“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
The marriage relationship is used throughout Scripture to instruct us concerning God’s desired relationship with people. God is love and from the overflow of this love among Father, Son, and Spirit came the creation of a being on the same pattern, designed to love and to be loved as in the divine model. Which is the ultimate reality, which the reflection? In a good reflection it is sometimes difficult to distinguish. However, in one sense both the divine/human and the husband/wife relationships are real and interrelated. The male-female is transient and imperfect because human beings are finite and sin-damaged. The divine-human is eternal. But the more we learn of one relationship, the more we are able to understand the other.
Stress and conflict in marriage are said to damage seriously 60 to 90 percent of Christian marriages. Seminars, books, and counselors devoted to treating this epidemic increase geometrically, but the infection seems to spread and deepen. The vast majority of these “combat zones” do not really need sexual or psychological adjustment. Often the cures advocated simply apply Band-Aids to cancers and drive the true illness deeper inside. The root problem in most cases is old-fashioned sinful selfishness. Unity is impossible without self-giving as a way of life on the part of both mates. If one or both insist on personal rights and personal fulfillment rather than personal self-sacrifice in love for the other, true and lasting unity is impossible.
The most serious violation of marriage is adultery, excoriated in the Old Testament second only to idolatry, and in the New Testament, second to none. Infidelity, though commonplace in most societies, has had few advocates in Western society until recently. But now adultery is promoted by popular media and many behavioral scientists.
Yet laws of purity, built around God’s wonderful gift of sexuality, are, like all his laws, designed for our good (Deut. 10:12-13). Violation means loss, not just because God promises punishment, though that would be reason enough for careful obedience. But God has established these standards to protect us from the loss that is inherent in one kind of behavior, and to direct us to the rewards that are the natural result of another. Violation of God’s law of purity, just as violation of God’s law of gravity, brings destruction. Keeping God’s laws promotes one’s own welfare. Fidelity in marriage is good because it maximizes the potential relationship between mates; it maximizes sex itself; it protects the more vulnerable wife; it provides the atmosphere needed for children to grow up as whole people; and it safeguards a person’s relationship with God.
Marriage is too good to risk diminishing its potential. People were made for a loving, permanent, exclusive, secure, intimate relationship. Sex is a delightful part of this. It enhances and brings to a periodic exquisite climax the enduring unity of spirit. But when physical intimacy is pulled out of the various elements of a marriage relationship and used separately, it fouls the whole relationship. Trust can never be quite the same again; a third party often intrudes on the intimacy, in the mind of one partner or both. True unity is fractured. In fact, so serious is the rupture that Christ indicated it could legitimately be affirmed as total and permanent (Matt. 5:32), though this is not a recommended or required response to infidelity.
Fidelity in marriage maximizes sex itself. The discipline of focusing one’s mental fantasies on the marriage partner alone has the great benefit of intensifying sexual fulfillment. Furthermore, the pure in heart are safeguarded from the deception of an unreal world created by skillful photographers and makeup artists. The illusion created constantly in our society is that the world is filled with young, beautiful, available, eager, perfect bodies awaiting the conquest of the smart playboy or playgirl. One is easily seduced into thinking he is missing out on something, and by feeding his imagination on this fare he sets himself up for failure in a marriage that cannot compete with the mirage. If he had never indulged his mind in such a dream world, he might have discovered more quickly and more fully that sexual fulfillment itself is most intense, most enduring, and constantly growing only in the commitment of two who have become one flesh exclusively and permanently. The insecurity of a tentative relationship or of a defiled marriage cuts the heart out of the sexual activity itself. When one is not sure he or she is worthy of an ultimate, permanent love commitment or whether she or he is simply a desirable or available sex object, the sex-fun itself has a hollow ring, a bitter aftertaste, decreasing satisfaction.
Some have held that variety intensifies sexual pleasure. Perhaps so. Therefore the loving partner uses imagination in sex play, suspense, surprise. But variety in partners loses all the other ingredients that go to make the sex experience the climactic ecstasy it was designed to be.
Fidelity is also a prerequisite for the kind of home atmosphere that grows children in wholeness to maturity. The love, the faithfulness, the integrity, the loyalty are all essential elements. Infidelity tells a child, “Your mother is not worth much, and your father is a liar and a cheat. Furthermore, honor is not nearly as important as pleasure. In fact, my son, my own satisfaction is more important than you.” Such a home is about the worst atmosphere in which a child could be raised. The greatest gift parents can give their children is the demonstration of faithful, loving commitment to each other.
Finally, fidelity in marriage is necessary if a person would be accepted by God. Sin separates from God, and impurity in mind and body is one way to break fellowship with God. More important, it is one way to hurt him grievously. Not only does the cheating partner harm himself, his mate, and his children, he is “crucifying the Son of God” (Hebrews 6:6, NEB). Violations of one another are ultimately violations of God himself as Joseph testified (Genesis 39:9), David experienced (Psalm 51:4), and the prophet proclaimed (Amos 2:7). Want tightness with God? Choose fidelity. For yourself, your children, your church and your God.