By Dan Walters
Jesus said that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:18). Our Lord is here teaching that one does not commit adultery merely because the opportunity presents itself, or because there is temptation, but because there is evil in the heart. The evil thought precedes the evil act. The problem of evil cannot be solved by a change of environment; only utopian idealists believe that it can. If a man is a thief, the answer is not to prevent him from handling money. Judas was a thief, and yet Christ continued to let him carry the money bag (John 12:6). If allowing someone else to act as treasurer would have changed the character of Judas, then Jesus would have certainly exercised that option. If a man has murder in his heart, the answer is not to forbid him all weapons. If a man is a habitual liar, the answer is not to prevent him from ever testifying in court.
All this should be self-evident, but several articles in the last year or two have emphasized avoidance of opportunity as the chief answer to the problem of preachers who commit adultery. Yes, it may sometimes be wise for a preacher to take his wife with him when visiting a single woman; that depends on the circumstances. But such a precaution should be somewhere near the bottom of the list of things to prevent the sin of fornication. One does not commit adultery without premeditation as one might accidentally violate the speed limit while going down hill and glancing away from the speedometer. The very nature of the act demands certain preparation and allows plenty of time for thought and for resisting temptation. If a man commits adultery, it is because he intends to commit adultery because he has allowed his heart to become filled with evil thoughts of adultery.
If a significant number of preachers have committed this sin in the recent past, it should stimulate us to inquire more deeply into the character of those we encourage and invite to preach in our churches. Perhaps a quick wit and a winning personality have governed our choice more than a strong character and a great faith. Preaching the gospel should be something a man is driven to do out of deep religious conviction. Have we been guilty of fostering the concept of preaching as an exciting and remunerative career for every young male Christian with the qualifications of a sewing machine salesman?
We have all known preachers in the past who have made a life work out of bringing reproach upon the church through the sin of adultery. One of the first preachers I have heard as a boy was of this kind. After each act of sin he would feign a nervous breakdown and thus escape responsibility. He preached all over the southwest, and if he is still alive, I doubt not that he is still up to his old tricks. Could this same man have found it so easy to obtain a place to preach if his sin had been that of bank robbery, or bootlegging, or murder?
Some brethren may think more lightly than they ought of the sin of adultery since it was committed by King David. Yes, David was, generally speaking, a good man, “a man after God’s own heart.” But consider the difference between David’s situation and ours. David lived in a spiritually dark period when God allowed, though he did not encourage, the practice of polygamy and of concubinage. David was an absolute monarch and knew that he could take just about any woman he desired into his harem. His loyalty was not pledged to any one woman to whom he was bound in a sacred one-to-one relationship. David lived and died long before the great teaching of the Holy Spirit that marriage typifies the relationship of Christ and the church.
To commit adultery today is not only to violate one specific command of God. It is also to break a sacred and public vow, to betray a marriage partner whom we should love as Christ loved the church and died for it, to deliberately debase a divine institution, and to desecrate our own body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is also to bring reproach upon the body of Christ and to trod underfoot the blood of the covenant. In spite of the teaching of some to the contrary, the Bible does teach that, though all sins condemn, there are some sins that are greater than others (John 19: 11). A child of God in the present dispensation who commits the sin of adultery must surely be committing one of the greater sins.
What is the answer to the problem of Christians who commit adultery? The answer must be to change the heart. When considering whether a church or an individual is “sound,” the emphasis must be shifted from the merely external to the internal as well. Moral character must be given the same weight today as it was given by our forefathers and as it was given by our Lord and his apostles. Our teaching, our exercise of discipline, and our choice of leadership must reflect a firm commitment to moral soundness.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, p. 590
October 1, 1987