Sinful Leaders: Why do some people with powerful gifts live sinful lives?

We hear about lots of (happily not most) ministers falling. This is not surprising, because ministers are human, and the Bible tells us that humans know how to sin. But sometimes we are particularly surprised because someone seems particularly gifted or “anointed” by God; God is using them in people’s lives, and then we discover that they have been living in serious, secret sin the entire time.

Jesus did not say, “You’ll know prophets by their gifts.” He says, “You’ll know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20). Some false prophets (Matthew 7:15) even convince themselves that they prophesy and do miracles in Christ’s name, but if they live lives of disobedience, they are not in a relationship with Christ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Then there are those who start well but don’t finish well. God called Samson, and the Spirit empowered Samson. But Samson was playing around with sin. In Judges 16, even though he has just been sleeping with a prostitute, the Spirit of God still empowers him and gets him out of the situation. As the chapter progresses, God’s Spirit is still working in him while he is sleeping with Delilah. But eventually, his sin catches up with him. God is merciful, but he won’t be mocked. Samson “loses his anointing,” though he did not lose it as quickly as some of us might have expected. Ultimately, Samson does end up finishing well, but finishing much earlier than he would have finished he not wallowed in sin (Judges 16:28-31)

Then there are those who manifest the power of the Spirit not because they are people of the Spirit but because the Spirit is strong in that place. In 1 Samuel 16:13-14, the Spirit of the Lord departs from Saul and rests on David, and an evil spirit from the Lord (or a spirit of judgment) rests on Saul. In 1 Samuel 18:10, Saul is even prophesying by this harmful spirit. But in 1 Samuel 19:20-24, he sends messengers to kill David. Overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, these messengers fall down and start prophesying. When the first messengers fail, he sends more, and the same thing happens. After two such failed attempts to kill David, Saul goes to kill David himself. Yet he too falls down and starts prophesying by God’s Spirit, while David escapes.

Saul was no longer a man of God’s Spirit, but because he was in a setting that was full of God’s Spirit (because of Samuel and the prophets he was mentoring), the Spirit worked even through him. Sometimes people are gifted because others are praying. Gifts are not given to us in any case because of our virtue: then they would be earned rather than gifts. Gifts are given to us for Christ’s service, so we dare not boast in them. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you didn’t receive [from God]? And if you received it [from God], why do you boast as if you didn’t receive it [from God]?”)

Do not assume that someone is walking with God simply because God seems to be using them. Do not be surprised when some people who seem anointed by God fall. (In some cases, it is partly the fault of followers who put God’s servants on a pedestal instead of supporting them in prayer as brothers and sisters in Christ.) Likewise, do not assume that someone whose ministry may not look big to you is less faithful. Indeed, we don’t know people’s hearts, where they’ve come from or what they’ve been through. Since we don’t know other people’s hearts, we can’t compare ourselves with them as better or worse. Thus Paul says, “I don’t even judge my own self. I don’t know of anything against me, but that doesn’t make me right. It’s the Lord who judges” (1 Corinthians 4:3b-4).

The Corinthians were trying to evaluate whether Paul or Apollos was a better Christian celebrity to follow. Paul warns them: don’t judge before the time (1 Corinthians 4:5). God alone knows the heart, and there will be many surprises on the day of judgment.

1 comment

Comments are closed.

Previous Post

Establishing a beachhead

Next Post

Round Robin

Related Posts