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.
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18, NASB95)
Because It is Not Popular (v. 18) Not only is it not popular, it is moronic (moria in Gk.). Consider the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we say to sinners that a poor and humble Jewish man was God, and that he was nailed to a cross to die a criminals death despite his perfect innocence. We proclaim that this man is not only a man, but that he is God in the flesh. That he is perfect and sinless and that he was born of a virgin.
Furthermore, we proclaim that all of humanity is lost and that each individual man, woman, and child is a wretched sinner. We proclaim that Christ is the only hope for humanity and that all other claims are lies from the pit of hell and all who seek salvation in any other name are doomed to eternal damnation.
We proclaim that Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary for our salvation, and that he rejects all attempts to earn salvation on our own. He, being the King, demands our allegiance and one day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord.
Brothers, when we proclaim this the world will overwhelmingly reject us as fools of the worst kind. We will be called bigots, intolerant, and uneducated religious zealots. And that is why so many bow to the pressures and soften their message. Paul was keenly aware of the propensity of men to soften the blow of the gospel by using soothing words that made the hearer feel at ease. He said in 1Corinthians 2:1-5 that he purposely made it his aim to proclaim the unvarnished gospel of Jesus Christ crucified. Today, preachers everywhere are trying to make Jesus look cool. They are trying to make Christianity attractive. They are doing just what Paul avoided.
Brothers, the cross was not cool. It was brutal and bloody.
The call of Christ is not popular. True Christianity will never court the world. But pastors will continue to attempt to make our precious faith more palatable in order to gain the popularity of the world. This is nothing but pride. Nobody should enter the ministry or the pulpit in order to make his own name great.
Isaac Watts wrote, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died; My riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” PREACH CHRIST BECAUSE IT IS NOT POPULAR!
2. Because They Are Perishing (v. 18) When we preach the message of the cross, the world sees it as folly because they do not see the danger to their souls. Sometimes they fail to see the danger because they do not see it in our eyes and do not hear it in our voices as we proclaim cold truth from our pulpits. Brothers, do you feel the truth of Hell? Do you remember the days when you were among the brood of vipers? Do you recall that you were once a vessel prepared for destruction? Have you forgotten that you were on the precipice of the bottomless pit and you were ready in due time to slip into eternal fire separate from God to be tormented for all eternity? HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN?
When we remember our former state we will be quick to point people to the only remedy for their souls—the cross of Christ. When we remember that they are perishing, we will not care about their mocking and their cries for ear-tickling sermons—we will give them what we know they need.
Wrote Thomas Brooks, “The damned shall live as long in hell as God himself shall live in heaven.” That fact alone should drive us to preach Christ crucified. Check your hearts brothers. Do you feel the terror of hell and do you cry out with Paul on Sunday mornings: “For we (!) are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?”(2Cor. 2:15-16)
PREACH CHRIST BECAUSE THEY ARE PERISHING!
3. Because It is the Power of God (v. 18) Power in the pulpit. Power evangelism. Power encounters. Pastors want power. But the power of God is not found in the usual places. It is not found in business models or worldly philosophy (1Cor 1:22). It is not found in dramatic, emotionalism (1Cor 1:22). It isn’t found in phony encounters and confrontations with demons and the occult.
The power of God was displayed on the cross, where God sent His Son to be crushed for our iniquities. Jesus became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God! That is power!
Concerning the justification of God, John Calvin said, “Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.” This is the power of the cross.
Why is the Church so weak and utterly incapable of making an impact in our nation? Because many so-called Christian churches have left this message behind and taken up the banners of politics, pop psychology, health and wealth, and so many other empty promises.
The Roman Catholic system, the Emerging movement, the Seeker Sensitive movement and the Liberal mainline denominations have all shown us what becomes of those who lay aside the cross of Christ. But it hasn’t stopped many men from flirting with those compromising philosophies.
Puritan pastor Richard Baxter has written, “If a hardened heart is to be broken, it is not stroking but striking that must do it.” The only thing that can cut another stone is a diamond, the hardest gem on earth. In order to cut the hardest heart, we must use the sharpest tool.
In Hebrews 4:12 we are reminded, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Brothers, even in our fundamental Bible churches the temptation can be overwhelming to give up expository preaching in favor of sugar coated sermons that aim to please the itching ears of people. We reason in our hearts that once we have them in our churches we can preach the gospel to them, we just need to ease them into it. Don’t fall for this pragmatic lie!
You are merely a tool in God’s hand. He uses you as His minister to wield His weapon of choice. You cannot change the soul of a man in any way without the intervention of the Word, the Spirit and Christ. It is the Word of God preached—the Gospel alone that brings a sinner to his knees.
PREACH CHRIST BECAUSE THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS IS YOUR ONLY POWER!