Shame! Shock! Sadness! This is what I felt, when I heard reports on the national TV news of one of my former Bible instructors being accused, confessing, and eventually being arrested for molesting small children. Such is sick. This was a mild-mannered man who I’d never have suspected of such. There it was, another story that makes the church a reproach before the public.
Then there was a preacher’s wife murdered her husband. This story hasn’t gone away yet. The church was negatively portrayed. This is not exactly the kind of publicity we want.
A very prominent Christian apologist among us was involved in a homosexual scandal with interns and others. Folks, these reports are all over the internet. How badly we look!
I reminisce about the shameful things I have heard of in my years of preaching (over the greater part of the last two decades). I have heard of preachers (some of them friends) committing adultery, and even leaving their families for a new life and a new wife. I have heard of preacher’s wives committing adultery, and leaving their husbands for a new life. In one case this woman had been married for over 40 plus years, but ran off with another man. I have heard of preachers being charged with possession and even trafficking illegal drugs. Numerous money fraud and embezzlement scandals have come to my ears. I’ve even heard of a preacher and an elder’s wife running off together. Many of these men and women I knew at least on some level. Some were friends. Some were heroes.
These shocking scandals are becoming all too common, but it is not just the modern-day scandals. I remember reading a letter from a preacher of a generation ago, a hero of many and a familiar name to nearly all church members. However, he wrote extremely racist, and hateful remarks. I do not believe that he made it to heaven, unless he repented, truly changing his heart.
Such behavior disappoints, weakens, and even destroys the faith of some. Proverbs 25:19 says, “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.” One man wrote, “such hypocrisy and misconduct are hard pills to swallow even for fellow believers. But put yourself in the place of the person who already is struggling with doubts not only about the system of belief, but about the God behind the system. From their vantage point, when the system ‘fails’ (i.e. when its adherents are unable to conform to it successfully in their own lives), what, then, shall be said about the God behind the system?” (The Many Faces, and Causes of Unbelief by Bert Thompson, p. 102-103). James Bales has written, “The corruption, or short comings, or the hypocrisy in the lives of some believers have been used to justify the rejection of Christianity. They are viewed as adequate samples of the faith, and since the samples are not good, the faith is viewed as bad “(How Can We Believe? By J.D. Bales, p. 49).
So what do we do when we see or hear of such things? What lessons can we learn to help us in this matter? What should we know to help us stay on track?
1. Preachers are just humans like all others. There is only one perfect example that ever existed. Jesus said, “He that followed me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The best Paul could say is that men could follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Neither the local preacher, nor the elders, but Christ alone is the perfect example.
2. True faith should not be built upon an attraction to some mere mortal. Some people are attracted to the church due to a closeness to a friend, or a loved one, and if that friend or loved one, or preacher disappoints faith is shattered. But such is not true faith. The Bible says, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). When studying with people, let us be sure to help the student develop true faith and not just an attraction to us as good, loving and kind people. Faith in God and His word is what they need.
3. Guard your influence. Whether you know it or not, your behavior has influence. One’s behavior can cause others to glorify God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12), or blaspheme His Holy name (Romans 2:23-24; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:3-5). Truth can be suppressed due to unrighteousness (Romans 1:18 NASB). Our influence can lead others to Christ (1 Peter 3:1-6). Someone has written:
“I am my neighbor’s Bible; He reads me when we meet.
Today he read me in my home; Tomorrow in the street.
He may be relative or friend; Or slight acquaintance be.
He may not even know my name, Yet, he is reading me.
Dear Christian friends and brothers, If we could only know,
How faithful the world records, just what we say and do.
Oh, how we would make Our record plain,
And labor hard to see, Our worldly neighbors
Won to Christ, While reading you and me.”
Another has said, “We are the only Bible this careless world may ever read, what if the lines are crooked, what if the type is blurred.” Even our appearance we need to guard; we don’t want to send the wrong message (2 Corinthians 8:21). To cause a person to stumble and be lost is a terrible thing. Read carefully Matthew 18:6. Let us never seek to do anything which would bring reproach and despite unto Christ and His church.
4. We need to have determination. Joshua 24:15 reads, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Jehovah – ASV).” This is the type determination needed. In the song: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, these words appear, “Tho none go with me, I still will follow; Tho none go with me, I still will follow; Tho none go with me, I still will follow; No turning back, no turning back”
5. Keep in mind that the pleasures of sin do not last. The pleasures of sin are but for a season (Hebrews 11:25; Proverbs 20:17). The things which are seen are temporary; the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1). Don’t trade your soul for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34).
6. Folks, in many of these cases, I am not speaking of good men and women who were striving to live the Christian life, but had a momentary stumble, or lapse in judgment. Such describes the best of men. (It has been said that, “He is a poor preacher who cannot preach better than he practices; But he is a poorer preacher who does not strive hard to live up to what he preaches). Instead, I am in many cases talking about a lifestyle of egregious sin which becomes discovered. Many are skilled in hiding who they truly are. Let us remember, “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be bad” (Ecclesiates 12:14). Paul speaks of a day “when God shall judge the secrets of men” (Romans 2:16). Even if we could hide all from our fellow-man we can’t hide it from God (Proverbs 15:3; 1 Timothy 5:24-25). He knows what we do when no one else is around. He knows even our thoughts (Psalm 139).
7. In most cases, no doubt those mentioned were at one time sincerely trying to live righteously. However, over time things changed within; their focus was lost. This should warn each of us to “take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Hebrews 2:1 says, “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.”
8. Hypocrisy is not really justification for unbelief. One writer explains, “It has been said that ‘hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.’ Put another way, it is contradictory for an unbeliever to attempt to justify his unbelief by pointing out hypocrisy in someone else. The very fact that the unbeliever is willing to label the believer a ‘hypocrite’ proves that he is aware of the fact that the believer is not measuring up to the high standards of the system he professes to follow. By suggesting that a believer is a hypocrite, the unbeliever implies that there is a system of belief that, when properly adhered to, would legitimize the conduct of the believer” (The Faces of Unbelief, p. 104). James Bales put it this way, “When an individual accuses another of being a hypocrite, he is appealing to a standard of integrity. He is saying that it is wrong to be hypocrite… Those who hold to a world view which justifies the acceptance of moral law can consistently oppose hypocrisy. Those whose world view rules out moral law cannot be consistent and accept a standard which says hypocrisy is wrong” (ibid).
9. I believe what we are seeing is symptomatic of the cultural corruption we have experienced as a nation over the last several decades. We live in a sin-sick world. What evils are in the world are also having an influence upon church members. We live in a sex-saturated, money mad, self-obsessed, narcissistic society. We may live in this world; but may we ever be cautious not to be of this world (John 8:23-24; 15:18-19; 17:15-16).
10. In many funerals the preacher “preaches the departed into heaven”. Folks, I may have confidence that a person had the hope of heaven based upon observation of the person. However, in reality only God knows all that’s gone on with that person (some things are hidden) and whether the person has truly repented. Read 1 Timothy 5:24-25.
Conclusion: I want to go to heaven. I hope that you do too. Pledge with me that “I will strive hard to never do anything which brings reproach or causes the church to be despised and disgraced in the eyes of this community (and beyond). I will not trade my soul for a bowl of stew. I will guard my influence and strive to help, not hinder people in the Christian life.”