NOBODY notices much when an underworld character violates the law, but when a respected individual gets involved the newspaper headlines scream and eyebrows arch. To be sure, the raising of both headlines and eyebrows is determined by the offender's position in the community, especially if he is a prominent churchman.
Why is this? Part is due to humanity's morbid interest in scandal and sensationalism. Understandably, the press does not hesitate to exploit this human weakness. But over and above all explanations is the stark fact that much more is expected of the highly-placed person. Certainly those in positions of civic and religious responsibility are required to meet higher ethical standards than the average citizen.
Consequently when such a person falls, his fall, in the public's opinion, is greater. People are shocked, not by the enormity of his sin but by the height from which he fell.
Therefore, anyone accepting leadership must be prepared for this consequence. Christian leaders, especially, need to bear in mind that their responsibility extends beyond humanity to God. When this divine dimension is added, the normal expectations of moral uprightness are greatly heightened. Let an individual add the profession of Christian faith to his position of human responsibility and he immediately inherits not only a strong incentive to choose the right and avoid the wrong, but also the possibility of failing in a much larger dimension.
Warning Signals Flashed
As an example, consider Solomon. His was a dual responsibility—to rule a great nation and maintain fidelity to the God who appointed him. So his fall was doubly tragic. Manifestly, his sin was compounded by the great height from which he toppled.
The sad part of the sordid story is that the whole thing could have been avoided. Long before the debacle God flashed warning signals in Solomon's pathway. Clearly and prominently the signals were placed where he could see them (see Deut. 17: 14-20). In plain and unmistakable language the nation's leader was warned against the evils of pride, greed, sensuality, and the neglect of God's law.
Liberal Egyptian Customs
With such clear signals flashing before him, how did his backsliding begin? Doubtless by carelessness in some minor matter. Obviously, he did not wholly follow the Lord. Commenting on Solomon's disregard of the divine warnings, God's servant says: "So gradual was Solomon's apostasy that before he was aware of it, he had wandered far from God. Almost imperceptibly he began to trust less and less in divine guidance and blessing, and to put confidence in his own strength. Little by little he withheld from God that unswerving obedience which was to make Israel a peculiar people, and he conformed more and more closely to the customs of the surrounding nations."—Prophets and Kings, p. 55. (Italics supplied.)
In his ambition to excel other nations in power and grandeur, Solomon, no doubt, looked upon the peculiarly strict customs of God's people as a hindrance. Willfully he introduced liberal Egyptian customs into his personal life and by example into the lives of his subjects. This, he reasoned, would bring prestige, prominence, and success to his kingdom. Solomon's final, irrevocable act of disobedience was his insistent association with idolatrous women and the introduction of their vile and filthy idolatries among God's people. This flagrant flaunting of God's warnings and commands was followed by judgment.
Before long Solomon forgot the source of his prosperity and in time he lost his honor, integrity, and kingdom. A man cannot persistently disregard God's signals and avoid disaster. It is far better to stop than to court tragedy.
Tottering From the Same Precipice
Solomon's story is a warning to us. Ours is an affluent society permeated by enervating social pressures and customs. How easy it is nowadays to measure life with better houses, bigger automobiles, the latest fashions, and the demands of a contemporary culture. An even greater danger is the tendency to treat questionable commercial entertainment with tolerance, leading to an acceptance of the loose and lax conversation of worldlings and subsequently a careless attitude toward's God's standards for morality and marriage.
Subjected as we are to the incessant demands of modern life, it is easy to make mammon first and God second. Who among us has not felt the world's encroachment upon time that should be devoted to prayer, Bible study, and spiritual exercises. Once this pattern is established and self-confidence replaces trust in God, we totter on the same precipice from which Solomon fell.
However, we need not fall. If we do, it is because we deliberately bypass God's red light and persistently refuse to back away from the edge of the precipice. The sources of our temptations may be different, but the way to keep from succumbing is to wholly follow the Lord's direction.
When God says stop, He means just that. Solomon thought otherwise and ruin followed. The warning lights flashed, but he chose to disregard them. Near the end of life Solomon regretfully wrote: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12).
Briefly, let us enumerate the lessons this sobering experience teaches:
- Position does not impart holiness and excellence of character.
- The higher a man's position, the greater his responsibility, the wider his influence, and the greater his need of God's help to develop the best and most holy character.
- A call to Christian leadership in any capacity is a call to walk circumspectly before God and our fellow men.
Let it be understood, therefore, that whatever our position in life (minister, parent, teacher, professional person, craftsman), we can, with God's help, succeed. But let us never misread God's signals and repeat Solomon's tragic miscalculation. When God says "Thou shalt not" He means STOP! Failure to heed means loss, now and hereafter.