We have likely all had it happen-someone to whom we looked as an example of Christian living, knowledge, and influence commits some transgression against God and falls headlong from the pedestal upon which we had placed them. An elder admits to being involved with drugs or alcohol; a preacher commits adultery; a preacher's wife murders her husband; a seemingly faithful member reveals a long-hidden sin in a tearful confession-any number of events happens in the lives of any of a variety of Christian men and women, and the foundation of our faith is shaken. Questions surface like, "How could they do such a thing?" "Why didn't I see it sooner?" "If they can't be faithful, how can I?" However, in the midst of these questions is an opportunity for learning. Let us therefore examine some lessons we can learn when our spiritual heroes fall.
Sin is Universal
The Bible presents clear proof from cover to cover of the universality of sin. Adam and Eve, two people who lived in a paradise free of hardship, death, and suffering, chose to go directly against the only negative command God had given (Genesis 2-3). Moses, who would lead God's people out of Egyptian bondage and be the example of godly leadership in many respects, killed a man in cold blood (Exodus 2:12). Saul, the first king of Israel and a godly man when first ordained king, sank into the depths of wickedness over a span of forty years (cf. 1 Samuel 13, 15, etc.). And even David, described by inspiration as "a man after His [God's] own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), committed at least four major sins during his reign, going so far as to commit adultery and have the woman's husband killed (2 Samuel 11; cf. 6:1-11; 24:1). Despite being one of Jesus' three closest friends, the apostle Peter would deny Jesus three consecutive times (Matthew 26:69-75).
We must recognize that the potential to sin is universal, and no one is exempt. John makes just such an acknowledgement: "If we say that we have no sin [the potential to sin-CP], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:7). All "have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and all face the possibility of sinning again. And this includes any level of sin. The examples of Moses, David, and a myriad of others living and dead reveal that anyone, if the circumstances fall a certain way, can be tempted to do almost anything. Picture a good Christian woman, abused for years by her husband, and presented an opportunity for emotionally fulfilling companionship with another man. Or picture a faithful Christian father, poverty-stricken and overcome with the pressures to provide for his family, given an opportunity to steal money or provisions. It has been the case, is the case and likely will continue to be the case that good people can do bad things.
This knowledge ought to provoke two reactions from the faithful Christian: disgust for sin and sympathy for the one overtaken. Who can look at the destruction caused by sin in the lives of once-faithful people and not despise sin and its origin, Satan? Who dares to glorify and exalt worldly things when the effect of such things is so tragic? Godly people should echo the sentiments of the Psalmist: "Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:128). But, dear Christian, shame on the ones who see a brother or sister overtaken in sin and laugh, mock or dismiss with no pang of sympathy, who treat the one overtaken as fodder for chain e-mail, water cooler talk, and sinful gossip! Might there not be a time when we find ourselves in such a situation, and would we not then need someone to "have compassion, making a difference"? (Jude 22).
Sin is Sinful
The preceding heading might at first glance seem redundant, but consider it more closely. Position or situation sometimes gets in the way of recognizing and properly diagnosing sin. Saul's sinful actions as king seemed to stem from an under- appreciation of God's authority, which was likely a byproduct of his perception of his authority as king. As well, David was likely intoxicated with his own power as king when he "sent messengers, and took her" (2 Samuel 11:4). Certainly, it took stepping out of the situation for David to properly understand the sinfulness of his actions (2 Samuel 12:1-6).
It is the tendency of some today to flow to one of two extremes when sin infiltrates the life of a spiritual hero: they either excuse the sin or they intensify it. Often, the excuse mill is powered up when someone of prominence is found to be in sin, and the sin is lessened, hidden, or ignored altogether. Or, because the sin overtakes a preacher, or an elder, or some other person of position, others pounce on the individual with no mercy, resisting with greater force because of the person's prominence. It is, of course, the case that position brings responsibility; James warns, "&be not many masters [teachers-CP], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (James 2:1). However, regardless of position or circumstance, sin is still sin, and its eternal consequences are still the same if not forgiven. Repentance is still required, and the fruits of repentance must be as readily accepted from one person as from another. As John sees a figure of the Day of Judgment, he describes "the dead, small and great, [who] stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works" (Revelation 20:12). As Paul makes clear, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ&" (II Corinthians 5:10).
Inevitably, someone we look up to will falter. It is not by mistake that Paul adds to his entreaty for followers the qualifying statement "&as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). May we see in the imperfection of our spiritual heroes the valuable lessons that sin is universal and sinful in every instance. And may we ever remember Paul's admonition: "Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
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