Major Problems in Moral Purity
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify the Father which is in heaven.” By doing good the Christian bears fruit which, to the people of the world, is a shining light, radiating and reflecting the love of God. However, good work is not the only way the Christian is made into a shining light. He is to “keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27), and to “abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Since the Christian is really not a light except as he reflects Christ, then any impurity in his life will minimize that light. The light that would shine from our lives because of the good works we do is often obscured by the defilements of moral impurity.
We are inclined to consider our age as one that is especially vexed with moral problems, but evidently these same matters were the concern of God’s people since the days of Adam and Eve. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so let us consider some of the major problems which we must face from day to day if we are to be real and effective “lights in the world.”
The Problem of Pure Thoughts
Solomon said, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” and Jesus emphasized this in the sermon on mount when he showed that one can commit adultery “in his heart,” by harboring evil thoughts even though the overt act has not been committed. In Philippians 4:8 Paul admonished us to think on the things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy.
“Thought control” then becomes a very real problem to the child of God. There are three reasons why we must exercise strict control over our own thinking processes:
- It is a plain command of the New Testament (Philippians 4:8).
- Our thinking determines our character, for what we think in our hearts we actually are in our lives (Proverbs 23:7).
- Defiled, debased thinking will lead us on to more and more defilement in the flesh.
Somebody said that one reason so many people jump off high buildings and bridges is that they “look too long.” We follow our eyes – our thoughts. Likewise many look upon sin so long and so willingly that sin loses its horrible appearance. We may be able to think about evil things without contrasting them with the good and pure until, in our thoughts the thing is no longer sinful. For instance Americans have looked so long upon near-nudity that it seems less offensive than it did 30 years ago, not only because some have become calloused to such sights, but probably mostly because so many people no longer consider it wrong to have evil thoughts. Too many women today don’t care if a man commits adultery in his heart with her!
Lasciviousness promotes evil thoughts, for one definition of the word is “tending to excite lustful desires.” Most dancing is lasciviousness. The Indian war dance was intended to stir up one emotion-the desire to fight. The modern dances in which one sex fondles the other stirs up another emotion and the resulting thoughts tear down inhibitions to sinful conduct. The man who thinks of evil relations for hours on the dance floor will have little power to restrain himself at the end of such experience.
The safest way, then, to safeguard our conduct is to control our thoughts. It is not only important that we recognize this need in our own selves, but that we make every effort to contribute to purity of thought among others with whom we associate in the home, school, office, factory, etc. There is certainly a sense in which we can and must be “our brother’s keeper,” even as we help him keep his thoughts undefiled.
The Problem of Pure Motives
In Hebrews 4:12 we learn that the word of God is a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Purity of motive does not guarantee purity of action, but on the other hand action can hardly be pure if the intent is defiled. In this article we shall not try to identify all motives which may be bad, but we shall consider three significant ones.
Selfishness is an evil motive which may manifest itself many times. Perhaps this was the motivating cause with James and John when they desired to sit on either side, one on the right and one on the left, of Jesus in his kingdom. Selfishness is not simply real concern for self, but actually it is the showing of so much regard for one’s own self that the interests and welfare of others is disregarded. This evil motive might cause a child of God to consider his own welfare, and that of his family, so important that he is unwilling to leave a sheltered environment even to teach and preach the gospel to lost men. Selfishness on the part of preachers and their families probably prevents more fruitful work in the Lord’s vineyard than any other hindering cause. The following poem by G. McDonald should cause many of us to consider our motives in gospel work:
I said, “Let me walk in the fields,”
He said, “No, walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there,”
He said, “No flowers, but a crown.”
I said, “But the skies are black;
There is nothing but noise and din”
And he wept as he sent me back,
“There is more,” he said, “there is sin.”
I said, “But the air is thick,
And the fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered, “Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark are undone.”
I said, “I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say,”
He answered, “Choose tonight,
If I am to miss you, or they.”
I pleaded for time to be given;
He said, “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in heaven,
To have followed the steps of your guide.”
I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town,
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you have the flowers or the crown?”
Then into his hand went mine,
And into my heart came he.
And I walked in a light divine,
The path I had feared to see.
Jealousy is another motive which produces much evil. The brother of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15) demonstrated the evil which may result when jealousy invades our hearts. Jealousy may so warp our nature that it will hinder our usefulness and it may also cause us to throw obstacles in the way of other servants of Christ. Jealousy manifests itself among preachers in so many ways: unwise and undue criticisms of other preachers; complaints because others preach to more people or receive more support; etc. Likewise, other Christians give every evidence of jealousy when they bicker, wrangle and/or pout over such things as who will lead the singing, who will teach a class, who will wait on the table, etc. Any amount of jealousy among Christians will cause discord and difficulty.
Greed is the third evil motive we shall mention. Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom and eventually lost everything he had except two daughters, because he “lifted up his eyes and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere" (Genesis 13:10). How much better it might have been for Lot and his family if he had forgotten his desire for fine pastures for his flocks and would have considered the dangers to his family in the sin-cursed cities of the plain. Today we see many similarities in the way children of God migrate to places for financial gain and in their greed for the money to be had from “overtime,” abandon the meetings of the church. We have observed in recent months here in Chicagoland, that sometimes even elders of the Lord’s church and preachers of the gospel move here to make money and greedily pursue that course even when it means failing to assemble one hour per week to worship God. Significantly this greed is not for millions, nor even thousands of dollars, but often only for a few hundred with which to get a car or a television set etc. Mothers abandon their children, leaving them for strangers to train, or sometimes leaving them alone to roam the streets, just for a few paltry dollars with which to buy those few extras that the neighbors already have. Revolting indeed is the attitude of some preachers, who, when approached about work in a certain place ask first of all, “What do they pay?” All of us might well ponder the following words:
Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
Bright and yellow, hard and cold;
Molten, graven, hammered and rolled;
Heavy to get and light to hold.
Hoarded, bartered, bought and sold,
Stolen, borrowed, squandered, doled;
Spurned by the young, but hugged by the old
To the very edge of the churchyard mold;
Price of many a crime untold:
Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
Good or bad, a thousand fold!
Greed not only causes some to engage in dishonest or improper activities, but it may also cause us to take a wrong attitude toward the possessions which we do have. Regardless of whether we have much or little, hoarding is a manifestation of greed. Isaiah described some of those who claimed to be God’s people, even those who claimed to be his watchmen thus: “Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough . . . they all look to their own way, every one for his own gain . . .” (Isaiah 56:11). Solomon said, “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house” (Proverbs 15 :27). Some poet said:
Use your money while you’re living,
Do not hoard it to be proud;
You can never take it with you,
There’s no pocket in a shroud.
Gold can help you on no farther
Than the graveyard where you lie;
And though you’re rich while living,
You’re a pauper when you die.
Use it then some lives to brighten
As through life they weary plod;
Place your bank account in heaven,
And grow rich toward your God.
The Christian then must put away selfishness, jealousy and greed. When motives are pure, they will be manifested by an unselfish spirit that may better be described as selflessness. Envy, strife and resentments that characterize the jealous person will be absent in the life of one whose motives harmonize with the will of God. Pure motives forbid the grasping, covetous spirit that is a direct product of greed.
The Problem of Pure Speech
Paul wrote much about this matter. In Philippians 1:27 we read: “Let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ.” The revised says “let your manner of life” be as becometh the gospel. This is even more comprehensive. Some people are very skillful in selecting clothing that is “becoming” to them. All of us should be very careful to use speech and to altogether behave ourselves in such a way as is “becoming” to the gospel of Christ. Would the words that flow from our lips compare favorably if put down beside those of the New Testament? Again Paul wrote, “Let your speech be always with grace . . .” Colossians 4:6. That is, our speech should always be courteous and pleasant and from our lips should come only those words that are clean and pure. Paul wrote to Titus and admonished him to use “sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:8). “Sound” means pure, true, whole, valid, right. Our words, then should be those that are true and pure, but, not on1y that but they must not be made up of half-truths and doubtful sayings.
Let us notice this problem from two sides: First we must speak; we must speak truth; we must not withhold proper and necessary words. Peter wrote, “Be ready always to give an answer . . .” (I Peter 3:15). To fail to speak when duty demands it would in one sense be to fail to behave as becometh the gospel. “Silence is golden,” somebody has said, but sometimes to be silent is to be a coward and a traitor.
Second, we must refrain from the use of any bad words. The command of the law of Moses which said, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” is actually amplified in the positive instruction we have already quoted from the pen of Paul, which demands not only that we refrain from the evil but that we use the good. On the other hand, we must not forget that careless, useless, empty and evil words may easily ruin any “answer” we may give regarding scriptural subjects. The speech we make to convince the sinner of the truth may well be the very stumbling block that prevents his obedience if our words are tainted with the language of worldliness.
Many children of God unintentionally use unbecoming speech by the use of euphemisms. One such occurrence is when a good word is used in a bad way. The common use of “Oh, Lord” and “My God” are examples of this abuse. Another use of euphemisms in the of one word for another, as when “Golly” or “gosh” are used, for these words actually mean “God.” “Gee” is simply short for “Jesus.” Now of course many who use these words do not mean to use the name of God or Jesus in vain, but if the word means that, it cannot be used with complete purity regardless of our thoughts about it.
The television programs which our children see and hear and the material which they read for leisure pastime is filled so full of the euphemisms that it requires constant and diligent effort on the part of parents to prevent such from becoming a part of the vocabulary of the children. Furthermore almost all of their associates will use such words, thus making the problem even more acute. Nevertheless children can be so trained as to enable them to keep such words from their lips, but this can only be accomplished effectively if the parents are very careful of their own speech habits. (And we must remember that most of our speech becomes habitual-we speak good or bad words, depending upon our speech habits. The man or woman, boy or girl who constantly use good words will not have to worry about the spontaneous words that will come from his lips when he accidentally hits his finger with the hammer, for even those words will not he profane if his pattern of speech is well established.
The Problem of Pure Actions
To children of God the Holy Spirit says, “Let us walk . . . not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness . . .” Romans 13:13. In Galatians 5:19-24 we are given a long list of “works of the flesh,” all of which are to be avoided. Of course the list of things that could be considered here could require pages and pages of discussion, but we will limit ourselves to just a few that may seem most significant today because of their extreme and wide abuse.
Old-fashioned honesty is a necessary characteristic of the real and devoted Christian. Paul wrote that we should provide for things that are honest, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men (Romans 12:17; II Corinthians 8:21 ). This demands that we not only be sure we are honest, and thus be assured that God knows it, but that we so conduct ourselves that our neighbors will know it too. The child of God who will sneak away and keep the money when he has been given too much change by the grocery clerk, lacks this basic moral attribute, for in his heart the one who steals great sums is no more dishonest than the one who keeps small amounts which do not belong to him.
Furthermore, this matter of honesty goes farther than in handling money. Real honesty forbids hypocrisy. “Yes-men” who will agree with everybody on both sides of any issue are basically dishonest. Christians who willingly give encouragement to people in religious error have simply failed to be really honest with them. Excuse-making that is so common among professed Christians often, and perhaps usually, becomes a manifestation of a careless attitude toward the real truth. The person who says he was too sick to go to the place of assembly on Sunday and still goes to work on Monday when he is in the same condition has simply been dishonest with himself, with the church and with the Lord. Significantly, if we possess any characteristics of dishonesty, we need to overcome them, even if they seem minor to us, for if such are retained in our hearts they will likely manifest themselves in greater and greater ways as time goes by. Furthermore, honesty is a matter of our own will, and is something that we must endeavor and determine to have if we are to possess it. We will not accidentally become honest, but we can deliberately be so.
Modesty is another problem in pure actions. In this usage the word modest means decent, pure, behaving according to a standard of what is proper. And, remember, that standard is set for Christians by the Bible, not by customs of men. For instance, even if the whole world undresses in public, it will never be modest or proper for the Christian. From Genesis 3:7 to Revelation 3:17 nakedness is portrayed as a shame. But our problem today is a grave one, for children are no longer trained in modesty. Little three-year old girls are dressed in gay dresses that are just a little shorter than their brother’s shirt, ten-year old girls are dressed in the scantiest shorts and the narrowest and thinnest “halter” possible, fifteen-year old girls wear less clothing on the street than they wore home from the hospital when they were a week old, and even mothers and grandmothers go everywhere except to wedding, funerals and church services dressed (?) in shorts. (If the trend continues, preachers will soon not only discuss whether or not a woman should wear a hat in worship assemblies but also whether or not she must wear a dress!)
Blushing is an evidence of shame, but blushing is a lost art, for shame is a forgotten attribute. (How long has it been since you have seen anyone blush because of something that was considered shameful or immodest?)
If decency is to prevail, modesty must precede it. Indecency and immodesty are not synonyms, but the former certainly follows in the wake of the latter.
Modesty is not an attribute that is reserved for the feminine sex, for men and boys can not only be immodest in their dress, speech and conduct, but they may have a large part of the responsibility for the immodesty of the women and girls. Perhaps a significant factor in production of more and more immodesty is the unwillingness of people to be different from the popular trend. It no doubt takes fortitude and courage today for a girl to wear a dress on a hot day, not because of the weather but because of the scorn of the multitude. Paul wrote, “Be not . . . ashamed of the testimony of the Lord.” Jesus was not unwilling to suffer the shame of the cross, and his true disciples today must be willing to suffer the humiliation that may accompany a life that portrays modesty to the world.
The Problem of Companionship
“Evil communications (companionship, RV) corrupt good manners (morals, RV)” (I Corinthians 15:33). Again Paul wrote, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (II Corinthians 6:14). Any association in this life is bound to have some effect upon all concerned. In some cases the weak are strengthened by the strong, but in other cases the strong are weakened by the weak. Some cases may even be a compromise-where both strength and weakness are minimized. So, the problem of companionships really can be summed up in two expressions:
- Choose the very best associates possible.
- Be sure that the weaknesses of any companion do not become our weaknesses too.
There is an old man-made proverb, “Lie down with the dogs and you will get up with the fleas.” In everyday-life we need to recognize that we cannot choose evil companions, without expecting to be influenced by their evil to some extent. A good girl does not run with a bad crowd long without partaking of some of their sins. A good boy cannot associate with a gang of hoodlums without having some part in their vices. A godly husband and wife will not keep close company with a vulgar, corrupt couple without being contaminated. Few people of faith and fidelity can maintain a very close friendship with people who are skeptical or atheistic without having their faith shaken at least a little, and without hindering their fidelity in service to the Lord. These facts are illustrated so often in marriage -a good Christian marries a worldly, wicked person with the hope of reforming that one, but usually it doesn’t work out that way. Usually the vitality of the Christian is minimized and the worldly person is no better off either.
When it does become our lot to associate, at work or in school, or in some such manner, with those who are worldly, we must prepare ourselves to stand the test. We will have to begin by guarding our thoughts so that we won’t think like the world thinks. We will also have to be very careful about our words to be sure we do not acquire the vocabulary of the world. Finally, we must exercise strict control over our actions so that we will not be guilty of the deeds of the world. For instance, a Christian may properly think in terms of the golden rule” until he sees the rule of “the survival of the fittest” demonstrated in the office, shop or school, at which time he may give up and begin to think like the world thinks. It is not uncommon to notice one whose words are pure begin association with people whose language is vile and soon begin to hear these vile words creep from those lips from which only good words had formerly come. People who have never done so before are often led by the office crowd to gamble, flirt, etc. The Christian must stand firmly and resolutely when his companions are worldly, for in so doing he will not only maintain his own integrity but will also have a good influence upon others.
In these two articles we have not tried to discuss each and every moral problem that is common today, but we have tried to point out some of the more significant principles that will guide us in each and every thought, word and deed. In today’s world truth must be upheld faithfully and principles of salvation must be proclaimed with zeal. The church must be kept pure in work and worship, and zeal and faith must be manifested in the lives of Christians. Let us not also forget that moral purity must also be maintained among God’s people if success is to accompany our preaching, teaching, work and worship.