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When To Flee

In Focus on the Family we have a crisis number for pastors and Christian leaders. About 60 percent of the calls come from the pastors; about 40 percent come from their wives. This is an idea of what we're hearing:

  • One pastor was struggling with issues in his life, and he picked up a prostitute.
  • Two pastoral colleagues are having affairs.
  • A pastor has homosexual feelings, but he has not acted out until now.
  • A pastor has romantic feelings for his administrative assistant.
  • A pastor is in an emotional relationship with his secretary.
  • The previous pastor had affairs.
  • A pastor is addicted to pornography after a pure life for 30 years.
  • A youth pastor is emotionally involved with a woman at church.
  • A professional counselor whose pastor-husband had multiple affairs.
  • A long-time pastor is hooked on Internet pornography.
  • A pastor discovered his associate used the pastor's computer to go to pornographic sites.
  • A woman's pastor-husband had an affair; they left the church, but now their two teenage daughters are struggling with their faith.

Every day we lose pastors because they cannot control the urges Satan creates in their lives. A little over a year ago at Focus on the Family, our co-host of 15 years came to Dr. Dobson and told him he was involved in a relationship. Immediately, this one who had been our co-host for more than 15 years was out of a job, and two families were devastated.

Why would men and women put in jeopardy their profession, their ministry, their family, their reputation? The answer is simple. When they came face to face with temptation, when in the back of their minds a voice screamed, Run! Run! Run! Run! they did not flee. When the world sits outside our door and Satan seems to sit on our shoulder and whisper in our ear, there is this message of the Holy Spirit that simply says: Run! Run as fast as you can. Get away from it. Don't stand here another moment.

Colossians 3 says:
?Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts."

Flee from sexual temptation

Four or five areas in the New Testament speak of our own lives in relationship to the word flee. First of all, 1 Corinthians 6:19 is written in relationship to sexual immorality and misconduct. The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth says you are to flee those areas in your life that cause you to be tempted to sexual immorality. Ephesians 5:3 says, "There must not be even a hint of sexual immorality"—not even dirty joking. And think of the Old Testament story about Joseph and Potiphar's wife. It says he literally ran from that situation.

The reason I told you about the phone calls we receive at Focus on the Family is because these are men and women of God, men and women not unlike you, who have gone to seminary, who have read the Bible, but Satan has sat on their shoulders and whispered in their ears, and all of a sudden they've been trapped. We call it the syndrome of the soft shoulder, where they begin to communicate with someone during a counseling session in a way they have not communicated with anyone for a long time. They develop this emotional attraction, and rather than fleeing, rather than saying, "we need to stop this session," rather than saying, "I cannot see you anymore," they stay, and all of a sudden they're trapped.

Or an image flickers on their computer, and rather than fleeing, they're trapped. One pastor said to me the other day, "Pastor H. B., I saw one image on my computer screen, and I have been trapped ever since." Why? Because he allowed his mind to center on those things.

Flee from idols

First Corinthians 10 deals with idols: "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry."

But what happens to us? We say, No, I don't have to flee from that. I can change the rules. I'm strong enough. I've got what it takes. That will never get me. I'll adapt to whatever the situation is. But we can't change the rules. We're not strong enough. We're not better than anything or any other person. What does that word flee mean? It means something's chasing you. It means you're in some kind of danger. It means there's something surrounding you that is stronger than you are. It means you don't stand and fight it. It means you get away from it. But many times in church and in ministry and in counseling situations, we think we can change the rules: I'm stronger. I'm better. I'm bigger. That doesn't apply to me. I've got all these things made. I've got it all together.

But we're not stronger. You can think in your own mind of three or four people in the last four or five years who have fallen prey to these areas of torment and temptation. Why? Because they thought they were big enough to handle it. Because they thought they were holy enough or righteous enough or Christian enough.

At Focus on the Family, a pastor will call me and say, "H. B., I'm going through some tough times." I'll say, "Who are you accountable to?" He'll say, "Not anybody. I don't trust anybody." "How is your intimacy with God?" "It's not very good." "Where's your strength coming from?" "I can handle this." You can't handle it. That's why Paul said: Flee idolatry. Don't stand there. Don't let it affect you. Flee it.

Flee from materialism

First Timothy 6 talks about materialism. It talks about the root of all evil being money. It says flee from all of this. What does money do? What does materialism do? Arrogance and pride sneak into these areas of our lives, and we see ourselves as better than someone else or more significant than someone else. Paul says to his young son in the faith: Flee these things. Materialism will destroy you.

Flee from evil desires

It's not just about sexual temptation. It's not just about the idols we build up. It's about the things we put our mind to and the things we invest in. Second Timothy 2:22 talks about fleeing the evil desires. It talks about bitterness and rage and anger and faultfinding and jealousy and those things that get into your heart and destroy the basic fiber of who you are.

In the Book of James there's an answer to all this. James 4:7 says: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you." That's the answer. That's Paul's admonishment to us to die daily. Submit. Surrender yourselves to God. You who are in the church and you who do Christian business and you who make your living as a Christian counselor and you who teach in schools and you who have authority and you who have opportunity and influence and power, surrender yourselves to God. Submit. Resist the devil. In other words, build a hedge of protection around yourself by loving your family and being loved by your family and having accountability and putting restraints in your lives so Satan cannot invade you. And he'll flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.

Have you felt the pain of watching somebody you love nearly destroy their life because they didn't have the guts to run from that which was chasing them? You don't want to be around them. You don't want to talk to them. You don't want to be reminded of them, because you've seen the tarnish in their lives.

Do you realize the potential for that in this room? There are men in this room who are struggling with pornography. There are those of you in this room who are dealing with emotional attachments to people you counsel. There are those of you who have lost your intimacy with God because you've become busy doing Christian things. There are people in this room so wrapped up in your own profession that you haven't surrendered who you are, or if you have surrendered it, you've taken it back. Come near to God and he will come near to you. That's what the Scripture says.

The other day some guy said to me, "H. B., what's chasing you?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "What are those things in your life you need to run from?" That's what prompted this message. I say to you: What's chasing you? What is it in your life you need to flee from?

Paul gives us four simple categories: Sexual temptation—flee from it. Idolatry, building up things as substitutes for God?flee from it. Materialism, where we allow the things of this world to be more important than the things of God—flee from it. Evil desires—flee from it.

Some time ago I was reading one of Chuck Swindoll's devotions entitled "Lust Is Lurking." He writes: "I think of the gentleman I met several years ago, a fine itinerate Bible teacher. He said he had been keeping a confidential list of men who were once outstanding expositors of Scripture, capable and respected men of God, who have shipwrecked their faith on the shoals of moral defilement. He was keeping a record, and now it had climbed to 42 of these men. A chill ran down my spine when he told me that story. No one is immune. You're not; I'm not."

Lust is no respecter of persons. It's a luring voice. It can infiltrate the most intelligent mind and cause its victims to believe in lies and respond to its appeal. And beware. It never gives up. It never runs out of ideas. Bolt your front door, and it will rattle the bedroom windows or crawl into the living room through the TV screen. Lust is persistent. If it's knocked on your door once, it will knock again and again. You're safe so long as you draw upon the Savior's strength. Try to handle it yourself, and you'll lose every time. This is why we are warned again and again in the New Testament to flee temptations. Remember, lust is committed to wage war against your soul in a life-and-death struggle, in hand-to-hand combat. Don't stand before the mortal enemy and argue or fight in your own strength. Run for cover. If you get yourself into a situation that leaves you defenseless and weak, if your door is left even slightly ajar, you may be sure this ancient enemy will knock it open with six guns blazing. So don't leave it open. Don't give lust a foothold, even a toehold.

A pastor said to me the other day, "I'm tired of hearing in conferences people talking about pastors and sexual failures and sexual immorality. When can we get onto something else?" We can get onto something else when people like you and me realize Satan is real and he's out to destroy the church and he's out to undermine your families and he's out to do everything he can to get us on the defensive. When he begins to knock at that door and there are sexual temptations and there are temptations to embrace idols as a substitute for God, and there are moments when we begin to think, My life would be better if I had more of this or more of this, or we justify our feelings of bitterness and anger and rage and malice and we don't flee and run, then that little door is opened and Satan has that toehold. And in that moment of response we can be hooked for all time.

Who is chasing you? What's chasing you? When you look behind you, how close is it?

When our co-host at Focus on the Family announced he had fallen into immorality, we were devastated. He was my co-host for Pastor to Pastor, the audiocassette series I do. I wrote in my weekly column for pastors, "We are all sinners saved by grace, and all are on various stages of the journey. But we are never safely home until we get home."

I heard a word from Howard Hendricks the other day, who said, "Satan will lie on the weeds for 40 years to entrap one of God's servants. He's patient. He will wait, and he will watch for the right moment, the moment that will do the greater damage to the kingdom of God."

What's our defense?

  1. Intimacy with God
  2. Right relationships
  3. Adequate rest
  4. Honest accountability
  5. Meaningful ministry
  6. Attitudes of joy and thanksgiving
  7. A vigilant spirit

We remember our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who, when he hung on the cross and shed his blood for all mankind, had your name inscribed on his heart. I think of that sacrifice he paid for me and that unconditional love he shows to me, and when he says "flee," I want to run as fast as I can away from the evil one and back into his arms. Back into his arms, for there is where my safety lies.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________

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Sermon Outline:


The trouble comes when we do not flee from temptation.

I. Flee from sexual temptation.

II. Flee from idols.

III. Flee from materialism.

IV. Flee from evil desires.