“The devils believe and tremble.” –James 2:19
The devils shudder, my NASB says.
I know some people who need to be shuddering and shaking in their boots. They are going to stand before the Lord and give account–as we all are–for the deeds and words they have used as weapons. They’re going to be called to account for the disrupted churches and destroyed lives in their wake.
The odd thing is that these are church members.
The prospect of such a confrontation ought to leave them trembling and shivering in their boots.
I think I know why it doesn’t.
“By God’s Word at last my sin I learned; Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned, Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.” (Hymn by William Newell, 1895)
Asked for the greatest thought he’d ever had, Andrew Murray is said to have answered, “My accountability to God.”
That’s what is missing in the minds and hearts and lives of some of the fiercest of troublemakers who wreak havoc in the Lord’s churches.
They do not believe in God.
Our Lord said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” He continued, “All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 15:18ff)
They do not know God. Jesus said it.
Oh, they know a lot of things. And they believe a lot of things. They believe in themselves, in their own righteousness, in their convictions (right or wrong), and in the inferiority of everyone else around them. They would never identify consciously with the publican of Luke 18 (“Lord, I thank you that I’m better than everyone else”) but that is precisely the case with these people. They believe a lot of things in the Bible, just not all of it.
They do not believe the part about this being the Lord’s church and Him taking personally what people do to it. They do not believe that the Lord is actively involved in what’s going on now and keeping good records of what we do and fail to do. Simply stated, they do not believe in God.
And because they do not believe in God, “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).
Of these people–those before whose eyes there is no fear of God–the Word says, Destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known.
I’m thinking of two men today. The first was a jackleg dentist, a deacon at one time, and the other a gossiping pastor. I suspect both men were unsaved, although they would bristle at the very idea. Thankfully, God is their judge and not me.
The dentist/deacon first…
The dentist had left his profession just ahead of being suspended for unethical practices. Thereafter, he led medical-dental mission teams to work with our missionaries overseas. (What was our missions board thinking???) The man thought of himself as a champion of the Lord. His ego was the size of Montana. But he was important primarily in his own sight.
I did not know of a single person who respected him. They knew his lack of character.
The man spent days and weeks trying to dig up dirt on his new pastor. He made phone calls, sleuthing the pastor’s past in search of something which he could use against him. When a denominational leader informed him that years earlier that pastor and his wife had been the subject of a newspaper feature about their marital crisis–a near-divorce with a full year of marriage counseling–then the dentist had found his smoking gun. Without finding the article, he concluded there was a scandal in there somewhere and spread the word. Mostly he spread innuendo: “Here’s what I think happened” and “I can’t find all the facts, but it appears….” When his pastor resigned–it turns out this man was not the only one working against the new pastor–it came out that even the best friends of the pastor had believed the slander. The purpose of the newspaper interview on his marital crisis, the pastor told the congregation, had been to encourage other ministers to deal with their domestic issues and to get counseling. But the gossip-mongers had done their work.
During all this time, this same man had hung around the pastor’s office in search of dirt. In his first year in that church, the new pastor had gone through two secretaries in search of a capable one. The dentist decided the pastor must be an ogre to work for. That wasn’t much, but he’d take anything he could find. Eventually, the latest secretary–the one who would hold the job for the next twenty years–caught on to what the man was doing. She told him point-blank, “I know you’re looking for something. But you need to know the pastor is a godly man and I love working for him.” He never came back to the church office.
That man is with the Lord now (a figure of speech meaning he’s dead). He will have to account to the Lord for what he did to that pastor and to the Lord’s church. He should be shuddering at the prospect.
And the gossiping pastor.
A retired minister–we will call him Pastor Bob–was trying to help a small church survive a crisis that occurred when their young pastor was discovered to be having an affair with the lady directing the worship music. One day in the midst of all this, the young man said to Pastor Bob, “I don’t know what right you have to talk to me about adultery. After the way you tore up your church over an affair.” Bob was stunned.
“What are you talking about?” he said.
The young preacher said, “I know all about what you did to the last church you pastored. How you tore it up. And now you try to tell me I did wrong?”
Pastor Bob said, “My friend, I arrived 18 months after the previous pastor tore up the church. I had to pick up the pieces and try to make it work again. It was the hardest work of my life. And you accuse me of being the one who tore it up??”
He was sheepish. After a moment of silence, he said, “Well, that’s what I was told.”
“Who told you?”
He named the former pastor of his church, an older man who had moved away to another state.
Pastor Bob called the gossiping preacher at his church. When confronted with what he had done, the man was quiet. After a bit he said, “Sir, I’m as sorry as I can be.”
Bob said, “You need to call everyone you told that to, and make it right.”
The pastor said, “I didn’t tell another soul.”
That turned out to be a lie.
Pastor Bob had a next-door neighbor who needed the Lord. He and his wife prayed consistently that the Lord would use them as His witnesses. The man was sometimes hostile and profane but they persevered. One day, in the midst of a rant about something or other, that unsaved neighbor said, “And you’re the one who tore up your church by your affair. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Those words came in the middle of a long torrent of profanity and obscenities. Only later did Bob realize what the man had said.
It turned out that the neighbor and that gossiping pastor in another state–the one who had slandered Pastor Bob–had been childhood friends and had grown up together.
That pastor had told Bob’s next-door neighbor his slanderous accusation. No doubt that was one reason the neighbor was not receptive to Pastor Bob’s witness.
That preacher should shudder at the prospect of standing before the Lord and giving account for this. If he is truly saved, he will.
If he doesn’t, if the prospect of standing before the Lord and accounting for his misdeeds doesn’t strike terror into his heart, I think I know why.
He doesn’t believe in God.
He believes in a lot of things. He believes in having a nice church, believes in finding good sermons in Scripture, believes in helping people when it’s convenient, and believes in America and marriage between a man and a woman. What he does not believe is that…
–God is alive and active and very much aware of what’s going on.
–That the church belongs to the Lord and what we do to it, we do to Him, He takes personally.
–And that he will some day stand before the Lord and give account.
If he believed these things, he would tremble.
Trembling is the only appropriate response when any of us think of standing before a Holy God and accounting for the people we have wounded, the slander we have handed out, the harshness with which we have handled the people, and the temptations we should have resisted but didn’t.
Thank God for Calvary. Thank God there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Thank God that when He forgives sin, it is gone forever. (See Hebrews 10:17 among other places.)