By Archie Ratliff
My phone rang at 5:00 a.m. On the other end was a member of my board and a long-standing member of my church, who said, “Pastor, I need you to come to our house right now if you can.”
I arrived to find my friend drowsy from trying an overdose of sleeping pills. He began to babble, “Pastor, I found my wife in bed with another man. I took my gun, aimed it at them and at the last moment, I put two gun shots into the wall.”
At first I didn’t believe him. Surely he was delusional. As I glanced toward his wife, a woman who sang in our choir and sang specials often, I saw on her face a look that affirmed what he said to be true. I watched as one of our prominent church families disintegrated before my eyes. The couple divorced, split their assets and lost their two precious daughters.
One might question the need of this article in a Christian website, especially one for pastors. After all, surely we still believe the Ten Commandments are relevant for today, and God’s Word does speak against adultery. Yet week after week the awful sin of adultery invades our church families. It has even been found in the lives of our pastors and church staff members.
Why the Commandments?
Why did God give us all these commandments anyway? Are these only old, archaic laws which are meant to shackle us in chains and confirm us to a narrow legalistic life? The answer is no, quite the contrary.
Before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, He had blessed the Israelites with freedom from Egypt. God opened the Red Sea and drowned their oppressors in a wall of rushing water. He led them and fed them. The truth is God had a plan and a purpose for Israel.
God displayed His love and His providential care for Israel over and over again. God saw Canaan for Israel, a land of victorious godly living; it was also a land filled with choices. God knew every choice would bear a consequence. One wrong choice could set Israel off the road from His plan, and God knew there would be no easy return.
So God in love and with great compassion gave Israel road signs to help on the journey to Canaan. These commandments would involve all the relationships they would have along the way.
- Have only one God.
- Take care of My Name.
- You need the Sabbath to rest.
- To establish the family, honor your mother and father.
- Life is precious, so don’t kill.
Legalism or Love?
Then He said that if you are going to have great families, you must fence your marriage and not take another man’s wife.
Does this sound like cold narrow legalistic chains? No, not at all. Instead, these are living barriers which help achieve His plan and purpose in His children’s lives. The Ten Commandments were given so we could maintain a warm, intimate fellowship with our God and a pure, honest relationship with our fellow man.
Why would we want to abandon loving limitations and barriers which strengthen our love and our devotion to God and our loved ones?
I don’t know about others, but I find the ministry to be challenging. With a large congregation to shepherd, a Christian school, counseling and preaching, my schedule can be full . . . yet none of these are my greatest challenge.
My challenge is keeping the Lord number One in my life. I don’t want to neglect my own wife and family. I welcome the loving limitations given by God that will draw me closer to Him and allow Him to achieve His plan for my life and ministry.
The Fence Good?
In his book The Tender Commandments, Ton Mel told the story of a cowboy who rode the back of a Brahma bull. The bull swung his massive head and shoulders sending the cowboy into the air and finally to the ground. The only options left for the cowboy was to either run or be trampled. The cowboy ran as fast as he could and scaled a high fence that separated him from 2,000 pounds of raging bull.
Safe on the other side of the fence, what do you think his attitude would be toward that old fence? Why, of course, he’d love that old fence. He might even kiss that old fence for saving his life.
Why would he love that old fence? The fence wasn’t there to restrict or restrain the rider. It was there to restrain the bull. That’s what God’s commandments do for us. They put a barrier between us and all that wants to ruin us at any cost.
Is adultery still wrong? Yes. As long as God’s Word stands, the commandment to marital fidelity remains. This is no time to tear down the barriers. Let’s build the fence of loyalty and devotion to our spouses higher and stronger than ever before.
About the Writer:Reverend Archie Ratliff (deceased) pastored in North Carolina.