Above all else, guard your heart because everything you do flows from it. ~ Proverbs 4:23
I will admit this is a bit slow, I must have missed the news days ago of another big-name pastor forced from his position due to various sins (news I missed in my home state, no less). This isn’t about big name or small name, big stage or tiny country church—we all face the temptations of sin, forgetting in the moment that the wages of sin is death or that more eyes are on us when we hold positions of leadership in church.
Honestly, I’ve seen the depths of potential in my own heart, thinking before in times of stress: I don’t want to quit, but if I do *this* then they will have no choice but to fire me and I can be done with the ministry forever. Sin is a sickness, an infection, a rotten core—that’s why Jeremiah said that our hearts are desperately sick.
Thankfully in Jesus we have new hearts and new spirits. But… we still have that dying remnant of the old self that clings to us until we shed these mortal bodies. So we must be careful, or as Solomon told his son: We must guard our hearts.
So how do we do this?
First, we must be diligent in our daily devotional lives. Communion with God is a must. Hebrews 12 tells us that as we shed our sin that so easily entangles us we are to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. The psalmist says that hiding God’s word in our hearts is a way to avoid sin. There are a variety of ways we can do this meditation on God’s word—journaling, memorizing, singing, sharing—whatever we do, God intends his word to sink deep within our hearts and minds.
And God intends us to come before him with our prayers. When we are weak, he is strong. When we are tempted, he gives the way out. When we need help, he is the loving Father who cares for us. When we are under attack, he is the Strong Warrior who fights for us. The key to it all is him, him, him, him… We must keep running to him.
Second, we must be daily accountable to others. Men, we need other men in our lives who can help carry the burdens of our hearts. Not yes men who will never challenge us or push us or ask us the hard questions. Not men who will watch us fall and then kick us when we’re down. Rather men who love us, who will ask us the difficult questions, who will encourage us, rebuke us, correct us, comfort us, and lend a hand when we’ve fallen and know we need help to get back up.
Yes, these relationships take time to develop. Yes, it means being vulnerable and open. And yes, there is risk. Pretty much every single one of us has a story of someone somewhere in our lives and our churches who we entrusted and then they stabbed us in the back. It can be embarrassing to have what we thought were our secrets paraded in public. It can hurt us to the core. So we pull back, we shut down, and we enclose ourselves in.
We forget what Hebrews 3 says: Exhort one another each day so that we won’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We all have our excuses to hide the depths of our soul from others. Let those excuses go to hell. That’s not being crass, that’s the place where our sin condemns us without Jesus. Better to burn our excuses that keep us from accountability then let our souls wither under the heat.
Third, be quick to confess and quick to forgive. Saving us, Jesus floods our lives with grace. Every single sin we have ever committed or thought was taken and nailed to the cross. Every. Single. One. Not one ounce of God’s wrath toward us was kept back to be unleashed in some purgatory-like final retribution before the joys of eternity. It was all poured out on Jesus. Not a single letter of God’s law that we have broken and broken and broken remains on our records. God has removed our sin as far as the east is from the west and he brings it to mind no more.
Yet as our lives unfold, those sins we commit as we wait for the day of perfect perfection still disrupt our fellowship with God and with other followers of Jesus, they still can hurt our witness to the gospel.
So we’re told to own up. Confess to God and confess to one another. Yet in 1 John and James there are also great promises with these confessions. When we confess our sins to God he cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Fellowship is restored. When we confess our sins to one another, we pray for the one confessing and God brings healing—a restoration to our souls.
But when we hold onto a sin, it’s bitter root begins to grasp hold of our hearts and either we feel the weight of anger and depression at our own failure, or we think we have escaped noticed and what would it really hurt if we do it again? Holding on to sin in secret does no good.
Someone has said that public sins should be confessed publically and private sins privately. I think that is a good start (though as Jesus said in Matthew 18—even those private sins may ultimately be brought public if, when confronted, we refuse to repent. And as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5, this is especially so for pastors/elders who sin, so that the church may not follow the same error).
Quick to confess, we also need to be quick to forgive those who have sinned against us. Yes, it might take more work and time to restore relationships and bring healing and reconciliation if the sin causes deep wounds. But forgiveness is that first step, where we release our right to seek our own retribution. Both confession and forgiveness help to create and maintain a culture of grace.
In conclusion… Brothers, our own hearts and those of the men and women we lead are precious to God because we are his beloved children through Jesus. Sin is damaging and deceitful. Sin has a way of pulling us down when we least expect it. So we must be diligent to guard our hearts. Let us work for this and fight for this, knowing the eternal stakes are too great.