When someone falls

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.

7 thoughts on “When someone falls

  1. Once again, right on target, Barbara! We have experienced the hurt of several dear friends who have fallen, all of whom were held in high regard by our family. Even as friends and not family, it does hurt terribly. I am thankful to say that all of these friends were restored to fellowship with God and the church and are still serving the Lord today. Biblical restoration works!

    The main point of your post is one of the hardest things to learn, though – to remember that we are responsible for our own lives and to keep our eyes on Christ. I hope we’ve been successful in teaching that to our children!

  2. No hu-man is perfect. We are all sinners. The good thing is that we can be forgiven if we confess. It is easy to cast stones at another but when we do, we are commiting sin also. None of us Christians want to cause others to fall because of us, neither do we want to be immulated as above sin. Christ is the role model. Love is the lesson he taught.

  3. Someone who was instrumental in my spiritual life growing up, and who was a good friend, fell too. It happened after I’d married and moved away, and I often wonder how she’s doing; her marriage stayed intact, but they’re no longer part of the fellowship I knew them in.

    Very good, encouraging post about possible responses.

  4. Mama Bear, there is a difference between lovingly, kindly confronting someone about something glaring in their lives, and casting stones. We’re commanded to do the first and avoid the second. It isn’t easy to always know the difference, but I think one way to tell is motive. In the passage about letting the person without sin being the first to cast a stone, the Pharisees who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus for His judgment weren’t concerned for her soul or for helping her back to the right way: they were self-righteously condemning. But that doesn’t mean no one should ever confront another person about their sin. There are too many verses to the contrary, the Gal. 6:1 and Matt. 18 passages being just two. In the case I mentioned, it had become known publicly that this missionary was visiting a prostitute. The mission board had to call him home: it would have been harmful to the cause of Christ and the people he worked with to have a church-supported missionary out there with that kind of behavior. When the men from our church (his sending church) met with him, he said he did not want to give up his sin. When asked if he would be willing for them to pray that God would lead him to repentance, he said no. What else can you do with someone like that except follow the steps in Matthew 18? That is not the same thing at all as self-righteously casting stones.

    In I Cor. 5 where Paul tells the Corinthian church how to deal with the man who was committing fornication with his father’s wife, he said by not dealing with it they were “puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (verse 2). It was not a mercy to keep this man in church fellowship as if everything was all right: according to this verse it was an outgrowth of their pride. We can be so proud of our “mercy” that we don’t deal with things that need to be taken care of. Between I Corinthians and II Corinthians this man did repent, so that in II Cor. 2:6-8 Paul says, “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” But things likely would not have gotten to that place if he had not been confronted.

    It’s like having some kind of infection or growth in our bodies: when it is dealt with — treated or removed — we can go on toward healing. If it is left to fester, it will only cause more damage.

  5. This was a great post. It makes me think about why it is also so important for us to pray for our leaders. People who are in positions of authority are under much heavier attack by the enemy. The enemy knows that if he can take out the head, the rest of that body will be hurt and disillusioned also. Then they may fall away. It is also a good reason to keep your eyes on the Lord, and not too much on the leader.

  6. An excellent post, Barbara. It does hurt when someone we know falls. And sometimes it’s very hard to know how to react. Thanks for the excellent reminders on biblical ways to respond.

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