When Fallen Christian Leaders Are Confronted: What We Can Learn From King David

whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

 

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.(James 5:19–20)

King David sins.

In 2 Samuel 11, God records an egregious account from the life of King David. While his men are heavy in battle, David is walking about on the roof of his palace, and from his elevated view, happens to see a beautiful woman bathing. He inquires about her and finds out her name is Bathsheba. She is the wife of Uriah who is one of the men off fighting for him.

The realization she is married should have been the end of the matter, but it wasn’t. David sends for her anyway, and she becomes pregnant. Realizing his sin will be exposed, he then sends for her husband, Uriah, to return from the battlefield.

It seems David is hopeful that Uriah will sleep with Bathsheba while home and the baby will be assumed his. But, in stark contrast to the dishonorable actions of David, Uriah refuses to go home to his wife while the Ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths and his fellow soldiers are camping in an open field. In desperation, David does the unthinkable. He secretly orders Uriah’s death on the frontlines.

King David thinks he has solved his problem and covered over his sin, but one sin cannot be covered with another sin, and nothing is hidden from God. God sees what David has done, and He is not pleased.

The next part of the story is what I want to focus on.

God sends Nathan to confront David.

God sends his prophet, Nathan, to confront David. This confrontation is a mercy of God. He is giving David the opportunity to repent, to be restored to a right relationship with Him, and for his soul to be saved.

In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan confronts David using a story about a rich man, a poor man, and a special little lamb. The poor man didn’t have many earthly possessions, but he had a little lamb that he loved dearly. The rich man had many possessions and flocks of sheep, but when he received a visitor, he took the poor man’s only little lamb to use for the feast.

David is incensed. He would have resonated with the poor man’s love for his special lamb having been a shepherd himself. He declares the rich man worthy of death and says the man must restore the injustice four times over.

Then, Nathan looks at David and pronounces his own declaration, “You are that man!”

David repents and is restored.

Nathan’s words pierce David like a knife. He knows Nathan is referring to his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. He crumbles under the weight of God’s judgment and repents, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Although God does not release David or his household from the consequences of the sin, He does restore David to a right relationship with Him: “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

King David is humbled; he is exposed; he repents, and ultimately, he is saved.

Rejecting God’s confrontation is rejecting God’s mercy.

Unfortunately, in many churches today and with many Christian leaders, such mercy of God is rejected.

Again and again, we hear of pastors and leaders who fall into sins such as sexual sin or its cover-up, abuse, plagiarism, etc., and when confronted, they reject the confronter.

Often the person or persons doing the confronting are Nathans, friends of the pastor or leader, and co-laborers for Christ who want nothing more than the pastor or leader to be restored to a right relationship with God and those harmed by the sin to be loved and well cared for in Jesus’ name.

But these Nathans are often spurned. They are labeled trouble-makers. Their character is impugned, and they are rejected from their circle of influence.

Can you imagine if David had such a response? What if King David had hardened his heart, rejected Nathan’s confrontation, and publicly and privately impugned Nathan’s character?

What if David had declared that Nathan’s confrontation was a spiritual attack, even persecution?

David, a beloved king, could have turned his people against Nathan, but he would have been digging his own grave. By rejecting Nathan, King David would have been rejecting God’s mercy and salvation.

I understand there are those in the church with a critical spirit who delight in criticizing everything from the shirt the pastor or teacher wore to his most recent haircut to the coffee served in the lobby (which for some reason is also the pastor’s fault).

The majority of pastors and Christians leaders get their fair share of undue criticism. Ephesians 4:29 tells us to use our words for edification, and Ephesians 4:32 tells us we are to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving. God is not pleased with a critical spirit, but a critical spirit is not what we are talking about here.

We’re also not talking about disagreements over secondary issues that should always be handled with grace.

We are talking about blatant sin and its confrontation.

I recently heard of, yet, another congregation of Christians giving their pastor a standing ovation in response to a sin that had been exposed while rejecting and impugning those who brought the sin to light, even calling the exposing of the sin an attack.

What are we doing? I ask that sincerely. What is being applauded?

If a pastor or beloved Christian leader is caught in sin, we don’t applaud. We hold him accountable, just as we would any Christian, and we get on our faces before God and pray for him and the people directly or indirectly harmed, and we thank God for His mercy offered through those He raised up to confront the pastor or leader. 

Then, we ask God to search our own hearts knowing how easily we, too, are tempted and how blind we can be to sin, and we beg God to show us the same mercy by raising up a friend to bring us back if we stray from the truth.

Acting justly and loving mercy involves confronting sin.

In Micah 6:8, we are told God desires those who follow Him to act justly and to love mercy. The Christian life should be marked by both as we humbly walk with the Lord. We are not acting justly or loving mercy if blatant sin is left unconfronted. We actually become a stumbling block to both justice and mercy for the sinner and the sinned against.

When David fell into sin, Nathan’s confrontation was God’s fierce mercy pursuing David. 

Once David repented, he was forgiven by God and restored to a right relationship with Him. His sin which had tormented him (Psalm 38) was put away, and he was free from its burden. David still faced the consequences of his actions, but he faced them with God not opposed to God.

But, before mercy is a soft place to rest, it is a sharp knife that pierces. To receive God’s mercy first requires we experience His confrontation: “You are that man!”

At the moment of repentance, we are washed clean and “You are that man!” becomes “Such were some of you.”(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Don’t deny your pastor or a Christian leader God’s fierce mercy if they are caught in sin by denying them Nathan’s confrontation. Whoever brings back a sinner from wandering saves his soul. Let’s be careful we do not become a stumbling block to God’s salvation. 

And give thanks for the Nathans in your life, those friends who encourage you with truth when you need encouragement and confront you with truth when you need confronting. They are a merciful gift of God.

 

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