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How are the mighty fallen!

August 2017 | by Nigel T. Faithfull

David hears of the death of two of Israel’s heroes, and exclaims three times that two mighty men have fallen. He laments, ‘Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon’ (2 Samuel 1:19-27).

He is ashamed that such news is proclaimed among his enemies. At the same time, he asks how such a thing could have happened.

It has been terribly sad recently to hear of serious moral lapses in Christian leaders. These have been reported in our national press, ‘published in the streets of Ashkelon’, and believers now find themselves ashamed by the subsequent mocking of Christianity.

Another repercussion is that men and women in the pew find themselves faced with the question, ‘What hope is there for me, if such advocates of the gospel can end up like this?’ We perhaps wonder how such situations could have arisen, and whether Christ is able to deliver us in our future trials.

Responsibility

If God ‘will supply every need of yours, according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19), we must first look to ourselves if things go wrong in our relationships. For Christ is our Rock and none of his promises can fail; he is sufficient for all the trials of life.

Joseph was upheld when tempted by Potiphar’s wife, but Samson gave in to Delilah, and David instigated adultery with Bathsheba. Samson and David could only blame themselves for their falls, but God did not utterly cast them off and both came to repentance.

Nathan did not expurgate David’s psalms from the psalter; they remain the inspired Word of God. Backsliders who return might not occupy the same position in the church as before, but they can still be forgiven by fellow-believers and be used by God. The ones who are truly saved (and only God knows who they are) will remain saved, though their reward will suffer (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Christians need to be aware that, while we are still on this present earth, the flesh and its evil desires are at war with the Spirit of God. We can enjoy the lawful appetites with which God has supplied us, but Satan will try and twist their use for his own ends, inciting us to break God’s commandments and bring Christ’s name into disrepute.

We can see how Satan operates in a purely hypothetical example. A godly man might frequently be away from his family on business trips, or a minister might be on a preaching tour. He keeps himself chaste and looks forward to a warm welcome from his wife on his return.

Meanwhile, his wife has been struggling with the children, who have been feeling unwell, and after several nights with little sleep is feeling depressed and beginning to feel resentful of her husband’s frequent absences.

On his return, the husband is met by a glum wife who seems cold towards him. He also feels resentful that his needs are not being met and Satan uses this situation to target either or both with temptation.

Vulnerability

All of us remain susceptible to sin while in this world. There are certain times, however, when we become particularly vulnerable. We set out on our Christian lives experiencing ‘peace like a river’, but it may not be long before ‘sorrows like sea-billows roll’ around us.

Either spouse may develop debilitating conditions: clinical depression, fibromyalgia, ME, MS, early-onset of dementia, or paralysis from a stroke or an accident. But the way out is not to seek comfort in the arms of a sympathetic person of the opposite sex (who may be seeking for solace from their own problems). That would be like heading the wrong way up a one-way street, having thrown the Highway Code out of the window. Wisdom rather than passion must be in the driving seat, or else a head-on crash is inevitable.

Although God has tethered Satan, he remains a roaring lion seeking to destroy God’s children (1 Peter 5:8). He is also a subtle deceiver, using lies to tempt us to sin (John 8:44).

His lies try to make us doubt God’s words and commandments. He sows thoughts in our mind that, if we have a burning desire for affection, unsatisfied at home, we should look elsewhere: after all, God has given us these bodily desires and, if we can satisfy someone else’s needs as well as our own, surely that is not a bad thing.

If a man is thinking along these lines and a Bathsheba appears, the flesh will triumph. Perhaps full of self-pity and neglecting prayer and Bible-reading, it is now passion rather than the precepts and promises of God that directs the actions. He (or she) should have taken avoidance measures from the beginning.

Plan of attack

When facing the devil, we need a plan of attack. Strangely, when it comes to temptations like these, the best advice is not to confront a situation by reasoning with it, but to flee.

Joseph, when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, got out from her presence as quickly as he could. If he had started to think how lonely she felt with her military husband away so much, and how he himself had so little social friendship and was missing his family too, he could have argued that here was an opportunity to satisfy both their desires.

But the apostle Paul tells us, ‘Flee sexual immorality’ (1 Corinthians 6:18). He then reminds us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit and bought with a price, so we must glorify God with our bodies.

After fleeing from the temptation to sin, we must fly straight to Christ. When Peter began to sink into the stormy waves, because his faith was failing, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’ (Matthew 14:30). Likewise, if we pray earnestly to the Lord to help us in our hour of need, he will ‘provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).

As we look to Christ, we focus on the price he paid to redeem us and the suffering he endured on the cross for us. We will then dread causing Christ to be ashamed of us failing to endure our small inconveniences, and will think of the resultant pain and shame for our spouse, family and wider church family if we fall in this area.

On a positive note, we should not fail to remember that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18). We should also recall our Lord’s prayer, ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’ (Matthew 6:13).

A friend in the Christian ministry has reminded me that it is helpful to have a close Christian friend and prayer partner to whom we can confide our temptations and who will provide some moral support. Others may have no idea that there is a problem, and a minister may be so private that he keeps all his frustrations to himself and deprives himself of vital support.

Pressing on

Paul knew he wasn’t perfect, but realised he had to continue pressing on and straining forward, until he obtained the prize of glory (Philippians 3:12-15). We are encouraged by saints in the past who have persevered, in spite of domestic problems, such as Thomas Boston (1676–1732), whose wife became mentally ill.

He wrote that this experience gave him ‘more heavenliness in the frame of my heart, more contempt of the world … more carefulness to walk with God, and to get evidence for heaven; more resolution for the Lord’s work over the belly of difficulties’.

In 1873, Horatio Spafford lost all his four daughters by drowning, in a dreadful collision at sea. Yet he experienced God’s peace as he wrote:

For me be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live!

If Jordan above me shall roll.

No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

His past troubles had taught him self-control and a calm resting in Christ. Paul said, ‘I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified’ (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Our Lord was a true man, with feelings as sensitive as — even more sensitive than — anyone. He experienced needy women falling in tears at his feet (Luke 7:38) and hanging on to his every word (Luke 10:39), yet he remained pure and holy and true to his calling. He is our supreme example.

Nigel T. Faithfull is a retired analytical chemist and member of St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff. In 2012, he published Thoughts fixed and affections flaming (Day One), concerning Matthew Henry.