In the wake of the way too numerous stories of the fall of prominent pastors, questions rightfully abound. "How?" "Why?" “They are so gifted, how could they stumble like that?” “They have blessed so many people and have led countless souls to Jesus, how can they give in to sin and temptation?”
I believe the reason we struggle to reconcile how people who God uses so mightily can fall into sin and lose their ministry is because we often equate possessing spiritual gifts with possessing spiritual fruit. But that is simply not true. The Bible makes a clear distinction between the two. It is possible to have great gifts of the Spirit without having much evidence of the fruit of the Spirit.
The Spirit gives gifts. He enables Christians to serve other Christians and build up the church through those gifts (1 Cor 12:7). We also know that when a Christian grows in the faith and yields their life to God’s Spirit, fruit of the Spirit is produced in them:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23).
We often blur the lines between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, but the Bible does not. The Bible draws a line between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. We naturally assume the people who possess the greatest and most effective gifts are also the people who are walking most closely with God. We falsely equate giftedness with holiness. We link ability with divine intimacy.
The Biblical Poster Boy
The biblical poster boy for being crazy-gifted, yet primed for a major fall is Samson. The book of Judges reveals a repeated downward cycle of apostasy, punishment, repentance, blessing and then back to apostasy again for the people of Israel. God raised up judges to save Israel from the hands of their enemies. The nation usually enjoyed peace during the reign of the judge, but then inevitably would revert back to apostasy when they died.
But the introduction to Samson feels different.
Unlike all the previous judges, we get a glimpse of how God was preparing Samson from the womb to be special. God met with Samson’s parents before he was born. Samson was a miracle baby; he would be born to a barren woman. This alone is momentous. Biblical history records numerous accounts of miraculous births. They almost always signify God is about to do something extraordinary through the child. Samson is also set apart by his Nazirite status.
God called Samson to serve as a Nazirite from the womb. This means he could not come into contact with corpses, eat anything unclean, drink any wine, or cut his hair. What makes Samson’s Nazirite vow unique from all others, is that his vow was to be permanent. People taking the vow would normally only do so for a limited amount of time. Samson was to be a Nazirite to God from the cradle to the grave (Judges 13:7). This announcement was given more gravity because it was God who delivered the message personally to Samson’s parents. The author is setting us up for a surprise. To give such an anticipated birth narrative, is to plant seeds of high expectation in the reader.
We would expect great things from this baby, and he would do great things. Samson’s feats of strength are legendary. He railed against the Philistines, the enemies of God’s people, with unrivaled ferocity and power. Samson would burn down Philistine fields with foxes (15:5), and he used a jawbone of a donkey as a weapon of mass destruction (15:15).
But Samson’s giftedness was not matched by his spiritual life. Samson was not careful to keep his vows. He was a womanizer who was carried on by his flesh. He cared more about what looked good to His eyes, than what was right in the eyes of the Lord (Judges 14:3). Samson’s life is a testimonial of one who God used despite himself. His undoing was his lust for women and his pride.
Here was someone who was extremely gifted by God, but was not producing the fruit that evidences a close walk with God. Today it is good for us to recognize that just because someone displays an amazing ability to preach, teach, write, serve, etc., it is not a given that they are walking closely with the Lord. We can’t assume intimate communion with God is the driving force behind spiritual ability.
This reality should serve as a convicting force in our lives. As a young pastor, I have sometimes thought that since I am helping and blessing people by my gifts, I must be walking closely with God. I have falsely believed that if I am blessing people, I can be content with my current walk with God. That is a dangerous form of contentment. That contentment can lead to a momentous fall. Be warned: God can use your gifts even if you are not drawing close to Him, as you should.
Walk in the Spirit
Why do pastors fall? Why do Christians fall?
Paul would say failures are the result of walking by the flesh and not by the Spirit. After all, walking by the Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit, and it also prohibits us from indulging the flesh (Gal 5:16). How does one walk by the Spirit? That is a very ambiguous spiritual statement that needs clarification.
“When we walk in the Spirit…”, Richard Lovelace writes, “we are constantly, almost unconsciously, measuring our thoughts and feelings and acts against biblical principles illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and drawing on his power to order and direct these according to the will of God.” To do this, communing with God must become a priority in our lives. This means Bible intake, prayer, committing to the community of faith. Utilizing the means of grace will help us to listen to the voice of the Spirit over the voice of the flesh.
We must not rest in our gifts. We rest in the finished work of Jesus, and listen to the voice of the Spirit as we daily seek to draw near to God in faith.