Note: Elsewhere on this website is an article called, “When Good People Do Bad Things.” The following is part two (to be followed by a part three).
I was in the sixth grade and it was my eleventh birthday, November 22, 1963. As we were ending our physical education class, the next roomful of kids came pouring into the tiny, elementary school gym/lunchroom/auditorium, everyone shouting at the same time about the President of the United States being shot. It was a long, strange day. I received a six transistor radio as a gift, but all I could get was news about the assassination; no “Top 40” music at all. Before falling asleep I actually cried over the “brokenness of the world,” though I wouldn’t learn that term for many years.
Nine years later I was a twenty year old, zealous, hungry, new Christian. I had found out that “bad people do bad things” because of sin and I had also learned that born-again Christians were people who had received the love of God Himself into their hearts and shared that love with each other. I walked into a real, evangelical Christian church for the first time and absolutely fell in love with the place. I remember thinking: “Wow! These people love God, they love the Bible, they love each other. This is what it’s supposed to be like in a real church!”
About a year later, now a busy and joyful worker in this congregation, I found myself in a business meeting that “blew my mind.” Men and women who, I thought, loved their pastor like I did, were standing up and making accusations against this man of God who had become like a second father to me. Within a few weeks the church had split, right down the middle. Bad people doing bad things I could understand; good people doing bad things was harder to handle.
That was a long time ago. In the ensuing years I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about good people doing bad things to each other. In the first article in this series we explored three reasons why good people do bad things. The following are three more. My prayer is that you are helped in understanding all of us and you are helped in forgiving and reconciling with brothers and sisters who have done wrong.
4. Sometimes good people do bad things out of cowardice, compromise or worldliness. In Galatians two the Apostle Paul tells a sad little story about his friend, the Apostle Peter. In the early, early church, almost everyone was a Jewish Christian. These folks had a hard time adjusting to the idea that Gentiles (non-Jews) could put their faith in Jesus and be justified – pronounced eternally innocent – by God, without coming through the “vestibule” of the Law of Moses. By the grace of God – see Acts 10 and 11 – Peter was actually one of the first to understand the new way in which God was dealing with mankind.
During a visit to the dynamic, ethnically mixed church at Antioch, Peter – understanding his new freedom from the law – mingled freely with the Gentiles who were coming to Christ. But when some legalists – Jews who thought that there was no salvation apart from circumcision and law keeping – came from the “mother church” at Jerusalem, Peter, in fear of them, wimped out and compromised by separating himself from the Gentile Christians, sending the whole Antioch church into confusion about the true nature of the gospel! He virtually was denying the faith with his cowardice.
It was about this same time that Paul and his friend Barnabas were sent out by the same church – Antioch in Syria (Acts 13) – to proclaim the gospel and start churches. With them as their “helper” was a younger man named John Mark, a relative (some say a cousin) of Barnabas. This was the same man who would later write the Gospel that bears his name.
On the island of Cyprus the threesome immediately ran into some tough, strange, scary, occultic opposition, which Paul met head-on with great courage. From Cyprus the missionaries sailed to what is now the nation of Turkey and headed north into the highlands of the Roman Province of Pamphylia. Many scholars believe that they headed inland and up to higher ground because Paul had contracted a disease, possibly malaria, which left him with a permanent vision problem, his “thorn in the flesh” of II Corinthians 12:7.
Apparently, Satanic opposition and sickness were not what John Mark had in mind when he had signed-on with the missionaries. He went home. All the way home to Jerusalem where it is believed by some that his mother, a “woman of means” owned the house with the “large, upper room” where the Last Supper was held and the church was born. In other words, to put it bluntly, Mark went home to mama.
We could go on and on of course with stories like these, from the Bible and our own experiences. I could tell you about my cowardice, compromise and worldliness and maybe you could tell me about yours. My point is that we all do these things at one time or another on our rough and tumble path to spiritual maturity. Good people – like Peter, Mark and the rest of us – do these things. We fail to share our faith when we have wonderful opportunities to do so. We marry or divorce for the wrong reasons. We “go with” the wrong side in church splits. We side against our church’s leaders when they are justly and lovingly disciplining a family member of ours. We get mad at leaders and change churches because we are admonished in love regarding our sin. Even we pastors get mad and change churches when we probably shouldn’t. God in His grace doesn’t let go of us, however. He works with us (and on us). He forgives, restores and many of us wobbling, wandering saints end up as pillars in churches. Since God doesn’t give up on us, maybe we should be a little slower at giving up on each other.
5. Sometimes good people do bad things because they are ignorant or immature. The recipients of the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians thought they had a really “cool” church. They bragged about it. They had lots of spiritual gifts in their church, with signs and wonders in abundance. As Greeks, some of them had a lot of highly valued knowledge. They also would have told you that they had lots of love, thinking that their toleration of church members living in sinful sexual relationships was a sign of their open-minded acceptance of diversity.
Paul the Apostle who had started this church (I’m not sure he wanted to admit it) had to sit down and tell them that they were babies in Christ: carnal, immature, proud and loveless. In their childishness they had compared preacher with preacher, talking about which was the most gifted and knowledgeable, even thinking they were capable of judging which preacher was accomplishing the most for eternity. (As I write I’m blushing to remember the conversations around the coffee shop tables back in my Bible college and seminary days.)
Getting back to the Corinthians, in their evaluation of their leaders and teachers they were looking no deeper than the level of the flesh. They were no more able to discern between the godly man and the ungodly man than the ungodly man himself.
To make matters worse, the Corinthians were clearly responsible for their own immaturity. They had learned the truth without letting it change their lives. They had sought the gifts of the Spirit but had never submitted to the moment by moment control of the Spirit and the transforming work of the Spirit which would have brought them to maturity. They were good people (see I Corinthians 1:1-9) doing bad things because of their ignorance and immaturity.
The Corinthians are not that much different from the rest of us are they? Thank God if you haven’t succumbed to some of the more blatant types of carnality that characterized the Corinthians – neither have I – but I’ve done plenty of foolish and childish things, some of them while parking in the pastor’s parking space! Just like you and the Corinthians, I have some precious memories and I also have some really embarrassing memories. God is the only real hero of church history and His kingdom marches on in spite of – to paraphrase Martin Luther – “the stumbling service of His saints.”