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How to Maintain Moral Integrity in the Ministry

By Rick Warren
Saddleback Church

CBN.comIntegrity is the foundation of leadership. You only lead people if they trust you. If you lose people's trust, you've lost it all. That's why the right to lead is earned, and it's earned by being trustworthy. I think the most damaging sin a leader can commit is to betray the trust of his people.

Because Satan is on the attack, I want to share some biblical strategies for maintaining moral integrity in the ministry. In 2 Corinthians 1:12 (NIV), Paul says, "This is our boast. Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God." 

What I like about this verse is that Paul is really saying, "I have ministered with a clear conscience. Nobody can point a finger at me. Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves with integrity." This is a mark of a leader.

Titus 2:6 tells us that a leader must be blameless. That verse is talking about integrity, which is the very first qualification of a leader. Ephesians 5:3 (NIV) warns us, "But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality or any impurity or greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. I am jealous for the integrity of God."

How can you maintain moral integrity as a minister? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Never consider yourself above temptation.

Don't kid yourself. People say, "It couldn't happen to me." That's a bunch of baloney. We need to be aware how vulnerable all of us are. The first defense is an attitude of humility that says, "I'm a human being." We need to watch out. 1 Corinthians 10:12 (LB) says, "So be careful if you are thinking, 'Oh, I'd never behave like that.' Let this be a warning to you, for you too may fall into sin." None of us are invulnerable. None of us are immune. Proverbs 16:18 (NIV) says, "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."  The morning I say, "I've conquered that problem," that's the morning I'm open for temptation.

It's like the person who believes he's never going to be robbed, so he never locks his doors, never bolts down his windows, and leaves his money lying all around. Who's going to get robbed? The guy who thinks he's never going to get robbed. Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV) says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" That means every person has his or her price. My heart is deceitful. That's what God says about my heart -- and your heart. Given the right circumstances and set of events, you can't tell what you'd do. Me neither. We should have a holy fear of ever thinking we're beyond temptation.

2. Keep a close watch on your spiritual temperature.

Be aware of your own level of commitment on a daily basis. It's very important that we watch our manners. Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, "Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life." Maintaining that daily walk with the Lord is absolutely imperative. I find that in temptation of any kind, I need to continually remind myself of God's omniscience and omnipresence. God sees everything in my life, and he is always with me. The devil says, "No one will ever know." That's true in any kind of temptation. If God is always with me and he sees everything, then that is a motivation for me to practice his presence. 1 Corinthians 9:27 (NLT) says, "I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified."  That verse strikes fear into me: that I would preach to others, then I myself would be disqualified. The integrity of leadership is the bottom line.

3. If you're married, maintain your own marriage.

The greatest insurance for moral integrity is a happy home life. It's important that if we're married, we make sure that our marriage is growing and developing. Like the old saying, "The grass is not greener on that side of the fence and the grass is not greener on this side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it."  It's very important that we maintain our own marriages.

Song of Solomon 1:6 (NAS) says, "They made me caretaker of the vineyards, but I have not taken care of my own vineyard."  That's an important point. There's a danger in ministry of spending time repairing everybody else's marriage but neglecting your own. I work at this very hard in my family. Kay and I read books together, listen to tapes together. We go to seminars together.  If you're married and in the ministry, it's important that you have the same lives together -- not separate lives.

4. Develop healthy outlets for emotional and sexual energy.

Satan loves to play on pent-up emotions. I've talked with people who don't have healthy ways to express their emotions and release that energy. Many times, immorality is rampant among them, because they're burning out. Romans 12:21 says, "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good."  That's just the principle of replacement. You've got to have outlets for balance in your life.

5. Guard your mind.

The Bible is very specific about this. The battle for sin always begins in the mind. Always. If you lose the battle in your mind -- your thoughts -- you've lost the battle. James 1:14-15 (NIV) says, "... but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

Here are number of verses that deal with guarding your mind:

"Keep your head in all situations." (2 Timothy 4:5, NIV)

"Prepare your minds for action, be self controlled." (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

"We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)

"Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Romans 13:14, NIV) What he's saying there is "No fantasizing." You sow a thought, and you reap an action.

In Matthew 5:28 (NIV), Jesus said, "Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Science has found that whether you think a thought or you experience the thought in action, it makes no difference to your brain. It has the same mental impact. Neurologically there's absolutely no difference.

Paul tells us to "take the helmet of salvation." (Ephesians 6:17) Why? That's what protects the mind. He's saying you've got to guard what you think about -- and look at.  Job declares, "I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully on a girl" (Job 31:1, NIV). David writes, "I will set before my eyes no vile thing" (Psalm 101:3, NIV).

Romans 16:19 (NIV), "I want you to be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil." That's a key verse. Have you ever heard people say, "We need to know what the other side thinks like?" Baloney! That's just not true. It's like the way the U.S. Treasury Department teaches people how to spot counterfeiters. They don't give them counterfeit money. They give them real dollars to handle and examine. Then when something phony comes along, they immediately know it's phony.

6. Remind yourself regularly of the damaging consequences of moral failure.

Sit down and watch the confession of Jimmy Swaggart. It's high drama, probably the most dramatic church service you'll see. You see how sin destroyed a congregation.

What do you do? Minimize the pleasure of sin and maximize the consequences. Hebrews 11:25 (paraphrase) says, "There is pleasure in sin for a season." There is no doubt about it. Sin is fun. Nobody would do it if it were not fun. There wouldn't be any temptation if there wasn't some kind of pleasure in it. Even God says there is pleasure in sin, but it's just for a season. You have your kicks, then you have your kickbacks.

What are the kickbacks? James 1:15 (KJV) says, "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."

I think a good idea is to make a list of consequences and read it to yourself often. From Leadership magazine, a guy named Randy Alcorn lists consequences of a moral tumble. He says, "Whenever I feel particularly vulnerable to sexual temptation, I find it helpful to review what effects my action could have: grieving the Lord who redeemed me; dragging his sacred name through the mud; one day having to look at Jesus, the righteous judge in the face, and give an account of my actions; following the footsteps of people whose immorality forfeited their ministries and caused me to shudder; losing my wife's respect and trust; hurting my daughters; destroying my example and credibility with my children; causing shame to my family; losing self respect; forming memories and flashbacks that could plague future intimacy with my wife; wasting years of ministry training; undermining the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community; and on and on."

7. Take the necessary precautions to protect yourself.

As damaging as this issue can be, we need to go the second mile in protecting ourselves. Ephesians says there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality. In Matthew 26:41 (NIV) Jesus says, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak." It's interesting to me that he doesn't say, "Watch and pray so you will not fall into sin." He says, "Watch and pray that you don't even fall into temptation." He's saying, don't even put yourself in a situation where you can be tempted. It's not an issue of are you going to give in or not, but rather, if you don't want to get stung, stay away from the bees.

Don't put yourselves in situations where you'll ever be tempted. 1 Peter 5:8 (LB) says, "Be careful, watch out for the attacks from Satan your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion looking for some victim to tear apart." We've got to take precautions.

Because of that, let me warn you that most sexual temptation in the ministry will come from people whom you genuinely care about. People whom you love and who mean a lot to you. It's not going to be from some city slicker prostitute, but from people you really care about.

The bottom line is James 1:12 (NAB): "Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him."

When I get to heaven, I want one of those crowns. I want to be able to look the Lord in the eye and say, "Lord, you know that I was pure through all my years of ministry and that there was never even a hint of impurity in my life."

Related story: How God Builds You While You are Building Your Ministry

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