Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When Pieces Fall

I have heard a similar thought from several ministry leaders: “I pray that God would take me home before I sin in such a way that it dishonors the body of Christ.”

Usually this idea is spoken in the context of serious sexual immorality or theft or something that disqualifies someone from service in professional ministry.  It is a thought that resonates in my heart.  I am willing to die for the Church, and I would rather be dead than commit adultery or fraud or anything else that would disqualify me from service in ministry.  I have known people in leadership who have disqualified themselves from ministry in terrible ways.  In some cases I would have rather heard that they had died of a stroke in their sleep than that they had fallen.  Yet though this idea may be meant to demonstrate resolve and bravery, it also has a mark of convenient cowardice mixed with a touch of arrogance.

It sounds good.  Rather than sin, we die and cannot sin.  It is interesting that this sentiment only seems to be made in relation to the so-called serious sins.  In reality, every Christian on earth dishonors Jesus on a regular basis.  Most of us don’t commit terrible sexual sins.  Most of us don’t commit felonies or fraud.  But we gossip.  We look at things we should not look at.  We slander.  We throw hatred at each other.  We borrow money and conveniently “forget” to pay it back.  Why not ask God to take us home before we commit these sins.  For that matter, why not take matters into our own hands by physically preventing ourselves from dishonoring God?  Why not gouge out our eyes if they cause us to sin as Jesus suggested in Matthew 18:9?

On the one hand, perhaps we don’t think these kinds of sins are that big of a deal.  We don’t think about our gossip as dishonoring to God.  We don’t care when we take advantage of others.  We make excuses for lying and backstabbing.  We delude ourselves.  We think, “Surely preventing such minor infractions is not worth loss of life or limb.”  By excusing our “lesser” sins as acceptable, we rewrite the moral code.  In doing so, we put ourselves in the place of God.  What could be more dishonoring than this?  Yet it is in exactly this way that we dishonor God daily.

On the other hand, we don’t follow Jesus’ extreme suggestion because we know that the cause of our sin is not our physical bodies.  Sin comes from our heart.  It is merely manifested in our tongues, our eyes, and our hands.  Our heart is the engine that drives the wheels of our sinful nature.  Blaming our eyes for coveting or our tongue for lying is like blaming the wheels on the car for not changing gears rather than looking to repair the transmission.

Getting back to the original thought, when a pastor asks God to take him home rather than letting him commit a terrible sin, he somewhat puts the responsibility for these great sins on God.  After all, if God had just killed the pastor with a heart attack before he slept with the office assistant, there would have been no adultery and the church would never have split.  Why does God allowing these sins to happen?  Doesn’t he realize how important the pastor is?  Doesn’t He realize the damage He has caused to the church by not killing the pastor?

Any ministry leader who thinks that God cannot handle his sin thinks too highly of himself.  Look at the story of King David of Israel.  If he had gotten an infection (untreatable at the time) and died in chapter 10 of Second Samuel, there would have been no affair with Bathsheba.  There would have been no murder of Uriah.  There would have been no civil war with Absalom.  David’s sin caused much suffering, and surely God saw it coming.  Why didn’t God prevent it from happening?

Rather than overriding David’s free will with a illness that prevented the sin, God worked out of that sin and accomplished much good.  From David and Bathsheba came King Solomon the Wise, and from the line of King Solomon came Jesus.  God allowed David to act in a sinful way, yet God was not defeated by David’s sin.

Terrible things happened because of David’s choices.  In the same way terrible things happen when a Christian sins, especially a ministry leader.  Such sins should not happen.  Yet God is so great that He can work even our worst sins together for good above and beyond anything we can imagine.

We are not so important that we can destroy God’s plans by our folly.

Finally, asking for death rather than taking responsibility for our actions is taking the coward’s way out.  It is cowardly to give in to sin rather than fight it in the strength and grace of God, and when we fall it is cowardly to prefer death to confession and repentance.

Rather than ask God to take me home before I sin, I would ask Him to transform me into a man strong enough to resist temptation.  I would ask Him to use my time on Earth to transform me into the man He wants me to be.

Death is better than sin, but righteousness is better still.  Let us trust Him to deliver us from evil.  Let us not give up doing what is right.  Let us enjoy another day walking with Him in His beautiful creation.

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