Jesus was the carpenter's son. Would you like to have seen one of the chairs he made? Do you think it was just thrown together or was it a quality piece of work? Did the creator of the universe do a second rate job? We should be setting the highest standard in our work, for God's glory. What standard would the creator of the universe have us strive for? We should be the best. But are we? We should accept nothing less.
III. Cultural mandate
Third, the church, and believers, also have a mandate to be the dominant influence on our culture. In Matthew 5:13 we are told we are the salt of the earth. Salt not only preserves, it makes one thirsty. If the believers, we lawyers, were fulfilling our proper role, then our culture would be thirsty for the knowledge of biblical truth. Over the past 40 years we failed in that task.
Salt when placed on metal and dampened with water also will eat through steel. We likewise should be able to penetrate and defeat the arguments and actions of paganism.
If we were to have dominion we should have fought the pagan ideas rampant in the world. But did Christian lawyers do this? Did they seek dominion? I think not.
IV. How do we measure up?
How do Christian lawyers measure up concerning their zeal and commitment to the Lord's work, the quality of their work, and winning our culture for Christ? Quite frankly, I think we should be ashamed. Compare our zeal to that of the ACLU. Those lawyers take a case because they are committed. They want to change the world to their world view. They will fight you to the death. They do not care if they are going to be paid. When their case comes along, they take that one case and do all they can for it. They know that case comes along once or twice in a lifetime and they take the ball and run with it.
Christian lawyers do not care about dominion. I know of instances where Christian lawyers simply turned down a case, a winnable and important case, because there was no money in it. But are we to do just real estate and probate all the time? Is this zeal?
I once went to the funeral of an ACLU lawyer, the president of his state chapter. Leaders from Planned Parenthood and other organizations spoke. They all knew he was a believer in their value system but they did not extol that. They lauded his zeal. They applauded what he had done in his state, the achievements in the area of the law that he had accomplished for their world view.
At your funeral will they just say you were a Christian or will there be cases you won for Christ for them to recite? Not for most Christian lawyers I know. They believed, they went to heaven, but the society went to hell, for they had no zeal. That will be their epitaph.
(1) I have filed cases and worked with local lawyers. I have carefully planned the strategy for the cases. Litigation is a war. You seize the initiative, you choose the terrain, you force the other side to react and you try to rush them to judgment. I have tried carefully to choose the local lawyers. I have been assured of their commitment to the case and have been promised their full cooperation. I have been told of their desire to defeat the other side. Then what happens? The case gets kicked down to the lowest person in the firm. I prepare papers for a preliminary injunction and a brief. It has to be filed on a certain date. But it is filed a month or more late. The other side seizes the initiative and they come on like gang busters. Why does this happen? No zeal, no desire for perfection. They make a second rate wobbly chair.
(2) I remember one of the earliest student bible club cases in mid 1970's. The court of appeals split 2-1 against the students. A Buddhist judge wrote a terrific dissent favoring the religious students. Imagine going up to the state Supreme Court with something in your favor in such a case. What happened? The appeal was filed one date late! Everything was wasted. One day late! What could be more elementary than counting to 30? I guess that was too difficult for a Christian to do.
(3) I have seen cases where a lawyer does have zeal but it is a zeal "not based on knowledge," without knowledge, as Paul says in Romans 10:2. He rushes off and files a complaint without checking the terrain, without deciding which court would be the best one to file in, without consulting with someone who knows something about the civil rights laws, without doing the proper research. This only gives the other side an opportunity to cause some damage in the lawsuit because the proper foundation has not been laid. This is not first rate or wise.
(4) I have seen lawyers forget they are lawyers and overly identify with their clients. They forget that they are called to give the best legal advice possible. For example, this can happen in sit-in cases involving picketing at abortion clinics. You can psychologically become one with those who sit-in. But what about your God given ability to try to find a way out? Technicalities get criminals off, why can't they get Christians off? People can be convicted when their lawyer misses a technical defense that could have been raised simply because he is over identifying with his clients or trying to make a political point. I think that is second rate.
(5) Last, I have seen Christian lawyers on an ego trip. They want to be famous, they want to look important, or they think they are the savior of the Christian community. They forget only Jesus saves and moreover, that in the words of the psalmist, "before honor is humility." Before honor is humility. We must be humble before we are ever to be exalted, if that is in God's plan. Proverbs 15:33; 18:22; see Philippians 2:8. Fame is simply the wrong motive. We are called to serve. We must die to our own ego. We simply must be obedient. Obedience means zeal for good works and doing your best. It does not mean trying to be famous.
There are just a few examples. Christian lawyers on the whole are simply not committed to the cultural mandate and they do not really believe that in them lives perfection and quality. On the whole they do not measure up to the biblical standards.
How will you measure up? If you are a lawyer, when you die what will be said at your funeral?
The legal profession is not simply a business, it is a vocation to which God has called us. Just as Jesus told Paul on the road to Damascus where to go, he will show us what to do. And what to do is found in the scriptures. There will be times when we will not profit financially from this. But we are not here solely to make money. We are here to be zealous for good works and to do something for God. God will do the rest.
We are all called to serve. The timing is up to the Lord. I think we are all pots on a shelf. When he wants He will use us if we are willing. If not, He will find someone else to use.
We must be ready and obedient. That means responding to the call, being zealous for His work and doing your best.
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