Question:

My boyfriend of 17 months and I recently broke up. There are many factors that contributed to our decision to end the relationship, but one of the biggest concerns was the distance and the inability or unwillingness for one of us to move in the near future. We still talk and deeply care about each other and would like to have a future, but we are unsure of how to move forward. From the beginning of our relationship I was clear that if we were to move forward he needed to move closer to me. I believe that the Bible seems to point toward men initiating, pursing, and leading relationships. As a woman, I deeply desire security and to give up my security to move closer to him doesn't seem right. I have a decent paying job with excellent health benefits, I live on my own, provide for myself, own a car, pay for my expenses, have a family support system near by, and a strong church family. He on the other hand lives with his parents, doesn't own a car, works multiple jobs but cannot afford to provide for himself, and doesn't have health insurance. He wants to stay there because he is preaching for a small congregation and feels called to that. I don't want him to give up his dream, but if he cannot provide for himself, how can he provide for a family? It doesn't make sense for me to move there considering the economic decline of his state and the likelihood that even together we wouldn't be able to support ourselves -- not to mention that I wouldn't want to raise children there. Is that wrong? How would you approach this with your own daughter? What would your advice be to me and to him?

There is however another aspect to this.  He is a preacher and he feels called to that role. But as someone who is preaching God's words to others, he needs to be someone who is living above reproach, not that he is perfect, but that there isn't habitual ongoing unconfessed sin in his life that could bring reproach on the name of Christ and the congregation. He is older than me. He has lived a worldly life, but recently has decided to devote his life to God in preaching. We have both sinned sexually in pasts relationships and though we had wanted to keep our relationship free from sexual sin, have failed and sinned sexually with each other on more than one occasion. It is wrong, it is sin, and both of us probably have seared or hardened consciences from that sin. Not only have we sinned together while he was preaching, but he struggles with lust and is addicted to masturbating. I believe that all sexual sin is wrong -- fornication, adultery, lust, masturbation (self-gratification), pornography, etc.

I believe that most people are called to marriage because few people actually have the ability to remain celibate. Unfortunately no one in the church seems to be advocating that and young people in the church are following the world in delaying marriage later and later for their own selfish desires, when encouraging marriage at a younger age could help people avoid sexual sin and the consequences of that sin. Sexual desire is a normal God-given desire and it should motivate people to get married. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that if you are head over heels in love and have passionate chemistry you should get married (but many people use that as a reason to get married). It does, however, say if you burn with passion to get married (I Corinthians 7:9). At a certain point it becomes spiritually dangerous to remain single. Scripture seems not just to encourage, but to assume that part of the growth into biblical manhood and womanhood is to seek marriage. When it comes to marriage, we don't need a burning bush to know if it's God's will. He's already told us it is. If we're not specially gifted to be celibate, we're called to marriage. There's no third option; no lifestyle choice to remain single because it's more fun or more fulfilling or more spiritual than being married. Yes, if you're gifted with a calling to celibacy, a la Paul, then that is your duty. But if you're not — and Scripture is clear that most of us aren't — then our calling is marriage.

He doesn't seem to see the urgency in this situation or the danger he is putting himself, the congregation, and the reputation of Christ in. If someone feels like they are called to preach, does that mean they can ignore sin as long as they are serving God while preaching? It seems to me that the call to sexual purity and marriage, if you struggle with temptation, is more clear than a calling to preach. After all we are all called to obey His teachings and go out into the world and make disciples of all people. If getting married would help you avoid sin in that area, then wouldn't that help you better honor God and be a better preacher? He may not marry me, I get that, but should he either quit preaching until he is either married or fully controlling himself in this area? I don't know how to approach that, and I know that no one in his congregation is asking him these questions, so he has no accountability or motivation to address this because he isn't afraid the people will find out and fire him. Is it acceptable for him to continue to preach since no one in the congregation is aware of his sin?

Just to be clear, I do not think he is a worse sinner than me, I understand I have equally sinned and it is wrong. I have confessed this to a few people who are close to me, and I deeply struggle with shame and guilt for my lack of self-control. I want to honor God and am deeply grieved by my sin, but I have no idea of how to accomplish that or resist temptation; I cannot do that on my own effort and that is a reason I believe marriage would be helpful for both of us, as God's Word prescribes, and I think we would be better able to serve and honor God  together, than we do apart. 

The problem is I'm not a leader of a congregation and those who teach and lead will incur stricter judgment (James 3:1). How does the command in I Corinthians 5:11 not to associate with one who claims to be a believer but is sexually immoral apply to a preacher? I know it applies to me. I sometimes wonder if I should just disfellowship myself for sin. How do I encourage him to do what is best for the congregation or seek help? Should he confess this to the congregation? Can a congregation continue to allow a man to preach knowing that he struggles with this sin and may fail again in this area and hurt the reputation of the church? If he refuses to confess this, does that mean I have an obligation to make his congregation aware of our sin as Matthew 18:15-17 talks about?


Answer:

I would like to take this from a different angle. Most people focus on the emotional aspects of a relationship and forget that there are practical matters and character issues that need to be considered.

You are correct that this man is not in a position to marry. He doesn't have sufficient income to support a family. He shows an instable moral character in that he lets his sexual desires rule his choices. Sins sometimes happen, but he is showing a pattern of repeated sins and it appears that he has not repented of those sins. I take it that he is involved in pornography, which is also a sin (I Thessalonians 4:3-5), and another indication of a lack of self-control. This is the type of man you would never trust because you never would know when his sexual desires would override. A man involved in pornography often have a distorted view of relationships and sex. None of this points to man who would make a good husband.

Nor do I find commonality in views. You don't see responsibility, finances, where to live, etc. It seems you were two very different people trying to come together by neither one wanting to make changes to accommodate the other. It is not that I think you should give up your stable life for his offer of instability, but eventually you are going to meet the right man and in that relationship both of you are going to make adjustments so that the two of you can become one.

Breaking up was a good choice in this situation and in the future, use your head along with your heart so that a better choice in the future in a potential husband. Don't keep a relationship going in hopes of changing him for the better. Either he is what you are looking for in a husband or he is not. And if he is not what you want in a husband, then it is time to move on.

For yourself, your primary obligation is to get your life right with God. It means a complete and radical change in both your view of fornication as well as your behavior. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:10-11). You also need to have a long talk with God about your sins, acknowledging to Him that you were wrong. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). No excuses, no blaming it on society or on him, and no saying you couldn't stop yourself. The raw, honest truth that you need to show you understand with God is that you did have a choice in the matter and failed. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:8-10).

It is only once you have dealt with your sins that you can begin to consider how to help someone else out of their sin. "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:3-5).

The biggest difficulty you have is that most things that you could do will come across as a desire for vengeance since the two you broke up. To you it doesn't change the truth of what happened, but to others there will always be doubt your honesty because of the possible motivation.

If this man has given no indication of remorse over the sins he is involved in or repentance from the sins he has committed, then I would suggest that you talk to one or two of the elders at your congregation. You'll need to tell them what happened and how you have decided to change your life. "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). Then tell them that you are worried about this man's salvation, as well as the congregation where he works, but you know you aren't in a position to help. I would suggest that these elders contact the man to see if they can turn him around as per Matthew 18:15-18. If they cannot, then they will need to contact the church there to warn them about the sin in their midst.

None of this changes just because a man is a preacher. Preachers are held strictly to the standard which they teach and represent. "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (I Timothy 4:12). "In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you" (Titus 2:7-8). Because their reputation is critical to their work, it is important for the church to make sure that accusations are accurate and that they are quickly and justly dealt with. The responsibility for dealing with this matter is in the hands of the congregation he worships with.