CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Christian Gifting and Character

Jun 20, 2011

This article, specifically penned for believers, deals with a somewhat curious feature of the Christian life. We all know of famous Christian leaders who seem to have an amazing anointing and calling of God, yet succumb to moral failure – big time. Plenty of renowned leaders have fallen to various things such as sexual sin, all the while seemingly being used greatly of God.

How do we account for this? Why does it seem that an effective ministry can co-exist with a less than desirable lifestyle? Of course in one sense this is true of every single believer: none of us are perfect; we all have some sin in our life; yet God in his grace chooses to use us for his work.

But it is one thing for a Christian worker, pastor or leader to be less than perfect, repent of any known sin, and be used of God. However, what about those who are heavily into known sin and obviously have huge character issues to deal with?

Why do such people seem to still have giftings which can be a huge blessing to others? I do not know the reasons for all of this. But I do know that God is far more concerned about who we are than what we do for him. He is far more concerned about our character than he is about our ministry.

Indeed, in this area we tend to get things back to front. We tend to worry a lot about our ministry, how effective we are, how many people we are reaching, how big our church is, and so on. But we tend to concentrate much less on our character: how holy we are, how Christlike we are, how much we are being conformed to the image of God’s son.

It really is the case that we need to focus on our character, and let God worry about our effectiveness, our fruit, our ministry. Indeed, a good spiritual rule of thumb is this: If we take care of the depth of our character, God will take care of the breadth of our ministry.

Our walk with God, in other words, will open doors for us and bear much fruit. That is the principle Jesus announced in John 15. As we abide in Christ we will bear more fruit. So our closeness with Christ determines the effectiveness of our ministry. Our character will make a way for us.

Yet we still know of Christian leaders who seem to be having a great impact for the kingdom, only to be publically outed for some shameful behaviour. And of course such behaviour does not crop up overnight. It is generally the result of a long dalliance with sin.

So the question again arises: how is it that someone who is so involved in sinful activity and therefore so lacking in godly character can still seem to be used so powerfully and with great anointing in the ministry? Part of the answer may come from a verse in Romans.

In Rom 11:29 we read this: “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” This passage of course comes from the important section of Paul’s epistle concerning Israel and its role in God’s economy (Rom 9-11). So the immediate context of this has to do with the call of Israel, and the fact that this call, or election, has not been revoked by God, even though the Gentiles are now in the spotlight.

Despite Israel’s sin and unbelief, God has not withdrawn his giftings and callings from her. In Rom 9:4-5 we read about the specific gifts which God has given to Israel, and in the verse we are now looking at we find that he has not taken them back.

So the question arises as to whether this passage can be applied in a more general sense to believers. If so, then it seems to be telling us that the gifts God gives to believers may remain, perhaps even regardless of our spiritual condition. His gifting to us may not disappear even if we allow ourselves to be overcome by sin.

Paul says in verse 25 of Romans 11 that this is a mystery: Israel was partially hardened in order for the Gentiles to come in. Paul argues that God has not abandoned Israel, and one day in the future there will be a major return of Israel into the full purposes of God.

So perhaps too here there is a mystery: God can graciously allow his gifting in us to be used and to bear fruit, even when our character is far from where it should be. Whatever the reason for all this, it seems there is a major danger here which we must all be aware of.

The fact that God may still use a Christian to do fruitful ministry even though his character may be far from pleasing to God should sober us all up. We can fool ourselves into thinking that God must be really pleased with us because we seem to be bearing so much fruit.

We can too easily be tempted to think, “Well God must really be happy with me, because I am being so effective. Look at all the people who got saved; look at all the people flocking to my church; look at all the money coming in; look at all the positive feedback I am getting. God is clearly blessing my ministry, and he must really approve of me”.

This is a dangerous place to be in. We have seen far too many Christian leaders presumably thinking this way, only to be shot down in a major moral meltdown, broadcast all over the public airwaves, bringing shame and dishonour to Christ and his church.

So whatever the reason God seems to allow this to happen, we must remember that character is key. Let us do our bit as we allow God to develop his holiness and Christlikeness in us, and let him take care of extending our ministry and its effectiveness.

Human pride makes us worry too much about the latter and too little about the former. That is a recipe for disaster.

[1027 words]

14 Responses to On Christian Gifting and Character

  • “God is clearly blessing my ministry, and he must really approve of me”.

    Well, said Bill, and the converse is also true, that we can’t measure our (supposedly low) spiritual condition by the lack of fruit in our lives or our church.

    This applies to elders too – we can’t assume that our congregations are travelling well, just because there are no apparent problems on the surface. We have to keep digging in, to discern from God’s perspective the spiritual condition of the people God has given us responsibility for.

    Thanks for the reminder – I obviously need to pray more for those I am caring for.

    John Angelico

  • Thanks John

    Yes good point indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I have always found 2 Peter 1:3-8 very helpful, especially the promise that we will never fall if we do these things. That passage says exactly what you said Bill. Let’s keep our eyes on building our character for God’s sake and with his help and God will take care of the rest.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Great deeds are no failsafe indication of genuine ministry. Didn’t the Lord say that the time would come when some would say “Lord, didn’t we cast out demons and heal the sick in your name??” and His reply will be “Depart from me, I never knew you”.
    If the fruit of the Spirit is not evident in the life of one claiming to be a Christian, there is doubt – and an unrepentant attitude towards sin one’s life should be a sending off warning bells.
    May each of us examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith – and live then in the fear of God!
    Blessings,
    Isaac Overton, ACT

  • Well said Bill. It was only after I became a Christian that I became aware of God’s gifts and talents and how he gave those to me before I even followed Jesus. However they are all wasted if we are not using them to glorify Him and extend His kingdom. Pride is such a sly enemy and one that we all battle, irrespective of if we are in the public eye or not. I enjoyed the read : )
    Nicole Watson

  • Many thanks Nicole

    Yes you raise a good point. God can give us giftings and talents before we are even Christians. That is true of my experience as well. I had various gifts, abilities and talents back in my hippy days which I used for all the wrong purposes. But I had a passion for truth and justice, and I had writing skills, debating skills, etc., which I used in promoting the radical New Left agenda, editing underground newspapers, and so on. Of course now I am still using these same abilities, but for Christ and His Kingdom. So God built much of this into me well before I met my Saviour.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I agree that God does not withdraw the gifts that he has given. As long as we have the faith, even if we’re in sin, we can still do mighty deeds in his name. It’s a bit of an oddity, but since God in his wisdom has chosen to use imperfect man to bring his will to pass in many circumstances he must find it necessary.

    One thing that I believe to be extremely important for all Christians if they wish to avoid the traps that the devil sets is ACCOUNTABILITY. Fortunately I attend a church that is very strong on promoting accountability among its disciples. When we shun accountability, pride is obviously present. We should be willing to allow our shepherds to speak into our lives and to know our shortcomings so that they can help us. Even those in the highest positions should submit to someone and keep structures of accountability in place to help to prevent them from falling.

    Mario Del Giudice

  • Yes quite right Mario

    Accountability is absolutely vital if we want to remain in His will and avoid the many pitfalls along the way.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Good article, Bill.
    As you indicate, God calls us to faithfulness in all spheres, hopefully that will lead to fruitfulness in all spheres…but there is an order. Faithfulness is our responsibility, fruitfulness is God’s.
    Darren Middleton

  • Thanks Darren

    Hey I like that one: faithfulness before fruitfulness.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Good article. Investing in your character isn’t quite as much fun as getting attention.

    I like Darren’s comment too! made me think.

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Samson the fornicator who was used of God?

    Alison Keen

  • Thanks Allison

    Yes you are right – character is something we need to work at. It is hard work, which is why so many of us don’t really bother with it.

    And yes, Samson does seem to be the perfect example of this very thing: gifting without character. He was obviously greatly used by God, yet his character or lack thereof must have greatly disappointed God.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • It’s pleases my soul to read an article such as this, to hear teaching on these awkward subjects.

    It is asked by many a christian “Why did such a great christian fall?”
    And said by many a athiest “You can see by this there is no God, for a great christian has fallen.”
    And by the witch/satanist “Our prays worked, the trap was successfull.”

    God puts it on my heart to pray for the protection of christian that take a strong stand for God and his ways. For Satan our enemy has come to kill steal and destroy, and against this we must pray for ourselves, our fellow christian and especially for our leaders.

    Mark Lambert

  • Thanks Mark

    Yes that is a very good point. We need to constantly prayer for our Christian leaders.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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