Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.—1 Corinthians 10:12
A godly young man I know has always been very cautious and prayerful in his walk with Christ and decisions for his future. “I’m afraid of making that first bad choice,” he has said. That’s a healthy fear, especially as you watch Christian leaders fall like dominoes. When giants fall, the thud is heard throughout the believing and unbelieving worlds.
The very public misbehavior of former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is but one recent example. Such conduct gives fodder to enemies of the cross and the enemy of our souls, who are fueled by hypocrisy within the church. It serves to discredit not only Christian leaders but Christianity in general. It also discourages and disillusions believers, especially younger people who view leaders like Falwell as role models. Can anyone be trusted? No doubt his outrageous conduct casts a shadow on the integrity of Liberty University, a respected institution.
On the heels of the Falwell story came revelations pointing to an inappropriate relationship between revered apologist Ravi Zacharias and a much younger woman named Lori Anne Thompson. Documentation of the claims left me feeling sick to my stomach. I grieved for his family, for his colleagues, and for those who were on the cusp of accepting Christ as a result of his ministry.
But, friends, scandals within the church aren’t anything new. Think of King Solomon, a fallen leader himself, who wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “. . . there is nothing new under the sun.” This came from the pen of a man whose womanizing led him to commit idolatry. He was not the first to fall. Leaders have been falling since that history-altering day in the Garden of Eden. As we continue to watch them fall, we have every right to be saddened and perhaps surprised, but we cannot allow ourselves to be shaken. We need to hold fast to a biblical and historical perspective.
First, we must beware inadvertently deifying a leader, world-renown or otherwise. Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Great leaders may have great accomplishments, but they can also have great areas of weakness. That is why it’s important for us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and not on any fallen human.
Second, just because someone falls prey to sin doesn’t mean we discredit his or her work for Christ. Solomon gave us most of Proverbs and the book of Ecclesiastes. His father, David, was an adulterer and murderer whom God called “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). David became the author of many Psalms and a direct ancestor of Jesus. God used Noah to save a remnant from the flood that destroyed the world, yet Noah got drunk, disgraced himself and cursed his son (Genesis 9). And let’s not forget the apostle Peter, who denied Christ and yet went on to become a pillar of the New Testament church and who, according to tradition, was martyred for his faith in Christ.
Third, we must remember our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). No one is exempt. In fact, the more effective you are for Christ, the more likely you are to be targeted. And Satan custom-designs our temptations just for us. As James, who became a believer only after the resurrection of his brother Jesus, wrote, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14).
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”? One has to wonder what Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), thought about that perspective from the other side of heaven. It is not a position I dare to take.
As the heavenly clock ticks toward the inevitable judgment, expect more to fall. And pray you will not be among them. Take heed lest you fall.