Abiding by the Billy Graham rule

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Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:7

I’m reeling from the news that another prominent Christian leader is defending himself against charges of sexual immorality.

I’ve been in vocational ministry most of my life. Here’s what I’ve learned as a man about staying out of trouble:

1.  Build a guardrail

Billy Graham refused to be alone with a woman who was not his wife. This became known as the Bill Graham rule. According to its detractors the rule turns women into mere objects of sexual temptation. It excludes and disempowers women leaders. But Billy Graham did not say he would not relate to, or meet with, women. He said he wouldn’t be alone with a woman. 

Guys, it's never a good idea to invite a woman to your hotel room for drinks. Never.

A pastor I know was counseling a woman in his office. The support staff had left for the day. It was getting dark and the pastor was tired. The session ended and he stood up to say goodbye. At which point she embraced him with one of those hugs that he knew was offering something more. He did the right thing and stepped back. But why put yourself and the lady in such a vulnerable place? Why not have ethical boundaries. They are like a guardrail at the top of a mountain, protecting you both from stumbling and falling.

There are all sorts of battles you can fight head on, but you run from sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18).

2.  Fear God

As a young man, I recall Floyd McClung mentioning that he prayed for the fear of the Lord, every day. I thought, if that’s good enough for Floyd, it’s good enough for me. Sexual sin is attractive because deep down we are all broken people. Sex promises comfort and wholeness. How could it be wrong when it feels so right?

I pray for the fear of God in this area my life whenever I feel tempted. That’s a lot of prayer! I remind myself of Jesus’ teaching on this. "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:29).

I take what he said seriously. He’s not just referring to the natural consequences, but to God’s settled hostility to sexual immorality. There is grace and forgiveness if we turn back to him. There will also be serious and lasting consequences as King David discovered when he slept with Bathsheba.

3.  Delight yourself in the Lord

Even for happily married men, there will be times weakness in the face of sexual temptation. Far more so for those whose marriage is under threat from conflict, or a health crisis or just having young children. Bring your brokenness and need to God. Even if you have no awareness of his comforting presence, remember his love for you in Christ who suffered and died in your place. Christ who rose from the dead. Christ who reigns and will return in power. Christ who is alive in you through the Holy Spirit. Even if every fiber of your being denies these realities, remain true to him. Turn your moments of greatest weakness into triumph.

4.  Bring it into the light

Build some accountability into your life. Find some brothers who are also on the journey. Bring it into the light. Confess your sins to one another and hold each other accountable. 

If you have been unfaithful, get help. There is grace that is greater than the worst offense. Don’t delay.

Few leaders finish well. It is possible. What do you want to be known for? What do you want as the outcome of your life?