The Great Perfection Deception
What do faithful Abraham, mighty Moses, King David, and the beloved Apostle Peter all have in common besides the obvious? What do these great leaders and devoted servants of the living God share in common, that we seldom seem to consider when contemplating their cumulative legacies? Every single one of them, without fail or exception, made major miscalculations and mistakes in their reasoning and leadership decisions.
Take for example, the great patriarch Abraham. God promised him an heir, a son from his own loins even though Abram was advanced in age. God made this covenant agreement with Abram, even informing him of future events which would take place hundreds of years later, all by the almighty hand and providence of none other than the Lord God Himself (cf. Genesis 15). However, despite the infinite power God possessed to bring about exactly what He had promised – even centuries into the future – Abram somehow saw fit to factor into his thinking that perhaps his wife Sarai had a point, and that God might need their humanly-devised assistance to actually bring about His promise (cf. Genesis 16). And so, heeding his wife’s urging, Abram “went in to Hagar, and she conceived” (vs. 4 NKJV). The ensuing heartache and subsequent suffering which surely must have affected every life in the group of those whom Abram led at the time, as well as setting the stage for the untold lives lost and blood shed throughout the centuries ever since due to the Middle Eastern conflicts which have come about continually as a result of the fallout from this fatal decision, bear witness to the fact, that although Abraham was indeed the ‘father of the faithful’ (Romans 4:13-18) and was referred to as “the friend of God” (James 2:23), he was by no means without fault or infallible.
And then there was one of God’s greatest servant-leaders of all time, the mighty and magnificent Moses. He who led the Lord’s ungrateful, rebellious, and always griping congregation throughout the wilderness for some forty years; praying, pleading, and interceding for them when they were about to be destroyed; and teaching, leading and seeking to reason with them and keep the peace when they wanted to destroy him. Eventually it appears that he became so frazzled, fatigued, and frustrated with those whom God had given him to lead, that he lost sight of the Lord’s commandment and struck the rock instead of speaking to it – a fatal decision which cost both he and his brother Aaron entrance into the promised land along with the congregation of God’s people (cf. Numbers 20:1-13, 24; Deuteronomy 32:48-52).
David, the eighth son of Jesse and direct descendent through whom the Messiah Himself would eventually come (Isaiah 11:1, 10; Matthew 1:5-6), enjoys the unique distinction of being the only servant in all Scripture of whom it is said, he was a man after God’s own heart. This description was delivered by two faithful and divinely-inspired men of God who were no insignificant servants themselves, in Samuel and the Apostle Paul (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22-23; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). But this divinely-inspired term of endearment and dedication was certainly not because David never made a bad, or emotional, impulsive or biblically-uninformed decision as we all know. In fact, David’s legacy of leadership errors is legendary. From his seeking to transport the Ark of the Covenant in a perhaps more convenient as opposed to the commanded manner (which ultimately caused the death of one under his leadership in Uzzah – I Chronicles 13:1-14, 15:11-16:1); to his adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and all the subsequent death, devastation and destruction that that emotion-driven decision would bring upon both his family and his kingdom for decades to come (cf. 2 Samuel 11-19), David, as a leader, certainly made his share of severe mistakes.
Peter’s ‘pre’ as well as post-crucifixion presumptions and pitfalls are also preserved for the ages within the pages of the sacred text. For example, it appears to have been only a very short time after his being the first disciple to confess and be commended for recognizing that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), that he impulsively rebuked and even sought to correct the all-knowing Son of God he had just confessed to knowing as such (vs. 22)! Also, his ‘pre-garden of Gethsemane,’ ‘final hours’ claim that He would never deny Jesus no matter what the others did, was exposed to both them and for the whole world to forever remember before the sun rose the following morning (cf. Matthew 26:31-35, 67-75).
But probably one of the most troubling scenarios and errors of Peter for us to keep in mind, occurred post-crucifixion. Jesus had been resurrected from the dead and appeared to His apostles – including Peter – over a period of forty days before ascending back to heaven (Acts 1:1-14). It was Peter who subsequently stood up and led this little group of disciples in their discussion and decision to replace Judas (1:15-26). Peter also preached the very first gospel sermon ever recorded, on the Day of Pentecost, 33 A.D. That day, three thousand souls believed the word Peter preached, repented as a result, and were baptized into Christ specifically for the forgiveness of their sins, thus being added by the God to His Son’s church (Chapter 2). It would be none other than Peter who would then go on to face the full-blown force of the assembled Sanhedrin, preaching how these Jewish leaders needed to obey Jesus and no other in order to be saved (Chapters 3-5). It would be Peter who would receive a vision directly from God Himself, illustrating for Peter in preparation for his visit to Cornelius’ house, how the Gentiles were no longer to be excluded in any way, shape, or form as they had been under the Old Covenant (that being for the Jews exclusively and those who might proselyte), from their participation and acceptance in the gospel. It was Peter who then went to the house of the Gentile Cornelius and explained how he understood that all men – Jew and Gentile alike – were now acceptable and inseparable under the New Covenant. It was Peter and those few with him who experienced God’s direct and miraculous sign of His inclusion of these Gentiles, and then once again Peter, who went back to the Jewish congregation of the Lord’s church in Jerusalem and explained it all outright so they could understand this truth too (Chapters 10-11).
After all of that, what does Peter do? In the church at Antioch, he differentiates, draws back, and doesn’t even eat with the Gentile Christians anymore, but only with those Christians formerly Jews, thereby giving his approval (in practice) exclusively to only them! How is that even possible? Because Peter – despite all the leader and Christian, Apostle and elder he is – is still ‘just a man’ (See: Acts 10:25-26).
And this is precisely the point. Peter was an elder in the Lord’s church (1 Peter 5:1), as well as being an Apostle and a respected Christian leader otherwise as well, everywhere he went. And yet, despite even those credits and credentials, his decisions and actions were not always correct and in line with the commandments of God. Sometimes he suffered from errors in judgment; sometimes he misunderstood; sometimes he made wrong decisions; all these despite even occasional divine intervention! Because when all was said and done, he was still only a man. And this is the one thing we must always remember about our leaders in the Lord’s church.
Elders, preachers, deacons, bible class teachers, and even the leading men, women, and families within our congregations today, we sometimes seem to want to hold up to a perfect and flawless standard that not even Abram, Moses, David, Peter, or the rest of the prophets and apostles could ever hope to attain and/or maintain. Our leaders in the vast majority of our congregations today are surely, for the most part, good, God-fearing, word-honoring, and Christ-following people. But that’s the point: They’re still only people. People with flaws, faults, weaknesses and shortcomings just like you and I. People who can’t be in two places at once even though sometimes they’d like to be. People who sometimes think they understand what God wants, and then see what they perceive to be a ‘window of opportunity’ to ‘help’ Him accomplish it, similar to Sarai and Abram. People who sometimes get tired and frustrated and make rash leadership mistakes just like Moses. People who, acting on emotion or impulse, sometimes fall into temptation and desperately need to repent just like David did. Human beings who, even though baptized and seeking to serve the Lord and His people, and despite the best of intentions and instructions, sometimes make ill-informed decisions and take ill-advised actions, just like the apostle, elder, and preacher Peter. If these great and faithful men of God could and did err, how is it we sometimes expect more out of our leaders today than even those great men and servants of God could ever hope to accomplish?
Before we judge them too harshly, maybe we ought to really go back and honestly study and reconsider familiar passages like Matthew 7:1-5, and 12; maybe re-cover Ephesians 4:1-3, 29-32, Philippians 1:27-2:17, and Colossians 3:12-17 and meditate upon how they apply not only to my attitudes and interactions with some, but instead with all of my beloved, beleaguered, and embattled brethren – including especially my congregational leaders.
On the other hand, God left us no doubt as to His will and desire when it comes to exactly how we are to treat those leaders specifically: “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13). “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
What makes great men of God, great leaders of God’s men and women, is not that they never make mistakes – quite to the contrary as we have seen. What makes great men and women of God truly great, is the same thing that made erring David, even after his heinous sin surrounding Bathsheba, still “a man after God’s own heart.” And that is that when they fail to fully live up to God’s perfect and flawless standard – as they inevitably will despite their best efforts at times – they admit their mistakes, confess their sins, throw themselves on God’s mercy in sincere and heartbroken repentance (Psalm 51), and get back up by the grace of God and go on to serve, and to live, and to fight the good fight of faith for their King and His cause another day: “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
If that truly describes the type of congregational leadership, and membership, we enjoy in our local fellowship, then we are blessed beyond measure and need to do everything in our power to see that we stay that way. Because the congregation will remain that way, if each member will remain that way, one imperfect, well-studied, “golden-ruled” and schooled servant at a time!