Billy Graham, John Piper, Louie Giglio, Max Lucado. These are just a few men who were and are mighty men in the faith and leaders of the American church. They have done much to advance the kingdom of God and shape and mold church culture here in America. God entrusted them with a large platform and wide sphere of influence; however, at the end of the day, they are just like each one of us: servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.
In a celebrity culture, we have the tendency to lift up great men and women of God and set them up as Christian celebrities. We become their followers, and we name drop at every opportunity. As their platforms grow and their ministry flourishes, we count their lives a huge success and hail them as a hero when they die and a faithful minister with a beautiful legacy left behind.
However, not every famous Christian deserves that acclaim. Some live duplicitous lives that may not come to light right away. I believe that the recent revelations surrounding Ravi Zacharias is a sobering reminder that we cannot always accurately judge people. But God always knows the heart and will reveal truth eventually, whether in that person’s lifetime, after their death, or on judgment day. Either way, the thoughts, actions, and motives of the heart will be exposed for what they truly are.
We have seen, time and time again, Christian leaders fall from the lofty pedestals they were put on due to sin, and when this happens, it can devastate believers and those who had lifted them up on that pedestal. Many young believers can become confused, disillusioned, and begin to doubt the faith when these well-known Christian leaders tumble from their platforms and are exposed. Mature believers can also be hurt in this process as well, which is the danger and side effect of allowing a celebrity culture to infiltrate the church.
However, this lifting up godly leaders to unhealthy heights is not a new phenomenon. The Corinthians were arguing over who was better based on the Apostle or teacher they followed. But Paul addressed this issue in his letter and gave them a strong exhortation regarding lifting up leaders of the church in unhealthy ways.
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
~1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Paul makes it very clear how we should view Christian leaders. They are servants of God and stewards of His mysteries. They are not super spiritual men or women that have special access to God or know some deeper truths. On the contrary, they are average, ordinary people who have been entrusted with a larger platform and, like all of us, must be faithful to steward well what has been entrusted to them.
Next, Paul gives an important warning that we would do well to heed. It’s an exhortation not discussed in most churches and one that, if followed, would protect us from the pain and heartache of lifting up Christian leaders and then watching them fall into sin. In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul tells us to withhold pronouncing judgment on someone’s ministry before the Lord returns. He doesn’t say withhold it until they die or after 50 years you can judge whether or not the ministry was successful. No, he says to withhold making a conclusion about someone’s faithfulness in ministry until Jesus Christ returns and judges the actions all of men, for He alone will know and reveal what was done in secret and the hidden motives of the heart.
In celebrity culture, we completely disregard this exhortation. Instead of waiting and allowing God to judge the life and ministry of a person, we make our own conclusions and lift men and women up as star Christians and admirable leaders. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it can be unhealthy since not all people with the label of Christian actually fear God and serve Him with pure motives. As we’ve seen countless times, the most godly looking leaders can be living duplicitous lives and harboring major sin issues that don’t come to light for a long time. And when these things are revealed, it can be devastating to those who have set them up on a pedestal and ascribed to them “extra holy” spiritual status.
However, if we heed Paul’s command and exhortation to view all Christian leaders simply as servants and stewards that will be judged by God and God alone, then that protects us from the temptation to elevate some Christians above others and the subsequent pain and disappointment when some of those “celebrity” Christians fall into habitual sin. Therefore, let’s always remember Who alone can and will judge and correctly view all believers—big name leaders and obscure behind-the-scenes volunteers—on the same plane. We are all servants of God and stewards of the knowledge of Him, each entrusted with different levels of responsibility and each held accountable to God for what we do with what we’ve been given.
So how are you stewarding the gifts, knowledge, time, and resources God has given you? Each one of us will be judged by God on the last day, and He will reveal our hidden deeds and inner motives of the heart. So as a steward who will be judged by God Almighty, how are you going to live your life?
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