|THE TOUGHEST LESSON: GOD FORGIVES AND FORGETS, BUT THE WORLD DOES NOT|
I lost a friend recently.
Not to death. Not by choice. I
lost my friend because of moral failure. Like myself, he is an evangelist
and we have preached together in church conferences for years.
Together we have wept, laughed, prayed, and shared good times and
When a mutual friend told me
what happened, I refused to believe him. It was impossible—not
just the adultery, but
adultery with the daughter of one of his closest friends. The daughter
that his friend had asked him to counsel while she was going through a
divorce. This adultery had been on going for over a year.
He seemed repentant and begged
forgiveness. We even spoke of restoration. I naturally assumed he would
cancel his preaching engagements and voluntarily place himself under an
accountability group for at least two years.
He agreed. Later I learned he
had not canceled his meetings. As a matter of fact we were scheduled to
share the platform for a conference in
When I learned of his plans to
preach at that conference, I explained to him and the conference leaders
that I would not participate under the circumstances.
That is when I lost my friend.
Did I do the right thing?
I think I did.
Was I unreasonable?
I don’t think so.
You see, my friend had become the issue; the scandal attached to
his name and ministry had suddenly become the focal point, not Christ.
Before people could make a decision about Christ, they had to make a
decision about the preacher. And when the preacher, rather than Christ,
becomes the issue, the preacher must step aside.
This is one of the awful
consequences of moral failure—a shadow is cast upon the reputation of
Christ and His message.
One of the hard facts we must
face in the moral failure of a minister is that even after a period of
probation under an accountability group, even after repentance and
restoration, the reputation of the minister is still sullied. God forgives
and forgets, but the world does not. In Robert Graves’ classic,
Claudius the Great, the Roman Emperor says that a reputation is like
an earthenware plate: “The plate is cracked: the reputation is damaged by
a criminal sentence. The plate is then mended with rivets and becomes ‘as
good as new’; the reputation is mended by an official pardon. A mended
plate, or a mended reputation, is better than a cracked plate, or a
damaged reputation. But a plate that has never been cracked and a
reputation that has never been damaged are better still.”
The fallout attached to moral
failure reaches beyond a man’s ministry - it brings devastation to the
home and the family. A bank clerk, an insurance salesman, a doctor, a
lawyer - adultery does not cost them their job (unless it’s with the
boss’s wife). They don’t lose their income, their benefits, their pension,
their standing in the community.
A minister however, loses all off the above.
I’m thinking of another minister
friend, whose affair with his secretary nearly cost him everything. He was
forced to resign. At 50 years old, he has not been able to find another
ministerial position. He and his wife lost their medical benefits and
future participation in the retirement plan.
His entire family life had been
in the church. His wife had to resign her position of ministry in the
church. Their circle of friends was church members and most of those
relationships were severed. Whereas the children of a doctor might never
know of their father’s infidelity, my friend’s children knew—as did all
their friends. The humiliation to his wife and children was almost
His marriage survived we’re
still friends. But every time
I see him I am reminded of the high price paid for his folly.
Of course, I would never do
anything like that. That’s what I always say when I hear of the moral
failure of another minister. Quickly as I say that, I remember Paul’s
warning to the Corinthians: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed least
he fall.” I Corinthians 10:12 NAS I recall that while Peter boasted that
he would never deny or leave his Lord, he did exactly that!
Another casualty in the moral
war said, “You know which is the worst day of the week for me is?” As a
preacher whose ministry had been destroyed by an adulterous affair, there
was a deep sadness in his eyes and his voice was flat, dead.
“Sunday,” he said. “Every Sunday
I am reminded I cannot do the one thing I was born to do - preach.”
These men have joined an ever
increasing congregation of failed ministers, men who no longer can do the
very thing they were born to do. For everyone we hear about there’s
another hundred that we don’t hear about.
frightening. Any man who thinks he is beyond moral failure is a fool. Even
Paul admitted the fragility of the ministry when he said, “But I keep
under my body, and bring it into subjection: least that by any means, when
I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”— (Corinthians
9:27) Literally, he said, “I beat my body and make it my slave.” In other
words, preventing moral failure isn’t easy. It requires violent vigilance.
Let me suggest some preventive measures.
Admit you are in danger
There is no
place of absolute security. Remember Demas? You would think that being a
co-worker of the great Apostle Paul, that laboring hand- in-hand with
greatest of Christian hearts would provide ample security from
worldliness. While at the same time he was laboring with Paul, Demas was
loving this present world (II Timothy
). It is to the elders of
the church that Peter is writing when lie warns his readers of the roaring
lion who is seeking
to devour them. I Peter 5
Be willing to
admit your vulnerability.
Unfortunately, the ministerial role often places men in situations where
they are sexually vulnerable, especially when counseling women. This calls
for a big dose of self-awareness.
In a word, RUN
FOR YOUR LIFE! “Flee,” was Paul’s counsel to Timothy. You are not strong
enough to subdue this temptation. Run from it mentally, or physically,
flee the source of temptation.
self-deception. Realize ‘you are not an exception. It can happen to you.
If it does, you will suffer for it. So will your family, and your friends,
and your Lord.
said that when he checked into a hotel he knew that in all likelihood
there would be a little black box on the TV set that made pornographic
movies available. So when he checked in, he had them turn off the box so
he couldn’t use it. For this man, leaving the black box on would have been
making provision for the flesh.
You are in a
war. You need to have a battle plan. It is too late to plan a strategy
once the enemy has assaulted you.
Never counsel a
woman without your wife or secretary present. I know one pastor who
insists that every staff member have a large window in his office door.
Stay away from
pornography. Never ride alone in a car with woman. When I check into a
hotel one of the first things I do is place a pictures of my wife on the
dresser. We talk on the phone every night while I’m on the road.
In talking with
ministers a large number of them claim that their greatest help in
overcoming sexual temptation is a strong marriage, specifically, a good
sexual relationship with his wife. I’ve talked with some fallen
ministers who blamed their failure on their wives lack of sexual interest.
Take every thought captive
of “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (II
Corinthians 10:5 NAS) To the Philippians he wrote: “Finally, brethren,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is
pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any
excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these
things.” (Philippians 4:8 NAS)
Develop and accountability relationship with another minister, or a layman
in your church. Since others experience the same pressures and
temptations, they can offer encouragement and support. Being vulnerable
and transparent is the key to success here.
accountability group as prayer warriors. When I see the President on TV, I
am always impressed with the number of Secret Service agents surrounding
him. As was so vividly demonstrated in the 1981 assassination attempt on
President Reagan, it is the job of the secret Service Agents to protect
the life of their President, even if it means throwing themselves in the
path of a bullet. That’s what spiritual leaders need. A Secret Service of
intercessors -spiritual bodyguards- who will protect them with the shield
A final word
“What do you want written on your tombstone?” Just like that. Out
of the blue, I asked my wife, suspiciously, “Why do you want to know?”
“Oh, preachers are always
quoting Spurgeon’s epitaph or Moody’s—I just wondered what you wanted on
Truthfully, I have never thought
about it. ‘‘I’ll think about it,’’ I said.
I did think about it. I came up
with one. It’s not original but I can’t think of a better one. Actually,
it ought to be the epitaph of each servant of Christ: “I have fought a
good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy
4:7) More than just a tombstone, those words should be a touchstone to
help prevent us from moral failure. My epitaph? How about," I Finished My
Course - and I Did it Under par.”
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002