With the most recent discovery of the moral failure of Ravi Zacharias, many have wondered how it is that such a thing could happen again. But there is a common denominator among many of these men that we must address because although our own fall may not be publicized to the same extent, there is no doubt that it will have similar destructive results.
Whether it was Zacharias, James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, Jack Schapp, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, or any of the seemingly endless list of failures, there is a commonness to their ability to go so far in their sin before they crashed and burned. You don’t need to look far and you will see that each of these people were able to get so far in their sin because they built a structure around them of yes-men that they knew would not stand up to them and hold them accountable to biblical standards of holiness.
Whether it is gold, girls, glory, or a combination of these, each failure achieved such great heights because they had constructed a system that assured them that their lusts could grow unchecked. In essence they set a trap for themselves, as the Proverbs say:
“For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” (Proverbs 1:17–19, ESV)
The threat is not only for the A-list celebrity Christian though. We may not be able to attain to the great heights from which they fall, but we shall fall nonetheless. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy of words that must be ever-present in our lives: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16, ESV)
How can we avoid the same end?
- Make sure you are in the Word and in prayer daily. This doesn’t point to a legalistic requirement, but a need for the Spirit to continuously work in our hearts through the Sword of the Spirit.
- Make sure you have submitted yourself to a pastor or elder(s) to hold you accountable. This means that if you are a pastor, you are allowing another godly elder or elders to confront you and ask you the hard questions when necessary.
- Be aware of your own propensities and weaknesses, but do not put too much trust in your own judgment. Allow those closest to you to point out your blind spots and then you must listen to their wise counsel and correction.
- Allow trusted men of God access to you. Don’t cut yourself off from those who will be most honest with you because they love you.
- Be careful not to shut out those who disagree with you. “Yes men” might make your plans go smoother, but you need those who will look at things differently from you and might point out those things you (and your yes-men) might fail to see.
- When you are wrong, confess it, repent, and ask forgiveness. Don’t cover your sin or make excuses for it. We all mess up, but there is no excuse for prideful avoidance of guilt.
- Be willing to listen to criticism with a humble heart. Try to find truth and helpful counsel, even in those complaints that might be unfair and even mean-spirited.
- Be an open book to several trusted people in your life. You should be unafraid to open up any area of your life to a trusted friend who asks, especially in the areas where there may be a potential risk of failure.
- Don’t develop a form of church government that cordons you off from any form of biblical scrutiny. Special committees that don’t answer to or communicate with anyone but the pastor have great potential to be a hiding place for sin.
Satan loves to work in shadows and whispers. The more light that we allow to shine on our ministry, the less there is a possibility that sin can grow or remain hidden for long.