How to keep the birds out of your beard

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Temptations of course cannot be avoided, but because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them nest in our hair.

Martin Luther

I received news this week of another Christian leader stood down for sexual sin. You don’t need the details.

If I was running a seminary I’d mandate one year Bible and theology, one year ministry training and one year on how not to commit adultery.

I’m now a grandfather approaching sixty. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way about faithfulness to the woman I love and the Lord I serve.

1. Nobody is safe

Seminary professors, denominational leaders, pastors of megachurches, missionaries and pastors, New Testament scholars, youth leaders, worship leaders, church planters, evangelists and counsellors, evangelicals, progressives, Spirit-filled Pentecostals, incarnated missional, organic house church leaders — I’ve known leaders of every variety to fall into sexual sin.

Last November I became a grandfather. This year I turn sixty. I’ve seen it all. Here’s what I’ve learned about staying out of trouble. Fear God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I take Jesus seriously when he says it’s better to enter heaven missing an eye or a hand than give into temptation. I pray for the fear of God every time I’m tempted.

God is gracious and forgiving, but there is a high price to pay for infidelity.

2. Forget morals, focus on ethics

It was late in the afternoon and everyone had left the office. Pastor “Harry” was in his office trying to stay awake while counselling a lady from his congregation. When it was time to finish they stood and she hugged him. It wasn’t one of those side-on hugs, it was an embrace. The moral question is what should Harry do next?

Harry would not be facing that question if he had dealt with the ethical question which was, Should Harry be counselling a woman alone in his office after everyone else had gone home?

Ethics are the safety fence at the top of the cliff. Protect yourself.

3. See them as family

Paul told Timothy to treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters with absolute purity (1 Tim 5:2). Next time you feel attracted to someone you’re not married to, think of them as family — mothers, sisters, daughters or fathers, brothers and sons. Reframe the relationship around family, not sex.

4. Open your heart to the right people

If you’re a young man I can’t see you beating sexual temptation without an accountability group with some brothers. In that group you share your needs, your temptations and you confess you sins to one another. Weekly is best, but don’t go more than a month without examining your heart in the presence of the right people. Don’t fight this alone.

5. Suffer gladly

Count the cost of following Jesus. There’s no promise that you will be sexually fulfilled. Deep needs may go unmet. You may experience loss and disappointment. Temptation feels irresistible.

What does Christ offer in exchange? Himself — now and forever. He’s worth it.