Lures of Temptation?

I recently read an article about a female leader in a church being surprised and quite critical of a pastor desiring to hold to what she called the ancient practice of Billy Graham’s morals. He didn’t want to go to lunch with her alone even if it was about work. She brought up some interesting points but the overall tenor of the article was that men and women should be able to go lunch one on one and thus be able to better minister to one another. It is a nice sentiment but this flies in face of not only conventional wisdom but what every male is taught in seminary. But it still brings up a question worth weighing, shouldn’t the church be able to do relationships better than this?

She asked the question what is so tempting about lunch and then mused if there was something wrong with her pastor?

Well, let’s suppose the shoe was on the other foot and a man or even a Pastor wanted to know what the big deal was with trying to go on a lunch with women alone at work? If we are honest doesn’t the whole premise almost immediately change in our minds when we do that?

Now I suppose a woman of a similar constitution to the woman writing the article may indeed think nothing of such a proposal and go, but suppose a woman of yet a different constitution could just as likely be weird-ed out by such a request. If a woman desires to not be approached about alone time with a man, even a pastor at work, then she should be respected right? Even if he insists that it is strictly business and platonic, right? Even if he was truly trustworthy and it was innocent, right? And if she said “No”, well, she is allowed to say such, right? This can get into that arena of harassment. But nothing should be assumed about the woman either, right?  Well, then why shouldn’t a man be granted a similar concession?

Getting back to the original scenario of the Pastor refusing such a request, what if perhaps this is an agreed upon arrangement of the husband and wife team? What if it is a prescribed behavior from the Elders? Or what if it is a necessary rule established for the sake of appearances? Perhaps it is simply part of a personal rule of faith? Or, Ok maybe even it is to prevent very real temptation? Well it is usually some or all of these things.

So let’s say it is simply policy. We live in a sin riddled world and certain things are prudent not sinful. This is why churches have rules about child care, all individuals have to take a background check. I can get offended at the request or realize that certain safeguards are in place “in-case” and because some “in-cases” have already happened. Some churches also have rules that only guys can change boys and only women can only changed the girls, it is simply for protection not suspicion. This is the sad state of our world, even in the church. But it makes sense doesn’t it? Rules always seem ridiculous, until they are broken. It is only then that the  need becomes crystal clear in everyone’s minds.

This is why we use locks, this is why we use safety belts, this is why we use have security cameras, this is why we have police. Imagine getting offended every time you see a door locked and assume they think you are a thief. Imagine getting offended every time you see a safety belt and assume they think you are a bad driver. Imagine getting offended every time you see a security camera and assume they think you are up to no good. Imagine getting offended every time you see a cop and assume he suspects you being a criminal.

Apart from how exhausting living like that must be, recognize that those precautions are in place, if, the situation should arise. Remember this is not about devious women as potential problems but viewing certain kinds of situations best avoided. It is not the wrong person, but the wrong place wrong time. Ministry is a proving ground for methodology for protections and safeguarding. We should be learning from our mistakes and we have.

This notion was implemented because too many a pastor have morally fallen with a lady when they were quite alone together. Youth workers across the board understand this. You are never to be alone with a student of the opposite sex. Just don’t do it, avoid being alone with any kid if at all possible! These safe guards do not make any parent suspect that the youth worker with such convictions is creepy or thus hiding something, nor does it mean the kids are wicked. It is just common sense. This is simply employee handbook stuff.

I think another important issue here is dispelling this notion that safeguarding oneself from temptation is somehow revealing something creepy about the proponent of such a stance. This is a misunderstanding of what temptation is. So apart from the simple wisdom of it, the principle might also be personal.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10: 13

The first point is that the presence of temptation is common to man and not anything sinful in and of itself. Second God provides help in the midst of temptation for those of us willing to take it. Further down in this chapter Paul says while all things may be lawful (such as eating alone together for instance) they are not necessarily for the building up of everybody. Therefore seek not just your own good but the greater good for other people. A further point is to the nature of temptation itself as James teaches.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:13-15

The next point is yes temptations seems to affect each of us differently, but it only becomes a problem when our wicked desires create lures for the temptations and we follow them to sin. The end result is sin but merely possessing temptation is being human and not something that should cause judgment. This sorts of brings up the idea of a passive and active temptation. Somethings are temptations by themselves and others are as they speak to our experiences, but acknowledging them and creating distance is wisdom not a cause for concern. Failing to understand this would be like entering an office setting to discover an internet filter, which may just be for business purposes, and thus concluding that everyone in the office was a porn addict. A final point on this is the example of Jesus himself. Hebrews teaches:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

Jesus himself experienced temptation, yet without sin. This is a thing for everyone, our flesh desires certain responses from us and we can say either yes or no. Simply having that conundrum does not a sinner make. Jesus was tempted but without sin, can any of us say that? No, we do sin, it is our weakness that God sympathizes with. It makes sense that perhaps Jesus could minister in ways that perhaps not all of us can. This is why the Biblical wisdom tells us to flee sexual immorality, to flee youthful passions, make no provisions for the flesh. The Bible also teaches us to avoid every form of evil. To not let our good be spoken of as evil. Part of that may mean setting up safeguards to keep even the archaic Billy Graham model in mind. My wife Kimberly pointed out that most likely Billy Graham didn’t put up those safeguards because he had such a successful ministry but he probably had such a successful ministry because he was so faithful in the little things such as morality, integrity and purity. There is something to be said for character.

It can just as easily be said as Christians we need to respect the boundaries of everyone else around us. It is true that we should be able to do relationships better, but not by demanding alone time with someone who does not desire it simply because we are Christians. At the response of “No” a mature individual would say “Ok” and move on with their life rather than making accusations and calling into question motives and even morality. As she said Christians relationships should be better than this. This is how, by respecting each other and their boundaries. So what is the problem with a group lunch?

This is why Paul teaches that the older women should teach the younger women. This is what he said should be the arrangement as they had separate services for men and women. Probably so this situation never arises. As it is now everybody gets instruction from the pastor already. Is there really a need for personal follow-up? This is why every pastor’s door to his office has a window, to avoid even the appearance of evil and to safeguard everyone: him and the other people. I admit this is a hard one because in a perfect world it wouldn’t be a problem, in heaven this will not be an issue. But how to do we strive for that ideal now? Well, I might suggest that we don’t. A husband and wife are the only ones privileged enough for the rights of alone time with one another. I would question why someone thinks that they should be granted that kind of access to someone else’s spouse. I believe her intentions were pure and so were his quite frankly, but the request a bit naive.

This is always going to be a challenge for us while we are in these sin riddled bodies. Every time this is discussed it becomes a man versus woman issue when really that is not the point. It is about a person’s faith and what they do to maintain it, this is a Romans 14 issue. Stop judging, for it is before the Lord that each man stands or falls. This is literally what the famous not judging verse is about; personal choices regarding individual’s faith.

So it is true that ministry interpersonal relationships may very well be divided down the genders and perhaps the world may do it different, some say secular business do this better and the church should learn from it, however they are certainly not concerned in the same way about faith and temptations. Goals of business are completely different from goals of the ministry, especially maintaining the heart before God. The world is also the place where the consequences for casual affairs are much different: they also do it worse. We all have temptations and I would hope that we all safeguard ourselves from, not with a rule for others, that is legalism, but certainly with precautions for ourselves, that is wisdom.

Paul says “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”The principle was always about the other person.

Sin is always looming, and even if it wasn’t, you should safeguard yourself, and allow others to do so as well. Freedom in Christ goes both ways.



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