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Restoration… in time?

Delilah lulled Samson to sleep with his head in her lap, and she called in a man to shave off his hair, making his capture certain. And his strength left him… So the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and made to grind grain in the prison. But before long his hair began to grow back. — Judges 16:1921-22

In the 1980s, a number of highly visible and influential televangelists experienced public moral failures. The effects of this tragic demise of spiritual leadership will likely reverberate for decades. For when a Christian leader experiences moral failure, the fallout is immeasurable. The leader is shamed, his family is dismayed, his followers are confused, his enemies are delighted, and (most importantly) the cause of Christ is set back. So great are the ramifications that the credibility of the Christian cause is called into question. Accordingly, great care is needed if the offending parties are to be treated appropriately.

Herein lies an apparent problem. Some people, quoting Paul, say, “If another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1). From that point of view, the fallen leader should promptly be restored to leadership, shouldn’t he? The issue Paul is talking about here, however, is fellowship—not leadership. Certainly a fallen brother should be helped to come to terms with his sin, repent, and seek restoration. But it is a completely different question whether or not the fallen leader should be restored to leadership.

If the impression is given that the leader “got away with it,” what does this say to the confused followers who have been deceived and disillusioned? How can onlookers take the moral pronouncements of the church seriously if leaders who defy them are treated with kid gloves when discovered? A safe rule of thumb should be this: it is always appropriate to take steps to restore a fallen brother to fellowship, but it does not follow that a disqualified leader should be restored to leadership.

The balance can probably be found in the story of Samson. After his crushing defeat and fall, Samson was blinded, imprisoned, chained, and humiliated. No doubt he was given ample opportunity to contemplate his actions, to evaluate his behavior, and to come to conclusions about the ways in which he had abused his calling and failed in his God-appointed task. We aren’t told about his heart’s attitude at this time, but subsequent events hint that he probably came to a point of repentance and desired to be restored to his former power and glory. But it would take time.

There is a subtle but powerful statement in the story, however. We are told, “Before long his hair began to grow back” (Judges 16:22). He was being given a chance to show, by allowing his hair to grow, that he was renewing his vows.

It takes time for a Nazirite’s hair to grow. And the restoration of a fallen leader is not the work of a moment. But handled properly, a fallen brother can be restored. In some instances, a failed leader can even be reinstated—but not quickly. It takes time.

For further study: Judges 16:4-22

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.