With the number of prominent pastors being exposed over the past few months, and years, I felt compelled to offer a word of encouragement in a time of great discouragement. Thankfully, in the midst of much instability, God is an eternal, unchanging refuge of stability. He is God and He does not change! Furthermore, He is sovereign, and therefore nothing happens outside of His divine providence and plan…even Satan’s most clever attempts to wreck havoc upon the body of Christ. In the words of William Gurnall, “God lays, as it were, his own counsels under Satan’s wings, and makes him hatch them.” Jospeh’s brother’s meant their actions for evil, but God, in His Sovereign plan, used them for good. I am convinced, and hopeful, that he can do the same in current sinful situations in the lives of prominent men…and in our own lives. Let me share with you four ways that I believe God can use recent events in the lives of His saints.
1. Humility and Fear
Sin among leaders can lead to greater humility and fear. When we see a prominent pastor or leader fall into sin, we should be led to fear our own failing. We should be led to deeper humility. When we read that a man such as Moses, though meek, was provoked to anger, we should be humbled and moved to keep a careful watch over our own hearts. If Moses can explode in anger, so can I. If David can fall into sexual sin, so can I. If Peter can deny Christ, so can I. If my favorite pastor can fall into sin, so can I. How fearful a thing to consider, yet how important and helpful to consider it. It could be that God would providentially use the fall of a prominent leader to move us to guard ourselves more diligently because He knows Satan will soon be prowling around our doorstep. Their sin could lead to our fear and humility, which could lead to our being on guard when Satan attacks us. To quote Gurnall again: “Had not such a soul had his spirit of prayer and diligence kept awake by those afflicting temptations, it is likely Satan might have come as a seducer, and taken him napping in security.”
2. Self Examination
Sin among leaders can lead to a self examination of our own hypocrisy. I have to confess that for much of my ministry, I have played the hypocrite at different levels and times. Likely, we all have in some shape, form, or fashion if we are honest. Unfortunately it often takes an exposure of our secret sin to bring us to acknowledge and repent of that sin. I used to quickly accuse men who publicly repented after they had their sins exposed. I would arrogantly say, “why weren’t they repentant before their sin came out? If they truly were sorry for their sin, why did they fail to repent, as long as their sin was hidden?” After having some time and experience under my belt, I better understand. Our sin has to be brought into the light in order for us to see it and its offensiveness clearly. Sometimes we, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, bring our own sin to the Light of God’s mercy and grace and we repent. Other times, a brother or sister in the Lord confronts us and exposes our sin for us which leads us to repent (Matthew 18). Sadly, at other times, the weight of our sin might hit the papers before it hits us. Men have a unique way of compartmentalizing things, which enables us to compartmentalize our fears so we can charge into battle. Unfortunately, we can also compartmentalize our sin. When we see prominent Christian leaders fall into sin, we are lead to do a careful self examination of our secret sins and hypocrisies.
3. Hope and a Future
A third way God uses sin is to provide hope. David’s sin was great, but he found mercy. Peter fell hard, but he is now in heaven. Even Lot is referred to as righteous. If such men can be forgiven for their sin, we can be forgiven for ours as well. When we see grievous sin exposed, prominent men repent and find forgiveness in Christ we are reminded of our freedom to run to Christ for forgiveness for our sin as well. We do not have to hide with Adam and Eve in the bushes because of our nakedness and exposure. We can run to God through Christ. In the words of Gurnall again, “Why sittest though here O my soul, under the hatches of despair; Up and call upon thy God for mercy, who hath pardoned the same to others.” While a restoration of ministry might not be possible, forgiveness is!
In thy Son thou hast provided for Our deliverance from the effects of sin, The justification of our persons,The sanctification of our natures,The perseverance of our souls in the path of life.
Though exposed to the terrors of thy law, we have a refuge from the storm;
Though compelled to cry, Unclean, we have a fountain for sin;
Though creature cells of emptiness we have a fullness accessible to all, and incapable of reduction. (The Valley of Vision)
4. Usefulness and Skill
Finally, God uses sin in the lives of his servants to provide future usefulness. In a sense God sends us to school where we are under Satan’s merciless tutelage so that his cruel hand over us may make us study the Word of God and our own hearts more. Through these difficult times we earn a PhD in the art of comforting tempted and broken souls. Consider the words of Gurnall again: “None will handle poor souls so gently as those who remember the smart of their own heart-sorrows. None are so skillful in applying the comforts of the Word to wounded consciences, as those who have lain bleeding themselves; such know the symptoms of soul troubles, and feel others’ pains in their own bosoms, which some that know the Scriptures, for lack of experience do not, and therefore are like a novice physician, who perhaps can tell you every plant in the herbal, yet wanting the practical part, when a patient comes, knows not well how to make use of his skill.”
The sins and failings of those who represent Christ should break our hearts. Our own sin should break our heart more. But in the midst of brokenness, let us cling to the fact that our great God is still working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He is using sin to stir our humility and caution. He is using sin to drive us to self examination and confession of our own secret sins and hypocrisy. He is using sin to bring hope to those in need of mercy and finally to forge us into useful tools for His glory.