Previous article in this series: May 1, 2008, p. 316.
Whether Moab’s King Balak or the prophet Balaam was more culpable for tempting Israel with fornication, both of them had a hand in bringing God’s people into great evil. The motivation was Balak’s: “Destroy this people!” Balaam had the cunning: “Since God has prevented me from cursing them, let us send our women among them to cause them to sin sexually. This will bring them under their God’s judgment.”
Today, Balaam’s and Balak’s strategy is revived with a vengeance. Thus, the title:Balak Redivivus—”Balak, given new life.” Satan, arch-enemy of the church, has refined his strategy, improved his methods, and developed new weapons. But the basic goals are the same. One of them is to tempt the people of God with sexual sin, especially through pornography.
The end is enslavement to the sin. Millions and millions are in bondage to sexual sin. The grip of it is so powerful that a man may be awash in self-loathing, curse himself for his stupidity, promise never ever to do it again…and return to it the very next day. The dynamics of this sin are like that of any other addiction, described well at the end of Proverbs 23 with regard to drunkenness: “They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.” The enslavement is like drug-addiction: A person can never have enough. The sin accelerates as he always chases new “highs.” Because it never says, “It is enough,” this addiction is like the always-hungry grave, fire, barren womb, and the two daughters of the horseleech who cry, “Give, Give!” (see Prov. 30:15, 16).
God’s people fall into this sin. Reformedmen and women become prey to this roaring lion. Their natures are not immune to any sin. Not this one, either.
For this sin God sends judgments. For God’s people, the judgments are chastisements, sent in love to correct them, to lead them back to Him in repentance and faith. But the judgments are painful. The chastisements may be very sharp.
Sometimes the sexual sins themselvesare judgments for other sins. God allows one to fall into this sin as judgment for his sin of forsaking Him. His idolatry may be chastened with the steep falls into sexual sin (cf. the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 95, to see that the sin of idolatry is the sin of all of us).
May God deliver His church from the terrifying and violent whirlpool of sexual sin.
The Spear of Phinehas
When Israel fell into fornication with the Moabitish women, the end of the matter was the public execution of two, whose fornication was flagrant. Before the eyes of the publicly gathered people of Israel, the son of one of Israel’s leaders led the daughter of a Moabite ruler into a tent—to commit fornication. Their names were Zimri and Cozbi. A godly priest in Israel, zealous for God’s name, followed them in. His name was Phinehas. “And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel” (Num. 25:1-15).
God praised the righteous, and violent, acts of Phinehas. “He was zealous for my sake.” God rewarded him and his children: “And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel” (Num. 25:11, 13). His bold action was so important that God memorialized it in the Psalms: “Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed. And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore” (Ps. 106:30-31).
Corresponding to Phinehas’ spear in the new dispensation is discipline, church discipline, church discipline that ends inexcommunication. But not all discipline ends in a sinner’s being cut off from the church of Christ and from the hope of heaven. In fact, the purpose of discipline is to bring him to repentance. Neither immediate, nor final, it is rather a processby which he can, by God’s grace and with the church’s help, escape the sin that ensnared him.
But the church must be willing to exercise discipline. Because discipline, according to Matthew 18, is usually initiated by the members of the church, all the members of the church must be bold. The wounded wife, perhaps sooner rather than later, will involve the consistory so that the remedy of discipline may be applied. (If her husband does not repent, she has no choice except to call the elders.) Then the elders, quietly and patiently, but very firmly and without being naÃ¯ve, will closely work with the struggling sinner until he gains the victory. Or until he is cut off.
Thus, sorrow and mourning over the sin by the church are not enough—even godly sorrow and heartfelt mourning. The Israelites were weeping before the tabernacle. But God did not stay the plague until Phinehas took up his spear and dealt with the sin. Discipline is necessary.
Discipline is mercy.
It is mercy to the sinner, for whom the discipline may be a remedy!
Discipline is also mercy to the churches, among whom the “leaven” of pornography and sexual sin will otherwise spread and infect the whole. Discipline “stays the plague” among the people. God is pleased with the church that deals rightly with sin.
Preaching, Public Prayers, and the Elders
Most sexual sin is never reported to the elders. The churches can nevertheless wage war against the revived Balak and his prophets. They do this primarily by preaching, both in the pulpit and the vitally important catechism room.
Consideration of who the enemy is, and how he works, will spur consistories to instruct their ministers to preach about sexual sins, to make humble but bold and clear applications to these temptations the believers face. Preaching is the sharp “sword of the spirit” that God uses today. Preaching will warn of the terrible consequences of sexual sin. But preaching will also direct the faith of the shame-filled people of God to the cross, where Christ died and paid for sin, sexual sins too. At the cross, Christ defeated the church’s great enemy. Paul can therefore encourage the church at Rome regarding the fearful power of sin: “For sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14).
God honors—now and in the future—the preacher and the church willing to wield this weapon against the enemy.
The public prayers of the church ought to be pleas for help: “Dear God, bring to ruin the authors, the writers, the photographers, the models, the producers, and all who are involved in this assault against the church. Holy Father, we look forward to the day of their final and public destruction. But, Lord God, forgive our sins and deliver us from evil.”
Given the pervasive nature of this sin in our society, elders will seriously consider addressing this temptation in the annual family visits. The people of God—especially, those who have teenage children at home—want elders to address the matter. As they teach their children to battle sin, this will be support for them to raise the issue in family devotions and family prayers. “The elders discussed this with us. Let’s talk and pray about that this evening.”
In the homes, fathers will take the lead by blocking all the “portals” that allow the filth into their homes. They will educate themselves about all the means the devil uses to gain access to their children. And then they will do what it takes to make it impossible for their children to partake in the sin—at least in their home. With regard to the Internet (wives and mothers especially want to listen carefully here), the fathers will see to it, with the help of their wives, that what every member of the family sees on the computer (and television) can be monitored. What the father sees too.
There are many ways this can happen. Parents, husbands, and wives must learn. If the reader wants ideas, he might start by investigating the computer program “Covenant Eyes: Internet Accountability.” The reference is to the book of Job: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). The program notifies a designated person of all the web-sites that have been visited, highlighting those of “concern.” Women, what would be the reason a man would not want such accountability, or not allow it?
But the battle begins in our hearts.
There have been those who have tried to withstand unchasteness by their own powers, by fasting and labor. But they have broken down their bodies in the attempt and yet have accomplished nothing; for evil desire is extinguished by nothing but the heavenly dew and rain of God’s grace. Fasting, laboring, and watching must accompany it, but they are not sufficient…. The cure must come from within outward, not from without inward. For disease has grown into the flesh and blood, the marrow and the veins; it is not outside in the dress or clothing. Therefore little is achieved by trying to quench lust with an external remedy. We may indeed weaken the body and destroy it with fastings and labors, but the evil lust is not thereby banished. Yet faith can subdue and check it so that it must give place to the Spirit (Martin Luther, of course).
The heart is essential. Without waging the battle in the heart, there can be no victory. I want to flee fornication in my heart. I want to obey my God from my heart. I desire to observe the seventh commandment within, as Jesus taught in Matthew 5:28.
Fighting sin within is the basic but difficult work of daily conversion. In this work, the believer who has fallen into this sin begins with sorrow, in his heart, that he provoked God by sexual sin. (Everyone who struggles with besetting sin ought to memorize the Heidelberg Catechism’s beautiful and wise Lord’s Day 33.) In converting the sinner, God gives him the grace “more and more to hate” sexual sins. Then, and then only, can he “flee from them.”
In keeping with Scripture, the Heidelberg describes this work as “mortifying” our old nature (see Eph. 4:22-24 and Col. 3:5-10). We “put to death” what we find in our old nature. Because our old nature is nothing less than we ourselves, mortifying it is painful struggle—the most painful struggle we can endure. But when God gives grace to do that, we also learn the “quickening of the new man.” God grants a “sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ,” so that we “with love and delight…live according to the will of God in all good works.”
Before he attains that victory, the believer may need the help of fellow saints. Regular meetings with the minister and an elder may be necessary, with concrete steps taken for his particular circumstances.
But God promises victory. The victory of a pure conscience, deliverance from the terrible shame, and the ability to live chastely, in marriage or single life.
Look to the holy God who justly judges sexual sins. And remember His mercy, a mercy that comes in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.