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When Leaders Fall, All Are Punished

The stories are as sad as any, and tragically too common. An effective, fruitful leader in the faith falls into some moral failure, disqualifying himself from leadership and devastating those who had followed him.

Reactions will range from confusion to disbelief to fury. Some will wonder how sin could capture the heart of someone God has used so powerfully in the church. Some will look for all the dirty details, secretly glad to see another gifted leader go down. Some will withdraw and rebel in disgust and anger, not willing to trust or submit to leadership in the church again.

Whatever else we feel and learn in the wake of the fall, we should see that the consequences of sin in leaders seep into the church, leading people astray—away from God and against him.

All Are Swallowed Up

The immorality of leaders has been a reality among God’s people for as long as God has had a people. The temptations for leaders are as real as they are for the rest of us, but the consequences are more severe. When a leader falls, all are punished.

Not punished for the pastor’s sin, but by his sin. It’s fair, then, to say they are punished because of his sin.

We see this reality, for instance, when God wields Assyria against Israel’s wickedness. God punished the nation, “for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up” (Isaiah 9:16). When Israel wandered, they were being led by the decisions and declarations of leaders, men who sacrificed the good of the people for their own personal benefit (Isaiah 10:2). They were more concerned about their reputation, their success and their profit than they were for the safety, faith and holiness of the men and women God had put under their care. And so the flock was “swallowed up,” swept up into the resistance and rebellion, into the pain and destruction of God’s hatred against sin.

Afflicter of the Fatherless, Punisher of Widows

“Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows” (Isaiah 9:17). The influence of these leaders was so corrupt, so pervasive, that God removed his mercy and compassion even from the most fragile and vulnerable. God abandoned even the wives without husbands and the children without fathers.

That should take our breath away. God had said, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Exodus 22:22). David had cried to God, “To you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14). He is the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). Yet Isaiah writes that this God, in the wake of corrupt leadership, “has no compassion on their fatherless and widows” (Isaiah 9:17). That is the consequence of sin in a community, especially when a leader falls, dragging his trusting followers down with him.