It happened again last week. Another scandal. Another high profile pastor stepping down from the ministry in disgrace. Another family broken. Another church stunned and bereft.
And it’s not just the money grubbing televangelists anymore, either. This was one of the theological good guys. Sadly, pastors and Christian leaders – both those in the public eye and those right around the corner – seem to be dropping like flies these days. Adultery. Financial sin. Pornography. Abuse. Fraud. The list of sinful behavior goes on and on, leaving a wake of destruction in its path and giving Christ and His bride a black eye in the process.
So, what is the biblical response to scandals like these for Joe and Jane Christian? We view the situation through the lenses of Romans 8:28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
How can God use this scandal, awful as it is, for my good and the good of my brothers and sisters in Christ? It’s an opportunity to learn, teach, and minister in so many ways:
Fully grasp the destructive power of sin…
Imagine the agony the pastor’s sin is creating in so many lives. What must his wife be going through? His children? His church? What about his own relationship with God? What about the lost people he was trying to win to Christ? What about the fact that his career may be over and he may lose his house?
It’s been said that sin destroys completely and completely destroys. It’s a good time to reflect on the fact that sin is not something to be trifled with. Count the cost. Would it be worth it to you to commit the same sin in your own life?
Realize your need for Christ…
“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re better or holier than the person who sinned, therefore, you would never do what he did. Instead, let his sin push you towards the cross, realizing that you’re just as weak and susceptible to temptation as he is. Let it amp up your prayer life and drive you to cling to Christ and His word lest you fall into sin.
Dive into God’s word…
What does the Bible say about the sin in question? Learn what God’s word says. Apply it to your life, your work, or your marriage. Teach it to your children. Share it with those in your circle of influence. Build up your brothers and sisters in Christ so they might stand firm against temptation.
People don’t just wake up one day and decide to commit adultery or embezzlement or whatever. Every sin starts with a wayward thought, which, when left unchecked (or entertained), snowballs into action. What could the scandalized pastor have done, practically, to prevent his sin? What are some concrete, proactive steps you can take to guard against sin in your life? Maybe your husband should hold the credit cards or you should cut ties with that certain male friend. Don’t wait for sin to find you. Build some walls before it arrives.
Use the scandal as a springboard for prayer…
Pray for those involved in the scandal. Ask God to protect you, your husband, and your loved ones from that particular sin. Realize that your own pastor and church staff are tempted to sin every day, pray for them regularly, and let them know you’re praying for them.
Practice the Golden Rule…
What if you were the one who sinned? How would you want people to talk about and treat you and your family? Call a sin a sin, but let’s remember, when it comes to scandals, to watch our words and actions, and treat others the way we would want to be treated.
Use the scandal as an opportunity to share the gospel…
Inevitably, some lost people will see pastoral sin as one more candle in their “Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites” cake. Don’t be embarrassed if an unbeliever approaches you with this line of fire (and whatever you do, DON’T try to make light of or justify the pastor’s sin). Own it. Admit it. “You’re right. This guy sinned. He needs to repent and be forgiven by Christ. He needs to make things right with the people around him. Just like me. Just like you. By the way, Christ was crucified for sinners like him and me and you. Have you ever repented of your own sin and trusted in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the payment for your sin? Mind if I tell you how?”
Repent and Forgive…
It’s hurtful when someone you trust and look up to lets you down. But because we’re sinful humans living in a broken world, it’s going to happen. The pastor who sinned needs to repent. When he does, the people around him need to forgive, even though there will probably still be disciplinary consequences to his actions. Is there sin in your life that you need to repent of and face the consequences for? Is there someone who has sinned against you that you need to forgive? God extends the grace of forgiveness to repentant sinners and the grace to forgive to their victims. Repent. Forgive.
Scandals among Christian leaders are heartbreaking, disappointing, embarrassing. But the God who sent His only Son to the cross to turn sinners into saints has a wonderful way of taking offenses and turning them into opportunities for His kingdom.
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