Book Review: Every Man's Battle
Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Mike Yorkey do some serious work to present God’s standard for male purity. Every Man’s Battle takes a head-on approach to bring to light the subject most men, regardless of age or marital status, cringe and avoid like the plague when the subject is brought up: God’s call for pursuing purity with our eyes, thoughts, emotions, and actions. Topics also covered in the book are practical steps to combat the enemy when dealing with these cracks in our foundation as men to experience true freedom from this male epidemic that knows no bounds regardless of culture, creed, age, or ethnicity. If you feel there is no hope for you to turn from the impurity the world goadingly presses onto men at every turn, feel alone in your pursuit of purity as a man or simply want to raise your level of service in His Kingdom, I highly recommend reading this book in its entirety.
Stopping Short - Addiction or Something Else?
Women’s Perspectives - Mixed Standards
Counting the Costs - Just Part of Being Male?
The Choice - Battle Plan
Your Corral - Cherishing Your One and Only
Our author, Steve, begins the book with a chapter labeled “our stories.” The chapter is gripping, and what resonates with me the most is the very humble and transparent stories they share about the beginning of their journey towards God’s standard to sexual purity and the following two aspects from their writings. The first is the very clear standard God calls us to in sexual purity through the following verse:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.
The second is about stopping short of this unimaginable standard of God’s holiness. Unimaginable because most have not even tried or have tried and failed to take the first step towards God’s calling in this area. It seems other areas are more easy or simple to move towards Him in than this one. If this is how you feel you are not alone. The author gets to the heart of this idea through this passage from the book:
I threw myself into my sales career and my leadership roles at church. Then I became a dad. I relished it all, and my Christian image shined brighter and brighter. By worldly standards, I was doing great. Just one little problem. By God’s standard of sexual purity, I wasn’t even close to living His vision for marriage. Clearly, I’d take steps towards purity, but I was learning that God’s standards were higher than I’d ever imagined. It soon became clear that I’d stopped far short of holiness. There were the ad inserts (from magazines in his home), the double entendres, the heat-seeking eyes. My mind continued to daydream and fantasize over old girlfriends. These were more than a hint of sexual immorality.
Fred later encourages us that total freedom from the ensnared sexual pits he shares he was in throughout this chapter is attainable. I enjoy the self-actualizations he shares with us through his battle through these two pieces in this chapter:
The sin remained because I’d never really changed, never rejected sexual sin, never escaped sexual slavery. I’d merely exchanged Masters.
While I could always say no (to sexual impurity), I could never mean no.
Addiction or Something Else?
While it is easy to fall into a sexual pit and question every ounce of our being as men, Steve is quick to remind us in this chapter we are not alone in this battle and “These pitfalls happen easily since much of the sexual immorality in our society is so subtle we sometimes don’t recognize it for what it is.” He then moves to describe a situation we have all been in, discussing a movie that we all probably have enjoyed, but after working through this battle for a while, know the movie contains scenes that only create stumbling blocks for us in this battle. The movie in the book discussed is Forrest Gump. While I have scene the movie, Steve brings light into the darkness for those who are pursuing God’s standard for holiness by walking us through the stumbling blocks this movie throws at us at will:
Are you noticing (the stumbling blocks the movie threw at you)? Think about it. Suppose you drop off your kids at Grandma’s for the weekend and decide to watch Forrest Gump with your wife. You rent the video, pop some corn, put your arm around your wife, and hit “play.” After much laughter and tears, you both agree that Forrest Gump was a great movie. But you got more than entertainment, didn’t you? Remember the grunting and panting between Sally Field and the principal? And how, when Sally Field next appeared on screen, you briefly looked her up and down and wondered what it might be like to have her under the sheets? You had your arm around your wife while you were thinking it. Then later, you retired to bed for a “bit of sport” with your wife, you replaced your wife’s face with Sally Field’s, and you wondered why she couldn’t make you grunt and pant like the principal.
Thank you, Steve, for not pulling any punches in walking us through what you reference as over 80 percent of men as you label as “Fractional Addicts” are subject to in our pursuit of God’s holy standard. Well, are you an addict if Steve’s illustration is too familiar, or are you something else? The author does a wonderful job by providing some additional tests and vocabulary in this chapter to walk through to learn more about where you are on the spectrum of a sexual addict or something else. I recommend reading through this chapter fully, answering all the questions posed honestly, and assessing where you are in your walk to living out God’s standard for sexual purity. Remember, it is presented in the book that only 10 percent of men fall in the spectrum of having no sexual-temptation problem (if this is you, wonderful, please find somewhere to serve in your church as an accountability partner). If you fall in the other 90 percent range in the spectrum, you are not alone. I pray that you choose to take your first step towards him today and find a leader in your church or accountability group to share your struggles with today and start battling your way towards freedom from this epidemic. I wish I could tell you this is how I began my battle, but it took someone much more courageous than me to share in his battle with a group of men in my church before I could take my first real hard look at myself in the mirror and begin my pursuit of God’s standard for sexual purity.
The authors share interviews they conducted with women regarding Every Man’s Battle. I appreciate their work to do this because male sexual impurity can be unsettling, as their interviews detail and even be shocking to women. Here are a few of the interview responses from women from these sections in the book:
Andrea said that, from talking with her father and the different guys she dated, she knows men are easily attracted visually. But she never realized the major extent of this problem until she met her future husband. “At the time, he was my closest friend in youth group, but we were not romantically inclined,” Andrea said. “He did feel safe enough with me to share his problem with pornography. It was quite a battle for him, as he had first been exposed to it in the third grade. I was a little amazed by it all because, although it was attracted to guys by their looks during my dating years, the physical attraction I felt was nothing compared to what a man feels when looking at a woman.”
Brenda, Fred’s wife, also participated in the interviews. She summarized the typical female response: “I don’t’ want to sound mean, but because women don’t generally experience this problem it seems to us that some men are uncontrolled perverts who don’t think about anything but sex. It even affects my trust in men, knowing that pastors and deacons could have this problem. I don’t like it that men lustfully take advantage of women in their thoughts, although I realize that women can be largely to blame because of what they wear. It’s at least some comfort to know that many men have this problem. Since most men are affected, we really can’t call you guys perverts.”
There are also other sections of the book that provide women’s perspectives from interviews conducted on additional topics covered in Every Man’s Battle. Each offer further insight into what the author terms “The Heart of a Women.” Being able to understand how this subject effects women’s views, thoughts, and emotions towards men about the subjects covered have provided me with a more holistic reflection on male sexual impurity.
Mixed Standards (cover excellence or obedience)
The subject of mixed standards hit especially close to home for me as I am weeks away from completing my MBA. His use of excellence vs. perfection is masterfully done as one of the origins of how we have confused excellence with the perfect and holy standard of God:
American businesses are in search of excellence. They could be in search of perfection, of course – perfect products, perfect service – but perfection is too costly and eats into profits. Rather than be perfect, businesses know it’s enough to seem perfect to their customers. By stopping short of perfection, they find a profitable balance between quality and costs…But is it profitable for Christians to stop short at the middle ground of excellence where costs are low, balanced somewhere between paganism and obedience? Not at all! While in business it’s profitable to seem perfect, in the spiritual realm it’s merely comfortable to seem perfect. It is never profitable. Clearly, excellence isn’t the same as obedience or perfection. The search for excellence leaves us overwhelmingly vulnerable to snare after snare since it allows room for mixture. The search for obedience or perfection does not. Excellence is a mixed standard, while obedience is a fixed standard. We want to shoot for the fixed standard.
Well said Steve, God’s calling for us is His perfect fixed standard for holiness. If you have any doubts on this, just read through all the examples He provides for us in His Word on His Standard of purity (these are just a few from His Word and in the book):
But I (Jesus) tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean.”
You are to abstain from…sexual immorality.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord
-1 Corinthians 6:13
Flee from sexual immorality.
-1 Corinthians 6:18
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
-1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7
Other scripture cited to provide us more to study are as follows: 1 Corinthians 5:11, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:16, 19, Ephesians 5:3-4, Colossians 3:5-6, Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 13:4, 1 Peter 4:3, Jude 7, Revelations 2:14, Revelations 2:20, Revelations 21:8. More than half of the books in the New Testament are represented here. The author references these versus to then do a great work of putting in plain English God’s standard for sexual purity for us as follows (each of these points is abbreviated):
Sexual immorality begins with the lustful attitudes of our sinful natures.
Our bodies were not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.
Therefore, it is holy and honorable to completely avoid sexual immorality - to repent of it, to flee from it, and to put it to death in our lives, as we live by the Spirit.
We should not be in close association with another Christian who persists in sexual immorality.
If you entice others to sexual immorality, Jesus Himself has something against you!
Counting The Cost
Most men will agree they have been stopping short of God’s standard of sexual purity as the author has pointed us back to through His Word. The question if God is not satisfied with anything short of perfect purity, is stopping short but still looking Christian enough? Of course not! I appreciate how the author brings this idea home for us:
It costs something to learn about Christ. It costs a lot to live like Christ.
It costs something t o join a few thousand men at a conference to sing praises to God and learn how we should live; it costs a lot to come home and remain committed to the changes you said you’d make in your life (or join that men’s accountability group you need so desperately in your battle with any kind of sin struggle in your life).
It costs something to avoid Playboy magazine (or that website you like to frequent for a quick fix or those thoughts of a past relationship(s)); it costs a lot to control your eyes and mind daily.
It costs something to send your child to Christian school so others can teach your children about God; it costs a lot to have regular family devotions, complete with Dad leading worship songs and heartfelt prayer
It costs something to insist that your kids dress modestly; it costs a lot to make them think modestly and nicely.
A spiritual battle for purity is going on in every heart and soul. The costs are real. Obedience is hard, requiring humility and meekness, very rare elements indeed.
I am thankful the author chose to remind us that the costs are real and substantial. In my own walk with the Lord I agree when with the statement; “But we can’t deal with our maleness until we first reject our right to mix standards. As we ask “How holy can I be? we must pray and commit to a new relationship with God, fully aligned with His call to obedience.”
Just Part of Being a Male?
Is our tendency towards sexual immorality just a natural part of being a male? I do not think this book would be complete without taking on this question head-on. Our author calls out four male tendencies to unpack this topic for us (accompanied by my main takeaway from each tendency):
Males Are Rebellious by Nature
“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” 1 Timothy 2:14 – Paul explained to Timothy in this statement that “Adam wasn’t being tricked when he ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Adam knew it was wrong, but he ate it anyway. In the millennia since then, all of Adam’s sons tend to be just as rebellious.
Males Find The “Straight” Life Dull and Boring
The “straight” life summed up by Dr. James Dobson in his book Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives:
The straight life for a working man…is pulling your tired frame out of bed, five days a week, fifty weeks out of the year. It is earning a two-week vacation in August and choosing a trip that will please the kids. The straight life is spending your money wisely when you’d rather indulge in a new whatever; it is taking your son bike riding on Sunday when you want so badly to watch the baseball game; it is cleaning out the garage on your day off after working sixty hours the prior week. The straight line is coping with head colds and engine tune-ups and crab grass and income-tax forms; it is taking your family to church on Sunday when you’ve already heard every idea the minister has to offer; it is giving a portion of your income to God’s work when you already wonder how end will meet.
Our natural male rebelliousness provides the arrogance necessary to stop short of God’s standards, our natural dislike of the straight life gives us the desire to stop short and to instead experiencing the temporary pleasures of sin.
Males Have A Strong, Regular Sex Drive
While for most men it is on average that buildup to heighten sexual drive takes only about seventy-two hours (What Wives Wish Their Husbands Know About Women, Dr. James Dobson), this (physiological) pressure men experience does not justify seeking release through pornography or masturbation.
When this (our male) sexual drive combines with our natural male arrogance and out natural male desire to drift from the straight line, we’re primed and fueled for sexual captivity
Males Receive Sexual Gratification Through The Eyes
For males, impurity of the eyes is sexual foreplay. Foreplay in God’s eyes with anyone outside our marriage is wrong – see Ezekiel 23:3.
Impurity of the eyes provide definite sexual gratification. Isn’t that foreplay? It’s critical to recognize visual sexual impurity as foreplay. If you’re getting sexual gratification from your eyes (or anything other than your wife), it defiles the marriage bed:
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Hebrews 13:4
No wife should be made to share the intimacy of her marriage bed with some shameless porn model. In this instance (read more in this chapter for the full story), the husband not only asked his wife to accept his sin but also to enable his sin by allowing him to buy more magazines. Then he justifies his behavior by blaming her. Preposterous!
The challenge here posed to us is summed up here:
Our maleness is a major root of sexual sin. So, what do we do? We must choose to be more than male. We must choose manhood.
Manhood is what the author is breaking down for us as being a man vs just being male. Not just any man, but the man God made us all to be. A man of Job-like integrity when it comes to sexual immorality and impurity.
In Job 31:1, we see Job making this startling revelation: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” A covenant with his eyes! You mean he made a promise with his eyes to not gaze upon a young woman? It’s not possible! It can’t be true! Yet Job was successful; otherwise, he wouldn’t have made this promise:
If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her.
Job was recognized not only by his words and promises but as a man of action by how he kept his promises as written in God’s Word:
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.
I know what you are saying, it is not possible, I am ensnared, you do not understand, I have prayed for it to go away and God has not answered my prayers…and so on. Listen to the following words spoken by preacher Steve Hill:
There’s no temptation that is uncommon to man. God will send you a way of escape but you’ve got to be willing to take that way of escape, friend…I was an alcoholic to the max. I would drink whisky, straight whisky, every day. And I was a junkie. Cocaine up my nose, in my arm, I did it all, friend. And God never delivered me from the desire and the love of drugs. He never did. What happened is that I decided to never touch the stuff or drink booze again…Those of you that are into pornography may be asking God to take away your lustful desires. You are a man with hormones. You feel things. You have since you were a teenager, and you will until the day you die! You are attracted to the opposite sex. I’m not saying that God cannot take the desire from you. He can! He’s just never done it in my life or the tens of thousands of people I’ve worked with over the years. That include pornographers. Ninety-nine percent of them had to make a decision. They had to make a decision to not walk by magazine racks of adult magazines (or in the modern age, not go to that website) and to stay faithful to their wives and their family.
So, it’s time to choose. Will you continue down the road of habitual sin through sexual immorality? Or as Jeremiah, the prophet to the people asked: “How long will you choose to be sexually unclean?”. Talking is not the same as doing. Choose purity and do it decisively, today! “God will run with you, but He won’t run for you.”
The author has provided us with more than enough of God’s call and fuel to ignite our decision to fight. It is time to choose to fight! Our author does a great job encouraging of all God intends us to gain by our choice to go to battle:
Your victory will recover what was lost through sin. Victory will help you
regain and revitalize your relationship with God
regain and revitalize your relationship with your wife
regain and revitalize your relationship with your children
regain and revitalize your relationship to your ministry
By now I am guessing what is this battle plan you speak of for my sin struggle to walk in purity as God calls me to as a man? Let’s be reminded the goal is sexual purity. Simply put “You are sexually pure when no sexual gratification comes from anyone or anything but your wife.” Here is more of the plan straight from the author:
Purity means stopping sexual gratification that comes to us from outside our marriage. But how do we stop it? We’re able to draw outside sexual gratification from only two places: the eyes and the mind…Beyond that, we also want to make sure that we have healthy, positive affections and attitudes in our relationships with our wives. I other words, we want our hearts to be right.
Here are the author's practical techniques to build the three perimeters of defense in our lives. As someone who read this book in the past and applied these steps in my life, I can tell you they are powerful and do work if you will be courageous, disciplined and ask for God’s help to apply them daily, hourly, by the minute in your battle (I encourage you to read the book in its entirety for a more rich, equipping elaboration on each of the three perimeters of defense outlined below):
Building Your Three Perimeters of Defense
With your Eyes
Bounce Your Eyes
Think of the first perimeter (your eyes) as your outermost defense, a wall with “Keep Out” signs around it. It defends your eyes by covenant (as Job did: “I make a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl”), and you do that by training your eyes to bounce from objects of lust. Your eyes must bounce from the sensual, something they aren’t currently doing. (part four of the book provides more details and equipping)
In Your Mind
Evaluate and Capture Your Thoughts
You don’t so much block out the objects of lust, but you evaluate and capture them. A key verse to support you here is 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” You must train your mind to take thoughts captive, something it doesn’t currently do. (part five of the book provides more details and equipping)
In Your Heart
This perimeter is built by strengthening your affections for your wife and your commitment to the promises and debts you owe her. Your marriage can die from within if you neglect your promise to live, honor, and cherish your wife. (part six of the book provides more details and equipping)
So there’s your battle plan. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Setting up defense perimeters and choosing not to sin.
When practicing these steps for the first time in my own walk, the author could not be more spot on when they write “the perimeter of the eyes goes up much faster than the perimeter of the mind…the mind is far more crafty than your eyes and more difficult to corral.” The author describes our minds as a “Mustang Mind” that must be controlled. But how do we control it? With building and maintaining a corral around minds. Building it is one thing, started with starving your eyes, but it must constantly be maintained by sending any impurity from it off to the “horizon”. So, what are these impurities, here is what the author describes these as:
The first category is your visual attractions to the strangers we spoke of earlier: the joggers, receptionists, and pinups (or from online websites). Because we’ve established a defense perimeter of the eyes—our corral—these are now over the horizon. We can’t run there anymore. They no longer create attractions.
Categories two through four include the women who are not strangers, the women you interact with in life—the “live” attractions.
The second category are the women who aren’t attractive to you and don’t generate impure thoughts. They can include your friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and church members. Your defense against this category of women is a simple monitoring, to make sure you notice early if one of them takes a step toward your corral.
The third category is likely the most dangerous of all. These are the women you know and interact with and who hit your attractions buttons, like Rachel, your new coworker, or maybe the new worship leader who thrills your soul with her keyboard and worshipful heart (the author reminds us to look at the statistics for infidelity in the church, divorce rates in the church are no different from the secular world).
The last category includes those women who are already inside your mental corral. Your first thought may be that only your wife is in this category, but there are others whom God has placed close to you. This category can include the wife of your close friend, an old girlfriend to whom you are still deeply attached (she was in your corral long before your wife, but she’s never been sent out to the horizon), or it could be your ex-wife (perhaps the mother of your children).
The author is quick to remind us, no matter who is in which category and has the potential to muse our mustang minds, “The perimeter (created through the battle plan) of the mind processes the live attractions that canter up over the horizon and pass our corrals. By starving the attractions, these women retreat to safety zones of “friendship” or “acquaintance,” where they no longer threaten our purity. But be reminded, this is a continual process of vigilant maintenance. Especially for as the writer states “those who do attract you and do approach your corral must not be given any reason to come closer or even approach the gate, where you just might, in a moment of weakness, let her in.” We must always be on guard due to the cleverness of the enemy and his attacks on our purity.
Cherishing Your One and Only
The chapter in this book is a deeper elaboration upon the third perimeter the writer describes as “your innermost perimeter – which is about being consumed with God’s purpose to cherish your wife” A powerful quote provide is as follows:
If Christians were consumed by God’s purpose, it would first be reflected in our marriages. But the rates of divorce, adultery, and marital dissatisfaction in the Christian church reveal our hearts.
God’s desire for us is to be consumed by our marriages and at the core by our purity. The writer gives us more than enough to consider about God’s call for our purity in this chapter. Of them all, the most influential to me was his breakdown of the story of David and Bathsheba from Uriah’s perspective, rather than David’s. At the heart of his writing on this story, the most gripping perspective is how Uriah treated Bathsheba as his one and only “ewe lamb.” The following is from the writer about the message Nathan delivered to David in 2 Samuel 12:1-4.
The rich man in the story represents David, who saw Bathsheba only as someone he could devour to satisfy his sexual longings, but Uriah, “the poor man,” saw his “lamb” as the joy of his life, his pet to cherish, to sleep in his arms. Uriah had only one wife, a faithful man like him could have only one. His ewe lamb, Bathsheba, bounced and pranced and frolicked and laughed with him, bringing him great joy. The lamb “was like a daughter to him,” the passage says. Do you have daughters? If so, you know what the Lord conveys here. A love for a daughter is special, and daughters are easy to cherish…When they smile, their eyes sparkle. We love to protect them and to tease them. We love to walk by the river, arm in arm, just to be with them. We love it most when they fall asleep in our arms. We cherish their very essence…As Bathsheba was precious to Uriah, your wife is our precious one and only. She lives with you and lies in your arms. She’s to be cherished, not because of what she does for you, but because of her essence, her value to God as a child born in his image.
I am grateful and humbled by Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Mike Yorkey for their faithfulness, transparency, and vulnerability to provide examples of how God has turned their brokenness back to Him, and how it is possible for us all. The subject of what God calls all of us Men to for purity is nothing less than His holiness. I can give you a firsthand account that the wisdom God had provided the authors of this book to pour onto its pages helped me in my walk to pursue purity with my eyes, thoughts, and actions. I urge every man to read this book, apply its principles, and get into a good male accountability group at your local church to grow closer to God in all he calls us to for purity in our daily walks with Him, as men, as husbands, and as fathers.