If you tell other people to behave themselves, says Lactantius, what will they think when they see how you act? If you do the things you tell them not to do, they’ll laugh at you, and rightly so.
If anyone gives people rules to live by, and molds the character of others, is he bound to practice what he preaches or not?
If he doesn’t practice what he preaches, his rules are worthless. For if the things he teaches are good, and they put our lives in the best shape, then the teacher shouldn’t except himself from the people he teaches. He should live in the same way he teaches other people to live. If he lives some other way, he belittles his own rules. He makes his teaching worthless if, in real life, he doesn’t hold himself to the obligations he tries to teach with his words.
After all, anyone who hears someone giving rules doesn’t want to have to obey them, as though his freedom were being taken away from him. So he answers his teacher like this: “I can’t do the things you tell me to do. They’re impossible. You tell me I can’t be angry, I can’t covet, I can’t be excited by desire, I can’t fear pain or death. But this goes against nature: all animals have these feelings. If you really believe that we can resist nature, do you practice what you preach? That way I would know it was possible. But since you don’t practice what you preach, isn’t it awfully arrogant to impose laws on a free man that you yourself won’t obey? Learn first, then teach. Before you correct the character of others, first correct your own.”
–Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 4.23
IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
Do I really practice what I preach?
What inconsistencies are there between what I say and what I do?
Lord, give me the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit, and enable me to live a blameless life. Guide me to your perfect redemption and the everlasting joy of the world to come.
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