"You have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife"
(II Samuel 12:10
A minister falls into adultery and it becomes public knowledge. This becomes a sad, sad day for everyone who knows him.
(And yes, I am aware it takes two people to commit this sin. However, this blog is directed toward pastors and other church leaders, so the minister is the focus of our comments here.)
“I think we all should consider this a wakeup call,” said a colleague of a friend who had fallen into sin and lost his ministry. The other ministers nodded in agreement.
It can happen to any of us. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Will anyone tell you “otherwise”? Oh yes. He is called by various names such as Satan, the devil, Lucifer, that old serpent, and the slanderer. Remember, friend–he’s not called the “accuser of the brethren” for nothing (Revelation 12:10).
Jesus called him a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44
“Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). Beware of feeling this sin or any other sin could not happen to you, friend.
“If Thou O Lord should mark iniquities, who would stand?” (Psalm 130:3). You know that you are just as bad a sinner as the adulterer, don’t you? If you do not, if you believe that your sins are of a nicer variety and deserve less severe treatment from God, you have more problems than we can deal with here.
If anyone should be above the law and able to come and go sexually as he pleases, it ought to be the king, right?
One king of Israel seems to have bought into that myth.
When King David sinned with Bathsheba, and then committed manslaughter to get her righteous husband out of the way, he was in major trouble with God. Second Samuel chapter 12 tells the story.
David received many surprises when God called him to account for his behavior. He was surprised to learn that…
–God took his sin personally. “You have despised me,” the Lord said (II Samuel 12:10). Later David prayed, “Against Thee and Thee only is my sin” (Psalm 51:4). We can beg to differ with that–and we do–but to the one struggling under that great load of guilt over his wrongdoing, it felt that way. In the same way, the Apostle Paul called himself “the chief of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). Was he the worst? Not even close. But he felt that he was, and that’s the correct way to assess one’s own guilt before God.
--God took his sin as a rejection of His Word. “Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight?” (II Samuel 12:9)
–The enemy took his sin gleefully. “By this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (II Samuel 12:14). We can hear the enemies cackling, “Oooh, he was so righteous! But look what he’s doing. He’s worse than us!”
–The sin David committed injured him permanently. “Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house….” (II Samuel 12:10).
–While David thought his misdeeds were done in private, God meted out the punishment publicly. “Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun” (II Samuel 12:12).
We keep getting surprised by our sin. We are surprised that we get by with it as long as we do, surprised when we get caught, surprised that people were as hurt as they were, and surprised that God took our sin as a personal insult. We are surprised that the price we pay for our sin is not the slight thing we had envisioned for spiritual misdemeanors but massive and far-reaching, as though God considers our transgressions as felonies deserving the harshest treatment.
When a minister of the Gospel commits adultery, he does the most stupid thing of his life. No bad thing he ever does will have as far-reaching consequences as this. He will live with the effects of this foolishness the rest of his earthly days.
Everything about it is sad.
There must be a hundred bad things that happen when a minister falls into sexual sin. God alone knows what they are. But my observation is that when a minister falls and his act becomes public knowledge, these ten things happen:
1) HIs ministry is gone. Until he has undergone a period of counseling with his wife and receives the endorsement of friends with influence, his influence will be slim to none.
2) His humiliation is severe. The shame is a heavy burden to bear.
3) Those who believed in him and supported him feel betrayed. He could have told them from the first how mortal he is and how prone to temptation he is–like the rest of us–but still, they have been hurt. We can hear them saying, “We thought he was above that.” No amount of explanation can salve the pain.
4) People whom he was trying to reach for Christ now have a convenient excuse to fall away. "I thought he was so Christlike,” they will say, as they lay aside the Bible and no longer consider coming to Christ. Whether they actually did think that or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that the devil has taken the weapon he’s just been handed by a foolish servant of the Lord and is now battering the church with it.
5) His family is wounded, perhaps irreparably
. Counseling can help and must be done. The family can be restored, and in many cases will be “stronger in the broken places,” as the saying goes. But such seems to be rare, sad to say.
6) Atheists and others hostile to the Christian faith have a field day
. Like the Philistines with David, these people delight in pointing out the hypocrisies of God’s preachers, particularly those who have been outspoken against sexual sin.
7) His future ministry–once it's re-established–is more limited
. We are not saying God is through with him, only that how the Lord chooses to use Him will probably be different from the original plan and in a lesser way. However–and we emphasize this–God is sovereign and can do whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3
). If God chooses to reach the entire world through this one, He has the right.
But generally speaking, the future ministry of a “fallen and then restored” disciple is a miniature version of what it couuld have been.
8) Other ministers are tainted by being in the same profession as he. The next time some pollster asks people to name the profession they trust most, they will remember this and drop all ministers lower down their list.
9) The pastor's victim has been wounded and her family has paid a price. Whether they know it or not. Compounding that tragedy, in many cases some will accuse her of being the aggressor. No good comes from any of this.
10) The guilt from this will hound him the rest of his life
. When he's 60 years old and the sin lies in the distant past, he will be saying, "Lord, I am so sorry. Please forgive me." The Lord, of course, forgave that the first time he repented and asked. This sin was nailed to Jesus’ cross. God’s forgiveness is so total He says He actually forgets our sin (Hebrews 10:17
). But the memory of his deeds and the sorrow for the pain he has caused will never leave.
There is however, a little good news. At least two good things can come from this tragic situation…
1) The pastor is going to find out who his friends are. This is of course the worst of all possible ways to find that out, but you do learn it.
2) The church is going to find out what it really believes. And so, incidentally, is the minister who has fallen. Every church talks a good game of grace. But only when one near and dear to the members falls into gross sin and rebellion does this test reveal whether they believe in showing mercy and love to sinners. As with "finding out who his friends are," this is the most brutal of all ways to make this discovery.
Pray for your ministers. Oh, one more thing: If your minister takes extraordinary steps to guard himself from temptation, do not take it personally.
A woman wrote recently saying that after her second counseling visit with her pastor, he informed her that he would like his wife to sit in on future sessions. She was offended. She said, "Why doesn’t he trust me?" She indicated she will probably not go back.
It would have been simple for me to have told her, "It's himself he's not trusting." But that would not necessarily be true. He is simply being wise. This is for the protection of everyone. I suggested to the woman that she give it a try, to return to the pastor for at least two more visits, and see how it goes. She can always stop the sessions and find another counselor. But I would not be surprised if she finds herself connecting with the pastor's wife, and forming a friendship with the blessings of Heaven.
Pray for our pastors. And support them whenever they take steps to protect their relationships, their ministries, the people around them, their families, and the name of Jesus.