The longer I am in and around the ministry, the more often I hear about fellow pastors, church leaders, and believers that fall from grace. They have been involved in deep sin for some time, and all of a sudden it comes out, usually in stunning fashion. While I hear about these situations more that I would like to, I never get used to it and the stories never cease to make me sick to my stomach. I recently sat down and thought through some of the things that the Lord always brings to mind in light of these sorts of situations. There are absolute truths that we can learn from these very tough situations.
First, spiritual leaders are human. Paul wrote, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” (Rom 7:18) This is why our faith is in God not in the leaders of our churches. No one should ever be afraid of trusting their church leadership. God has placed them there for your good and His glory. While the bad always makes the news and puts a bad light on churches, there is so much good going on which is never reported. Church members must remember that their leaders are under attack and Satan will expose and use any weakness that is in a life. Every believer, but especially church leaders, has to remember that the flesh is dangerous and prayer for protection of yourself and of your church leaders is absolutely crucial. This is not an excuse. If spiritual leaders would understand and remember this fact regularly, they would not have to use this to defend themselves after they commit some gross sin!
Second, leaders need to consider themselves. One of the jobs and responsibility of church leaders is to seek repentance on the part of individuals and to see them restored. The apostle Paul again writes, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Gal 6:1). Any time a leader falls or a believer falls, it is always a reminder to search our own hearts understanding that we are capable to doing the very same thing and that it is by the grace of God that we are not involved in the very same thing. In all reality, it needs to scare every believer straight!
Third, all sin will be revealed. Paul writes, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Cor. 4:5) Clearly, God will bring everything to light at the judgment seat and every believer will be known for what they truly are. BUT, God also has a way of revealing who and what people are right now. He will not allow sin to go covered or for His name to be constantly blasphemed. He will reveal and judge sin. I can tell you as a pastor that I never go out and try to catch people doing wrong things. The Lord has a way of making sure that it is revealed.
Fourth, church discipline needs to be practiced. When a church leader or a member of a church falls into sin and that sin is revealed, church discipline MUST be practiced. The level of that discipline depends on the level and publicity of the sin. It isn’t enough to just fire the church leader and move on. Some argue that church discipline re-opens wounds and is not profitable. So, we must ask the question, why church discipline? Church discipline could be something as small as a private confrontation of sin by the pastor and deacons to a public confession and apology to the church. Again, it all depends on the situation at hand. Passages such as Matthew 18 and I Corinthians 5 must be followed. The end result is to encourage righteous living on the part of the believers that see and experience the discipline, repentance on the part of the one being disciplined, and eventual restoration of the individual being disciplined. This is not a shunning. The only time someone is put out of the congregation is with a refusal to repent of their sin. Even still, the goal is always restoration!
Finally, consequences always remain. David committed gross sin and God brought it to light. He had committed adultery and murder, both horrible sins. When it was revealed, David confessed and forsook his sin and God forgave him. David was still called a man after God’s own heart. He still wrote the majority of the Psalms and God still allowed the Messiah to come from his line. But, grave consequences still came to David and his house. His child died. The sword and rebellion never left his house. David’s own son tried to over-throw him and was killed. Things were never the same for David after he committed this sin. God’s grace and restoration was absolutely there for David, but it was no without consequence. Sin always robs a man of what could have been.
May God help every believer and every church leader to remain faithful to Him and to never take sin lightly.