I had a bit of a wait in a not-so-fast-food drive-through last night, and I was listening to a radio preacher in the mean time. I think the general topic of the message was about temptation — he did talk about that a while. But at one point he mentioned (not by name) someone well-known in a particular church who said all the right things and took all the right stands and yet fell into the sin of adultery: worse yet, he would not admit it until he realized irrefutable evidence was available. Members of the church were hurt and scandalized…and it was at that point my turn came at the drive-through window, so I don’t know the rest of the story or why the preacher brought it up.
I don’t know (or want to know) who he was talking about, but it brought me back to my early married days when someone I had looked up to as a spiritual leader in college fell into the same sin. He was on the mission field at the time, would not repent when confronted, then went on to live a very secular lifestyle, lived as though he never had been a professing Christian, and antagonized his wife when she attended church.
I have to admit that hurt. And I was only a friend: I only had a glimpse of what his wife went through, and I was especially concerned for his children and for the students at the Bible institute he had been a part of on the mission field. When things like this happen, it can cause some to be shaken in their faith. Perhaps they think if this person fell, anyone can fall (and I think this may have been the point the radio preacher was getting to). Or perhaps they think if this person wasn’t genuine, as in the case mentioned (though genuine believers do fall into sin, too, as David did with Bathesheba) then how can any of it be real?
For some people it’s not a distant scandal involving a famous preacher that has shaken them, or even a spiritual leader in their own church, but someone much closer: a father, brother, or personal friend.
However much it hurts and baffles, someone else’s fall is no reason to become confused or discouraged and throw in the towel — or, as some unbelievers might, to point the finger and use the situation to discount all of Christianity. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). We’re responsible for our own walk and our own lives no matter what anyone else does. His grace is sufficient for our every need.
What are some wrong reactions when someone falls?
1. “I knew it all the time: I knew something wasn’t right about them.”
Love “believeth all things, hopeth all things” (I Corinthians 13: 7b) — not to the point of naivety, but in general expecting good rather than suspecting evil. In the situation I mentioned, after the fact several people brought up to the pastoral leadership situations and concerns they had from years before when the man was in graduate school. The pastor and elders had to say this was not the time for that: those things should have been brought up at the time, if it was something serious enough to be of concern. Who knows, perhaps a confrontation then would have prevented the serious damage that occurred later.
2. “Can you imagine? Can you believe it? I would never do such a thing!”
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (I Corinthians 10:12). We’re all sinful beings: given the right circumstances and temptations, any of us is vulnerable. Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
3. “If he fell, if he couldn’t live the Christan life, there is no way I can.”
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (I Corinthians 10:13). These situations can be a wake-up call, reminding us of how much we need to walk closely with the Lord and how much we need His grace to keep from sin, but, as mentioned earlier, we should not lose hope.
There are Biblical ways to respond to such a situation that are beyond the scope of this particular post, but I’ll just mention them in passing: Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Matthew 7 speaks of taking the “beam” out of our own eye before trying to remove the speck or “mote” from someone else’s (interestingly, most people stop with the first verse of that chapter, the “judge not,” and misapply it in all kinds of ways, but miss the fact that verse 5 indicates we are supposed to help each other with these things — but we’re supposed to have the right attitude and take care of our own issues first). Matthew 18:15-20 outlines the course of church discipline, and what steps are taken depends on the reaction of the offender; I Corinthians 5 shares the extreme end of church discipline when the offender does not repent after every other attempt has been made. If you read both of those chapters closely, the hopeful outcome is restoration and forgiveness, not a self-righteous denunciation of the offender. There are other reasons for church discipline: the purity of the church (someone going around in open, unrepentant sin is going to tempt others to do so just by their “getting away with it”) and the testimony of the church (many times the New Testament lays out a certain course of action so that unbelievers won’t blaspheme). But the primary purpose of these actions is to help bring the offender to realize what he has done, confess and repent of it, and to restore him to fellowship with God and others.
Also, all of these verses about church discipline do not mean that we turn into spiritual policemen, constantly watching out for others to misstep so we can pounce on them. No, there are times to exercise forbearance, to overlook a fault. We handle an unkind word or leaving socks on the floor far differently than we would handle stealing, lying, or immorality, though those “lesser issues” might still need to be dealt with.
But my main reason for writing today is not so much to talk about church discipline: I wanted rather just to encourage us that, even though it wounds us when someone else falls, and we pray for that person and do all in our power to see them get things right, our ultimate focus should be on the One Who will never fail us.
Hebrews 12:1-2: Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.