Emotional intimacy and adultery...

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With popular social mores widely accepting an attitude of sexual promiscuity, many husbands and wives have asked themselves, "What would I do if my spouse were unfaithful? Could I stand the shock? The pain? The humiliation?"

But too often the really crucial questions are left unasked: "How could this terrible sin be committed by people who love God and one another? Am I capable of infidelity? When and in what ways do I place myself in danger of crossing the line?"

Unfaithfulness in marriage is not just a physical act; it's a way of life. It begins innocently enough--sidelong glances, the light brush of a shoulder, an offer to help put up the storm windows--all little things. But little things quickly grow until we discover we're in a prison built by our own hands. Seemingly without warning, we find that our wife or husband is no longer at the center of our heart; someone has taken their place.

As a pastor I have seen how easy it is for us to convince ourselves that there is nothing dangerous about developing a close personal friendship with a member of the opposite sex outside our marriage.

Some time ago I was talking with a young mother. She told me her husband was threatening to leave her. She wanted him to stay, but she knew she might not be able to convince him. He was ready to walk out on her and on their children.

My initial question brought out the usual reasons people give for breakdown: "We were married young," "We fight all the time," and "He says he doesn't love me anymore." As we continued talking, though, it became clear that unfaithfulness was at the center of their breakdown...

I'm afraid many of us don't understand the danger of unfaithfulness today. We think we can engage in a deep and meaningful friendship with a woman other than our wife without considering the threat such relationships pose to our marriage. We think we can build an emotional dependency on a man other than our husband without introducing the danger of ending up in bed with that man. We blithely assume our marriages are indestructible. That's why too often, after our emotions have produced their physical fruit, we wake up shocked to be caught in adultery.

We fail to remember the lesson of adolescence--that emotional intimacy often leads directly to physical intimacy.

A pastoral leader for whom I have deep respect told me he once found himself on the brink of unfaithfulness. He had been responsible for leading a Bible study which met weekly and, one night on his way to the study, he realized he was relishing the thought of a certain woman's presence there. It flashed into his mind that he was in danger; this sort of thing could lead to a breaking of his marriage vows and the betrayal of his wife and child. Immediately he determined not to lead that study any longer; he wasn't willing to risk continued association with a woman he found sexually attractive.

Some might say this man was paranoid. I don't think so. In a day when our evangelical churches are shot through with broken marriages can we be too cautious?

The Bible frequently draws a parallel between the marriage relationship and the relationship of God with His people. When we fall into idolatry, the condemnation of the prophets is that we are an adulterous generation (Ezekiel 6:9) and have gone "whoring after other gods" (Judges 2:17). Scripture commands us to guard our affections, to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. And just as a husband or wife is jealous toward the affections of his or her spouse, God is jealous towards our affections (Ex. 34:14).

The same principle applies to fidelity in marriage. If we find that our heart delights in the companionship of someone other than our spouse, we are in grave danger. With whom do your pleasures lie? For whom does your heart yearn?

Samuel Johnson observed, "No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures."

As I continued my conversation with the young mother, I noticed an edge of jealousy. She mentioned that another woman in her church had been a close friend in the past but now they couldn't talk together: they were no longer friends. "Why?" I asked.

"Well, I feel like she's pulling my husband away from me. I can't help resenting how close the two of them are. Sometimes I try to call home when I'm at work and I can't get through for over an hour. I ask my husband who he's been talking to and it's always her."

I began to get very uneasy. I'd heard this same story several times before--long conversations on the telephone, two couples who were close friends, one partner whose conscience is eased for a short time when they see someone else affirming their spouse in a way they don't seem capable of.

I asked her how long her husband had been friends with this woman? As couples they'd been close friends for years, she told me, but lately two of the four had been pulling away while the other two had been pulling closer. Then she said something close to the following: "I wouldn't mind him having her as a close friend. He needs someone he can talk to who can give him emotional support. I just wish I could get over my jealousy. I know it's my problem--not his. I'm just going to have to deal with it."

But is it really her problem?

I think not. It would be easy to tell her that she's the only one at fault, that she shouldn't be so uptight about her husband's friendships. We could point out that her husband wouldn't be seeking this sort of friendship if she had been the sort of wife God intended her to be. But that would be blaming the victim.

The problem here is unfaithfulness. If her friend has taken the central place in her husband's affections, then he no longer clings to his wife. Whether or not they've been to bed together their relationship is wrong and they have broken their marriage vows.

Pastors hear people engaged in sexual immorality give the craziest reasons why their actions are actually good, not evil. Often these are men and women who know their Bibles quite well, including its warnings against adultery. But they are being deceived and their excuses are simply rationalization.

When we were married, we vowed before God that we would be faithful to our spouses. Any relationship which seriously threatens the fulfillment of these vows should be terminated. Immediately. No matter how good it makes us feel. No matter how innocent it appears. Otherwise, we have introduced a deadly viper into our marriage and we ought not to be surprised when, in the end, we find that our liaisons are deadly.

My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.

Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house. At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly."

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer--may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.

The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly. (Proverbs 5)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!