In recent months there has been an unusually large number of high-profile leaders who have been accused of—or confessed to—immorality. These incidences are, unfortunately, not unprecedented in Christian circles. Nevertheless, the rate at which people are falling and the caliber of those who do is alarming. People have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is having its “Me Too” accounting. Maybe so. No denomination or church is immune to ungodly attitudes or behavior. Clearly the SBC ought to have zero tolerance for immorality, chauvinism, or any form of abuse. Christian leaders should maintain the highest standards. If these recent events drive Southern Baptists and others to a higher code of conduct, people will ultimately be better for the pain they are currently experiencing.
The apostle Paul had some important things to say on this subject. He counseled, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load.” (Gal. 6:1-5).
Paul’s words are extremely helpful to us in these perilous days. First, Paul refers to his readers as “brothers and sisters.” We ought not to overlook the significance of this address. Paul indicated that the people who fell were family. When they suffer, we suffer. Our first response to news of someone’s failure ought to be heartache.
Second, Paul says, “if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing.” This language does not abrogate the people from guilt. I am certain, however, that not one of those who fell intended to commit sexual sin or was ignorant of the catastrophic consequences of such behavior. Those who fall are often good people who love the Lord and who served Him faithfully and effectively. Many people will spend eternity in heaven because of how God used them. Some were ardent evangelists, Bible scholars, and beloved pastors. Yet they, too, were overtaken. Such a truth makes me keenly aware that the same dark evil that overtook them is eager to overtake you and me as well.
Third, Paul says, “you who are spiritual.” This phrase is troublesome. Do you see yourself as “spiritual”? Apparently, many social media users do. In fact, they perceive themselves as more spiritual than most. Baptists have a reputation for fighting theological battles. At times, these battles have clearly been necessary. But at other times we are deceived into thinking that having pristine theology means we are “spiritual” and pleasing to God. Sadly, sometimes people who pride themselves on their superior theology display disturbingly ungodly attitudes and behavior. It is possible to be theologically orthodox and arrogant, chauvinistic, or morally compromised at the same time. To be spiritual is to be filled and led by the Spirit. Paul is saying that if you are fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit’s leading in every area of your life, you are qualified to reach out to your fallen brothers and sisters.
Fourth, Paul says, “restore such a person.” Restoration is our God-given goal. But how do we achieve it? First, we are to do something. We shouldn’t refuse to get involved or hesitate to call sin a sin. When someone is overtaken by sin, the person’s intimate walk with God is severed. The joy of the Lord is replaced with anguish and guilt. To restore someone into a vibrant relationship with God takes time. It does not happen after one tearful confession. A person’s relationships are severely, sometimes irreparably damaged. Few experiences are more agonizing than facing your family after you failed morally. In the aftermath of a moral failure, jobs are lost, financial security is jeopardized, reputations are destroyed, and opportunities evaporate. The future becomes bleak. What should our goal be? We must begin by helping people restore their relationship with God. Their sin reveals that their walk with God was not where it should have been. Fallen ministers often focus on returning to ministry too soon. But many aspects of a fallen leader’s life must be fully restored before any future service should be considered.
Fifth, Paul adds, “with a gentle spirit.”Restoring those who were overtaken in wrongdoing is a sacred calling. It ought to be undertaken humbly, lovingly, and reverently. This qualifier eliminates many from this calling.
Sixth, Paul warns, “watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted.” Every minister who fell likely spoke against immorality at one point or another. Some may have even cast judgment on others who had fallen. Paul cautions us about judging others. When you condemn others, you do not reflect God’s heart. And when you are disoriented to God’s heart, you are in danger of committing sin yourself. It is an irony of the human condition that the sins we denounce most vociferously in others are often the very ones we are vulnerable to ourselves.
In verse three, Paul adds, “For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (3).Sitting in the judgment seat is dangerous, for we may presume far more about ourselves than we ought. Some may loudly condemn those who have fallen and yet have no idea how close they are to their own demise. Paul exhorts, therefore, “Let each person examine his own work” (4). Before we cast stones at the fallen, let us examine our personal attitudes and conduct. Is our walk with God growing, vibrant, and glorifying to Him? Is our marriage strong, loving, growing, and edifying? Do we always treat people of the opposite sex in a respectful, godly manner?
If we as a people are going to emerge from this time stronger and godlier than ever, we would do well to heed the apostle’s advice.