Why is immorality so hard to resist? Why does a man with so much to lose risk an affair? Does lack of romance in marriage drive a man to another woman? Is it an issue of power and control? Is it the challenge of conquering the for bidden? In any case, what can we do when the beast within us wants to jump the fence?
In his book Hedges Jerry B. Jenkins says, "One of the major causes of marital breakups in the Christian community is the lack of protective hedges that spouses should plant around their marriages, their heads, their hearts, their eyes, and their hands." He quotes evangelist Robert M. Abbot: "None of us plans to have moral accidents, but we must also plan not to! [We] must learn to keep plenty of space between us and sinful acts, so we can start braking soon enough to stop before it is too late."1
Here are some principles that can help us apply the brakes to temptation and lust.
Realize our vulnerability
Public people attract public. Because ministers are so visible, the congregation gets to know them and their spouses personally. Some would fantasize about their pastors even as they are preaching. Some would even pursue a calculated relationship with pastors or their spouses. Pastors must be aware of their vulnerability, and not encourage any close attachment.
Judi, a pastor's wife, felt that a man in the congregation was being flirtatious with her. One day when he complimented her appearance, she turned to her husband and said, "Did you hear that? Barry likes my outfit." Involving her husband made Barry aware that she interpreted his remark as casual and harmless, whether he intended it that way or not.
No one is immune from attraction to someone else. It is dangerous to feel exempt from sexual sin, or to deny that it could happen to you. Satisfaction in marriage is a deterrent, yes, but that alone is not enough. We need to cultivate a healthy fear that compromise in morality will sabotage our ministry.
The Bible does not admonish us to control lust; instead it commands us to "flee also youthful lusts" (2 Tim. 2:22). The word "flee" means run like a fugitive. Lust is like a house fire. If we don't get out in the first minute, we are going to get hurt. The first time we feel attracted to someone or feel stimulated by someone emotionally or physically, that's the time to flee.
Help our spouses stay above reproach
Satan targets ministers and their spouses. We must pray for each other, and trust each other not giving our spouse any reason for jealousy or suspicion. The only safe flirting we may do is with the person we are married to.
When I am with another woman, I try not to say or do anything I would not do if my wife were present. Occasionally my wife and I discuss women she thinks I need to be careful around, and I alert her to men I wouldn't trust.
Predetermine what we will do
The point is simple: be like Joseph. Eighty-five percent of Christian leaders who have fallen say that the affair occurred with someone they were counseling. Pastors must know what to do if a counseling situation becomes uncomfortable.
One pastor limits his counseling of women to three sessions. By then he can determine the nature of the problem and recommend other women who can help her.
Another pastor I know never counsels a woman alone. He asks her to bring a friend who knows about her problems and is trying to help. Or he asks if his wife or secretary can sit in. Billy Graham once said that he made a covenant with God when he began his ministry that he' d never be alone in a car with any woman, including his secretary.
Confess persistent temptations to someone
James tells us when lust is conceived, it gives birth to sin (James 1:15). Lust thrives in an environment of secrecy. Sometimes we cannot prevent the conception, but we can certainly refuse to let it gestate in secret. We can abort lustful thought, habits, and temptations by getting them out in the open.
In an article in Leadership, "The War Within," the author poignantly describes his battle with pornography. After 10 agonizing years, he finally began to sense victory was possible. His first step was admitting his problem to a trusted Christian peer. Eventually he also con fessed to his wife, who had the grace to forgive, and helped him shoulder the problem.2
Confession cleanses the soul. It holds us accountable. After confessing to God, talk the problem over with someone you can trust. Talking it over defuses lust. James tells us to "confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16, RSV). Like all sins, lust is self-deceptive. Talking about our temptations helps us see them objectively and deal with them decisively.
Early in our ministry I learned the value of openness with my wife. At first she was not secure enough to under stand my vulnerability and weaknesses.
Confession of my feelings hurt her, arousing jealousy and blame. However when she experienced sexual temptation, she discovered that admitting the problem helped her face it. We agreed that we could speak freely to each other of our problems and thus minister to each other. If a spouse is unwilling to hear your confessions, confide in a close friend who will pray for and with you.
Fast-forward to the consequences
Lust promises more than it can deliver. Mental and physical affairs are exciting for a season, but their end results are devastating. Jerry Jenkins says, "Once that first step has been taken down the road of self-deceit and rationalization, there is no turning back. The key is preventive maintenance." 3 Bob, a minister, developed a growing friendship with his secretary. Both had high moral standards and good marriages, so they assumed their conversations were harmless, even after they started lunching together. Soon they were talking at a deeper level, exchanging compliments and sharing intimacies.
Bob made his coworker feel loved and appreciated. She made him feel good about himself. Inevitably he compared the secretary, whose faults he rarely saw, with his wife, and his marriage bore the impact.
Eventually Bob realized he was involved in an emotional affair. He began to consider the price he would pay in his marriage and family life, his career, and his own integrity if he did not end the relationship. After explaining everything to his wife they both decided he should seek a new parish.
Bob still struggles with memories of the other woman and the feelings of significance she provided, but he tries to resist such thoughts, not feast on them.
We as pastors are vulnerable to the world, Satan, and our own flesh. Scripture exhorts us to overcome the world, resist Satan, and put off the sins of the flesh. Lust is a beast that can devour us unless we tame it and keep it under check.
1 Jerry B. Jenkins, Hedges: Loving Your Marriage
Enough to Protect It (Brentwood, Tenn.:
Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1989), pp. 1, 82.
2 Name withheld, "The War Within," Leadership
13, No. 4 (Fall 1992): 106-109.
3 Jenkins, p. 64.