Pastor David B. Curtis

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Is "Faith Alive"?

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Delivered 07/12/2009

My title question, "Is 'Faith Alive'?" has nothing to do with the faith talked about in Scripture, it is a reference to a large church in Chesapeake, Virginia called "Faith Alive." This church has been in the news quite a bit lately, because in May of this year its founding pastor, Bob Groves, resigned and left the church.

In a May 7, 2009 article in The Virginian-Pilot, Mike Saewitz writes: "The lead pastor of Faith Alive Ministries, one of the city's fastest-growing churches, has left the church. Bob Groves, who guided Faith Alive as it grew from a dozen members to more than 2,000, had been its lead pastor for 18 years. Under Groves' leadership, Faith Alive went from operating out of a car-sales office to an $11 million, 46,000-square-foot building completed last year."

"Church officials did not respond to questions about the circumstances surrounding the pastor's abrupt departure last week. Reached Wednesday, Groves, 45, said he hopes the church can move forward without him, but he would not elaborate on the reasons for his departure, or his plans."

Then in an article published on June 26, 2009 in The Virginian-Pilot, Mike Saewitz writes: "Pastor Bob Groves stood in front of a packed house--surrounded by his wife, a moderator who flew in from Georgia for the night, and two boxes of tissues. It was the first time Groves had spoken to the whole congregation in nearly two months. He went back to Faith Alive Ministries on Wednesday to apologize for having an affair with a married church staffer."

"Groves didn't go into detail, but many church members had heard already. They gave a standing ovation when he returned to the sanctuary stage. 'I sinned,' Groves told the audience of roughly 1,500. 'Not only did I sin, I sinned a lot and I sinned for a long time.'

"'It's what I prayed for,' member Jane Caler said of Groves' return to accept responsibility. 'All indications are that they can forgive him. Hopefully, he can come back. I believe that's what God would want.'

"In a separate interview, Chambers said there is 'absolutely' a chance that Groves could return as lead pastor within two years after completing what he described as a process for 'pastors that have difficulties.'

"'What we're all after is for Pastor Bob to come back,' Chambers said. '...Both families are receiving financial assistance from the church while they seek marriage counseling,' Chambers said.

I want to talk to you this morning about Faith Alive and Bob Grove because both myself and my wife have been asked by those in the community about this issue at Faith Alive. Many believers are hurt and confused about this issue, so I want to give a Biblical perspective on it.

Let me start by saying that I believe that Paul's opening words to the Corinthians in chapter 5 could be said of every church in America:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1 NASB)

Now, you might think that that statement is a little too strong, but I'm convinced that it is sadly true; immorality is rampant in the Church. I believe that we are facing among Christians a moral epidemic of enormous and frightening proportions. The Christian Church is riddled with immorality, among the young and the older, the single and the married, the congregation and the leadership. No Christian is immune to sexual temptation.

Prior to the sexual revolution in America, the sexual purity of God's people drew a sharp line dividing them from the non-Christian world. But things have radically changed. In his book, Flirting with the World, John White draws these sobering conclusions: "The sexual behavior of Christians has reached the point of being indistinguishable from that of non-Christians...in our sexual behavior we, as a Christian community, are both in the world, and of it." I am convinced that White is correct. High standards of morality, including sexual morality, used to be inseparable from the Christian faith. But this is no longer the case. But what can we expect when the so called shepherds of the Church are themselves living in immorality? Bob Groves is just a local example of what is happening across this nation. It is increasingly difficult to discern where the world ends and the Church begins.

Immorality has become so common place among Christians that it doesn't even shock us anymore to hear that a pastor has committed adultery. It should shock us, it should greave us and cause us to mourn. Look at what Paul told the Corinthians that their attitude should be about sexual sin:

And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst. (1 Corinthians 5:2 NASB)

It seems they were tolerating this immorality in the church because they were, "arrogant." They were proud about the fact that they were so loving that they were accepting this man in his sin. Paul says that they should have mourned when they discovered this sin.

The word Paul uses for mourned is pentheo, it's the word that is used for mourning for the dead, which is perhaps the deepest and most painful kind of personal sorrow possible. If you have ever had a loved one die, then you under-stand what this word means. We are to feel this way about sin among believers; do you? The Church's reaction to this sin was as bad or worse than the sin itself. They were boasting when they should have been grieving. We are to hate evil!

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9 NASB)

To get God's view on immorality among His people, let's go to His Word. The heart of God's law to Israel is expressed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). Remember that they are commandments, they're not the ten suggestions. One of these laws prohibited sexual involvements outside one's own marriage. Exodus 20:14, says, "You shall not commit adultery." This stood in stark contrast to the nations that surrounded Israel where immorality was an accepted--even celebrated way of life.

There are many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that speak of the seriousness of sexual sin. Deuteronomy 22 and 23 deal with a wide variety of sexual sins and their appropriate punishments. Under Israel's law, sexual sins were crimes not just against God, but against individuals and society as a whole--and most were punishable by death:

"If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22 NASB)

We can see from the severe penalty for sexual sin how serious and repugnant it is in the eyes of God. God takes the purity of His people seriously, and He commands His children to take it equally seriously. Christians are not to tolerate sin within the Church any more than they are to tolerate it within their own lives:

But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; (Ephesians 5:3 NASB)
And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; (Ephesians 5:11 NASB)

Believers are often warned against this sin:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, (Galatians 5:19 NASB)

Adultery is not a product of the Spirit, but a work of the flesh.

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 NASB)

As you can see, Paul speaks often about sexual sin among God's people:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 NASB)

Paul says in verse 6, "The Lord is the avenger in all these things"--avenger is from the Greek word, ekdikos, which means: "one who carries out a legal sentence." This word is only used one other time in the New Testament, and that is in:

for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:4 NASB)

Here the "avenger who brings wrath" is referring to the magistrate as the bearer of the sword of justice, that is, as inflicting capital punishment. So the Lord "carries out a legal sentence" against those who commit adultery.

God's Word speaks out so strongly against adultery because it destroys marriage, and marriage is a divine institution. God has instituted it. He delineated its purposes or design. He has declared its permanence, and He declares that it should be held in honor. Look at what the writer of Hebrews has to say:

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4 NASB)

"Let marriage be held in honor among all...." I believe that the NASV has translated this correctly. The construction here should be treated as hortatory, which means: "exhorting, advising," rather than declaratory. The KJV and NKJV read:

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4 NKJV)

There is no verb "is" in the Greek, so a verb has to be supplied. The NKJV understands an indicative, and thus renders it as a statement or affirmation. "Marriage is honorable among all...." But an imperative fits better with the context, which is a sequence of exhortations. The sense then is, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be held as undefiled." The hortatory sense provides the better antecedent to the ensuing warning: "...but fornicators and adulterers God will judge."

"Let marriage be held in honor"--the word "honor" is the Greek word timios, which means: "held as of great price, esteemed, especially dear."

In the New Testament nearly every writer discusses marriage, because a stable marriage is a building block in the structure of society. Therefore, the present decay of the family through immorality threatens the stability of our nation. In case you think I'm exaggerating the severity of this, let me tell you that historian Arnold Toynbee's research indicated that of history's twenty-one greatest civilizations, nineteen perished from internal moral corruption, not external enemies. Our nation is in trouble because marriage is in trouble, we are not holding it in honor.

Why do I say that the Church's immorality threatens our nation? The end of Hebrews 13:4 tells us, "but fornicators and adulterers God will judge." "Fornicator" is from the Greek word pornos, it designates those persons who indulge in sexual relationships outside the marriage bond, both heterosexual, and homosexual. "Adulterers" is from the Greek moichos, which means: "those who are unfaithful to their marriage vows."

Believers, God will judge those who dishonor marriage. Have you noticed that many of the passages that we have looked at speak of God's judgment of adultery?

Look with me at Proverbs 6: After warning his son not to lust after an immoral woman, Solomon asked two rhetorical questions:

Can a man take fire in his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can a man walk on hot coals, And his feet not be scorched? (Proverbs 6:27-28 NASB)

The obvious answer is,"NO!" Consequences are inescapable. And in case the point of the illustration was missed, Solomon brings it home in:

So is the one who goes in to his neighbor's wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:29 NASB)

Violating God's sexual standards is like violating the law of gravity, it has a way of catching up with you. The laws apply regardless of who believes in them, and who doesn't? You don't need to believe in the law of gravity to be subject to it.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8 NASB)

It seems to me that the church, Faith Alive, is trying to shield Bob Groves from the consequences of his actions. He is still on the payroll, he gets a paid vacation for his adultery. And they want to re-instate him as their pastor.

In God's moral universe, whatever is right is smart, and whatever is wrong is stupid:

The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it. 33 Wounds and disgrace he will find, And his reproach will not be blotted out. (Proverbs 6:32-33 NASB)

To violate God's immutable laws is not too smart.

Believers, we are to honor the marriage covenant by a life of sexual purity, and whoever violates the covenant will be judged.

What about a pastor who commits adultery, and then repents? Do we forgive him and restore him and go on. Does he get a mulligan? Let me say here that in Bob Groves case, the only reason that the adultery is not still going on is because he was caught. It wasn't that he was convicted by God of his heinous sin and repented of it, he got caught and resigned. Then two months later he comes back to the church and apologizes and now returns to being that pastor as if nothing ever happened? This is not golf, he doesn't get a mulligan. What this pastor did was no light matter, he is an adulterer! He not only violated his marriage vows, but committed his adultery with a staff member's wife. He destroyed two families, all for his personal sexual gratification. And he did this while week after week getting in the pulpit and preaching God's word. He got in front of this large, trusting group of people and told them how to live for God all the while committing adultery. How does an adulterer lead the Church of God while living in the flesh?

What about forgiveness? Doesn't God forgive us when we repent of our sin? Yes, the forgiveness of ALL our sins is part of the New Covenant:

"FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE." (Hebrews 8:12 NASB)

And the Scriptures say that we are to forgive those who have sinned against us:

"And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:4 NASB)

Being forgiving is the essence of Christianity, we have been forgiven, and we are to forgive. Chambers told the crowd at Faith Alive, "Forgiveness is not optional." He is right, if Bob Groves has repented, he is to be forgiven. But that doesn't erase the consequences of what he has done. There's an old joke that some people spend all week sowing wild oats, then go to church on Sunday and pray for crop failure. It just doesn't work that way.

Forgiveness doesn't mean the consequences of our actions go away. If you've been robbing banks and then suddenly repent and ask God to forgive you, He will forgive you, but you still have to deal with the consequences left over from your life of crime; you have to face the law.

King David confessed his sin of adultery and murder to God, and God forgave him, but he still suffered as a result of his sin. See 2 Samuel 12:9-15. God forgave David. Nathan said, "The Lord also has put away your sin." But he still had to reap the harvest of his sinful actions.

What about a pastor who commits adultery and then repents? Do we forgive him and restore him and go on. One of the church members of Faith Alive is quoted as saying, "Hopefully, he can come back. I believe that's what God would want." Is that what God wants? How do we know? What does the Word say about Church leadership and immorality?

There are three terms used in the New Testament to describe Church leaders, and none of them are "reverend," they are, "bishop, elder, and pastor." The most widely used New Testament designation for local church leaders is elders.

Elder is the Greek word presbuteros. It is used 70 times in the New Testament. It refers to mature in age. Presbuteros is used 20 times in Acts and the Epistles in reference to leaders in the Church.

Bishop is from the Greek word episkopos. It means guardian or overseer. It is used 5 times in the New Testament, once of Christ (1 Peter 2:25), and four other times to refer to Church leaders. It is plural, bishops.

Pastor--this is from the Greek word poimen. It is only found once in the New Testament in Eph. 4:11. The normal meaning of the word is shepherd, which means: "to protect, feed, care for, and lead."

Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. Textual evidence indicates that all three terms refer to the same office.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; (1 Peter 5:1-2 NASB)

The word "elder" in verse 1 is presbuteros. The word "shepherd" in verse 2 is poimaino. And the word "overseers" in verse 2 is episkopeo. Peter instructs the elders to be good shepherds as they oversee the flock.

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17 NASB)

Please notice that the word elders is plural and church is singular. Each church had several elders.

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 NASB)

Here we see the same three Greek words used to describe those who lead the church. Elder emphasizes who the man is, bishop and pastor speak of what he does.

Every place in the New Testament where the term presbuteros is used, it is plural, except where John and Peter use it to speak of themselves. The norm in the New Testament Church was a plurality of elders. There is no reference in all the New Testament to a one-pastor congregation. Today's tradition of a single pastor leading a church is not the Biblical norm, but is a violation of the Scriptural pattern.

Now let's look at the qualifications of the office of elder, bishop, or pastor. What are we to expect from those who lead the church?

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?); (1 Timothy 3:1-5NASB)

First of all notice that the overseer is to be a man, the husband of one wife, the ruler of his house. This should make it clear that a woman cannot be an pastor/overseer. She is not a man, she cannot be a husband, and she is not to rule her house. The office is restricted to men.

Verse 2 says that the overseer "must be" this is, in the Greek, a particle to emphasize absolute necessity. This is an apostolic imperative; he must be "above reproach," this is the Greek word anepileptos. It means: "not able to be held, or taken hold of." You can't grab him as a criminal. It means beyond accusation, an unmared life by habit or incident. Meaning there is nothing in his life in which you can point to as a moral defect and say, "That man has failed here." It doesn't say sinless, nobody is sinless. The overseer is to be a model for the congregation. Does Bob Groves fit this qualification? Is he "above reproach"? No, he is an adulterer! Does any pastor who has committed adultery fit this qualification? NO! I think that every pastor should be able to say what Paul said in:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:9 NASB)

Paul is saying, "Follow me, do what I do." Paul saw himself as an example, and so should all overseers/pastors. Richard Baxter said, "An unholy pastor is like a stained glass window. He's just a religious figure that keeps the light out."

In the ministry today the Biblical qualifications for church leaders are rarely mentioned, it's all about performance and character doesn't count. But it counts to God. Pastors are to be an example of what God wants us all to be. As Christians, we are to live a holy Godly life:

that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, (Philippians 2:15 NASB)

The literal Greek reads, "In order that you might become blameless and harmless." This is what the Lord wants from all of his children, we are to be blameless and harmless.

The word "blameless" means: "irreproachable, living a life at which no finger of criticism may be pointed." Let's look at another use of this word:

You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; (1 Thessalonians 2:10 NASB)

Paul tells the Thessalonians that he has lived a "blameless" life among them. They could not accuse him of wrongdoing. We are called as believers to live a life of holiness and moral purity that a finger of criticism cannot be pointed at.

We are not only to be blameless, but are also to be innocent. "Innocent"has to do with being pure, unmixed. It was used in the vocabulary of primitive metallurgy to talk about pure gold, pure copper, or any metal that did not have impurities. It is used of wine or milk, which is not mixed with water. When used of people, it implies motives which are unmixed.

We are to live a life without fault and without flaw. In these two ethical terms, we catch a glimpse of God's ideal for His people. In their character and conduct, there should be no feature on which the outsiders would pass a critical verdict.

The third term Paul uses is "above reproach." It means: "faultless, blemishless." As Christians we proclaim the standards of the Word of God. When we don't live up to the very standards we proclaim, we become hypocrites. We must show the world the power of God by our holy lives. Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing."

Let's look at just one of the other qualifications that Paul gives for overseers: "The husband of one wife"--there is no definite article in the Greek here, and thus it could be rendered literally: "a one-wife husband" or "a one-woman man." The adjective "one" receives the emphasis in the phrase inferring that the overseer must have nothing to do with any other woman. All marital sins disqualify a man from an overseership. This is not stressing marital status, but character!

A one-woman man is a man who is totally devoted to the one woman in his life. The phrase implies loyalty and faithfulness. Stated in the positive form, it means that an overseer must have an exclusive relationship with one woman. It is calling for exemplary, irreproachable conduct in marriage.

When you put a man back in ministry who has been involved in adultery, you have just lowered God's standard. Being a church pastor/elder is a high calling because the future of the church rests on its leadership. They're models of what God wants us all to be. Everything rises and falls on leadership. He is no longer a model of virtue.

Adultery is sin. It violates marriage. It wrecks homes; it injures innocent children; it attacks everything that God holds dear! It is unholy!

So to answer the question, What about a pastor who commits adultery and then repents? Do we forgive him and restore him and go on. NO! His is no longer qualified to lead the people of God and must be removed permanently. God judges adultery!

So, is Faith Alive? Well I can't speak about the people in that church, but their pastor sure has a dead faith. According to Scripture, a "living" faith is one that walks in love. Adultery is not love!

The church is to be lead by the living visual power of example. Leaders are to practice spiritual modeling. Scripture exhorts us to follow, imitate those who lead us:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7 NASB)

The writer of Hebrews says that we are to "imitate their faith"--referring to church leaders. The word "imitate" is from the Greek word mimos (a "mimic"), which means: "to imitate or follow." "Faith" is used here in the sense of fidelity or faithfulness:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3 NASB)

These verses teach us that we can walk in a way that is pleasing to God, and the walk it calls for is holiness. The word "sanctification" used in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 is the Greek word hagiasmos, it means: "to make holy, separation from sin." Our holiness pleases God. God is pleased by our holiness, because He is holy, and He wants us to be like Him in our everyday life. And that holiness involves "abstaining form sexual immorality."

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