It happened again. A prominent pastor stepped down this weekend due to moral failure. I used to be surprised when this happened. Sadly, I’m no longer surprised, although I am saddened and fearful.
“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11). When someone falls, fear is an appropriate response. I want to fear because of truths like this:
- It could be me. I am vulnerable.
- Christian leaders are targets. Satan can accomplish a lot when he brings down a leader.
- We are capable of being deceived. We can begin to tolerate sin rather than recognizing it for the danger that it is.
- Pastors and teachers are held to higher account. We will be judged more strictly.
- The ripple effects of sin are deadly. We can bring great dishonor to the church, and undo years of effective ministry. We can also bring great hurt to those closest to us.
- God is to be feared. It is a serious thing to bring dishonor to our Lord.
When someone is caught in sin, fear within the church is a very appropriate response.
Lest I Myself Should Be Disqualified
In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Paul himself recognized the danger of catastrophic moral failure. He paid careful attention to his life. He understood an important reality:
He knew that, if he did not vanquish his enemies, his enemies would destroy him…He was conscious that the smallest advantage gained by his bodily appetites might be attended with the most fatal consequences; and therefore he strove to “mortify his earthly members,” and to “crucify his flesh with its affections and lusts.” (Charles Simeon)
As John Owen said, we must make this our daily work. “Be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
If Paul thought he could be disqualified, we should too. If he recognized the importance of taking this danger seriously, so should we.
Not Just About Sex
When we think of moral failure, we usually think of sex. Sexual sin is clearly a danger, but it’s not the only one. I’m increasingly seeing other sins take out leaders. The qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) list a number of areas in which we can fall: marriage, self-control, use of alcohol, temper, use of money, spiritual maturity, reputation, doctrine, and more.
We’re seeing more leaders step down for reasons other than sexual immorality.
What We Can Do
Here are six actions we can take:
- Take the threat seriously. It could happen to you. If you don’t think it can, you’re in even greater danger.
- Take sin seriously. There’s no such thing as a little sin. “Every unclean thought would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression; and every thought of unbelief would be atheism” (John Owen).
- Know your enemy. “We need to be intimately acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions in which lust has the victory” (Owen). Satan’s tactics aren’t new or secret, but they’re effective.
- Know your weaknesses. We’re all vulnerable in predictable ways, especially in the areas we think we’re strong. “The Bible characters never fell on their weak points but on their strong ones; unguarded strength is double weakness” (Oswald Chambers).
- Eliminate secrets. Sin grows in the dark. Every one of us should have at least one or two people who know the worst about us, and who love us anyway.
- Run to Christ. “The great danger in your struggle is that you will devote all of your energy to thinking true and awful things about pornography and spend no time dwelling on the true and wonderful things about Jesus” (Heath Lambert). This applies to other sins as well. “For every look at self—take ten looks at Christ!” (Robert Murray McCheyne).
The Apostle Paul recognized the danger of disqualification in his life. So should we. Like him, we should take every action possible to avoid this danger. There’s too much at stake. Let’s watch our life and doctrine for God’s sake, for the sake of those we serve, and for the sake of our very souls.