Are You Near the Line?

If you can imagine a line beyond which a spouse would be committing adultery, I'm convinced that many couples live with their toes right up next to that line of marital infidelity. Yes, many. And yes, I'm talking about even Christian couples.

Comments and questions like these reveal a leaning toward the line rather than away from it:
"Well, it's only my husband and I. If we want to watch it, we're both adults and we can make that decision."

"Oh come on- we work together. It's only natural that we would have lunch together every now and then. It doesn't mean anything!"

"We've been friends since high school. Why would I give up such a close friend just because he's a guy and now I'm married?"

"It's not realistic to say, 'never be alone with a member of the opposite sex.' Seems legalistic to me- I know myself and I can handle it."

But the Bible puts different standards on children of God:

Not Even a Hint! (Eph. 5:3)
..."Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, because these are improper for God's holy people."

While the culture asks, "
How much can I get away with?", this standard asks, "Is there anything about what I'm doing that could cause offense or be misunderstood?" We are to be above and beyond reproach, so careful in our behavior as to preclude any possibility of criticism.

Being above reproach makes it clear that
"wherever the line is, I'm nowhere near it." If this is my standard, I'm not going to ask how close I can get to sin without actually crossing over into sin. If that's what I'm asking, then it's likely I've already crossed the line according to the standards Jesus presents (i.e., "he who has lust in his heart..."). This is not about legalism, and it's not about pouring a bucket of cold water on fun. This is about protecting the one relationship in a married person's life that is designed to represent the relationship between Christ & the Church. We shouldn't even entertain a hint of sexual immorality.

Here's a few ideas to consider about having a "not even a hint" kind of standard:
  • If you saw a married woman in your church in a car with another man, what would you think? Would there be a sliver of concern in your mind? You might try to think the best of them, but surely we'd all admit that there might be a hint of doubt about the purity of their situation!
  • If your movie choices were going to be broadcast publicly, for all the world to see, perhaps on the powerpoint slides at the beginning of services on Sunday, would you continue making the same choices? If not, then why? Is it because they might hint at sexual immorality?
  • This excellent article addresses what can happen when members of the opposite sex begin a "friendship" when one or both of them are married.
True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent, Praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8)
Here is a lens or filter through which our thoughts ought to pass- is it true? is it noble? is it right? pure? lovely? is it worthy of admiration? could it be called excellent? is this thought worthy of praise? If it doesn't pass the test, then "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Every affair, every sexual addiction, every action that has that "hint" of sexual immorality has started out as a thought. The Bayly brothers put it this way:
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.
Without a doubt, if this kind of behavior was stopped in its tracks at the thought level, it would never proceed into actions. They continue their warning:

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. [Read their entire article, "Emotional Intimacy & Adultery," here.]

Here we see it again- in terms of emotional intimacy and dependency... these are thought-level issues that bleed over into actions. If we cut them off at the thought level, there would be no illicit action. But if we entertain a little thought here, and a questionable glance there, pretty soon, we're not just to the line-- we've stepped over it into impropriety and sin.

The point is not to come up with a list of rules and then enforce them on your spouse, although having a list you consider and pray about together and follow would be an excellent thing. The point is not to be rude to every person of the opposite sex so as to avoid infidelity, although being cautious and guarded around the opposite sex would be wise. The point is not even to avoid every movie that has a certain rating, although this too may be a prudent decision for some people.

The point is this: Let's not "toe" the line. Let's not even be close to it. Let's draw our own mental lines that keep us far away from the actual line of infidelity. Let's re-focus our minds to not focus on "how much can I get away with", but rather- "is there any
hint of sexual immorality in my life?" "Am I providing room for sin to spring up in my life by any action I'm taking or thoughts I'm entertaining?" Let's root out the sin of infidelity before it springs up in our lives.

If you have additional thoughts or stories to share on this issue, hit "comment"! (As with all sensitive subjects, feel free to leave your comment anonymously if you have something personal to share.)

Blessings on you and your marriage,


Anonymous said...

Tagged... although if you don't have time I'll understand. :)

Steph VG said...

What a great post! I just read something about that specifically written to pastor's wives. ANYWAY, I always liken this to visiting the Grand Canyon with kids. We wouldn't let our kids see how close they could get to the edge without falling over, right? Of course not - we'd keep them 20 feet or more back from the edge, just to be safe. When it comes to sin, especially when it comes to emotional affairs (which seem harmless and so are more easily justified), we need to set ourselves a big buffer zone. Where's the line? Now set yourself a guardrail 20 feet back, and don't climb over it for all the world.

Don't worry if the world thinks you're weird. Don't be anti-social or anything, but choose to do what you need to do to please the Lord in purity.

Mrs. Brigham said...

What a great post on such an important topic! Before I had even met my husband, my dad expressed the importance of keeping myself above reproach. I laughed at his counsel and rejected it for several years. Once I was married, however, I wound up realizing what a wise lesson my dad was trying to teach me. I made many life changes to assure that I was not purposely ever going to put myself in a position to be tempted, out of love, honor, and respect for the Lord and my husband.

I never understood the importance of "keeping up appearances" to not cause problems until I was married. We lived in a military town and later on the actual base and I confess to wondering about many situations I saw during the years we were there. My husband and me were witness to some very questionable situations with ladies who had deployed husbands at the time going out with male friends. We certainly tried to give them the benefit of assuming they were not doing anything wrong, but I am sure we were not the only ones who could not help but wonder.

I also learned firsthand how important is is to remain above reproach. While my husband was on a short deployment to Egypt, my dad came to visit me for a week. We were out and about a lot that week and obviously were seen by many of my neighbors. Most people say I look a lot like my dad, so it is pretty easy to tell that we are father & daughter. When my husband came home, we wound up having an issue with a neighbor about their loud music and requested a meeting with apt manager to resolve the issue. The neighbor was very angry at us for making this issue known to the management and took it upon himself to tell my husband about my "male visitor" when he was deployed. Yep, I was actually accused of being unfaithful to my husband with my dad! My husband started laughing at this accusation and it really was quite comical, but it really does go to show that people do pay attention to your actions and might even be looking for you to stumble, fall, or make a mistake.

I apologize for authoring another novel length comment on your blog this week! I must "talk" too much or something.

toni said...

I enjoyed reading this. And I would agree. Especially point #2. I watched dear friends' marriage unravel over that very thing. It started with innocent lunches between her dh and his female coworker. It ended in divorce. :(

Anonymous said...

My dad 'toed the line' and ended up crossing it. It was with a woman from church who he did worship with. I can remember, all my growing-up years, woman after woman making eyes at my dad. Most of them were from church. I didn't know about the affair until just a few years ago, but I still never liked any of those women who gawked at him. I can't think of one of them that wasn't married. My parents are divorced now, because of that affair.

We must avoid even the appearance of evil. We just cannot be too careful. I won't even be alone with a brother-in-law. There's simply no reason to.

When I worked outside the home, I was very fortunate to have female coworkers--opening a coffee shop at four a.m. with one other person would be uncomfortable if it was a man, but with a woman, it's just doing what you need to and trying not to fall asleep while doing it!

I'm more comfortable around guys, having grown up in the middle of four brothers, but I liked working with all girls, despite their petty arguments with each other (I didn't know girls were like that!), because there were no uncomfortable situations with male coworkers.

I have a family member who had an affair after years of being enslaved to pornography. Of course, affairs don't have to be preceded by something so drastic. It can be something as 'innocent' as worship practice.

I want to know how on earth people can be so stupid as to think the way that's described at the beginning of the post. Why, WHY, would you frivolously gamble with something as precious and binding and valuable as your marriage? People are so selfish.

As to friends of the opposite sex: There's no reason whatsoever to have a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex that is not your spouse. Your spouse should be your best friend.

2 LMZ FARMS said...

I just found your site. I loved the piece that you wrote. I was in a marriage for 16 yrs that ended in an ugly divorce all because my spouse was cheating on me. I was told the whole time during our marriage that they were only friends, yeah, right, bed-friends. I was single for awhile and meet a man that went through the same thing with his wife and we ended up married. Why, oh why, couldn't I have found this man to begin with? Keep up the good work will bookmark your site. Have a good one and God Bless.

Hedi said...

Great post! I do agree on emotional purity and examples of what people think sometimes. Glad to read about the right view of the subject!

Jennie Chancey said...

This is an excellent, clear-headed, and very biblical post. When I was in college, one of my "liberated" English professors told me that no man could expect his wife to be "enough" for him and that it was perfectly normal and acceptable for men to have other close women friends. I was shocked at first, but, wanting to appear "enlightened," I said nothing. This same professor went on to say that couples who appeared to be satisfied with one another were secretly dissatisfied, because no one could ever be fulfilled in marriage no matter what the Bible said. Again, I said nothing, and the seeds of doubt were planted in my mind about my own parents' relationship. I began to wonder if they were really happy or only pretending. All this took place in a conservative CHRISTIAN college, where unbiblical ideas were par for the course on a daily basis. By the end of my senior year, I was thoroughly disillusioned about marriage and decided I could never marry if my husband was always going to be looking for greener pastures. Thanks be to God, He brought me out of that period of blindness and showed me what a fool I had been to listen to the counsel of a man who (to put it plainly) simply had a wandering eye and wanted to find an excuse for it. There is a lot of this folly going around in "enlightened" church circles, but Scripture is so clear--just as you said: "Not even a hint!" I've now been married for 11 years, and my husband and I are best friends. Our love has grown every year, and we cannot imagine seeking intimate friends of the opposite sex. The idea is simply repulsive to us. We talk about everything. We seek the other's counsel. We love to listen to each other. Cultivating a strong, close marital relationship is a priceless investment. It is so important to just obey God in this matter--and He so richly blesses us when we do!

Katie Gillet said...

The father, brother, cousin, BIL, could easily be a problem! I have been pretty careful about my friendships with the two men I count as close friends- one is all but my BIL (he and DH have been mistaken for twins, though I don't think they look at all alike) and another I've been friends with for 11 years. With my "BIL" I don't care what anyone thinks, because saying "This is my BIL, J," covers everything- but I won't be alone with my friend, E.

Anonymous said...

I know it's difficult for a woman who cannot find a "best friend" in her husband, but it is important that he still be the focus of her thoughts. I agree so much with these thoughts, even though I still struggle, finding father figures and older brothers that I want to depend on where I think I have lack in those areas from my husband.
I was raised thinking that it was important to be able to look a man in the eye, have a firm grip, carry on an interesting and witty conversation, and all those things that men are supposed to be to each other, so for a while when I was first "holding back" my friendship from men, I felt that I was being rude. Well, I suppose I would have been if I were a man. But I was not raised to find something else to put in that place - a good close girlfriend, or joy in mothering and sistering others. (Perhaps I only dislike Oprah because she's such a "girlfriend" person?) I'm praying that all women - raised to be manlike or not - will find a good and godly best friend in their husband, and if not, turn only to God for Male companionship, Who is the best Father or Brother or Loving Uncle ever.

Anna S said...

Jess, I enjoyed reading this so much. I always get sackfuls of rotten tomatoes when I say I don't really believe in 'friendship' between the opposite sexes. There's natural sexual tension, created by God, and it shouldn't be ignored.

And I very much embrace what you said about not even being close to the line! The spirit should definitely be not "What a nasty restriction! Let's see how much I can get away with", but "What a wise rule! Let's see how we can stick to it better"

God bless!


Sherry said...

Oh, my, I'm afraid this toeing the line happens regularly among Christians, and most often results in divorce. Christian divorce rates are just as high as nonChristian rates. Mucking about with one's purity simply shouldn't be on the menu.

kevintracy said...

I've heard this argument before, but I've never seen it so perfectly laid out. Great post.

-Kevin Tracy

Anonymous said...

So true. I actually had a playdate--once--with the husband of a couple we are friends with. (Due to his hours, he is home a lot with the kids during the day and a very involved dad. I like him a lot--we have tons in common...but I knew in my heart that it was NOT a good idea, and vowed to never be alone with him again without my husband or his wife present. It so obvious how these things develop--and I agree--we shouldn't even go anywhere near the line.