Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Aggravations of Sin
So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 1 Kings 11:9NKJV
Question 151 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?” The first part of the answer says, “Sins receive their aggravations, 1. From the persons offending: if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.” Last time we saw Scripture’s teaching that sin varies in its degrees of wickedness. This morning we consider how the evil of a sin is increased or decreased depending upon the particular person who commits it.
“To whom much is given much is required.” Jesus taught this principle in Luke 12:47-48 when contrasting two slaves who were both disobedient; but one of them knew his master’s will, the other did not. The one who knew would be more severely punished. So it is with all occurrences of transgression. The more we know the greater our guilt if we disregard that knowledge. This is what the first part of the Catechism’s answer refers to when it speaks of offenders who are of “riper age,” and “greater experience or grace.” I remember on multiple occasions my father saying to me, “You know better than that,” or “Act your age.” The older we get, the more experience we have, the more people expect us to be responsible and do the right thing. When a small child takes something that he should not have and naively hides it behind his back, it is cute and he is gently corrected because we realize he has not learned that lesson yet. However, for a teenager to do something similar is disgraceful and his punishment, for his own sake, needs to be stern.
Likewise, when a famous man or woman does evil, especially if they have achieved great things, been given a public trust, or are known for certain magnanimous acts or altruistic endeavors, the scandal is all the more severe. Thus, the alleged or in some cases admitted sexual transgressions of a Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods, or former President Bill Clinton are so shocking and contemptible. We rightly expect more from those who have such advantages of talent, position, and influence. I remember when former NBA star Charles Barkley tried to excuse some bad behavior and escape his responsibility by saying, “I’m no role model.” Saying it does not make it so. If you are a professional athlete, actor, musician, or public official, by definition you are a role model. The recent immorality of Bruce Jenner is all the more shameful and tragic precisely because he was an Olympic hero, exemplifying American excellence during the height of the Cold War.
This principle applies to Christians as well. As believers we have the name of Christ placed upon us. We have been adopted by the Father of glory and righteousness. We claim and profess to live for God. Therefore, when we sin it is all the more egregious than when an unbeliever does wrong. This is especially true of those who are well-known or in positions of leadership in the church. The reputation of Christianity still bears the scars of the televangelist scandals of the 80’s and 90’s, or the molesting priests of the 2000’s. People rightly expect professional “men of God” to be morally upright, to be examples to the rest of us. So that when they fall their fall is all the more scandalous and devastating in that their example affects so many more people than merely themselves. The Scripture at the head of this article is a sober reminder of this kind of aggravation to sin. Solomon was a member of the covenant community. He was supernaturally appointed by God to be David’s successor: the divinely chosen and gifted king over the people of God. God spoke to Solomon. And as our text intentionally stresses, God appeared to Solomon twice. For the ordinary person to turn from God to idols is a great evil. For Solomon to do it is altogether outrageous, precisely because of his eminent profession, gifts, place, and office. May God grant that you and I, who have received so much, would ever more recoil in horror at the thought of the great evil we can cause in the pursuit of sin, so that fearing God, we would turn from every false way.