25Keep your eyes looking straight ahead,
Your vision focused straight on where you’re going.
26Examine where you’re putting your foot,
And you’ll be secure in where you’re going.
27Don’t go off to the right or the left.
Turn away from evil. — Proverbs 4:25-27
There have been a number of scandals in the news lately, some of them in politics and some in the church. When scandal comes, those who have to deal with the scandal and those who are not involved have quite a conflicting set of priorities. I’d like to suggest thinking about these a bit, as a way of checking whether we’re keeping in the proper balance.
The first priority I want to mention is revenge. Yes, you read it right: Revenge. (A critical attitude goes hand in hand with revenge.) I mention it first, not because it’s a first priority, but because we need to put a priority on laying that one aside. There is nothing about a situation of scandal in the church, in any community group, or in a government that is aided by the desire for revenge. Often, however, this is the driving force. We lose our sense of perspective. We forget our own weaknesses. We are offended that a person we trusted has fallen and has done something that is, for the moment, unforgivable. If we did not like the person, this can involve our desire for revenge for the ways they have led our church or country that we think are wrong. If you hang on to the motivation of revenge, to making yourself feel better (you hope) because someone has paid, you will find yourself less, not more capable of effectively dealing with the situation.
Second, we want to uphold standards. This one is important. In the church or the country we need to make it clear that certain behavior is wrong. That means something has to be done about the scandalous action that has taken place. Some may see this as contradicting my first point, but I don’t think so. In fact, I think you will find it hard to take action that actually upholds moral standards if your actual motivation is revenge. Get rid of the bitterness, resentment, and the feeling of betrayal, so you can see clearly how best to uphold the standards.
Third, we want to make healing possible for many people who feel betrayed with the loss of trust. People have trusted the fallen leader and looked up to him or her. So When we deal with the situation, we have to consider the impact on the people who feel pain, a type of grief. We can’t count on everyone coming quickly to forgiveness when they are feeling so much pain.
Fourth, we think of redemption. This is especially for Christians. In politics I think in most cases someone involved in a scandal needs to find some other place in which to serve. We cannot expect a society that is diverse in beliefs to truly judge redemption. It could happen, but don’t count on it. In the church, however, we are called to think of redemption. This doesn’t mean that we instantly restore a person involved in scandal to their place of leadership. It does mean that we will listen for God’s leading on ways in which that person, if repentant, can serve.
Now I said all of that so that you know that I understand that there are many issues involved here. But there’s something that is easy for us to forget. You see, very few scandals involve people doing things that they didn’t believe and teach were wrong. In fact, these events are most scandalous when the person involved was vocal about how wrong a certain type of behavior was, and then they are caught in it themselves.
We often almost gloat at how this other person got caught. Underlying that gloating is the idea that we are immune; that we ourselves will not get caught by the same temptation. The devil is going to use all of the things I mentionedâ€”our desire for revenge, upholding standards, helping hurt people, and even redeeming the wrongdoer–to try to keep us from remembering our own weakness.
And that leads to our text today, and the most important response we can have to scandal. When something bad happens, examine your own life. Is there anything in the way you behave that could cause you to fall in a similar way? Is there anything that could cause you to fall in some other way? Are you living a life that is transparent to those around you?
Our text gives the advice. Keep away from evil. Don’t take one step in that direction! And there’s some advice that is even more important. Look straight ahead at where you are going. Many times I’ve had someone come to me to ask about whether some activity was right or wrong. Often the answer is maybeâ€”it depends on the proportions, the purpose, and so on. But often the line is extremely clear for everyone. In either case, you are protected by the advice of Proverbs 4:25â€”keep your eyes on where you are going.
Don’t ask, â€œIs it wrong to _____?â€ Ask, â€œIs this the right way, the best way for me to behave?â€ Keep your eye on the ideal, and you’ll do much better avoiding the wrong.