It is easier to resist at the beginning that at the end.” So said the strip of white paper wisdom. Often fortune cookies are trite and worthless, yet this one spoke an ancient truth—a truth as ancient as God himself (1 Cor. 10:6-15). How many hearts have been broken, lives shattered, tears cried because people were ignorant of the difficulties of resisting at the end instead of the beginning?
Eli learned this lesson the hard way. His sons were “worthless men” (1 Sam 2:12). They disregarded God’s will in ministering to the people of God. The stole from the sacrifices treating them with contempt (2:17). They even sexually abused the women serving at the tabernacle (2:22). Eli’s heart was broken over their cavalier attitudes and wickedness, but they refused to heed his pleas for repentance. God admonished Eli for honoring his sons above God (2:29), and told Eli his sons would be cut off and his family would no longer serve in God’s house (2:31). When God called Samuel, he said to him, “I am about to punish [Eli’s] house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (1 Sam 3:13). What if Eli had restained them in the beginning?
Sir Walter Scott warned in Marmion, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” (Canto vi, stanza 14). Sitcoms thrive on this principle as characters try to hide one mistake with a “white” lie, only to find it demands another, then another, until overwhelmed with the task of keeping up with a web of lies.
From the beginning of time, lying has brought grief and pain, Satan’s lies (Gen. 3:4-5), Cain’s lies (Gen. 4:9), the false prophets (Jer. 28:11). Humanity has been duped by a maelstrom of falsehood. When people lie, even with “pure” motives, they quickly find out how one lie leads to another. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote, “Honesty is the best policy” (Don Quixote, ii.33). Honesty is best because it is righteous, but also because once lying begins, it is hard to stop. “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
Illicit passions also become more difficult to stop the longer they simmer. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). God created man and woman with strong sexual desire toward one another. Then he instituted marriage as the outlet for these desires (Gen. 2:18-25; 1 Cor. 7:9). Following these passions outside of marriage is sin, therefore Paul calls them “passion” and “evil desire.”
Christian parents spy on their teens “making out” in the living room and silently thank God they’re not having sex. Meanwhile, passions are being stirred that God designed for marriage, not the confines of the living room. When a child is conceived, they wonder how this could happen. They trusted their child to know when to stop. However, sexual passions are so strong it is foolish to allow teens to arouse those passions then expect them to stop short of sex. God did not intend to save only intercourse for marriage. He expected people to withhold intercourse and every sexual passion leading up to intercourse until marriage. “I adjure you…that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (SOS 2:7; 3:5) Why? Because once sexual passions flare, it is hard to stop. “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
Missing worship is another habit harder to stop the longer it continues. God instilled in humanity the need for social interaction. Then he created fellowship to meet that need (Heb. 10:24-26). Some Christians fail to understand this basic need and become sporadic in attendance, but they always have a good reason: family is in, job took them away, had to meet someone, etc. Soon the good reasons turn into any reason. Sadly, the results do not stop with excuses. When Christians miss a lot, they cannot fill up on fellowship with the church. Therefore, they start looking for other places to get their social interaction. They find time to go out with friends, attend civic gatherings, and engross themselves in the fantasy of television. These cheap imitations of spiritual fellowship make them feel fulfilled. Thus, they do not feel an urgent need to meet with the saint. They contract a heart disease of the severest kind—the kind that will destroy their soul.
If good intentions pave the way to hell, good reasons are the tar holding the pavement together. Backsliders beware, “it is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” It is easier to tell the parents, the repairman, the friends or whoever seeks to take time from God that the assembly will not be missed now, than to repent years later after forsaking God’s worship for an extended period of time.
Sin is usually more difficult to stop than to avoid altogether. God warns us that resistance is easier at the beginning than at the end. Personal experience tells us that resistance is easier at the beginning than at the end. Even novelty fortune cookies teach us that it is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end. Maybe we should learn the lesson and avoid sin at all cost.