We are particularly vulnerable to temptation in the area in which we build our “brand.” One of the individuals caught up in a recent scandal branded himself as the consummate family man who loved and valued his wife and family. Yet he now leaves the public eye just hoping he will be able to regain their trust and confidence and salvage something of a relationship with them. Another was an advocate for justice who was found to have committed acts of great injustice.
Though we would never wish for a scandal to take place and make its way into the headlines, and while we should always regret the circumstances that bring one about, a scandal does offer the opportunity for personal introspection. A wise man will heed its lessons, for it inevitably provides the context to consider whether sin is sneaking up on us as it has on someone else, to practice the biblical admonition “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
In recent months the news around these parts has carried stories of a number of highly-publicized scandals, some of which involve professed Christians and some of which do not. And while none overlap my life or social circles in any significant way, I’ve still found myself pondering the public facts to consider what lessons I can draw from them.
The lesson that is most prominent in my mind is that you’re never too old to destroy your legacy—which is to say that you’re never beyond the temptation to sin. Some of these people had enjoyed many years of service in the public eye and had earned an upright reputation. And then, in the blink of an eye, they had to resign in disgrace. Some tried to express the hope that, because they had done so much good for so long a time, their legacy would not be entirely undermined. Yet, while they may have done much good, they will never outrun the context in which their careers came to so sudden a halt. The lesson is that we can never coast, we can never relax our vigilance against sin until we have safely landed in heaven.
Just behind that lesson is this: sin will often bring the most pain and harm to those we love the most (or are meant to love the most). It is almost unbearable to consider the cost to a wife in shame as news of her husband’s affair crisscrosses the world (and, of course, to a woman’s husband if the wife is the one who has transgressed). Every story will tell of a marriage that must now be in peril because of one spouse’s thoughtlessness, one person’s transgressions. That husband may have enjoyed his sin while it was taking place but his wife and family will know only pain, shame, and confusion. That pastor may have gained some enjoyment while committing his sinful deeds, but now he has resigned and his church is left rocked and hurting. So often the cost of our sin is disproportionately paid by the very people we are charged to love, protect, and care for.
Here’s another lesson: Some people stick around too long. They grow so accustomed to being in the public eye that they cannot tolerate the thought of obscurity, of being a former politician, a former athlete, or even a former pastor. Yet there comes a time when remaining in the public eye (or the pulpit or the conference circuit or …) may reflect idolatry more than necessity or service. That public prominence may have become a matter of identity so that the individual doesn’t know who he would be without the position and the acclaim that comes with it. And there is grave danger that comes to those who are in the public eye to work out their own identity rather than to serve others. Sometimes what’s best for a person, his family, and the people he has served is to step aside—to quit while he is ahead. (The people who most need to quit are probably the very ones who find the thought most unbearable!)