Two Painfully Learned and Immensely Important Lessons

March 20, 2007

A recent conversation with a good friend reminded me of two of the most painfully learned lessons of my life.  I thought I would briefly share them with you.

There was a minister I dearly loved (and still do) who proved unfaithful in his ministry.  Paul says in I Cor. 4:2 that "it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful."  None of us do it perfectly.  This one friend proved spectacularly unfaithful, that is, the unfaithfulness was of a serious and on-going nature, and it was revealed suddenly.

For three to four months it was like I had a second job taking phone calls from around the world counselling with friends–especially young ministers–who were deeply shaken.  It was a terrible time, and one in which God’s gospel stood as clear and bright as ever, and the hope of heaven became even sweeter. 

As I reflected on the time, two lessons especially stood out to me.  The first is for all Christians, the second especially for pastors. 

The first lesson was provoked when one dear brother reproached himself for not reaching out more to this mutual friend, not asking more questions about how our mutual friend was doing.  I told him that I had met with this friend weekly and often asked him many questions.  I didn’t think he (my self-reproachful friend) was so much in the wrong as our mutual friend was wrong for not being honest.  Lesson number one:  no accountability relationships will work if there is not a commitment to honesty on the part of the person in question.  The problem wasn’t a lack of initiative toward him; the problem was his hiding the truth from us.  If I am committed to my sin above a humble, self-revealing honesty, then I can’t rely on any accountability structure or loving friendships to expose my sin and protect my soul.  I must remember that if I am to war against sin, I must labor to be embarassingly transparent.

The second lesson was more particularly for those engaged in public ministry.  Many Christians will make pious statements about God refusing to bless a ministry because of sin in the minister’s life, or holiness being the essential ingredient in a pastor’s ministry.  Many other statements like that are in the literature.  And certainly holiness is a necessarily present mark of any true ministry–or true Christian life, for that matter.  BUT, and here’s lesson number two:  the public success of your ministry is no indication of the true state of your relationship with God. Yes, preachers should meet the qualifications Paul lays out in I Tim. 3 & Titus 1, but God is not limited to using people who do.  In Scripture we see God using beasts (Balaam’s donkey), inanimate objects (the burning bush) even Satan himself to do His bidding.  We shouldn’t be surprised that God can sovereignly have His truth preached through the mouths of hypocrites.  My brother minister, are you in a time of public blessing?  Don’t assume that necessarily has anything to do with how your own relationhip with the Lord is.

Those are the two lessons, shared briefly with you.  Behind them are months of painful experience, tears, prayers, and countless conversations.  I hope they may be useful to you now.  That would be a good use of the sorrows of many brothers and sisters.

One more thing.  CJ is wonderfully loving the ministers he is committed to caring for.  Lig is building his congregation and blogging over at Ref21.  Al is educating us on all manner of things in the public press today, and also blogging at AlbertMohler.com.  We’re going to keep blogging here, and we’re discussing how we might do that more helpfully.  In the meantime, look for a new 9marks blog soon, over at 9marks.org.  There I and some others will be taking on issues a bit more narrowly that have to do with components of a healthy church.  Remember the CT cover story last year on young, restless and reformed?  To get us kicked off over at the 9marks blog, I’m going to begin with a 10-part series on where I think all these folks came from!  So it should be a fun discussion.  Check us out over there.  And don’t forget to stop by here.