For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
When you rescue an endangered brother, “consider yourself, lest you be tempted,” said the Apostle. He knew the danger of going into “those places.” (Galatians 6:1) Therefore, we are to “make no occasion for the flesh,” which is the KJV reading of our text.
To “make occasion for the flesh” is to plan to fail. The fellow who has been sober for months keeps a six-pack handy “just in case.” The dieter has lost 50 pounds and is so proud of herself, but “just in case,” she keeps a stash of Twinkies in the back of the pantry. The godly young man who has recommitted his life to Christ rejoices that he is finally free of the lust that drove him so long. But “just in case,” he keeps some DVDs hidden where only he can find them.
Planning to fail. Sound familiar to anyone?
“We are not ignorant of (the devil’s) devices,” said the Apostle. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
There are so many snares out there, set by the enemy to trap the faithful. The object is to put him/her out of business. “To steal, to kill, and to destroy,” said our Lord in John 10:10).
A trap never looks like a trap. It is baited, whether the object is to catch a mouse, snare a grizzly or humiliate a servant of God.
The middle-aged couple sitting before me to be sketched drew up closer. “May we give you a prayer request?” I quit drawing and said, “Sure. What’s up?”
They told me their adult children were serving a church in the area. That congregation is going through a major crisis right now. “Last Sunday the pastor resigned.”
But he didn’t resign to go to another church.
“He and his wife are getting a divorce. It’s about to kill that little church. People are so hurt.”
That’s all I know. I didn’t ask for details. But one thing I know: This crisis in the minister’s home did not happen in a moment. It began slowly and gradually built until it got to the point that one or both of them, the husband and wife, felt the marriage was beyond repair and that ship should be abandoned. Sad doesn’t begin to say it. And the collateral damage–members of the church and extended members of their influence–is great.
Warning: Danger Ahead
I sometimes wonder if I should call the pastor’s attention to some dangerous behavior I have observed in him.
I’m guest preacher in several different churches every month. In many cases, this is the first time the host pastor and I have met. And just as likely, it may be the last time we see each other this side of Glory. And so, when my visit is over and I’m back at home, reflecting on our visit, the times I saw the pastor (or another staff minister) relating to people in a less than healthy way, the question looms large: Should I write him a note or call him? Or is this meddling?
For instance, some of the dangerous behavior I often observe includes…
–I see the pastor being harsh with church members. He snaps at the sound person, barks at his worship leader, or fusses at the custodian. This is unacceptable behavior for which there is no excuse.
–I see a church leader embarrassing a Black employee. Sometimes, they will talk about his Blackness–or some cultural things he does– to me as though he were not standing there. The employee takes it with a smile, but I’m embarrassed for them.
–I see the pastor being sloppy about his worship leadership, indicating that he has developed some bad habits over the years. He gives no thought to anything he does or says in the first half of the service, and thus drones on and on, stumbling over words, forgetting names, and embarrassing those who believe in him. Like a golfer or baseball batter with a bad swing, most likely he doesn’t see it himself and would require some outsider to point it out. Should I be the one?
–I see the pastor flirting with the waitress in the restaurant or with a secretary. This one really frightens me since we hear of so many pastors crossing that line and losing his marriage–and perhaps destroying another one in the process.
–If a pastor or other minister will flirt in the open like this, there is no telling what he will do in the seclusion of his office when alone with a woman who comes to him for counsel, a woman with whom he is working on a project, or a woman who works in the office. The devil knows the pastor would be able to resist with no effort a street-walker or drug addict in his office. But many a pastor has been blind-sided and taken down by temptation when a wonderful woman sat in his office. She is attractive, has a great personality, and enjoys him–and the snare is set. (Please note–and send me no messages!–I am not blaming the woman. The enemy is the devil and he is working on the pastor’s ego, his lustful heart, his undisciplined mind.)
What to do? What should I do?
There are two questions here. What should I do? and what should the minister to in order to protect himself?
— I pray for him. But unless we have the kind of relationship where I can speak plainly to him, I say nothing.
–I will be sensitive to opportunities to caution him about the dangerous path he treads.
–I will write about the problem on my website. (Here!)
What the minister should do…
–He should stay close to the Lord every day of his life. He should pray in advance of the day that God will guide him and protect and use him.
–He should stay close to his wife. That by itself will not guarantee his faithfulness, because the human ego is a monster that craves what it craves no matter what else it has in front of it. We remember the Lord told David how needless it was for him to go after Uriah’s wife: “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these” (2 Samuel 12:8).
–The minister should set up safeguards now, fix that roof while the sun is shining. Decide with the other ministers on the staff (or with his chief advisors) on some policies about counseling, being in a room alone with a woman, and such.
–The minister should protect his private life, his viewing habits, his television watching, and his off-duty reading. He should be careful about touching other women and be extra cautious about his conversation. The sin of adultery comes from within our own hearts, said our Lord (Mathew 15:19).
And one more thing. Let the minister have an older minister ffriend to whom he can confide, who will listen without judgement, and advise without censure. Let him run to that friend at the first sign of danger in his own heart and seek his wisdom and his prayers. The way to start that conversation is simply, “Okay, I haven’t acted on these impulses, however, here’s what’s happening….”
Do it, servant of God! For Jesus’ sake.
Take care of yourself, pastor. (See Acts 20:28) So much depends on you getting this right.