Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Hebrews 13, verse 4.
If you’ve never had an affair, please take my advice: don’t. Infidelity is its own kind of jail. If you are like me and you let it, it will keep you in that jail forever. Without sharing too much, I’ve done this, and it is, for me, a unique kind of self-imposed torture.
For years, I invested my heart, then my body, then my life, in other people. You don’t need to have sex to have an affair and because that’s the case, I’ve had plenty. I poured myself into other people who weren’t my wife. I cheated without ever touching them, and I cheated later by touching and being touched as well. That’s a prison; it’s a jail that you lock yourself into. It may start innocuously, and it may start as just real friendship, but it’s too easy to go farther. If you get yourself into an affair, it’s because (at some point) you let yourself fall for the “what about me” angle. When you’re in that cycle, you don’t see how you’re hurting your significant other, or the person with whom you’re cheating, and all the people around them and yourself. You don’t have the right to make the promises you do, and you don’t have the right to do the things you’re doing, but you do them anyway. It hardens your heart, and it’s a small step beyond that to move into unrepentance. “I deserve to be happy” becomes your self-defeating mantra, and that can be torture. It’s as if God turned me over to the consequence of my actions…in reality, THAT is what I deserved, and it is painful. My conscience still bothers me for all the people I hurt and it has been years now since I did these things. I’ve ebbed and flowed in my emotions, yet even today I sometimes find it hard to forgive myself for things I’ve done.
Yet I also know of someone who is forgiving. Someone who doesn’t tolerate these sins but who is so intimately affected by them. I know of someone who rejects these sins and focuses on building up instead of hammering with guilt. There is someone who is willing to forgive things done in the past and move forward in building something new; someone who believes in turning from sinful behavior and growing into someone different, someone better, someone who can live more honestly.
That’s my wife. I could have been describing Jesus because Jesus is her model. Where she could have permanently held my sins against me, she chose to help me change and become someone different. Her example became my example; her embracing of God helped me to do the same. The words you read today came in large part because of that. In the most supremely Christian and loving moment of my life, she reached out to me and said “God’s not done with us yet” and made all the difference in the world, this when she had left me, when I was mired in the consequences of adultery, and when I had destroyed all she held dear. She didn’t have to come back and I didn’t deserve it. She chose to.
When you’re a Christian and you confess adultery, most of your peers treat you as if you had AIDS or the plague, especially your married friends. It’s shocking how quickly people pull out of your life when you cross that particular line, and it’s shocking how they avoid you after. It’s almost as if they are worried that, if they’re around you, they’ll catch the disease. Maybe there’s some justifiable fear there, and certainly there’s justifiable treatment if the motivation is to educate someone’s heart back towards Christ. Yet just the verse before today’s, the writer implores us to empathize with those “who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Now he reminds us to do that but also to keep our sex lives pure. After my the days of my affairs, my wife and I became close friends with a group of people who became ‘our posse.’ We talk openly; we laugh and cry; we share the Gospel; we enjoy wine and fellowship. ‘Our people’ know our story and accept us anyway.
It’s because of the intimacy. God wired us to be intimate with Him. He gave us fellowship to model how He wants us to relate. And He gave us sex to share physically, emotionally, perfectly as a reflection for how He feels for us in a personal, singular, unique relationship with just one other person. Joining, pleasure, being out of control, sharing our most personal selves, vulnerability, love: all those things and more are some of what we embrace when we make love. God intended it to be a gift for us to share with another person in a relationship blessed and covenanted by & with Him. The writer reminds us to remember that, to love our brothers and sisters when they fall but to not fall ourselves in doing so. The penalty for un-repentance is dire.
If you find yourself in an affair, even if you’ve fallen in love, end it. If you’re tempted, back away. If you’re walking down a path that could end in bed, walk a different way. If you don’t, at some point the person you see in the mirror will wish they had. And when that happens, remember the Lord who beckons you back to a better way.
For further reading: Malachi 2:15, 1 Corinthians 7:38, Deuteronomy 22:22, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Revelation 22:15.
Lord, forgive my sexual sins, and teach me again to forgive myself. Help those tempted by these things, and be with us as we recover.