THE SNARE OF ADULTERY
By Ray Mossholder
“I started my church with only a handful of people. When we reached the 2,000 mark, I knew I was a great pastor. Everyone important came to my church. My sermons thrilled them all. Women came to my office telling me I was the most anointed man they’d ever heard. Many were there just to flirt. The immorality began almost naturally.”
“My wife refused to have sex with me. She made every excuse in the book. Then I counseled a woman who said her husband was avoiding her sexually. We just reached out to each other.”
“I was serving God, and yet I was so angry with Him. Every pastor I knew seemed to be gathering big crowds, compared to my few. I guess I just had the affair to feed my emptiness.”
“I was away at a conference and in a hotel room all alone. Sitting on top of the TV was a sign advertising an X-rated movie. I’d never seen one. I knew I shouldn’t, but I watched it” Less than a week later I was in bed with one of the single women from my congregation, doing everything I’d seen.”
“The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it.”
The first four quotes are from the mouths of men who Are-or were-leaders in their respective churches. The fifth is from the mouth of God(Prov. 6:32, NASB).
What is happening to leaders in the church today? In the fall of 1992, Leadership magazine surveyed 800 pastors from across the country. Nearly half-46 percent-reported they were having sexual problems. Nearly one in five confessed they had taken part in “inappropriate sexual contact” (i.e., passionate kissing, fondling, mutual masturbation, etc.) with someone other than their spouse. Nearly one in ten confessed they’d had sexual intercourse with someone outside of marriage.
“Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals, and his feet not be scorched? So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife. Whoever touches her will not go unpunished” (Prov. 6:27-29).
Moral failure is always painful and costly. It is particularly grievous when it involves church leaders because they hurt not only themselves and their families, but the congregations who look to them for spiritual leadership-not to mention the damage done to the reputation of the kingdom of God before unbelievers.
As a minister devoted to building strong marriages in the church, I have heard more than my share of stories about pastors caught in various traps of sexual immorality. As I travel the country teaching seminars on building strong marriages, I am sometimes called into churches where I have the privilege to sit with a morally fallen leader, his wife and the church elders-usually to participate in a miracle. In the vast majority of cases, I’ve seen God bring total restoration to both the marriage and the ministry.
ANATOMY OF A FALL
But while God’ s grace is always available to fallen leaders, prevention is significantly better than the cure. So that they can walk in wisdom and purity of mind and heart, pastors and church leaders need to be aware of the traps that can so easily beset them.
Why do Christian leaders morally fall? I’ve kept a running list of the most significant traps on the road to failure:
1. Power and pride. It has been said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But as Joseph proved in Genesis: not necessarily. Many pastors and ministry leaders have stood strong in the face of temptation. It is only when pride and power join together in the same foolish heart that the heart becomes corrupted. When church leaders begin to believe their own press clippings, they’re in trouble.
“A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor” (Prov. 29:23).
Lucifer must have felt heaven couldn’t do without him. Isaiah gives us his very words: “But you said in your heart, `I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly'” (Is. 14-:13). What a large “church” he must have believed he was building!
Many leaders who’ve discovered that the Lord speaks, sings, prophesies or heals through them- especially those who draw larger and larger crowds with greater and greater results-come to believe they are God’s special messengers and are immune to the laws of God that apply to everyone. As God’s “favorites,” they believe God “winks” at their indiscretions. The exhilaration and awesomeness of God’s power flowing through a man or woman can quickly become corrupted in the fleshly exhibitionism of a
“Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David…stayed at Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 11:1). David’s attitude before his adulterous affair with Bathsheba was, “I’m the man in power. I can do anything I want. I don’t have to account to anyone for my actions.” That same attitude has caused many a pastor to fall into immorality. Remember, Christian leaders with no accountability often turn out to be no accounts!
2. Garbage in, garbage out. That’s computer talk. Computer programmers know that if you put “garbage” into a computer, the printout will be “garbage,” too. The same holds true for the human mind.
Paul encouraged believers to “bring every thought into captivity”(see 2 Cor. 10:5). But that’s an impossibility for those who allow a
constant barrage of immoral images and verbal suggestions to be piped into their minds. Movies, television, books, magazines and music all preach their own messages. What you see or hear is what you get.
I’ve been dumbfounded by supposedly spiritually mature Christian leaders (or their spouses) who’ve said, “I can’t understand why I’ve been so full of lust. Why did I have that affair?” Yet further questioning has revealed that they’ve been feeding themselves a steady diet of R-or X-rated movies, soap operas, pornographic books and magazines, and song lyrics preaching that it’s OK to follow their sexual impulses.
Scripture tells us that without “the helmet of salvation”-which covers the ears as well as the eyes-we won’t “stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (see Eph. 6: 10-ll,l7). Preachers who preach on spiritual warfare but won’t take authority over that little knob on their television set can’t be serious!
3. Earthbound senses. “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2, NASB).
Too many pastors prefer pursuing “church growth” to their own “life growth.” But prayer and Bible study aren’t just great topics to preach about. They are absolute essentials to the Christian life-including the lives of leaders.
So many preachers can preach better than they can live! Job gave the clearest answer as to how he kept himself from sexual immorality. He said, “I have given my eyes to the Lord; why then should I look with lust at a girl or woman?” (see Job 31:1). Leaders need to set their minds on “things above” and live accordingly.
4. Grace that becomes disgrace. John Calvin said that if a person is saved, he or she will act saved. But in too many of today’s churches, Calvin’s message has been changed. Many now preach that if people are Christians, they can act any way they want to act.
Samson lived in a day like ours when everyone did what was right in their own eyes (see Judg. 21:25). We tend to picture Samson with an Arnold Schwarzenegger body. But he may have looked like a wimp. After all, Delilah spent weeks trying to find out the secret of his strength. Would she have wondered about it if he possessed massive biceps? Finally, this powerfully immoral man got a haircut, and all his power from God was gone. Yet “he did not know that the Lord had departed from him” (Judg. 16:20b,
I have wept for pastors who didn’t know they had turned “grace” into “disgrace.” All their strength from God was gone. But because of their national or even international reputations, or because of the crowds that kept coming to their churches, they assumed nothing had changed. As Jesus said to the church in Sardis, “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead!” (see Rev. 3:1).
These are dangerous days. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4, NASB). As Josh McDowell explains, “Grace is not the license to do what you want, but the ability to do what you ought.” Any theology not including this truth is not the truth.
5. Time bandits. Paul described a godly leader this way: “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1 Tim. 3:4). After all, he writes, “If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5).
I know a pastor who wrote an honest confession to his congregation leading them to believe he had had an affair with a woman. But in the last paragraph he named his mistress: his church!
Many a well-meaning pastor is caught up in the tyranny of the urgent. Everything seems necessary and even vital. He must work hard on his sermon, counsel into the midnight hours, hassle with the staff, oversee a building program, have tea in the home of the leading donors, attend conferences, read books, entertain evangelists, teach special classes, etc. Little time is left for anything else in his life-including his family.
Perhaps because his wife is hurting, she seems only to nag. So he trades time with her for hours in front of the television set or the computer. His children see him full of inexhaustible fire in the pulpit and pooped out at home.
A bitter husband or wife is an easy mark for Satan-pastoral family or not. For such couples, a few hours in the Bible to prepare the next message and a regimented time of mumbled prayer won’t be enough to erase the temptations spewed out by the movie channels during the week.
Obedience, not lip service, to God’s Word is the only thing that will stop the world’s magnetic pull against their souls. The couple needs to wage spiritual warfare against the devil himself (see James 4:7-8). The unblushing explicit sexual teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 concludes, and I paraphrase: “You really want to stop Satan from tempting your spouse with immorality? Your bodies belong to each other. Stop depriving one another. Come together again.” And again! And again! And again!
Couples in leadership must not let “time bandits” keep them apart.
6. The mid-life crisis. The so-called “mid-life crisis” is a totally unnecessary experience. It only occurs in those who haven’t really given every bit of themselves to Christ before they reach a certain age. But somewhere between 35 and 50, lukewarm Christians (which tragically includes many church leaders) find themselves resigning from God’s army.
Immorality, either in fact or fantasy, unchristian responses, quick anger over life’s every circumstance and a real attempt to quit on God are the everyday choices made by those in the mid-life crisis. I can speak from horrible experience on this subject. I’ve been there! When I turned 43 my body, my job, my wife and my God all suddenly seemed totally insufficient to meet my needs. The mirror reflected some old man I didn’t know. Ministry seemed pointless, going nowhere. My wife turned tiresome. God seemed to have barred heaven. My prayers hit His “dead letter” office.
My unreasonable, blind stupidity seemed terribly “logical” to me at the time. It is amazing that I didn’t get a divorce and just walk away from everything.
How did I make it through my mid-life crisis? Not by faith-or at least not my own! I made it through with my wife’s love and prayers and the love and prayers of faithful Christian pastors and friends who wouldn’t let me go.
There can be light at the end of this dark time-tunnel! But it is not necessary to go through it at all. Christians who know who they are in Christ by the time they’re 35 and continue to grow in Him probably will never experience a mid-life crisis. The uncommitted, on the other hand,most likely will. Any parts of our lives that aren’t committed fully to Christ will ultimately fester and cause us to suffer a mid-life crisis.
Burnout. Burnout is another unnecessary experience-the curse of over-achievers and those who strive to please God through works. Reputation-builders, moneylovers, those who ambitiously seek to achieve far beyond the Lord’s call and anointing, those who turn Christianity into rigid legalism-all have to learn the hard way: “The flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63, NASB).
Many of the causes and symptoms of the mid-life crisis are also obvious in burnout. But like the mid-life crisis, burnout can be avoided.
Sometimes the symptoms of burnout are a sign of a physical problem. A checkup and healing will end that. Otherwise, that sense of troubling in our spirits means one thing: pray (James 1:5-7). We must check that the armor of God is intact in our lives (Eph. 6:14-18) and do everything we can to follow the Lord’s directions. Then, “having done these things,” Paul says, we must “stand” (Eph. 6:13). Stand simply means “rest in God.” We shouldn’t try to swim against the current. While we’re waiting for God to come through, we just put our hands behind ours heads and float in Him!
The Great Physician invites, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We must never feel guilty when we discover His “yoke is easy” and His “load is light” (Matt. 11:30). Leaders approaching burnout have yet to discover this good news!
8. Fatal attraction. The depth of our Christian commitment is gauged easily by what we’d do if we knew we’d never be found out. Paul warns, “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14b). Whenever we give our flesh “room” to be tempted, we can expect it to cost us dearly.
The vulnerability of a minister counseling a woman alone in a room with the door closed may give Satan all the foothold he needs. A casual luncheon or a drive somewhere alone with such a woman has proved fatal to the flesh of many a pastor.
Real love is never blind. Lust is, I have been staggered to meet many of the women who have been seduced or who have seduced a church leader. Often they’ve appeared heavier, older and far less attractive than the pastor’s wife.
Of course, there are very stunning seductresses too. A church leader may seek to “recover his youth” with such a girl or woman. That’s why Paul warned, “Flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
If a pastor senses that a secretary is too close or some member of the staff is sexually attractive, that is the moment the pastor must replace that secretary or staff member. When anyone other than our spouse enters our romantic daydreams, it is time to wake up and run (1 Cor. 6:18-20)!
THE CHALLENGE TO SURRENDER
The moral failure of a church leader is never accomplished in a single step. Satan lays the trap-and we, by our own susceptibilities, lack of commitment or plain foolishness walk into it headfirst. We could avoid the fall if we could just recognize the trap in time-and be honest with ourselves and God when we first begin to get off-track.
No true leader, of course, wants to fall and bring disgrace on himself, his family, his church and the kingdom. That is why I make this challenge now: Carefully consider how these eight traps might apply to you. Pray about each one. Be honest with God-and, if you are already trapped or think that you could be, be honest about the situation with a godly and trusted counselor. Do whatever it takes to remove the stumbling block and to get right with God and your family.
The Word of God gives clear direction: Get Christian counsel. Break free of the sin. Remember, Christ is the only one who is able to keep you from stumbling and make you able to stand in the presence of His glory blameless and with great joy (see Jude 24).
Surrender to Him-and avoid the adultery trap.
(The above information was published by MINISTRIES TODAY, Nov/Dec 1993)
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