At the 2002 Southern Baptist Convention messengers passed a resolution ON THE SEXUAL INTEGRITY OF MINISTERS. In it they called for building and maintaining "relationships and practices of integrity and fidelity to God and others," and for "our spiritual leaders to hold one another accountable to the highest standards of Christian moral practice." In the following chapter from Beneath the Surface: Steering Clear of the Dangers That Could Leave You Shipwrecked, Bob Reccord examines the differences between how Joseph and David handled sexual temptation.
Two men. One stood tall. The other fell flat.
Why? The answer to that question helps us to understand ourselves and learn from God's examples.
When you take time to study Joseph's life, one thing becomes clear. Joseph understood his own weaknesses. And that's because he knew himself well. He was realistic, and that's the first line of defense against leaving ourselves wide open.
That's not always easy to do in our culture. Identities are fragmented for so many reasons. Broken families. Abuse. Low morals splashed across the television and movie screen. The dark side of the Internet. A disposable society. A nation of victims.
But that's our world. Add to that a healthy dash of the secular, humanistic point of view that places man in the center of the universe as the source of everything, rather than God. Add two pinches of self-sufficiency. Mix in some superficiality. Stir with trials, disappointments, and heartache, and—voila!—you end up with a culture of people who don't have a realistic view of themselves.
And—sensing this—they cover their weaknesses with a mask of strength bordering on arrogance.
How different Joseph was. He looked into the depths of his heart and recognized a problem, the first step toward guarding your heart.
Joseph could have identified with a New Testament personality, Paul. When Paul looked deeply into the recesses of his heart, he was honest enough to admit what he found: I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can't make myself do right. (Rom. 7:18-19, NLT).
That takes guts! While a lot of us spend our time trying to earn more money than we can imagine—to buy things we don't need, to impress people we don't even know—Joseph and Paul were getting in touch with who they really were.
Self-awareness takes the courage to ask ourselves the right questions. For example:
• What things would I do if I felt that I would never get caught?
• Regardless of how important I say God is, how much time do I spend getting to know what He's like?
• How often do I find myself acting gracious on the outside but grating with anger on the inside?
• Who's in my life that I've chosen not to forgive because of wrong done to me?
• What are the three most important priorities in my life?
• How often is my mouth in motion before my mind is in gear?
The Owner's Manual can help us look deep inside, if we are brave enough to take the risk. God's desire is for us to be truthful enough to face our life as it really is rather than how we paint it to be. In Psalm 51:6, God says that more than anything else He wants us to experience truthfulness in our deepest parts. (That's the only way we can realize how desperately we need Him!) We know Joseph had confronted the truth about his own weakness by his reaction to Potiphar's wife. He fled! He understood that he was not strong enough to handle the temptation. If he stayed, he would fall. It takes real strength to admit—and act on—a weakness.
David overestimated his strengths. He was convinced that he could handle anything. After all, he was king! It's amazing how position, prominence, possessions, and privilege can fill us with such pride that we fail to see the fault lines in our character.
You and I operate in a hectic world. Cell phones and palm devices are electronic leashes. E-mail has made communications so rapid that we're exhausted just trying to keep up. In the sixteenth century, thousands of books were printed every year. Today, more than that are printed every day. The Boomer generation finds itself caught between adolescent children and aging parents.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I can identify with a statement made by Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Barrington, Illinois. Talking about the pressures of leadership, he became vulnerable enough with us to share that in the late 1980s he came face to face with fractures in his ministry and his marriage. His problems did not involve immorality, just enormous stress. My heart resonated when he said, "There came a time when the work of the church around me began to kill the work of God within me." I wonder if the work of being king around David began to kill the work of God within David.
How about you? Can you relate? Maybe you understand. You've been there. Or you're there now. While you're busy conquering your world, be careful not to be the one who ends up being conquered.
Besides busy people, God also faces challenges with gifted people—those who have so much to offer, who are talented beyond the norm, who—if they aren't careful—can begin to rely more on their giftedness than on the God who granted the gift.
It was 1987, and I was invited to a Young Leaders Conference on the other side of the world. One of the leading names in evangelical Christianity was scheduled to be on the program. When I saw who was to speak, I was elated because I so respected his writings as well as his work.
I arrived at the auditorium early to get a good seat. I can't tell you the shock that ran through my heart when the master of ceremonies stood soberly before us and read a fax. The speaker had cancelled. He said he had looked so forward to being with us, but, unfortunately, he couldn't. He had committed moral failure. Rather than be with us, he must now stay home and begin to rebuild broken bridges. He asked for our forgiveness and our prayers. But then he warned each of us to guard our hearts, for out of it would come the issues of our lives. If we didn't guard it, he cautioned, we might one day find ourselves in shoes just like his.
Thankfully, through these years, I've seen this man go through a period of brokenness and redemption, but he's been restored to a very meaningful ministry. In addition he's become a great friend who constantly cautions me about relying more on the gift than on God and being so busy doing things for God that I miss the God for whom I claim to be doing the things.
One further amazing insight from my friend. And it's grounded in the reality of experience. A few years ago, he shared with me, "Bob, all my life, people shared with me that Satan attacks at your weak points. And I believe that … and still do. But they didn't tell me the whole story. They didn't tell me that he equally attacks what you think are your strong points. For years, I said that if there was one place I would never have trouble, it was my marriage. I was committed to my wife and my family. I was intent on living a lifestyle that would please God. And I believe with all my heart that was an invulnerable strength. But that is the very place the adversary attacked so fiercely."
When I look at Joseph, who stood tall, and David, who fell flat, I come to one conclusion:
At any given moment, every one of us is only one step away from stupid.