During a quick trip into town, I just met a fellow who has been pretty much "out of sight" for a few months. He's a wonderful brother and I love him greatly. Whenever we or anyone else would run into him on his job or around town, he always presented Christ. He ministered to the poor and despised; he witnessed boldly to the rich and powerful. He has a heart for the lost.
Then he fell. A hobby-business involving guns got him into a mess with the feds and he is facing criminal charges in federal court. He lost his job and, much worse, he has lost his testimony. He's no master criminal. It's a technical thing which might go away next year, but the damage is done. Whether he was just stupid or acted out of greed, I don't know, but he will never been viewed again as he once was by the community here.
In Second Corinthians 4, Paul makes a wonderful description of the Gospel then says:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
The glorious Gospel is a brilliant Light, but God puts it in plain clay vessels to demonstrate that all the brilliance and glory is His, not ours.
Those clay pots are fragile, too. Earlier, in the First Corinthian letter, Paul had written:
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Ah, the heart-breaking thought--preaching to others, then being "disqualified" oneself! Paul knew it could happen to him, and he made every effort to avoid that disaster. (Please note: we are not talking about losing salvation here, but being disqualified for service)
Paul used the word ἀδόκιμος (adokimos) which can be translated "rejected" "unapproved" or "castaway" as in the KJV. In everyday language, determined by the Greek papyrii of that time, it was often used to describe household vessels--cooking pots and so forth--which had been damaged. In the economy of the time, they often were not discarded but set aside, "put on the shelf" until they could be repaired and returned to service.
This seems such a powerful picture of my fallen brother and others in that same situation. They, as we, are the fragile clay pots God has chosen to contain his Gospel. We fall into the sins of this world and are damaged, rendered unfit for use, and God puts us on the shelf--ἀδόκιμος.
The implication is there that repair will be done and the vessel returned to service. God the Holy Spirit is in the business of mending these damaged clay jars and restoring them to active service in the household of God. What a gracious God we serve!
My prayer is that my friend's state be a warning to all of us in the ministry. Maybe he compartmentalized his life. Maybe he had a "Christian activity" and a "business activity" dichotomy. The failure on the "business" side has damaged the Christian side. In fact, there are no compartments for us to hide in. We need to be watchful that we do not fall into sin. It is deadly.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.