We have all had moments in life when men or women that were key influencers, motivators and mentors to us have faltered, failed or fallen. It may be a public figure, an athlete, a coach, a parent or even a pastor. I’m not referring to mistakes that people make concerning their vocation or poor judgment calls made in a business, game, school or church. Every leader or hero we have is human and fallible. No matter how smart they are or how talented they are there will come times when they miss the mark. The failure I’m referring to is one of deception and hypocrisy. This failure is traumatic for us because the person we looked up to, respected and received from was the facade; the real person was someone completely different. Unfortunately I have seen this happen dozens of times in very public ways for Christians all across the world over the last several decades. I have also seen this happen three times up close and personal for people very close to me.
When it happens it hurts in ways that only another person who has been through something similar can identify with. Your mind starts racing and you begin to question everything you learned from that person wondering if you can truly believe anything they taught you. If this person is a church leader it can cause serious damage in a community and in the lives of young believers. It is at these times that mature men and women of God must be there in grace, mercy, compassion and truth for those affected.
I did not want to write this message. I don’t want to have to share what the Bible says about sin for those in ministry. I don’t want to read about churches that have been torn apart. I don’t want to hear the words “scandal” and “pastor” in the same sentence and I’m sure you don’t either. The media is generally slanted against the church of Jesus Christ but sometimes the church has created the fuel for the media’s skepticism and suspicion. We have seen just about every type of sin make the headlines coming from a leader of a church to the point where I really don’t want to read the headlines any more. If the church of Jesus Christ and its ministers are going to be in the media my prayer is that it will be for the good works their congregations are doing or for the Biblical messages they are proclaiming.
There is no such thing as secret sin
Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. (1 Timothy 5:24 NLT)
If you are a leader and you are living a life that is contrary to that which you profess you do it is only a matter of time before the truth is revealed. Nothing stays buried forever.
The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear! (Luke 12:2-3)
Who we are and what we do matters. It matters to God and it matters to the people in our lives. We are not islands floating in the sea of humanity detached from others. The things we do affect other people. The body of Christ is a community and we not only depend upon one another but we also represent one another. Most importantly, as believers, each of us represents the Lord Jesus Christ. It is this privilege and obligation that each of us must keep close in our hearts. The world cannot see Jesus – they can only see us.
It is quite true to say, “I can’t live a holy life,” but you can decide to let Jesus make you holy. – Oswald Chambers
Some sins will get you fired
Forgiveness of sin is available to everyone because of the cross. There is mercy and grace to cover my sins, your sin and the sins of the world. There are, however, consequences for our sins that are realized in the present, even after repentance is found and forgiveness is received. These present consequences do not negate the forgiveness or the love of God.
The love of God goes deep enough to remove a leader from office who has transgressed his calling and violated the sacred trust of his office. The removal of a leader from their position due to moral failure in their personal life is a biblical action. This removal is not an excommunication from the church nor is it a proclamation of damnation upon the individual; it is a disqualification from leadership. The most import thing for the leader who has sinned is to find the place of repentance and restoration in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Depending upon the sin that was committed there may be a time in the future when leadership may once again be a possibility.
Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others.
I solemnly command you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus and the holy angels to obey these instructions without taking sides or showing favoritism to anyone. (1 Timothy 5:19-21 NLT)
It is a sobering thing to remove a person in sin from leadership but it is a merciful action that honors the holiness of God and conveys the love of God for the congregation and the leader. God loves the leader enough to be more concerned with their soul than their ministry and God loves the congregation enough to have someone lead them whose life reflects the character of Christ.
Remember you live in a glass house
This message has not been written as an attack upon an individual and I hope that it has not been received in that manner. This message was written to share what the Bible has to say concerning this subject.
“Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” We are not exempted from holiness because we live lives outside of a pulpit or leadership position. That which the Bible expects from the leaders of our churches it also expects of us.
But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NLT)
Open sin is not acceptable in the life of a believer, any believer. This means me and this means you. Each of us will stand before Christ to give an account of our own lives. It is our own faith, our own holiness and our own charity that we must give an account for. We cannot set ourselves up to expect from others that which we do not expect from ourselves. Our passion for and pursuit of God must be paramount to everything else in our lives. If we are seeking Him, we will not be the hypocrites that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. We will not be judging others for the very things that are wrong in our lives.
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NLT)
Forgiveness is not an option
Leaving the church because of the sins a leader has committed may be the right thing to do; especially if the leader remains in leadership. Walking away from Christ is another story. Harboring bitterness and refusing to forgive the leader and the church is another story. The sins of another person are not grounds for you and I to live contrary to the Word and the Spirit.
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NLT)
I am not asking you to forgive anyone; Jesus is. The One who bore our sins in His own body upon the cross so that we may be forgiven asks us to forgive those who sin against us. It is never easy to forgive those who have sinned against you and it normally does not happen instantaneously but it needs to happen. If the blood of Jesus Christ covers my sin then the blood of Jesus Christ covers the sins committed against me. Therefore if God will forgive my sins against Him, I must forgive those who sin against me.
I know this is not a pleasant subject to read about. It has not been a pleasant subject to write about but it is a subject that affects each of our lives. So here is my conclusion:
- Pray for those in leadership within the church
- Apply the Bible to every situation, regardless of your emotions or the status of the individuals involved
- Pursue God and Christ likeness in your life
- Be ready and willing to forgive those who sin against you.
My prayer is that those who lead you will always represent Christ to you and that this message will never be necessary for your local church.