Men and women of God regularly gain notoriety because of their failings. They become front page news and those who oppose Christianity delight in scorning the church world based on their example. We have seen well established identities in the Christian community exposed for various evils, including being overcome by the perennial dangers of “girls, gold and glory”. Some have gone to jail for their sins.
The failings of men and women of God will continue to be paraded in the public arena because men and women of God will continue to fall into various temptations, as the Apostle Paul warned would happen among the elders he left in charge of churches back in his day – see Acts 20:30.
Thus we need to prepare our hearts for a godly response to those who let us down, cause our standing as Christians to be scorned, and who bring damage on the Kingdom of God by their failings. Here is a reflection that may help us keep our hearts in the right place.
In Jesus’ day James and John took up an offence on behalf of Jesus when a Samaritan village refused to receive him. They suggested calling down fire from heaven. This was not as bizarre a suggestion as it might sound to our modern minds. The great prophet Elijah had done exactly that on two occasions, 2 Kings 1:10,12.
“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” Luke 9:54
The actions of Elijah provided an acceptable Biblical precedent for a man of God to call down fire from heaven to consume opponents. James and John were obviously confident that such could be done again in their day. They were clearly strong in faith. Surely their attitude was commendable.
Jesus rebuked them, but not because the proposal was illegitimate. Jesus called into question the ‘spirit’ influencing the two brothers. “You do not know what spirit is influencing you”, He said.
“But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” Luke 9:55,56
Jesus contrasted the motivation directing their desire to punish with His own motivation, which is not to destroy but to save.
This experience among Jesus’ disciples informs us today as we see people of God offend us by their apparent failures. We can take up an offence, as James and John did. We can look for Biblical legitimacy to our vengeful feelings. We can put out a proposal that serves our own personal feelings.
However Jesus did not serve His own feelings of offence. He did not seek vengeance but committed Himself to God. His mission was not one of judgment and destruction but of salvation and grace.
Despite the Biblical legitimacy of the desire for retribution a higher principle was in force and Jesus submitted to that higher principle. He rebuked James and John for being seduced by the base motivations that stirred them to want to respond negatively to those who brought offence.
Jesus simply went on with His business, going to another village. We don’t hear of that offending village again, because there is no need to. If no offence is taken, then there is nothing to respond to. If the principle of doing God’s business and bringing God’s grace and salvation is the overriding motivation then all else pales into insignificance.
Sadly we see many examples of the James and John spirit at work in the church world each time a new name is brought into disrepute. It has been joked that Christianity is the only army that shoots its wounded. And those who have been through the gruelling process of exposure, repentance and restoration acknowledge that they meet much more despisement from their Christian brothers and sisters than they receive grace from them.
So, prepare your heart. The future will hold more examples of popular and recognised Christian leaders proving to have feet of clay. At times the contempt poured on you because these others have failed will be deeply hurtful. You will be tempted to join in the voice of the world and gossip, scorn and condemn those who fall. You will be in good company if you do so.
But Jesus calls you to put the failings of others in its right place. It is a sideshow compared to your calling to save lives and build God’s Kingdom. If the failings of others makes your job harder then you will need more of God’s grace to enable you to still be effective.
Turning on your own brothers and sisters because their failings offend you calls into question what spirit is motivating you. The spirit that attacks Christians who fall is not the spirit of Christ.