At some point, we have all witnessed the devastation of an affair. On the one hand, it is shocking just how much can be destroyed by the act of one person sharing sexual intimacy with another. But on the other hand, it is not shocking at all when we consider how much meaning God has packed into marriage and into the sexual relationship within marriage.
One of the great misconceptions about affairs is that they begin with sex. Affairs do not begin with sex. Falling into bed with a man who is not your husband or a woman who is not your wife is never a sudden, unplanned event. Instead, it is a culminating decision in a long list of terrible, self-centered decisions.
Some time ago Denny Burk and I spoke at a conference, and Denny told us about the 6 “e’s” that Tommy Nelson uses to describe the “ease” with which people fall into extra-marital affairs. I have shared them before but thought it might be helpful to share them again. I believe any married man or woman can benefit by occasionally considering them. Consider it one more means to fulfill 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” (I will write from a male perspective, but it works equally well if you reverse the pronouns.)
Affairs do not begin when you experience sexual intimacy with someone who is not your spouse. An affair begins much farther back, when you begin to eliminate intimacy in your marriage. This is not only the intimacy of sex, but the intimacy that comes by dating, by long face-to-face conversations, and by physical affection. Instead of pursuing your wife, you grow hard and complacent. The joy fades, the discontentment rises.
As you eliminate the intimacy in your own marriage you will inevitably encounter someone else who is attractive to you. She may be physically attractive, she may be attractive in character, she may be attractive in seeming to provide what your wife is lacking. Regardless of the specifics, there will be something about her that will draw you and promise to offer the very things you are missing in your own marriage.
After that encounter, you will find that you soon begin to enjoy your relationship with that other woman. Your enjoyment of this woman allows her to move into the emotional space formerly reserved for your wife. It is here that the wise man will immediately identify the danger and back away. Yet the enjoyment is pleasurable, of course, and too many men neglect to take the wise and godly course of action.
If you do not take action against the enjoyment, you will soon begin to expedite opportunities to be with her. You will linger where you know she is likely to be. You will hurry to get to the place where your paths may cross. You will time your lunch break to coincide with hers. You will generate opportunities to talk through the phone or through Facebook or through text messaging or face-to-face.
Inevitably, this growing relationship will lead to a kind of intimacy so strong and so exhilarating that you will have to find out if she feels the same way. You will express your feelings. You won’t come right out with the full expression of your feelings—you are too clever and too subtle for that. Instead, you will test the waters a little bit. “I really enjoy spending time with you.” And she will reply, “I enjoy spending time with you as well.” “I wish I could talk to my wife the way I talk to you.” And she will say, “I wish I could talk to my husband the way I talk to you.” And then you will advance to, “I wish my wife was more like you” and she will reply, “I wish my husband was more like you.” And at this point you’re caught. You’re in. Tommy Nelson says, “You’ve built a bridge to Fantasy Island,” and it’s now all but certain that you will walk across it. The emotional bond is already there and it is now only natural to give that emotional bond a physical expression. That leads to the final “e.”
All that remains is to experience the physical consummation of that enjoyment, that expression, and that emotional bond. And then you are in bed together as adulterers, entwined in a full-fledged affair.
Through it all, John Owen’s insight remains so crucial: Sin always aims at the uttermost; the smallest sin is but one step to the biggest and most treacherous sin. That decision to neglect the pursuit of your wife, that surrendering of marital intimacy, these were only the first small, sinful steps to the destruction of your marriage.
I will give the last word to John Owen who reflects on Hebrews 3:12-13: “Take heed, says he, use all means, consider your temptations, watch diligently; there is a treachery, a deceit in sin, that tends to the hardening of your hearts from the fear of God. The hardening here mentioned is to the utmost—utter obduration; sin tends to it, and every distemper and lust will make at least some progress toward it.”
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