The last two weeks, I've been talking about the temptation of adultery: first with an admonition to protect your marriage with boundaries and then with the Bible's answer to sexual temptation--flee. If you've ever witnessed someone in your Christian circle fall to sexual temptation and become entangled in an affair, the question that we all ask is how. How did this person go from being a spouse who promised to "keep myself only unto you" to the person sneaking around to cheat on their marriage partner?
Proverbs 5 breaks it down. In this passage, King Solomon tells his son not only the importance of avoiding adultery, but how to keep from becoming entrapped. His words of warning show how this happens. Knowing the progression of an affair means that we can see the steps and stop the process anywhere along the way.
STEP ONE: DON'T ADMIT YOU NEED A PLAN.
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.
That's where this all starts--with a willingness to believe that you could fall if you don't heed the warnings and encouragement of God.
STEP TWO: START WITH WORDS.
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.
An affair starts with words. This woman's words are described as being like "honey" and "smoother than oil." The most reckless affairs can begin with seemingly harmless conversations in which someone makes you feel good about yourself. Maybe things aren't going so well at home, and you don't feel appreciated. And then your co-worker or friend compliments you, converses about interesting topics instead of how to juggle the family schedule, or even comments on how you are not being treated as well as you should be by your spouse.
According to that last line, she/he may not even know that they are on a crooked path. This person isn't thinking clearly either about where it will all lead, how the destination is death...the death of your marriage. The conversations may not feel like betrayal to your spouse since it's just words, right? You haven't actually done anything.
And it's true that you can stop it here. If you realize that you have become more comfortable talking or listening to a man other than your husband, you can back off and stop anything else from happening. If this is where you are, think right now about how this could be the beginning of the end for you and your marriage.
STEP THREE: KEEP IN TOUCH.
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.
So far it's just words, but Solomon is very clearly in his prescription: "do not go near." Even if you think you're strong enough to handle a close opposite-sex friendship, the wisest man ever is saying, "Don't risk it. Stay away." The Bible's answer to sexual temptation is not to master your urges in the moment but to avoid being in a compromising position to begin with.
If you are starting to have feelings, ties, or sexual thoughts about someone outside your marriage, do not go near that person. Break off contact. Be bold about protecting your marriage.
STEP FOUR: IGNORE OTHERS.
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.”
The next step is not listening to others. This can be exhibited in different ways. You may have someone who actually speaks up and voices concern about your contact with this person, and you rationalize it and avoid further conversation. It could be that you simply don't tell anyone. You know in your heart that others would have an issue with the close relationship you're developing with someone other than your spouse, so you don't tell anyone. You just don't want to hear their correction. Whatever form this takes, you are listening to your own desires and your new found love interest.
You can stop now. Tell someone about your thoughts and feelings. Get discipline. Get correction. Avoid ruin.
STEP FIVE: LET YOUR SPOUSE GO.
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.
An affair takes full force when one diverts emotional and sexual energy away from their spouse and gives it to another. You wanna have lots of great sex? Keep it in your marriage.
This may be a challenge for some. Perhaps the relationship or couple's sex life isn't flourishing. It needs work, commitment, and time to become a situation where you are "captivated" by your spouse's love. Believe that God can reenergize your marriage if you will recommit to it. Drink water from your own cistern.
STEP SIX: COMMIT TO THE AFFAIR
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?
Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?
You're full in now. You're captivated by someone other than your spouse. You are embracing the affair partner in a sexual way. You have given your heart, your energy, and your body to another outside your marriage.
Is it too late? The message of the Bible is that it is never too late to do the right thing, to get on the right path, to repent and find forgiveness. If the Rahab can go from being a prostitute to a grandmother in Jesus' bloodline; if King David can find favor in God's eyes after adultery and murder; if the Apostle Paul can turn his life around from persecutor to proclaimer of the Gospel; then you can leave this affair, seek God with all of your heart (Jeremiah 29:13), and do everything within your power to restore your relationship with Him and your marriage.
STEP SEVEN: SOW WHAT YOU REAP.
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.
The world around us is constantly teaching that you can get away with sexual relations outside marriage. Think of all of the books you've read or movies you've seen that get you rooting for an adulterous relationship. We may even know of someone who left a marriage, married their affair partner, and seems to be doing well.
However, I fully believe Galatians 6:7: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." And the passage above says that "a man's ways are in full view of the Lord." There are consequences to sin. Ask those who have been down this path and suffered the hardship of divorce and separation from their God, their church, the family, and their friends.
An affair leads to the shattering of expectations, promises, and lives. It is not a private choice between two consensual adults. It is sin.
If we can see how this could happen, we might see how to prevent it. Stop the progression at any point before the physical affair begins and damage can be mitigated. If you are on this path and are flirting with danger, stop, flee, heed the warnings. If you have gone too far, go back. You can turn your heart away from the affair partner. You can ask your spouse for forgiveness. You can recommit and do everything in your power to reclaim the love you had lost with your spouse.
There's a fabulous song in Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie called "Second Chances." In it are the lyrics:
You can be restored from your darkest circumstances.
Our God is a God of second chances.
Note: For those of you who track my blog, my apologies for missing Monday's post. An unexpected visit from a friend and a funeral kept me offline. I'll return with more Q&A on August 27.