I heard some really discouraging and sobering news the other day, and I wanted to take a break from Greek instruction to share it with you.
A friend of mine just left the ministry. This is a young man who felt the call of the Lord, and committed his undergraduate education to Biblical Studies. His wife and he made an additional commitment to go to seminary, a decision that involved major sacrifice on their part. It was interesting, they said, to live with all the hookers in their town. But the rent was cheap.
And when his young wife's health continued to deteriorate, they move to another seminary to finish his education.
The point of all this is that we are looking at about six years of significant sacrifice. Six years. Perhaps more.
And then the time comes; they graduate, and move to their first pastorate. He lasted about four years, and when he and his wife couldn't take it any longer, he resigned and is going into some other area of work, and the church is robbed of a bright and passionate young man who deeply loves the Lord and wants to serve the people.
And what was the cause of this man's and woman's loss of a dream? Gossip.
They just couldn't take it any longer. The slander. The criticism. The backbiting. He concluded that the only people who can make it in the church must have thick skin. Gossip is surely the native tongue of the church.
Was my friend perfect? Of course not. Were there areas of growth needed? No doubt. But I know his passion. His commitment. His sacrifice (and his wife's). These are years and years sacrificed by two promising young people. Whatever happened to walking with someone? Encouraging? Challenging? Teaching? Modeling? Sharing burdens? Loving?
When are we going to learn? When are we going to preach Ephesians 4:29-5:5 and hold people to account? When will we view gossip and slander and criticalness as the dark and ugly sins that they are? While we do hold a few sins as really bad - I will let you fill in the blanks - I suspect that the sins of the mouth have done infinitely more damage to the cause of Christ than, say, adultery.
More and more I am going to the doctrine of the Remnant in order to understand the church. The true lovers of God are always a subgroup of the visible church. It was true for Elijah and Daniel. I strongly suspect it is still the norm.
Do I sound bitter and sarcastic? I don't think so. Realistic? Yes. Theological? Yes.
It would not surprise me to hear you agree that this is the problem somewhere else, but not your church. The people in my church, you might respond, are not like this.
My guess is that is what the Ephesian church thought. After all, they were the favored ones. Paul spent more time there (as far as we know) than with any other church. They were the beachhead for evangelistic outreach into Asia Minor. And yet they too fell prey to the wolves in sheep's clothing.
I am totally convinced that the church visible it its greatest enemy. I am confident that the prophecy of Acts 20:29-30 is paradigmatic of how Satan works.
And what is at stake? The lives of our young ministers? Much more than that. The very mission of the church is that we are to so love each other that those outside the church will see our love and be convinced thatGod the Father sent his Son into the world to make for himself a people of his own possession. It was Jesus' one prayer for you and for me (John 17).
And yet the evil and the sin persists. The critical backbiting and slander just don't stop. The sin is relentless.
When will we learn?
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.