Adultery is a serious matter. At least, it is a serious matter in the mind and heart of the God who created sex and marriage and who put wise boundaries on them both. But why? Why is adultery such a serious matter. Christopher Ash provides six reasons in his book Married for God and I am going to track with him as we go.
Adultery is a turning away from a promise. In the mind of the adulterer, the pursuit of another person is not first a turning away but a turning toward—a turning toward someone who is desirable and lovely. “I deserve him.” “She meets my needs.” “He understands me.” “She does the things my wife won’t.” But at heart, adultery is first and most significantly a turning away. It is a turning away from one to whom promises were made in the presence of witnesses. Most importantly, it is a forsaking of promises made in the presence of God and, in that way, a turning away from God himself.
Adultery leads the adulterer from security to chaos. Because the adulterer has turned away, he or she enters into a life of torn loyalties. “Once the promise is broken, the barrier is breached, the secure wall of marriage is torn down, all hell breaks loose. And an adulterer finds he or she has not after all exchanged one secure place (his marriage) for another secure place (the new home with the new partner). That is the illusion, but the reality is much different. Adulterers soon find they’ve entered a world in which unfaithfulness is the norm—after all, if one set of vows can be broken, why not another?” Even when the adulterer remains loyal to that new partner, there is still the divided life, the divided family, the divided memories. “To the adulterer, the grass seems so much greener the other side of the fence, but it isn’t nearly as green as it looks.” The adulterer’s actions lead away from the security of stability and into disorder.
Adultery is secretive and dishonest. Adultery is inherently secretive, inherently dishonest. It has to be because no one wants to trumpet that they are breaking a promise. Adultery loves the darkness and flees the light and for as long as it can it tries to remain a secret. “Whereas news of a marriage is broadcast by joyful announcement and invitations, news of adultery leaks out by rumor and under pressure.” Ouch. That alone should tell us what is at the heart of adultery, for sin loves to remain in the darkness while righteousness loves the light. Adultery depends upon a dishonest secrecy.
Adultery destroys the adulterer. Adultery does no favors to the adulterer. To the contrary, it undermines and erodes character and integrity. “Like all secret sin, it eats away like some noxious chemical at the integrity of the one who commits it. The moment any of us drive a wedge between what we say we are publicly and what we actually are privately, we injure ourselves at the deepest possible level.” Isn’t that always the way with sin? It promises so much but delivers so little. It promises freedom and delivers captivity. It promises fulfillment and delivers emptiness. Adultery destroys the adulterer even as it promises joy and life.
Adultery damages society. We can widen the scope from the individual to the society around him and see that the damage continues there, too. Adultery does harm to the very fabric of society. “Each act of adultery is like a wrecker’s ball taking a swing at the secure walls of the social fabric of society. It stirs up hatred and enmity. It encourages a culture which reckons marriage boundaries needn’t really be quite so rigid.” We love to think our sins are our own, that they concern only us. But no, our sin goes far beyond ourselves and impacts others. With adultery we see this even in the ways friends or colleagues are uncertain how to speak, how to react when they learn of adultery. We see the damage it does if and when they say “At least he’s happier now.” The adulterer removes one more brick from the foundation of marriage.
Adultery hurts children. Adultery does grievous harm to an innocent party—children. “Because children are right in the thick of it, in the intimacy of the family home broken by cheating on promises, darkened by secrecy and lies, riven with conflict and hatreds.” Children thrive when there is structure, when there is stability, when there is peace and order. Children are harmed when adultery brings chaos and conflict and disunity. Children are innocent parties who are terribly harmed when adultery separates their parents.
In these ways and many more, adultery is a matter of the utmost seriousness. No wonder, then, that the Bible contains such serious, repeated warnings against it: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-29). “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).