We live in troubling times. Though not much can shock us anymore, there are those events that deeply disappoint us. When fellow believers, pastors or denominational leaders fail morally through what may be broadly called sexual misconduct we feel a deep sense of grief and disappointment. The Christian community has witnessed our fair share of these sad stories recently. Consider the nearly weekly news story of another Hollywood mogul, religious leader or prominent business person who has been accused of inappropriate behavior. Some of these revelations of sexual impropriety are politically motivated, but most are not.
I am writing this article to prevent another pastor or believer from experiencing moral failure and the subsequent loss of their ministry, a faithful legacy or their good name. I’ll add my article to the other one thousand articles, posts and blogs that have been written on the subject in recent weeks. Perhaps this one will reach someone standing on the cliff’s edge, looking into the abyss and considering marital unfaithfulness; perhaps someone will choose by faith to honor their wedding vows to the wife of their youth, even in the midst of a very trying marriage. It is not my intention to leave women out of this discussion, but I am focusing this article on men, pastors and church staff, specifically. Neither would I want someone who has experienced the pain of divorce to feel shamed or attacked. I think we have well established that God hates divorce but he loves divorced people. What He hates is the awful emotional pain that divorce brings to those who experience it and the collateral damage it brings to everyone involved. That being said, the Bible never ceases to hold forth the highest standard of conduct with regard to God’s intentions for marriage and man’s behavior towards women.
Marital unfaithfulness takes more than one form, by the way. It can manifest as the traditional affair with another woman (or man) outside of marriage. It can also be the emotional unfaithfulness of online chat rooms or the virtual (not real) reality of pornography. There is an oxymoron for you to ponder. That’s not the only irony I’ve observed about our culture. Perhaps, you have observed the ironic development currently going on across the American landscape. A post-Christian culture that had all but kicked Christianity and our moral code to the curb is now reacting with Victorian contempt towards sexual misconduct. Southern Seminary Professor Dr. Denny Burk says that the modern day sexual ethic embraced by most Americans not guided by a strong faith is that a sexual relationship between two people is acceptable as long as it is consensual and no one is getting hurt. That falls far short of the sexual ethic set forth in the Scriptures, but it does, at the very least, hold people accountable for unwanted sexual advances, sexual abuse of children and exploiting others sexually for personal gain as in sexual trafficking.
There are a dozen causes for marital unfaithfulness, but at the end of the day they all culminate in one big overarching cause; loneliness. A husband and wife drift away from each other emotionally long before they separate physically or legally in divorce. A husband or wife feels a painful sense of disconnectedness from their spouse long before they entertain a relationship with another person. That loneliness can be caused by a spouse who lacks empathy, is emotionally, physically or verbally abusive. It can be caused by a problem that never gets resolved between the husband and wife, causing one of them to give up on the relationship. Unrealistic expectations and unmet realistic expectations can create emotional distance between husband and wife. The inability to have children can bring great stress into a marriage. The death of a child can cause one of the partners in a marriage to shut down emotionally with little love or companionship to give their spouse, leading to intense loneliness in the marriage. Depression and its impact upon the affected person and their family is a topic that is finally getting the attention it deserves. Depression brings a unique set of challenges to a marriage beside the usual conflicts most couples experience. Often, if untreated, depressed persons are so overwhelmed managing their own painful emotions and stress that they generally have little warmth, affirmation or emotional support left over to give their spouse. This creates an incredible loneliness in the other spouse. These couples desperately need the support of faithful friends and Christ-centered mental health professionals to keep their marriage intact.
God did say, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” We were created in the image of God to be relational beings, to crave intimacy and companionship. When we become lonely in our marriage, we’re going to feel the powerful desire to find companionship with another person. The desire (for companionship) is not evil but it is a warning bell going off, telling us that something is wrong with our marriage that needs immediate attention. It is when we begin to fulfill that desire for intimacy with another person other than our spouse that we have crossed a line and are in danger of falling morally. Jesus was right that sins don’t come from outside, from what we eat, but they come from the heart. Proverbs 4:23 must be etched into our psyche and soul if we are to avoid falling morally into sexual sin. “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the wellsprings of life.”
If affairs begin in the heart, preventing them also begins by guarding and monitoring our heart. Do you catch yourself wanting to avoid your spouse? Do you find yourself increasingly wanting to see or talk to another woman? Are your conversations with other women at work or on social media increasing? Are you sharing inappropriate details about the state of your marriage with another woman? Have you become the confidant of another woman who is sharing the woes of her troubled marriage with you? These are all warning signs that you are moving further away from your wife emotionally and closer to another woman.
Another way to prevent an affair is by continually thinking through the long term consequences of doing so. Is an affair or ending your marriage really the legacy you want to leave? Couldn’t you endure a difficult marriage to protect the emotional well-being of your wife and children? Have you sought every form of help and professional counseling possible? Have you asked yourself if the integrity of the gospel you are living out before an unbelieving world is more important than your own happiness? It is, by the way. Could you trust God’s sovereignty that He is working His perfect will in and through your marriage, even if it’s painful and lonely (Rom. 8:28)? Steven Curtis Chapman was once interviewed about marriage. He said that so many have the idea that marriage is something that will make us happy or complete. He disagreed with that assessment. He believes that God’s primary purpose for marriage is to make us more like Christ.
What can you do if you find yourself in a difficult, lonely marriage and you are beginning to struggle with temptation?
- Find a confidential friend of the same sex with whom to unburden your pain and frustrations.
- Get professional Christian counseling. Insist upon it with your spouse and do not take “no” for an answer.
- Attend a quality marriage retreat.
- Be sure you are doing all you can to serve and love your wife selflessly, regardless of how she treats you.
- Guard your heart; be honest with yourself and shut off all illicit conversation and contact with another woman.
- Draw closer to the Lord in prayer and the Word. Continually remind yourself of your core biblical values.
- Don’t try to justify your illicit behavior with another woman. The great lie we tell ourselves is that, somehow, it is different for us than it is for other men to engage in this behavior. It is not different (I Cor. 10:13).
- Remind yourself of your holy calling to the gospel. You were personally called by the Lord to be a steward of the glorious gospel of His Kingdom. There is no greater honor. A part of this calling requires us to maintain a marriage which proclaims the gospel to a lost world by the faithfulness and unconditional love we continue to demonstrate to our wife until in death do us part. Don’t compromise that testimony for any earthly pleasure.
I am certainly not under the naïve assumption that a simple article will prevent every future infidelity. The human need for meaningful intimacy and companionship is hardwired into our being. I do believe that a born-again believer can bring these human passions under the control of the Holy Spirit for a higher and greater good; for our Lord and the gospel of His Kingdom. Never forget that in the midst of the complexities and pain of our lives there is a day of eternal judgment and reward coming. We all want to hear our Lord say those words; “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But as someone once pointed out, before we hear those words, we must first do good. Whatever else you do, do good where your marriage is concerned.