Moral Purity for Ministry Leaders
Ministry leaders must maintain moral purity because nothing damages your effectiveness and legacy more than moral failure. Part of developing moral purity is understanding how immoral temptation seduces and subdues believers. Having wisdom about moral issues includes insight into the process of moral failure. Learning about that process is a vital part of developing moral values that last a lifetime and ensure a leadership legacy.
What immorality looks like today
In the book of Proverbs, personification is a literary devise used to explain important concepts. Two examples of this are in Proverbs 9:13-18 and 5:1-14. Analyzing immorality, personified as a woman named “Folly” will help you discern and resist immoral temptation. This personification does not mean women are more immoral than men. This is simply a literary device to communicate truth – both to men and women.
Immoral temptation is pervasive
Folly sits “by the doorway of her house on a seat at the highest point of the city,” (Pro. 9:14) calling out to all who pass by to come in for a visit. A good example of this today is pornography. It seems like it is everywhere, calling out for our attention.
Immoral temptation is aggressive
Folly calls out “to those who pass by, who go straight ahead on their paths” (Pro. 9:15). There was a time in the not-to-distant past when immorality was available but you had to know where to find it. Now, like never before, it comes looking for you. It will track you down while you are on a “straight path” with no intention of being tempted or enticed.
Immoral temptation over-promises and under-delivers
Folly promises immorality will deliver the opposite of its true results. She appeals to the “inexperienced” to come in for a visit and to the “one who lacks sense” (Pro. 9:16) to share her secret wisdom. Sexual immorality promises pleasure, satisfaction, and fulfillment it cannot and does not produce. But that does not stop it from making outrageous claims and promises. And, sadly, it doesn’t stop ministry leaders from gullibly falling for its lies.
Immorality promises so much. In the early days of every immoral relationship there is the heady rush of infatuation and the raw pleasure of unleashed sexual energy. New awareness, new sharpness, supposedly new insight seems to be exploding. But it is false insight and false hope – a sham perpetuated on the unwise. Immorality promises the moon and stars, but it delivers destruction and death.
What immorality will do to you
Continuing the personification of immorality in Proverbs, the results of immorality are portrayed in Proverbs 5:1-14. Here is how the Bible describes those devastating results.
Immorality leaves you bitter, broken, and often alone
The results of immorality are “as bitter as wormwood” and as “sharp as a double-edged sword” (Pro. 5:4). Immorality entices you with vivid promises of emotional intimacy, but usually leaves you bitter and alone.
Immorality steals your strength and makes you sick
When you are immoral, you give “your vitality to others” and “your years to someone cruel” (Pro. 5:9) while “your physical body (is) consumed” (Pro. 5:11). STDs and other health problems are common results of immoral behavior. These consequences can produce life-long health problems or even death.
Immorality will take your money and damage your lifestyle
An immoral lifestyle is expensive. The Bible warns “strangers will drain your resources, and your earnings will end up in a foreigner’s house” (Pro. 5:10). Basically, immoral sex will cost you – big time! Paying medical or counseling bills, hiding your sins with additional phones or credit cards, and other financial costs are often part of making immoral choices.
Maintaining Moral Purity
So, how do you keep from giving in to the pervasive temptations in our culture to be immoral? What can you do, positively and proactively, to keep yourself morally pure? And if you are already on the slippery slope toward moral failure, how can you find a sure foothold and start going the other direction? Here are some specific suggestions to help you maintain moral purity.
Limit exposure to immoral influences
The temptation to be immoral is aggressively stalking you. You must take specific steps to protect yourself from unlimited exposure to sexual immorality in our culture. Since it is pervasive, it is impossible to avoid it entirely. But you can take specific steps to limit the immoral influences that are trying to sway you.
Limit your screen time.
For the first year we were married, we chose not to own a television. That helped us get control of it from the beginning of our marriage. We now own several televisions – but we monitor them and screen what we watch. We avoid any program that blatantly glorifies sexual immorality or any other contradiction of our values. We turn off programs that surprise us with immoral content. We do not access any pay-per-view sources that show sexually explicit movies or programs.
Choose carefully the kind of movies you watch.
This can be difficult to monitor but one very simple choice has had profound, positive results for us. We do not view “R” rated movies. Making this choice decades ago may have caused us to miss a few good movies over the years. But is has also spared us seeing hundreds of big-screen sexual relationships, which would have tempted us to immoral behavior and desensitized us to sexual fulfillment only in married sex.
Get control of your Internet use.
Put filters on your computer and ask someone else to control the password. Use a program that automatically communicates every web site you visit to an accountability partner. If necessary, take the drastic step of giving up the Internet at home and only using it on a public computer.
Some of this may sound legalistic. No doubt, these are self-imposed, arbitrary rules. Legalism, however, is when one person imposes his or her standards on another person. Imposing these standards on yourself is not legalism, its self-management. These standards are not requirements, unless you choose them to be. Therefore, they are not legalistic rules but wise, self-imposed limits that protect you from moments of weakness. A good friend has a desk plaque that says, “Others may, I cannot.” Ministry leaders adopt higher personal standards because their influence, for good or bad, exceeds that of others.
Unlimited exposure to immorality desensitizes you. Like a persistent river, it erodes your moral convictions. Most people do not plunge into immorality; they drift into it. You can limit the drift by specific actions to limit your exposure to immoral influences.
Develop accountability relationships
Another aspect of maintaining purity is accountability to people who care about you, know you better than you know yourself, and are willing to confront you when we are wrong. Too many people think of accountability relationships as formal, sterile groups that meet to grill each other. While formal groups are helpful, other kinds of relationships can be just as motivating toward moral purity.
Purity is also maintained through transparency with a few close, same sex friends.
These friends can help you individually or as a formal group. While you may enjoy platonic or professional relationships with members of the opposite sex, only same sex relationships should be developed as accountability relationships. True accountability relationships require a level of frankness not possible or appropriate in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex (other than a spouse).
These are not sexist comments, just practical observations. God values both sexes equally and wants both men and women to have meaningful accountability relationships. But, apart from a spouse, an accountability relationship sharing the details of your moral life, sexual practices, and responses to temptation, is not appropriate with a person of the opposite sex.
What if it’s too late?
Perhaps you are already involved in immoral behavior. You are having an affair, involved in pornography, or dabbling with homosexual or incestuous behavior. You want out! What should you do?
First, you must be completely honest.
Choose a trusted confidant, a wise leader, who can help you through the process of confession and restoration and tell them everything.
Second, you must confess your sin and bear your consequences.
This may be painful and hurtful for those involved but delaying the inevitable will only make the situation more painful and the consequences more intense.
Third, resist the temptation toward self-justification.
What you are doing is your fault, period. It is astounding how many reasons are used to justify immoral behavior. It’s your fault it happened, case closed! Stop blaming your boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, mother, father, church, children, the world, and the devil. You are immoral because you choose to be. Choose to stop!
Fourth, do all you can to repair the damage.
Be prepared for this to take a while. It is unrealistic to think you can confess this kind of sin, be forgiven, and move on quickly. That is denial in its rawest form. Restoration from moral failure takes time. Wounded people, wounded relationships, and wounded churches need time to heal.
Finally, take heart! Restoration is possible.
Ministry leaders can be forgiven. Families can be healed. And, depending on the scope of their actions, some ministry leaders can be restored to some leadership roles. But restoration takes years, not weeks or months. Leaders who have been restored worked through these four steps over a period of years. There are no shortcuts. The process can’t be rushed.
To be restored from moral sin requires honesty, confession, willingness to take full responsibility, resistance to self-justification, and hard work to repair the damage and prevent future sin. You can be restored but you need to stop what you are doing NOW and go purposefully, intentionally in a new direction. Do not wait! Time will not make it easier. Sooner or later your secret will be exposed. Take responsibility, do the right thing, and come forward willingly.