Have you ever noticed that every time the Jews needed a person of poor character in the Bible, they always knew exactly where to find one?
So many of the stories we read of the saints being condemned feature somewhere a person of poor character, some guy that the Jews found and had him make up stories about the righteous man so that he could be convicted of whatever crime (the crime was usually nothing more than contradicting one of the religious elite). The Jews can always find some guy willing to lie about someone else, can always get a guy to say whatever they need him to say, even though he knows it isn't true.
And these are not buffoons they are finding. These are not simple men. The men who come forward with made-up stories to condemn the righteous are men who seem well-versed in Scripture. They always have a very specific ritual allegation against someone, always know what to say to demonstrate that the guy has broken the teachings of the Temple. These are smart men of poor character, educated men of poor character. These are guys who know what they're talking about, even when they're making it up as they go along.
It makes you wonder how much fellowship the Jews maintained with these persons. It seems like maybe a silly question, but it's very important. Were these men who were part of the assembly? Were they men who were once part of the assembly but had been cast out? Were they men who were insecure and desperate to be part of the assembly, so would do whatever they were asked to do? Where did their learnedness come from? Were the Pharisees teaching them, but also excluding them at the same time? Was there any legitimate hope that they would eventually learn so much that they would become men not of poor character, or was it important for the Pharisees to maintain a pool of poor characters in order to advance their agenda as necessary?
There's just such a slim possibility that these men of poor character were men from outside of the assembly of the Jews that we have to ask whether their fellowship was meaningful or whether it was just for show.
There are persons in our own assemblies that we have to ask the same about.
There are persons who are just taxing for us to be around, whether it's because they are always in need of something or because they are always pushing the envelope or whether because they are always asking questions. Every church has them, and every church embraces or tolerates them to some degree. The question we have to ask ourselves is what it is that we expect out of their presence, what honest expectations we have for them in our assembly.
These are not usually dumb persons; they pay attention, and they pick up on the lessons that we teach. They know the Bible, even if they aren't living it. They understand wisdom, even if they aren't practicing it. To hear them speak, you'd think the church was an integral part of their lives, but to watch them live, you wonder how seriously they're really taking it. They talk a good game, but there's a disconnect between what they know and how they live. (And this is all of us, really.)
The question we have to ask ourselves about these persons isn't an easy one, but it's important. What are our honest expectations for them? Do we believe they are going to change the way they live and act? Do we think God can change their hearts? Do we expect revolution and redemption and re-creation in their lives? Or are we keeping them around because we are using them to say something about who we are? Are we using them to cement our own authority or generosity or goodwill? When we need someone to hold up to affirm what kind of church that we are, is that when we turn to these persons that we tolerate or even embrace, but haven't really changed? Haven't really impacted?
Do we keep the poor among us to show our generosity? Do we keep the learning among us to show our wisdom? Do we keep the needy among us to show our provision? Do we put up with poor characters in our fellowship because some day, we might need them to help us prove a point? Do we keep them around for no other reason than that we plan on using them for our own ends?
The truth in far too many fellowships is...yes. We have persons among us who never grow, who never change, who never mature, who never develop, who never move past the moment where we first found them, no matter how much we teach them, help them, love them, encourage them. We have persons among us for whom we have no real hope that they will ever change, persons we don't even push any more. Persons we don't even encourage any more. Persons we have so little expectations of that they're easy even to forget, until we need to use them for something, usually to show who we are.
It's strange, I think, to read the Scriptures and to see how easy it is for the Jews to find learned men of poor character any time they need them. And yet, I cannot help but wonder about those in our own fellowships.