The Disciplines of Abstinence: Frugality, Poverty, Chastity

Dallas Willard Part 8 of 13

A series of talks Dallas gave for African Enterprise on his first trip to South Africa in 1985. He works through some of the material that became The Spirit of the Disciplines.


Dallas: We have looked at solitude, silence, and fasting and let me say that I think these three form a sub group of Disciplines of Abstinence that are very important.  I said earlier that solitude is the primary discipline for the beginner and solitude without silence will not be effective and it is in solitude and silence that we learn how to fast. And after we’ve learned it, then we will be able to fast and be quite free without solitude and silence, but we really do need that. [00:47]

I think that I would like to, at this point give you a bit of an exercise for you to work on today following just this observation that if you are going to have solitude and silence and if you are going to be able to fast, you will have to make arrangements for it. You will have to make arrangements for it, and if you can today, I would urge you to give some thought to this question. What are the arrangements I will have to make? This requires you to think about your personal circumstances, you see. What are the arrangements I will have to make in order to have an effective plan? What are the arrangements I will have to make in order to have an effective plan for exercise unto Godliness?

Another way of putting much the same question is just to ask—what steps must I take? What steps must I take in order to implement these disciplines? What steps must I take in order to implement these disciplines? [2:12]

Now, you really have—your main components are time—[well, you can’t see that; this pen isn’t working again]—time, space, energy, money and may I suggest that you look at each of those categories.

Question: Inaudible

Dallas: Well, I’d be happy to do that. They are certainly the ones that are going to have to be taken into very careful consideration. I’m not for sure that you may at least to begin with—our family may be more of a problem than a resource—and if we do have a mate or grown children or others living in our house that can help us with time, space and so on; then they are a resource. [3:22]

Question: They are resources? I’m sorry; I misunderstood the comment.

Dallas: Yeah, well, but actually these could be resources, Philip; they really could. And indeed, God bless you if you have a family that can serve as a resource and you know, you are going to need—when you start talking about time—a marvelous old book by Jeremy Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, and then The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. [3:46]

The first big topic he takes up is time. Wise man! Wise man! Time is interesting stuff. We talk about saving it but you can’t. All you can do is use it and save it. Use it! Redeem it! It’s the New Testament concept. And you redeem it by—so give some thought if you would please to these categories and if you can include your family in that, that’s great and you may have other things.

But now, I’m going to come back to money. At some point later, I’ve got to talk about money because of all of my mistakes and heresies, my biggest one is about money and I think probably I’ll get into that this hour. So, you will have plenty of time to worry about me. [Laughter] [4:38]

Time, space, energy and money—we all have a certain allotment of it and we have to deal with these and plan with these in order—what must I do in this regard in order to be able to have solitude, silence? We are talking about your house probably—where you live—blessed is the person who has a room that they can make quite where they can go to be alone in solitude and silence. If you have a room like that, think about lining it with cork—seriously. It may have been so long since you have experienced genuine silence that you have forgotten what it is like so think about that. You may need to line a room with cork or something of that sort where you can get silence—to be alone. [5:39]

See, many of these great old saints didn’t have to worry about silence so much because they didn’t have helicopters buzzing over them and motorcycles zipping around the path, you know and all of the yammering and chattering that went. They could find some silence. Silence, for us is a very expensive commodity—very expensive. That’s why money is important.

Okay—frugality. I want to talk about frugality. Frugality is a discipline. In frugality, we abstain from use of money and goods at our disposal in ways merely gratifying to our superfluous desires or hunger for status or glamor. I’ll read it again. In frugality, we abstain from use of money or goods at our disposal in ways merely gratifying—use of money or goods at our disposal in ways merely gratifying to our superfluous desires or hungers for status or glamor. [6:58]

Question: Will you repeat that last part?

Dallas: Yes—merely gratifying to our superfluous desires or hunger for status or glamor.

The lust of the eyes, dear friends—a major part of the lust of the eyes is the desire to appear glamorous, exciting, interesting, cute, powerful. Now, frugality is not sacrifice. When we talk about sacrifice, as we will in a moment, we are talking about not superfluous desires; we are talking about fundamental desires. We are talking about giving up something that is really vital to us; that’s sacrifice. [7:48]

Many times in the history of our countries, there has been what is called sumptuary laws and these laws made criminal the use of goods, excessive or in an excessive or luxurious fashion. The ancient—the Sadimonions, for example were prohibited from possessing a house or furniture, which required tools more elaborate than an ax or a saw—a rather quaint way of thinking about it. But if you had to have a plane or something of that sort, you couldn’t use that to build a house; well, that all depended on the weather somewhat or to some extent, too. [8:37]

The Romans frequently wrote laws limiting expenses for entertainments. English law contains many enactments governing the food and clothing of various social ranks. Such laws are not popular in the present world where no extravagance possible is thought to be shameful but only a more or less astonishing exercise of someone’s supposedly sacred right to pursue happiness.

The prophetic word from the Old and New Testament alike however is clear. James 5:1 and 5—“Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” (James 5:1) It goes on to talk about how they held back the just wage of their workers. “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter.” (James 5:5) [9:34]

This is one of those many quaint references where we’ve lost the sense of the language—day of slaughter—anyone know what that means? Well you see we used to butcher animals, didn’t we? And when you butchered, talk about eating; and this is where we get the phrase, “make a killing.” You “made a killing” and the rich man is living like that all the time and that is not frugality.

The spiritually wise person has always known that frivolous consumption corrupts the soul away from trust in and worship of and service to God. Frivolous consumption—therefore, frugality is a discipline for the spiritual life and in so far as simplicity—and simplicity is the conscious habit of choosing plain and unembellished provisions. It’s the conscious habit of choosing plain or unembellished provisions. Equipage and behavior also, plain and unembellished—furniture, plain and unembellished—transportation, plain and unembellished behavior. In so far as simplicity as a discipline, it is related to frugality. [11:10]

Actually, I don’t think simplicity is a discipline. I think simplicity is a condition, which you arrive at when you practice the disciplines adequately. You come to a simple life.

Also, poverty—in so far as poverty—poverty is the rejection of all possessions. Poverty is the rejection of all possessions.  Now, of course, you can be more or less poor but poverty as the ideal, which you find talked about in the history of the church is the rejection of possessions—not owning anything.

You know that many of the monastic orders; for example, St. Francis, as I recall, for a long while would not let his monks own any books. And in one case, all they had was a Bible and some poor woman came and needed something and St. Francis said, “Well, sell the Bible and give her what she needs because the Lord would rather have us do what is in the bible than to have a Bible.” And, possessions—the early Franciscans were just absolute “no-nos.” Well I want to talk about that a little more in a moment but, poverty is a spiritual discipline only in so far as it is an exercise of frugality. [12:48]

Now, I have to say some things that are a little hard to get over, I think. First of all, frugality is compatible with having great wealth. Let me go back now and say again what frugality is—frugality—in frugality, we abstain from use and we have to draw a distinction between “use” and “possession.” Frugality has to do with “use.” Poverty has to do with “possession” and we need to draw the further distinction then between use, possession and trust. [13:43]

Righteousness has to do with what we trust. That will determine how we use what we possess. Righteousness has to do with what we trust. That will determine how we use what we possess. And we are hard put to avoid the many, many confusions that come around these three terms.

And I want to say that the mistaken emphasis upon poverty as something in itself—right and virtuous—or as something, which is a necessary discipline has done incredible harm to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and it will never get over this harm until it corrects the attitude that it has towards the possession of things. [14:47]

Well, there is so very much I would like to say about this. First of all, let me say this. The rich young ruler, which was so impressive both to St. Anthony and to St. Frances of Assisi—his problem was not that he possessed wealth; his problem was that his wealth possessed him. OK?

Nicodemus was probably pretty well off but Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus to get rid of everything he had. He dealt with Nicodemus on another problem, which Nicodemus had. If you are possessed by your possessions, you might think, “Well, I’ll just get rid of them.” But alas dear friends, our problem is that just possessing things or not possessing things does not meet the difficulty.  That’s why Paul very wisely says not that money is the root of all evil but that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) And I’ll tell you, there is no one loves money more than many people who don’t have any.  Isn’t it true? [16:00]

Comment: That’s true!

Listen to a little advice from the book of Proverbs here. This book of Proverbs is such a healthy guide. Listen to these words—Proverbs 37—Proverbs chapter 30, verse 7, “Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” That is Proverbs 30:7-9   I am having trouble with my chapters and verses this morning. [Laughter] Sorry about that. [17:02]

One of the poorest ways to help the poor is to be poor, and if you believe that by abandoning your goods to the children of the devil, you are going to help the world generally, think again. Now, if the only way you could be brought to not trust in riches would be to get rid of your riches, get rid of them by all means if that’s the only way. But Paul said, If I give all of my goods to feed the poor and have not love, “it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) OK?

Now, there are many things I want to say about this and I just don’t have time to say them so I am going to try to bundle it all up in one little discussion here of a problem that Wesley had. Wesley, you know, his ministry was among other things—he was a minster to all classes of people but he had a tremendous ministry to the poor people and he found that his religion created a problem. [18:15]

He found that when he got people saved and converted and straightened up, they started in accumulating money because they stopped drinking it away and throwing it away. They stopped being irresponsible and they started in accumulating money; and so Wesley was finally forced to preach a sermon on what he called, The Inefficacy of Christianity.

Actually, what he is talking about here as you read the sermon is the inefficacy of the Methodism he was preaching. And it was of course one of the most powerful messages that has ever come through the church is that Methodism, which Wesley brought. Thank God, today the Methodists are rediscovering Wesley. Nothing has made me happier in recent years than that. And it’s interesting that you see in the—in Wesley’s—in the experience of the Methodist Church with Wesley a very curious phenomena that is repeated over and over and that is, that people of a certain group kind of admire their founder but wouldn’t think of doing the things he did. [Laughter] That’s true in nearly every one of the great movements that you see. [19:38]

George Fox—another case—I mean, most Quakers would just—they would run out the other side of the building if George Fox came in one side—wouldn’t think of doing it.

OK, Wesley’s problem was the fact that—well, he says—I’ll just quote,

“I am distressed. I know not what to do about my rich followers. Christianity,” he says, “true scriptural Christianity has a tendency in process of time to undermine and destroy itself. Christianity begets diligence and frugality, which makes one rich. Riches naturally beget pride—love of the world and every temper that is destructive of Christianity.” [End of Quote]

Well, what to do? It is of course possible to hold that one cannot be rich without corrupting the soul and this really is the view that Wesley is taking. [20:39]

From this, it follows that there is only one solution and here is his solution and many of you have heard this solution—

“I can see only one possible way out; find out another who can. Do you gain all you can, and save all you can? Then, you must, in the nature of things, grow rich. Then, if you have any desire to escape the damnation of hell, give all you can. Otherwise, I can have no more hope for your salvation than for that of Judas Iscariot.”

The solution is based upon a false premise and perhaps this is suggested in the touching note in Wesley’s journal from September 6, 1750 where he takes note of a published account of the passing of “one of our preachers” as he calls him. And here’s what he says,

“All of his clothes, linen and woolen, socks, stockings, hat and wig are not enough to answer his funeral expenses which amount to one pound, seventeen shillings and three pence. All the money he had was one shilling and four pence.”

And now Wesley concludes with obvious gratification, “enough for any unmarried preacher of the Gospel to leave to his executors.” [21:58]

Well, true, it was enough and I don’t want you to detract or misunderstand me one bit about this—I mean, the many noble men and women of God who have forgone possessions and been poor for their service, I am not detracting from that. True, it is enough but the suggestion is that it was right and good for this man to have had so little at his death.  Would it not do equally well however provided that he was otherwise functioning within the disciplines which we are talking about here if he had turned out to have large possessions, which he was carefully managing to serve man for the Glory of God. Would that not have been better? Was the man necessarily better just because he didn’t have anything?  Would it not even be a greater testimony to the closeness of his walk with His Lord? I am sure it would have.  I am sure it would have. [23:03]

Wesley’s solution is based upon a false premise—the premise that possessions invariably corrupt which very likely they do unless measures are taken against them. The problem is to be dealt with by a vigorous following of Christ to the practice of the disciplines, which we are talking about. Ironically for all of his Methodism’s and of course, he got his—the name Methodism came from method. Wesley was a child of the reformation like his contemporary, David Huhn, the philosopher and moralist and they were both unable to understand that Christian asceticism could produce a people who could hold possessions and power without corruption.

Now, I want to say this again because I know that I am impinging upon your thoughts and feelings very deeply here. Is it possible to have a Christian asceticism, which produces a people that can hold possessions and power without corruption? [24:13]

Once again, I wish to be understood. Giving must have a great place in the life of any disciple but it cannot replace keeping, using and controlling as responsible stewards of God’s creation for our individual time in His world. This is where Wesley went wrong and if I just may say so, the history of the 19th and 20th century is rife with revolution and bloodshed and all kinds of political illusions because the people of God have missed this point. His formula, “Get all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can” must be supplemented. It should read as follows: “Get all you can.” We agree that far. “Save all you can.” We agree that far. “Use all you can within the confines set by the disciple following the disciplines for the spiritual life. Use all you can within the confines set by the disciplines for the spiritual life.”

Now, that’s where I find my hearers normally begin to put on the brakes. Use all you can. Really? Use all you can. Yes, within the confines set by the disciplines for the spiritual life. And then, control all you can for the good of man and the Glory of God. Control all you can for the good of man and the Glory of God and that control then will include “give all you can” within that purpose of glorifying God and assisting man. [26:29]

I want to allow that poverty might be a discipline for the spiritual life for some people in special circumstances but it is of very little significance in that connection as compared with the other disciplines. I do deny it any general kind of claim upon discipleship as I deny celibacy any general kind of claim upon discipleship. Celibacy might be a condition to which an individual disciple was called and the blessings of God are present for those who are celibate as it is for those who are poor. To control the resources of human life for the good ends of God’s is far greater than poverty, both as service and as discipline. [27:09]

Question: Dallas?

Dallas: Yes?

Comment:  I may have to step forward.

Dallas: Please.

Comment: Inaudible

Dallas: Yes

Question: Inaudible

Dallas: Sure, No, I understand that. You see, you raise that question now in connection with these—with these factors. Now, it’s true that many people who have three houses are corrupt individuals, you see, so that’s possible too. It all has to be handled on a case-by-case basis. [28:07]

Comment: Inaudible

Dallas: Yes

Comment: Inaudible

Dallas: Yes, charity will not solve the problems of humanity, no matter how great the charity is and it’s still more “blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35) and what we have to do is to think in terms of people who can show the world how to live and of course, charity is always wanted. We should always give and not deny that but what I am saying is that will not solve the problems we are concerned with. I’m not—I mean, there are so many theological hairs that need to be split and started on this but it’s just simply true—charity will not do it.  Philip?  [28:54]

Philip: I’m still uneasy with this.

Dallas: I am too! [Laughter]

Philip: Because I fear I cannot be competent about this . . .I find that there are enormous amounts of Christians in this country who are trying to justify . . . Inaudible

Dallas: Absolutely!

Philip: And I don’t mean just politically only.
Dallas:  . . . economically. The political only matters because it’s economics.

Philip: But the basic problem in this country is something that I consider to be positively Satanic. [Mmmm-hmmmm] I just find myself, while hearing what you are saying conscious of the enormous danger of people saying, “Well, Dallas is justifying our situation.” [29:43]

Dallas: I just hope they will listen to everything I say. [Yeah!] No, now the question is, Philip, should one give in to that danger by saying wealth is bad?

Phillip: Never; I don’t think one should say that.

Dallas: Okay. So then, the next step is to refine that because if you were to say, as some people do, “wealth is bad,” and “rich men all go to hell”—Ernest Cardinal (Simoni), down in central America, for example, says the gospel teaches that if you are rich, you go to hell. [30:16]

Alasdair MacIntyre, one of the leading moral philosophers in the English speaking world today—I came across a passage in his book, After Virtue: (A Study in Moral Theory)—entitled After Virtue which is—if there is any such thing, a philosophical best seller the last few years, marvelous book—he just says, the gospels teach that if you are rich you will go to hell.

So now, once that point is established, Phillip, then it seems to me the question is how do we go on now and develop what I’ve called a personal strategy for such people? [30:46]

Phillip: I don’t think that is what I am saying. What I am saying is –I have found over and over [Mmm-Hmmm] . . . Inaudible . . . I’ve seen this over and over and over again and I think that this is part of our context and it’s got to be taken very serious.

Dallas: Would you be willing to say that wealth is a greater barrier overall to the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God than poverty? Would you be willing to say that?

Philip: I think in this country, I would—in this country.

Comment: Inaudible

Philip: Yes, but I’ve not just had that one experience. I’ve had this experience over and over and over again. I am not particularly wealthy but in the eyes of people who have set those barriers . . . Inaudible . . .

Dallas: Oh, yes, I know.

Philip: And this is the blottage again and again most of us . . . Inaudible . . . of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it’s a heavy burden. Perhaps I’ll . . . Inaudible

Dallas: No, no! Please don’t say that because this is a very deep and complex issue. I am presenting to you what I believe but I realize I have qualms even in bringing it up because it needs to be dealt with in a very detailed and careful way, both expounding scripture, general discussions on the nature in the spiritual life and so on, but I am concerned to say that I do not believe that poverty is a general discipline for the spiritual life. [32:25]

Phillip: I would agree with that.

Dallas: Mmm-hmmm. And I do think that perhaps the owning of wealth could be as great a discipline as poverty.  I think actually the real spiritual seminar in life is not failure; it’s success. Someone here—Len? Len, you were going to say something? [32:48]

Len: I had an experience just before coming around here. I hear what you are saying and what the brother is saying and this particular day that me and my wife here had given me quite a small hand out for the day of spending. Being the better controller of the two of us, ya know she gives me a little handout with . . .Inaudible portion [Laughter] but nevertheless, this dear brother of mine but not the same color as I am came along and said, “Have you got a buck to lend me in my day?” And I said, “I’m sorry, my brother—I’m sorry (not really brother because, you know he is my brother but I didn’t say that to mean it that way.) “I haven’t got it.” So, he says, “Oh, I’m surprised. Look what a big nice car that you are running.” And, anyway, under that sort of mis-conception, it looked as if I didn’t want to give it—not even lend it but give it, but as I say it was just a, sort of a mis-conception of it. Now, in that circumstance and I’m not trying to sound mean or jokingly but it looked as if I didn’t want to but I genuinely didn’t have it. Now, in that case, how would you have handled it as it was taken out of context now, but how would you have handled such a thing? [34:36]

Dallas:  You can’t handle such a thing on the spot, Len because the problem is you are concerned about how you appear. You have to be free from concern about that. You have to be strong enough to know what you are doing and to know whether or not it is justified. Now, if you believe on thoughtful prayer that you shouldn’t be driving a big car like that, you should get rid of it.

Len: [Laughter] Actually, it wasn’t even my car!

Dallas: Sure! I don’t mean to—sure, no, no! Of course! [Laughter]

Len: No, I’m saying in this context, what would you do?

Dallas: Sure, Len, I don’t mean to be hard on you. The problem you are concerned with is a problem of appearance. Jesus was called a glutton and a winebibber, was he? Was he? [35:30]

Len: Yes!

Dallas: He wasn’t a glutton and he wasn’t a winebibber but He—some people called him a glutton and a winebibber, you know. Now, we have problems with our appearance and I think actually that if I may say so, the sort of problem you are talking about then, Phil (I think it’s supposed to be Len) is in part that. I am not talking about you justifying yourself but it’s an appearance that causes a difficulty in the minds of those that are troubled and can’t hear what you—to receive the Gospel, that’s right. That’s right!

Now, you have to be very thorough with yourself and decide what you are going to do. If you believe, that you should, for example go into the townships barefoot and ragged and you know, would that help them receive the Gospel better? How would you do it? Certainly, there have been many people who have thought that it would. There is no question about that. No question about it at all.

You see, in a large part, what we have to deal with here are the general misconceptions about God and poverty and wealth and all of these things that prevail in the world—in a fallen world. [36:38]

Comment: Inaudible

Dallas: Oh! No question about it. No question about it; I mean riches are deceitful—very deceitful things. They make fools out of people, you see? The trouble is when we’ve run through all of that stuff, you and I—and the reason why I address this issue as touchy as it is—is because I know you have this problem. What are you going to do about your possessions?

Are you going to just keep them and feel guilty because you feel like you are not doing right or are you going to get rid of them and then what? [Laughter] I don’t know! I don’t know!

You see, it’s one thing for us to preach poverty as a virtue if we do and then it’s another thing for us to accept support from wealthy people because if they were poor—if they were doing what we preached, then they wouldn’t have the money to support our work.

So, I think we really need to think this issue through and dear friends, I don’t purport to have got it done here. What I did here was I wanted to bring this out very carefully because there are so many misconceptions about it and Jim talked about the experience, immediately after St. Francis. You may not know that the Fraticelli got themselves burnt as heretics by the church because of their teaching about poverty. [35:53]

Now, I believe that the reason they got burnt was not because they were wrong but because they made people uncomfortable, you see. It’s like—again, to quote Vance Havner—he says, that “Jesus was not crucified for saying ‘Behold,[the Pharisees behold] the lilies of the field, how they toil not, neither do they spin,’ but for saying, ‘Behold the Pharisees, how they steal.’ You see? And the condemnation upon those rich people who misuse their power and their wealth is clear and plain—the dangers of wealth, clear and plain to anyone who has thought it all through but we need to look at the other side and ask ourselves about the stewardship of the world and that is what I think we need to look at. Well, let’s do one more thing. Yes, Art? [38:42]

Art: The title of that sermon of Wesley’s?

Dallas: The title of the sermon of Wesley’s is on the inefficacy of Christianity—let me get it just right. I can give you The Inefficacy of Christianity.

Question: Inaudible

Dallas: It’s in the standard two-volume set—you know, the old two-volume set. Paragraph 17—The Inefficacy of Christianity and it’s one, I think actually, one of the most profoundly important documents in the history of modern Christianity because Wesley faces an issue and not only does he face it but I think his, if I am right which I may not be, I think his inability to come to grips with it is one of the deepest issues in social and political thought as well as in the meaning of Christianity for our world today. You see, I have not been disciplined. [Laughter] [39:49]

Comment: Do you have any wealthy friends?
Dallas: Oh, I have man wealthy friends, of course.

Comment: I am really struggling with an area of—I mentioned it to you before, Dallas.

Dallas: Yes

Comment: In the whole area of frugality, simplicity, and beauty—all aesthetic things—doesn’t God give us an appreciation—do I sleep in a bed that’s just fine or can I have a beautiful bed, not in the same status; an expensive bed but the whole area of beauty  . . .

Dallas: If you can differentiate beauty from status . . .

Comment: Yeah

Dallas: . . . and glamour, there is a legitimate aesthetic desire and function in human life and to find that beauty. Now we are into a different volume, [Laughter] which we need to write. But, to find beauty—God is not indifferent to aesthetic considerations. All you have to do is look at His creation to see it; including people and so, there is no question about the legitimate value of aesthetic considerations, but you see the aesthetic in the world as we know it is a part of the fallen power plays of the devil and the flesh and the world as they are formed in this fallen world. [41:19]

So, to distinguish the truly aesthetic from that which is associated with symbolisms of power and prestige and pride and lust in the strong sense that we also know it, that’s a very different kind of thing.

For example, the relationship between the aesthetic and sex is a very important thing to talk about but generally speaking, once we’ve gone through all of that, we are back to these. We understand that the aesthetic in life is a source of energy and that has to be fitted into our overall plan. Beautiful things make you feel better and stronger. It’s just that simple.  If you don’t believe it, drive with your car—dirty windshield for while, wash it sparking clean, the car will feel like it runs better. Well, that’s trivial. [42:18]

Let me do one more, okay because we’ve had a little discussion and I am going to beg off. Let me do one more discipline, may I please? We lack appropriate terminology for a discipline that deals specifically with the sexual drive. We can’t use celibacy because that just isn’t it. Ummm…maybe certain individuals may be called to that but that’s just not it. That’s a condition of life, which may be blessed of God and fine.

I shall use the term chastity, although this actually refers to the result of such a discipline under grace rather than to the disciplinary activities themselves. In exercising chastity, we purposively and selectively turn away from thoughts of sex and from dwelling upon or engaging in the sexual dimension of our relationships to others, even our husband or our wife. I say again—in exercising chastity, we purposively and selectively turn away from thoughts of sex and from dwelling upon or engaging in the sexual dimension of our relationships to others, even our husband or our wife. [43:42]

Now, sexuality is one of the most powerful forces in human nature and the percentage of human suffering tied directly to it is simply horrifying.  The multi-faceted human abuse stemming from sex both outside and inside of marriage makes it imperative that, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:4—we learn “how to possess our [his] vessel in sanctification and honor . . .” An essential part of this learning will by no means the whole consists in the practice of abstaining from sex and from the contemplation of sex from directing our minds toward it and thus learning how to be free from its domination.

Abstention, within marriage and I trust you understand, I don’t mean abstention forever, I am talking about periods of time. Abstention within marriage by mutual agreement is also counseled by St. Paul as an aid to fasting and prayer. In 1 Corinthians, the seventh chapter and the fifth verse—1 Corinthians 7: 5—you may want to look at this verse and think on it. This is another dimension of the discipline of chastity but the main effect, which we seek through it, is the proper disposal of sexual feelings, thoughts, and attitudes within our life as a whole—inside of marriage and outside. Sexuality cannot be allowed to permeate our lives, if we are to be free to serve the good, as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. [45:37]

But, on the other hand, it cannot be excluded from our lives. We are sexual beings, “ . . . male and female created He them . . . ” (Genesis 1:27). Chastity does not mean non-sexuality and any pose to that effect will certainly do great harm. The suffering, which comes from sexuality does come in large part from improper indulgence in sexual thoughts, feelings, attitudes and relations but much also comes from improper abstinence. In no domain of human life is it more true that “hope deferred maketh the heart sick. . . ” as Proverbs 13:12 says. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick . . . ” and it makes many minds sick as well. Jesus clearly saw that abstinence from sexual relations still allowed for gross sexual impropriety and disturbances. [46:42]

Now, I want to look at this passage in Matthew 5 because here again I must say something about translations and I hope you won’t be unhappy with me for being a little picky about this but there is a tremendously important mistranslation in this discussion of sex that Jesus gives us in the 5th chapter of Matthew beginning in the 27th verse—and Jesus is talking here about improper abstinence from sex, the answer to which is not non-abstinence, by the way but a correction on the inside of the heart which we will be talking about.

In this passage, of course, Jesus is correcting the mis-teachings of the old law as it was present in the Pharisees of His day and He says, “[Ye] You’ve heard that it has been said by them of old time, thou shalt not commit adultery.” That’s abstinence from the act and what Jesus is saying is, “That’s not enough.” Hmmm? “ . . . I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery . . . ” (Matthew 5:27-28) [47:50]

Now, the first thing to say is that Jesus is not saying whoever looks at a woman and has a sexual thought has committed adultery. Indeed, he isn’t even saying whoever looks at a woman and desires her. If the Greek wants to say that, it can say that and some of your translations say that but the Greek here uses the preposition “pros” and that’s not a conjunction; it’s a preposition and the old version again is quite right. It says, “Whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her”—“whosoever looks upon a woman to lust after her”—prosto epithimisei—[he writes on the board] it’s important that we not accuse ourselves for things, which are not wrong. [49:03]

The devil is called the “accuser of the brethren” and some of the brethren are accusing themselves so fast that he doesn’t need to come around and bother them and if you are going to accuse yourself, accuse yourself for what’s really wrong and not what isn’t really wrong. Luther used to say that “you can’t keep the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair” and what Jesus is talking about here is the person who invites them to build a nest in their hair—who uses a member of the opposite sex as an object to fuel the furnace of their lusts.

And He’s talking about a condition which is all too recognizable, all too common in men and perhaps in women, too in our world in which we live where they are continuing to feed the lust that is in them on the looking, directing their minds and their eyes in the wrong way—and what He is saying is a person who abstains from sex in that way has still got all the problems in sex that he needs. [50:15]

Well, Jesus was very realistic about sex and Paul was very realistic about sex. In Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus talks about how right abstinence calls for special qualifications and perhaps we should just look at that a moment. Matthew 19:11-12—you see, what he had said here was that people should not divorce and this really put the men in a pinch—what are we going to do? Moses of course had given a law of divorce, which you might call in the USA—when we sell a car, we have to give the “pink slip”—and you had to sort of give a woman a “pink slip” when you divorced her. [Laughter] That was to keep them from getting killed, you see? Because if you had a woman and you wanted to get rid of her and you couldn’t, she might mysteriously turn up dead or worse. [51:26]

So, Moses for the “hardness of [their] heart” gave them a law. Jesus says that that cannot be right and verse 10—His disciples say in verse 10 of Matthew 19, “His disciples say unto him, if the case” be, or “the man be so with his wife,” it’s good not to marry. Better not to get married and Jesus shuts them off on this and we must look at this and think about why. No, no, He says, not everyone can receive this saying, say they to whom it is given—celibacy is a gift. It is a gift. It requires grace. And some of the most unthoughtful and harmful things we do as ministers I think is to stand in our married bliss and try to minster to those who are not married as if somehow they didn’t have a problem.

Now, He says, “there are some eunuchs which are so born from their mother’s womb.” (Matthew 19:12) In other words, some people are just physically qualified for this by the way they are formed. “ . . . There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heavens’ sake . . . “—I’m sorry—some “are made eunuchs by men;” that is, because of things that have happened to them—no marriage is possible.

“  . . .. And [then] there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake . . . “ [52:49]

In the Kingdom of Heaven, there is plenty to supply whatever needs are present in those who are celibate but again, we mustn’t deal with that in a flippant attitude because it is a special ministry and it has to be dealt with as such. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matthew 19:12) [53:07]

This realism about sex is carried on by Paul who taught that “ . . . it is better to marry than to burn” in 1 Corinthians 7:9. One must understand that the “burning” here is something very serious for human life. Not just some trivial inward thing—it spills out into human life in many ways—severe distortions of thought and emotion, subsequent inability to engage in normal sexual relations, disgust and hatred between men and women, abuse of children, sex murders and many varieties of sexual perversions. That’s the outcome of the burning which goes on in the heart of the individual that has not been able to meet the provisions of God for his or her life.

Chastity, rightly practiced as a part of a rich walk with God draws the poison from sexual abstinence and prevents the sickness of heart and mind which runs amuck in the sexual dimension of our lives. I hope don’t need to emphasize to you that this is one of the most needful parts of our ministry today. It isn’t to be taken alone. It’s related to these other things, like the pervasive hedonism that I’ve talked about and many, many other things.  [54:19]

Let me just say that chastity is impossible without a right, positive relation to members of the opposite sex and this should begin with our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and unfortunately, in many cases, it does not and cannot and that’s the root of the problem. Of all of the many wonderful things which our brother, Jim has said, the thing which has just most caused lightning to flash across the sky for me is his statement about lust depending upon alienation. Lust is tied in this harmful way that we speak of lust. It’s tied to alienation.

There is an interesting study which as been recently made in the Untied States of fathers who abuse their daughters and it has been found—a very simple thing—it has been found that fathers who abuse their daughters are generally fathers who did not take care of their daughters as babies and raise them. You know? You just think about that because there are some things I cannot comprehend, and one thing I cannot comprehend is a father abusing sexually their child. [55:33]

And I got to thinking about that after I heard of this study, and I thought of my little daughter, Becky and how I had taken care of her ever since she came and that precious little body—the idea of in any way defiling or hurting that little body is so absolutely repugnant but I don’t know how I would have felt if I had never taken care of her. But to have carried it, and bathed it and cleaned it and fed it and bought clothes for it and dressed it and watched that precious little body—you see, that’s—no alienation there, Jim and the very idea of doing anything just—it’s too much! It’s too much!

We need to say just a word about romance in connection with sex. Romance is also a form of alienation. I’m sorry to say that but since I’m saying awful things today, I’ll just say an awful quip. It’s a form of alienation that’s created by illusions and we need to have abstinence form romantic indulgence. [57:04]

You see, in romantic love, we project illusions on others from our own unfulfilled longings. These very often go back to longings associated to our mother and father and those who are close to us. That’s why, for example, you will only be romantically attached to certain types of people and the reason why you are only romantically attached to those types is because of the projections which you have formed in association with someone who looks or is like that in the past and children make unrealistic projections of their parents, you know and then we carry those over and we see some thing walking along and there, oh, whoo, there we go! Off like a rocket! Say that’s it! That’s it!

And that’s why all these songs say the things they do about people of the opposite sex. They are total unrealistic but they are projections of illusions and then wonder, wonder, wonderful thing—they love us. They project their illusions on us. And you know, when it really hits, is when our own narcissistic illusions are supported by someone else. [Laughter] Whoa! Then we fly! See? There are all these wonderful things in the songs that are true. It’s sometimes hard for us to understand that some societies don’t know anything about romantic love—absolutely know nothing about it and don’t seem to miss it! [Laughter] [58:43]

And when you watch these things like Dallas and soap operas and novels, you may wonder—why are those people so mean to each other? It’s because they are caught up in romantic illusions and those illusions cannot be fulfilled and when they can’t be fulfilled, then you get mad. That’s why people get so angry at one another. No one fights like lovers. Their disappointment is so deep and their anger is so great because of course, when the balloon pops, not only do I not see her as you know, whatever that was, she doesn’t see me that way any more. And what a let down. And how could she do this to me? And all that sort of thing.

Friends, it’s humorous but it’s sad. It’s sad how much the body of Christ is harmed by this stuff and we are not talking about prudishness here and we are not talking about love and enjoyment of the sexual and other companionships/relationships between men and women. We are not talking about that. That’s wonderful. God made that; it’s good. There is nothing to hide your eyes from, or look away from, or be ashamed about in all of that. [1:00:13]

We are talking about illusions that are harmful and we must have a discipline, which enables us to turn away from them in order that we might be able in faith and holiness to reach out to God from where we live in this world and really relate to other people—men and women—and not be alienated from them. Many times we are alienated because we are afraid of this stuff. Jesus was—you know, He let this whore come in from the street and wash his feet and dry them with her hair and the Pharisees were so outraged but Jesus didn’t have any problem because he wasn’t alienated from that woman. He wasn’t about to use her even if she offered herself. And we have to come to the place—and, friends, we just, many people will say the same things about sex that they would say about other things like wealth or power or all of these things. [1:01:13]

We must understand that there is a safe and good use in the Kingdom of God for these things and we must find those disciplines and thus far, we are only dealing with the Disciplines of Abstinence but I want to say ahead of time, that’s only half of it because alone, abstinence is not enough and we will come to the Disciplines of Engagement that will help.

Well I’m over time so let’s just say, “Lord, won’t you give us from this what we need and what we can use—for your glory, in Jesus’ name.

Listen to all parts in this Spirituality and Mission series