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Patterson calls seminarians to avoid ‘Samson syndrome’ of self-interest


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The “Samson syndrome” ensnares many ministers and can be avoided by giving God priority, Paige Patterson said.

“What your life is all about is whether or not you will choose to please yourself or whether you will choose God,” Patterson said. “How your ministry goes is basically bound up in whether you will select choosing God as an option, or whether you will instead decide to choose yourself.”

Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke Feb. 29 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Samson’s life started well, Patterson said, but his chosen life of promise became a carnal life of pleasure and led to a cratered life of pain — mainly because he put his own desires above obedience to God.

Samson was a man who had it all — strength, the blessings of God, godliness. “But unfortunately Samson was determined to please himself above God,” Patterson said. “As a result, he prostitutes his entire life and ministry and loses the reward God had for him as a result of his determination to please himself.”

Samson had a weakness for women, but that wasn’t his biggest problem, Patterson said, noting, “The real enemy Samson slept with every night of his life, because the real enemy is his own heart.”

After revealing the secret of his strength to Delilah, Samson awoke with the intentions of freeing himself from the Philistines. But according to Judges 16:20, “he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” Patterson said that’s one of the saddest statements in the Bible.

“You can never fail to know when the Spirit of God comes upon you, but when he leaves you, he leaves so quietly that men often miss it,” Patterson said.

The SBC president warned seminary students not to put their own interests before God.

“The moment you decide that your career and your pleasure and the fulfillment of the desires of your flesh are more important than pleasing God, then the hand of God comes off of you, and he will never use you in a way that could have been the case, and he will not bless you with heaven’s richest blessing,” Patterson said. “Make the decision. It is absolutely up to you.”

One of his biggest fears, Patterson said, is that ministers of the gospel will compromise themselves doctrinally, morally and spiritually.

“I fear that our young ministers all across the Southern Baptist Convention may be so caught up in the times in which they live, in the rush for success and the desire for the larger church and the larger opportunity, that we may miss God in the whole situation,” Patterson said. “And that in our efforts to please ourselves, we will forget that what it’s all about is to please God. When we please God, then we have his blessing.”

Speaking as president of the Southern Baptist Convention at the start of his address, Patterson asked the Southern Seminary faculty members to stand for recognition.

“If it were possible for me to speak for the great overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists, it would be to say on behalf of them today, and I think I can do it without reservation, thank you for being here at Southern Seminary,” Patterson told the faculty. “We are well aware of the fact that you could take a church somewhere at a very much increased salary. We understand that, because you work in our seminaries, you do so at a sacrifice.

“I want you to know that it is great rest for our souls as Southern Baptists to be able to go to bed at night and know that when we have sent a student to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., he is not going to come back with his faith in shambles. He’ll come back with a stronger faith and a more magnificent view of our Lord God and a deeper commitment to the things of God forever.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth
    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.Read All by Tim Ellsworth ›