I served for many years on the Credentials Committee of a presbytery in the Presbyterian Church in America. That committee was responsible for examining all men who sought to be licensed or ordained as Teaching Elders (Pastors) or who were transferring their ordination. Prior to meeting with the committee, those seeking ordination had to submit an exegetical paper showing their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, a theological paper, and take an extensive written exam that covered Bible Content, Theology, Sacraments, Church History, History of the PCA and the Book of Church Order. Once the papers and the exam had been reviewed by the members of the committee they meet with us for the oral section of the process. The exams were thorough and required exhaustive preparation. Once approved by the committee the candidate would stand before presbytery for additional questioning and preach a sermon.
As these men came before our committee they often forgot about the first and most important area of examination which is “acquaintance with experiential religion, especially his character and family management" (BCO 21). I would generally start with a question that went something like this, “What sin scares you the most?” Generally the reply would be directed toward others or the culture in general. Then I would clarify and direct it to their personal lives with something like, “Personally, if there was sin that could take you out of the ministry, what would it be?” Obviously, this is a tough question to answer honestly before a committee of men who are holding your ministerial future, but I was surprised by how many could not identify one, or if they did, it was most commonly pride.
Now don’t misunderstand me here. Pride is a deadly cancer for a minister of the Gospel, but if that disqualified one from the ministry, there would be very few pastors! In over twenty seven years in ministry I have never seen a minister removed from his pulpit for pride! I know of one who had to step down for preaching verbatim Tim Keller sermons and claiming them as his own, but I cannot count the number of men I have seen go down due to some form of sexual sin. And that reality should be sobering and cause each one of us to be diligent in our war against it!
There is no shortage of material available on sexual purity. Sadly, most is simplistic, formulaic and moralistic, which means it doesn't work! Here are some thoughts on what has been helpful to me personally.
I. Worship: I cannot emphasize enough how important personal worship is to living in sexual purity. Daily time with the Father in His Word and prayer simply cannot be neglected. Sex is probably the biggest idol in our culture today and there are very few places where we can go to escape the constant barrage of images and promises. This daily worship is not a legalist ritual, but a time when we are reminded and renewed in the grace that has been poured out on us through Jesus Christ. Daily empowering of the Gospel reminds us of the unconditional love of the Father, and the promise of grace to resist temptation. Why don’t you try including these areas in your daily worship?
A. Confess your sin. I would recommend reading Psalm 51 a lot, even daily, as it is a confession with a promise of pardoning grace. It reminds Who our sin is really against and what we really deserve. It asks for a “pure heart” and “steadfast spirit” both necessary for sexual purity.
B. Offer up a sacrifice of Praise. Take time to reflect on what God has done for you and the many blessings in your life. This starts with the great news of the Gospel and if you are married that includes your wife and children. Be grateful for the little things! A grateful heart is a powerful tool against the sexual temptation as most sexual sin is rooted in the belief that we deserve more, or something better than we have.
C. Include the Lord’s Prayer. Remember this is a model of prayer that has been given to us by Jesus Christ. In dealing with sexual purity it includes asking for Grace against temptation – “lead us not into temptation,” and protection from the schemes of the evil one – “deliver us from evil.” Our fight for sexual purity is not simply a “flesh and blood” but a spiritual one!
II. Knowledge: Naivete and arrogance are extremely dangerous! It is crucial that are well aware of your strengths and weakness. Sexual sin is too deadly to act like you don’t struggle or ignore what is going on in your mind! Therefore as we strive for sexual purity we must know ourselves, others and the consequences of what may happen if we fall.
A. Yourself – We were created as sexual beings and therefore no one is above sexual temptation. Be keenly aware of your feelings and attractions that you may have.
1. What happens when you are bored, or don’t feel appreciated? Where do you go to escape? This not only can lead to pornography, but the trap of falling for someone who affirms and complements you.
2. When you see or meet with someone is there any sense of excitement, anticipation or sexual stimulation? Be honest with yourself! What impact did that person have on you? Are you looking forward to seeing them again? Why?
3. What are fantasying about? We don’t need to be looking at an image to lust. Do you think what it would be like to be married to someone else? Don’t go there!
4. Several weeks ago, I gave you a Personal Life Diagnostics Filter which included a “Sexual Filter,” I think it is helpful to include them here.
- How (and with whom) do you process your sexual issues as a pastor?
- How do you deal with the temptation of internet pornography?
- How do your issues with lust hinder your ministry, leadership at home and at church?
B. Others – God has called you to be leaders in a world of sexual brokenness and confusion. As spiritual leader who cares about people you will face sexual advances like never before. It doesn’t matter what you look like, but as a man who seek to love God and his family well, people will be drawn to you and will often act out sexually. Many of these advances are overt or buried under “churchianity” nevertheless they are still there. At the risk of being simplistic, here are some people you need to be aware of.
1. The Abused – The number of people who have been sexually abused is astronomical and growing. Often those who have been abused don’t know how to respond to someone other than sexually. Therefore they will respond to you that way.
2. The Confused – Often in counseling situations people will be drawn to you simply because you care and are listening to them. When they feel like they have been heard, and someone cares about their struggles, they will be fall in love with you and act out sexually.
3. The Lonely – Along the same line there are many who are simply lonely and when given attention come alive emotionally. Maybe for the first time in their lives! This again can lead to unhealthy affections.
4. The Manipulator – Beware of those who use their sexuality as tool! They can use it simply to get what they want in the church or simply be in the inner circle. Know how to identify a Borderline Personality as they are often “Pastor Busters” who seduce a pastor and then quickly tell everyone what they have done. Don’t fall for flattery!
C. The consequences – Never forget that there are consequences to a fall! Adulty is not harmless, and odds are, you will be found out! Here are some consequences to keep in mind:
1. Your ministry role will be lost if not diminished.
2. All you preached and taught will be viewed as worthless.
3. It destroys marriages and families. Even if you don’t get caught, an affair removes you spiritually from you home.
4. It is a betrayal to your spouse that is destructive. It is humiliating and a chaotic blow that they may never heal from! It threatens both their physical and mental health.
5. It risks the happiness and security of your children.
6. You will lose friends.
7. You damage relationship with extended family members.
8. It can be financially devastating!
III. Lifestyle: Not only should we be committed worshippers who know the dangers of sexual impurity, but we should put patterns in our lives that guard against falling into sin. Beyond the need to have regular times of personal worship and at the risk of sounding legalistic, and sexist, here are some suggestions:
A. Someone once identified pornography this way, “its pornography if you know you shouldn't be looking at it.” Don’t justify what you look at or watch whether it be entertainment or art.
B. Don’t surf the internet when you are tired, lonely, bored or discouraged. You are almost guaranteed to go where you shouldn't.
C. If you are married pursue your spouse! Don’t compare them to others or demand that they serve you! See them as God’s gift to you and love them well!
D. Don’t live in isolation! God made you for community! Surround yourself with friends who know you well enough to see when you are sinning and care enough to confront.
E. Keep a close watch on your heart. Ask the question that if that persons spouse had been present would you have acted any differently.
F. Your best friends should not be someone of the opposite sex. Though a relationship may be platonic, it doesn't mean it is good or healthy. Remember affairs of the heart can be just as deadly as adultery!
G. Don’t confide the struggles in your marriage with a person of the opposite sex.
H. Don’t spend long periods of time alone with a member of the opposite sex. That includes riding in a car, a meal, coffee, exercising.
I. Be careful with physical touch. I grew up a “hugger” but learned to be very cautious with that as it can often mis-communicate.