By Bobby Witherington
Rest assured, this article is not intended to cast reflection upon any God-fearing preacher who, both in word and deed, has done all within his power to preserve his marriage, but who nevertheless became the innocent victim of someone else’s wrong doing. It must be admitted that preachers’ wives also live in this morally corrupt society, and that some of them, in spite of their husbands’ good example and their own convictions, cave in to those “fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). The innocent preacher whose wife is thus guilty, like any other Christian in a similar situation, is thereby both emotionally and psychologically crushed. Regardless of how innocent he may be, his influence for good is hindered – mainly because he also becomes the object of suspicion. People wonder, “Was he really a good husband to his wife?” “Was his private life out of harmony with his public life?” But honesty compels us to admit that it is possible for one to be innocent of wrong doing against his mate and still suffer martial misfortune. Hence, this article is not written with the intent of adding to the trauma and agony already experienced by the innocent victims of martial disruption.
However, it must be admitted that gospel preachers (also elders) by the score are falling prey to “the lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16), are committing “fornication” against their wives (Matt. 19:9), and even divorcing the morally pure mothers of their children. Notwithstanding the fact that some have preached the gospel for years and have sought to glorify God in their sermons, they are doing the very thing which “He hateth” (Mal. 2:14-16). They are acting in total opposition to all that they have preached with regards to moral purity and the sanctity of the home. And we are not just referring to a few isolated cases which in the course of a few years’ time surface in different parts of the nation. We are referring to a condition which is becoming disgustingly and increasingly more common. A condition which will send precious souls to hell, and which is adversely affecting both the purity and the growth of that church for which our Savior died.
Of course, we would not charge the guilty person with deliberately planning to do what they did. Most, if not all, were sincere when they vowed before God and man “to keep myself for thee and for thee alone until death we do part.” Most, if not all, viewed with alarm those same sins committed by fellow Christians. Most, if not all, with force and conviction, preached against those very sins in which they themselves later became entangled. Most, if not all, could have never envisioned themselves committing those very sins which destroyed their marriage and which will haunt their memory and mar their influence for the rest of their lives. Most, if not all, can really relate to 1 Corinthians 10: 12 – “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
But alas, the heretofore unthinkable happened. Men of ability, conviction, courage, and influence have become the unwitting victims of the “deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). Time and again, like David of old, we find ourselves lamenting, “How are the mighty fallen!” (2 Sam. 1:19,27). And many of those for whom we lament, like Jonathan of old, fell “in the midst of the battle” (2 Sam 1:25). Some who have fought the hardest to preserve the purity of the church, and to whom we thus owe a great debt of gratitude, failed to preserve their own moral purity. The situation herein described is not one which should cause the godly to gleefully sit back and, in mock tones of superficial righteousness, slander the fallen and glorify self, saying, “In the back of my mind I always had questions about that fellow,” and “I would never do what he did! ” Such is not the time for gloating over the fallen. It is a time for weeping. It is not the time for proudly boasting, “I would never do what he did.” It is a time for humbling acknowledging that “but for the grace of God there go I.”
We can not change what has happened. We can not undo the past – our own or anyone else’s. Of course, wherein we have sinned, we can and we must repent, making sure that we “bring forth . . . fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). But something has to be done to stem the tide of those gospel preachers (and elders) who are getting caught up in the whirlpool of marital infidelity!
What Can Be Done?
Any recommended list of “dos” and “don’ts” has to be incomplete. Space is insufficient to discuss every item which could be considered in an attempt to both respect the sanctity of the home and to prevent martial infidelity. Nor is any claim being made that the items herein suggested are listed in the order of greatest importance. The writer does, however, claim that the following recommendations are important and that, if followed, they would drastically reduce the number of marriages that are falling apart.
1. Let preachers in particular recognize in advance that caution must be exercised lest they are inadvertently placed in precarious situations. It is easy to over sympathize with that “sweet young thing” whose husband is a brute and who shows her no attention whatever especially if the preacher sees her alone in his office or alone at her home (a foolish mistake!). A preacher should be aware of the fact that sooner or later some person in the audience will, for various reasons, become attracted to him, and maybe even fantasize in her mind of romantic encounters with him. And such a person may become overly friendly with him, even to the point of being flirty. Every preacher should learn to entreat “the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). By all means, “keep thyself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22)!
2. Let preachers and their wives be honest with each other. Both of them possess needs and desires which can scripturally be satisfied within the marriage relationship (Heb. 13:4). And temptation is likely to arise if those needs are not met. If in order “to avoid fornication” every man should have his own wife and every woman her own husband (1 Cor. 7:2), then for the same reason the husband should “render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3). To deliberately withhold one’s self from one’s mate is to “defraud” that person (1 Cor. 7:5). But of more serious consequence, it will render that defrauded mate more vulnerable to temptation when another person of the opposite sex gets a little too friendly. Of course, we would not suggest that only the sexual needs must be met. Love, concern, support, protection, etc., must also be mutually demonstrated.
3. Let preachers teach themselves when they teach others. The Jewish leaders regarded themselves as the true teachers of the law, the real keepers of orthodoxy. Yet Paul found it necessary to ask these sobering questions: “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, doest thou commit adultery? thou that abhorest idols, doest thou commit sacrilege?” (Rom. 2:21,22). In brief, they were not personally absorbing the very truths they taught others. Hence “through” them the name of God was “blasphemed among the Gentiles” (Rom. 2:24). And His glorious Name is still being “blasphemed” among sinners through those preachers who preach one thing and practice another. We must distinguish between the possession of true godliness and merely possessing the “form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5). There is a difference!
4. Let preachers maintain their personal devotions. To put it tersely: too many preachers are suffering from too much TV and too little prayer! TV itself is not inherently evil, but a lot of TV programs are! A steady diet of profanity, drinking, murder, homosexuality, adultery, and nudity piped in for one’s own private viewing and hearing is bound to take its toll. Though we (in our own way of thinking) would never do such things, we do become affected by such programs, for we are gradually conditioned to cease being either shocked by or outraged against such grievous sins against God, especially if we neglect to spend much time in studying for personal benefit (not just for sermons), and if we neglect to spend much time in prayer. Without trying to sound like the so-called Pentecostal people, let it be understood that each of us needs our own prayer “closet” (Matt. 6:6), or some place where we can commune privately with God in prayer. On one occasion, Jesus rose “up a great while before day, . . . and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). On another occasion “he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in praycr to God” (Luke 6:12). At the time when Jesus was “transfigured before” Peter, James, and John, He was praying (Matt. 17:1,2; Luke 9:28,29). The point is this: Jesus, who “did no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22) and who had a busy schedule, spent much time in prayer. Hence, can we, who have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and who do sin (1 John 1:8), afford to be negligent in prayer? A character study of those great servants of God (both in the Old and New Testaments), who withstood in describable hardships and temptation and accomplished much in the service of God, reveals one thing they nearly all had in common – they zealously and regularly carried their concerns unto God in prayer. Could it be that we who sought to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) have tried to wage this fight without petitioning God for His help?
More, much more, could be written by way of encouraging preachers to cleanse themselves “from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Our conduct at all times should be such as “becometh the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). Whether we like it or not, we do figuratively “live in glass houses.” For good or bad, much is at stake with regards to our own manner of life. For the benefit of others whom we influence, for the sake of our families, and our own eternal well being, let us be “an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). The temporal and the eternal stakes are simply too high for us to do otherwise.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 1, pp. 6-7
January 5, 1984