A friend in another state emailed that the membership of her church is being plundered and savaged by adulterous affairs. She is asking for prayer.
Let’s talk about how the enemy sabotages the Lord’s people through the lies of adultery.
I recommend J. Allan Petersen’s 1984 book “The Myth of the Greener Grass.” It should be bought and devoured and kept by every married person, particularly those in the Lord’s work. (See the note from this book below, at the end of this piece.)
Here is my own personal list of the devil’s lies concerning adultery. See if any have been dangled before your eyes.
1) “What I feel for him/her is real love. What I felt for my husband/wife was never the real thing.”
This line is heard by every marriage counselor, usually spoken by a truly nice person who is being torn apart by an affair, and trying to justify the damage they are inflicting on their marriage.
Say this to yourself real slowly: “Marriage is not about love; marriage is about commitment.” Carve it in stone. Erect it over your doorway. Inscribe it on your heart. Teach it to your children.
2) “This affair is a harmless bit of fun.”
Men are more likely to buy into this. The adage goes that “women will use sex to get love; men will use love to get sex.”
For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, men tend to separate sex and love more than women do. For women, they go together “like a horse and carriage,” as the song puts it.
The quickest way to dispel the myth that this is all harmless is to answer one question: Would your husband/wife agree?
As a longtime pastor, I have seen the damage adultery has wrought on ministries and marriages. It drops a bomb into the trust and the very soul of the faithful mate. I can see them as they sat in my office, broken-hearted, wondering why he did this, why he was willing to destroy everything for this dalliance. I had no answers beyond Romans 3:23.
One wife sat across from my desk, wringing her hands endlessly, as she cried out what she had learned about her husband’s unfaithfulness. I had always heard about people “wringing their hands,” but until that moment had never actually seen it. The image has been permanently inscribed on my mind.
Had that unfaithful husband seen the pain he was going to inflict on this woman who had given her life to him in marriage, he would never have done what he did.
That’s why it’s a lie, that this is all harmless. It’s as harmless as swallowing strychnine, as innocent as force-feeding rat poison to your children, as benign as Timothy McVey’s parking that U-haul truck filled with ammonia nitrate in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It’s deadly business.
“My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Those words from Cain (Genesis 4:13) after slaying his brother have been echoed in every generation since, as those who disobey God’s laws to get their own pleasure keep finding out. Too late we discover it was not harmless at all. On top of all the pain we caused, we threw our own hearts and souls into a cauldron of misery and torment.
3) “I deserve this.”
“I’ve worked hard and long. My spouse doesn’t appreciate me. This is going to meet a real need in my life. It’s for my own good.”
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
After his marriage self-destructed, Tiger Woods admitted that this was the lie he bought into as he engaged in serial adulteries. He was different from lesser mortals. The only difference, he eventually discovered, was that he could play golf better and had more money. But when it came to the expectations of his wife and the relationship with his children, he was no different from the guy across the street who teaches math at the local junior college.
4) “The rules that apply to other people do not pertain to me.”
A variation of Myth #3 (“I am different”) is what I call the “rich person rule.” It also goes under the name of “the celebrity principle.” As he confessed the sinful behavior that brought down the PTL empire, Jim Bakker said, “Somehow, we just felt that the rules did not apply to us.”
They do. Whether you are the box office heart-throb of Hollywood or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the pastor of the biggest church on the East Coast, you too are human. Step off a curb into traffic and you will die, overeat and skip the exercise and you will get fat and die early, cheat on your spouse and he/she will be devastated and you will find your marriage in big trouble.
The rules that govern all our lives make no exceptions.
5) “I can do this and walk away from it unharmed and go right on with my life as before.”
The Apostle Paul says that when a man “goes into a harlot,” he becomes one with her. (First Corinthians 6:16) Whatever else that means, it surely implies there is a spiritual joining of the two people in an affair that neither expected or can account for. Perhaps they thought this would be an innocent bit of fun; they discovered they have entangled themselves in each other’s psyche.
Nothing will ever be the same. The gate is open, the fence is down, and all kinds of forces will flow in and out now. “Whatsoever a person sows, they reap” (Galatians 6:7).
The ministry person who participates in a one-time affair will be surprised to find more such opportunities coming at them from every direction, with rationalizations and justifications easier and easier until the day they realize they are drowning in their own sin. God help us all.
6) “I can have all the great things in my life–the love of my family, the adoration of my children, the ministry God has given me, the respect of my community–and this also. I do not have to give up anything for this.”
This lie seems to have a special appeal to ministers. At least, they seem to buy into its lie more than non-ministry people.
Suppose it didn’t happen that way. Suppose the devil said to a minister who is considering a tryst with someone who has caught his eye, “All right, pastor. Go ahead and do this, but you need to know what it’s going to cost you. It will cost you everything. Your wife will find out, she will be devastated and take the children and leave. You will lose your family. The church will learn of it and be horrified. The deacons will fire you and you will be the butt of jokes all over town.”
“Furthermore, God in Heaven will be offended, the Name of Jesus sullied, and people who have trusted you and believed in you for decades will be disgusted and hurt beyond repair. Unbelievers will be driven away from God by your lousy example. Now, are you sure you want to go through with this affair?”
No one would ever do it.
That never happens, of course, because it’s the very thing the enemy of all that is good and holy does not want you to know.
Instead, the voice saying these very things is the Holy Spirit within you.
I can take you to so many longtime friends who learned this lesson the hard way. They know the reality of the adage that “sin will take you farther than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you ever wanted to pay.”
7) “This will meet a need in my life.”
An affair might meet a momentary need for some attention and comfort, I’ll grant that. But dishonoring your vows, forsaking your Lord, betraying your spouse, and violating everything you have ever stood for will create a thousand more needs for every one it meets.
Your life has never been as complicated or as messed up as you are about to make it when you cheat.
8) “I deserve to be happy.”
This seems to be a “biggie” for women, for reasons I do not understand. Perhaps it’s because there is so much unhappiness among married women; I don’t know. Ruth Bell Graham wrote that many women make the fatal error of expecting their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be. It’s a sure recipe for misery since no man can meet the deepest needs of his wife’s heart. Only Christ can.
The ache inside which she is trying to quieten with another man will not be filled by him or anyone else. It’s a spiritual void, meant to be satisfied only by a genuine, living relationship with the Creator who made her. “He satisfies the hungry with good things,” said a young woman of her Lord in Luke 1:53.
9) “Being married to that other person would be light years better than my present marriage.”
This may be the biggest myth of all. A man or woman is locked into a boring marriage. The daily routine of cooking meals, going to work, cleaning house, paying bills, taking care of the kids, and running endless errands necessary to live in this world take their toll. Gradually, he/she begins to fantasize about some hunk or beauty they know. Discovering that the other person is interested fuels their imagination.
Psychologists speak of something called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” When you fall in love, the emotional charge blows the old affections out of the water. Compared to the way you feel about Edna Faye, you never did love Mary Sue at all. Marriage to Edna Faye would be heaven on earth.
Too many good people have learned the hard way that after they divorced Mary Sue and married Edna Faye, the drudgery of life quickly returned to what it was before. The house still had to be cleaned, meals cooked, clothes washed, the lawn mowed, the bills paid, the kids seen to, the in-laws dealt with. Very little had changed. Too late they discovered they had paid too great a price for too small a return.
10) “After what my husband/wife has done to me, this is just evening the score. He/she has this coming.”
A leader of the FBI used to say that no one ever committed a crime without first justifying it to himself. I suspect it’s the same with adultery. We see something we want and start searching for a justification. And, there is one around with an endless list of reasons for Christians to do bad things even if it means disobeying God and destroying everything dear to them.
A woman sat in my office once and used these very words, saying that since her husband had cheated on her, she was thinking of getting back at him in the same way. As she fluttered her eyes in my direction, I interpreted that as a come-on. I said, “Get it out of your mind, lady. That’s the worst possible thing you could do.” When she saw her flirting did not work with me, we were able to talk about what she could do to work on her marriage.
Many years later, while preaching in another state, hundreds of miles away, I encountered this woman and her husband (the same one, thankfully) in the congregation. They had weathered the storm.
I’d like to leave with two observations, one my own and the other from Dr. J. Allan Petersen.
First: No one ever gets up one morning and says, ‘Today, I think I will destroy my marriage, wreck my ministry, devastate my children, and ruin my reputation.’ Every adulterous affair I’ve ever heard of began innocently and respectfully. Two people were doing what normal people do, working in the same office, giving and receiving counsel, serving on the same board, traveling in the same automobile with friends, whatever.
We must train ourselves to recognize the danger signs and deal with them harshly early on, or we are goners.
Second: Dr. Petersen lists the lessons on this subject from the life of King David, from his affair with Bathsheba (II Samuel 11-12):
1. No one, however chosen, blessed and used of God, is immune to an extramarital affair.
2. Anyone, regardless of how many victories he has won, can fall disastrously.
3. The act of infidelity is the result of uncontrolled desires, thoughts, and fantasies.
4. Your body is your servant or it becomes your master.
5. A Christian who falls will excuse, rationalize, and conceal, the same as anyone else.
6. Sin can be enjoyable but it can never be successfully covered.
7. One night of passion can spark years of family pain.
8. Failure is neither fatal nor final.
Nothing safeguards a person’s heart against infidelity like keeping the relationship with his God and his spouse alive and healthy.