Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. ~ Hebrews 13:4
The news of yet another Christian leader publicly acknowledging his resignation from service because of sinful activity has brought a renewed level of introspection. Specifically, many men have been looking in the mirror, searching their hearts, and asking themselves the probing question, “Could this happen to me?”
Perhaps it was this type of self-examination that brought one man to write to me last week asking a very timely question. This question centered on what he termed “emotional affairs.” He was wondering my thoughts on the gravity of nonphysical, romantic relationships with someone other than one’s spouse. The question was asked, “Would such a relationship necessitate a man stepping down from office? Is this a higher standard than what is laid out in Scripture? And, if so, what can we do to protect ourselves from falling in this area?”
While there is no way for anyone to judge each individual situation, my answer to his question was basically this: An emotional affair, while not physical in nature, is still adulterous. It is a violation of the covenantal vows of marriage. Jesus clearly addressed this issue in Matthew 5:28, when He said, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
And, while every situation is different, Paul’s instruction to Timothy regarding those who would serve the church calls for them to be, “the husband of one wife;” which, in the Greek, clearly states, “a one woman man.”
We need to understand that there is no such thing as an emotional affair, because an emotional affair is simply emotional adultery. And, even if it is not physically consummated, adultery carries severe and painful repercussions to a man, to his wife, to his children, and to his testimony. And, depending on the circumstances, such a relationship should indeed require a man’s resignation.
Given the severity of this sin, a sin that strikes at the heart of the family, my friend asked me if I had some thoughts on how we might avoid this dangerous pit. So, in an effort to help him, and to also help others, including myself, I prepared the following suggestions:
- For those who find themselves in corporate America, make a commitment to never go to lunch or to dinner with a member of the opposite gender alone. Ever. This is for your own safety, that of the woman, the feelings of your wife, and for those looking on (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
- Likewise, if you have to travel for business and a coworker of the opposite gender is on the same trip, book separate flights, take separate taxis, and do what is needed to ensure that you are not alone together. Yes, this may cost a little bit more for your company, and it may even feel somewhat awkward, but it is important that you protect your marriage and the integrity of your testimony. In my experience, leadership and co-workers respected this decision.
- If you are in ministry, never counsel a woman in private. Always have someone else there with you, another elder, the woman’s husband or father, perhaps your wife.
- Technology can also be a source for emotional adultery; so protect your heart and your family by not engaging in private chats with those of the opposite gender. Always copy someone else in your email communications. If you are involved in social media, don’t befriend someone of the opposite gender unless they are also friends with your spouse. Online friendships and conversations can be a form of “being alone” together. So, be on guard.
- I am also very careful when it comes to “ministry hugs.” For the most part, I don’t hug women, even those in my congregation. If a woman in our fellowship approaches me for a hug, in an effort to keep her from feeling awkward, I am careful to hug her discreetly from the side. Let me be clear, I’m not assuming that I have anything to fear from the Christian women I know. I believe they are striving to honor and serve Jesus. But, as a ministry leader, I am hoping to set an example, one which shows that my marriage with my wife is of great importance to me.
- Protecting my marriage also requires me to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). I do this by striving to view all other women as my mother, sister, or daughter (1 Timothy 5:2). To that end, I heed the counsel of aged Job, who made a covenant with his eyes that he might not look upon a maid (Job 31:1). Therefore, when talking to women in social or business settings, I make sure that my eyes are looking in their eyes, I consider the state of their soul rather than the shape of their body.
- Of course, there are some very practical things that we can do within our marriage to protect ourselves from falling in this area. The apostle Paul tells Christian men to wash their wives with the water of the Word. To me, this means that I need to make it a priority to pray for and with my wife. I also need to be in God’s word, daily going to the Words of life, and then sharing what I see in the Scriptures with the bride He has given to me. Promoting and nurturing “oneness” is a protection and a blessing.
- We are also instructed in 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 to make physical intimacy a priority in marriage. Paul says that this activity can protect us from the temptations of Satan. The Book of Proverbs puts it this way, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress?” (Proverbs 5:18–20). Physical intimacy in the context of marriage is not only biblical, it is a wonderful gift from God, one He uses to protect the covenant relationship between a husband and a wife.
Brothers, it is indeed so easy for a man to fall in this area. It has been said by many others, the sin of lust impacted the strongest man in the world (Samson), the wisest man in the world (Solomon), and also the man who was after God’s own heart (David). Thus, we should be aware that, without the power of God, the tempting allure of lust could reach us as well.
The very worst and most dangerous way we can respond to the news of a brother’s sin in this area is in pride and arrogance. Our first reaction should be fear and humility. Our second reaction should be how can we avoid the same sin?
Let us always remember, the Lord has promised that, with temptation, He also provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). I pray that some of these simple suggestions will help you to find that way of escape.
James M. McDonald, V serves as an elder at Providence Church, Morton, IL. He is a less than perfect man who strives to teach other less than perfect people about the mercy he has received from the only Perfect Man.