We all have people who profoundly impacted our spiritual lives. They are the “giants” who God used to encourage us in our faith. This person may range from a former youth minister, who patiently invested in you as you maneuvered your way through those tricky high school years, to an author, whose books shaped your theological views on a whole host of issues. In your mind, these people are mighty spiritual warriors, the SEAL team 6 of Christianity, and Satan has no answer for them. That is until they do fall one day.
It may be years down the road, but, eventually, you get news that the spiritual giant has become entangled in a nasty web of sin. You may even get reports that the sin stretches all the way back to when they were personally ministering to you. The blow can be devastating, sickening even. Unfortunately, this scenario has become all too common. It seems as though every month I hear of pastors or ministry leaders whose ministries have been ruined due to some addiction to sin.
How should we respond to these situations? What are some things we can learn from them?
First, pray for them before you do anything else. It’s easy to get bitter towards someone you feel has deceived you and throw insults in their direction. Before your anger drives you to label them a hypocrite to your friends and tell Facebook (or the blogosphere) about their public failures, though, lift them up to your heavenly Father. You see, most of the church leaders who get caught in sinful scandals are also husbands and fathers. At the time you’re feeling betrayed by a past mentor, a wife is finding out her husband of 25 years has been sleeping with other women for 10 of those years. A daughter is discovering that her father, who was perfect in her eyes, has been stealing church funds. These families and their churches need serious prayer more than they need nasty words said about them. Speak to your Father in heaven about them before you speak to your friends on earth.
Second, don’t think you’re immune to getting caught in this magnitude of sin. To be completely honest, I’m terrified when I hear of pastors destroying their ministries. Why? Because I know that I, too, could be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13).” Often, the question is asked, “How could he be so stupid to fall so deeply into sin?” I’m sure most marriage and ministry-ending affairs did not begin there; rather, they probably started with one glance at a pornographic image. And many financial scandals began with a little “borrowed money” to take care of a need. But sin is deceitful and hardening. It steadily progresses and consumes a person until they have gone further than they could ever have imagined. That’s why we’re in never-ending need of grace to see and conquer our sin. If we allow “little” sins to occupy our hearts, they will not be satisfied. Sin wants the whole person, not just a little corner of the heart. Don’t be foolish, brothers and sisters. We’re not impervious to sin.
Third, place your hope in the only sinless One. People are going to sin. Regardless of how holy you believe someone to be, they still sin. This doesn’t mean that emulating others is wrong. After all, Paul urged the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me (1 Cor. 4:16),” and he also told Timothy to “set the believers an example (1 Tim. 4:12).” Rather, our ultimate hope is in the God-man, Jesus Christ. He is the One we look to for forgiveness and grace, and He is the One we seek to emulate. Jesus is the only One who will never forsake or disappoint us. He is worthy of worship and praise.
The next time you hear about another scandal that has shaken a church or community of believers, seek the Lord. He is our Shelter and Refuge, and He is the One who can turn a murderer into the greatest missionary of all time. Praise be to Him!