|The Lamb's Bride Symposium
|The Lamb's Bride Project|
P.O. Box 8240, Colorado Springs, CO 80933
Preventing Marital Unfaithfulness in the Church
Copyright ©1998 Dick Wulf. Permission is granted to copy and distribute.
Marriage is a difficult relationship. Almost every marriage has at least one critical time when the relationship could dissolve. Some marriages never get off to a good start; others struggle for years. Of course, troubled marriages are ripe for affairs by one or both partners.
The condition of marriages is easily identified when Christians have a degree of intimacy within small group community. The successful small group meeting for the purpose of Christian community will remember that the marriages of its members need the group's regular oversight and involvement as required.
The problem of unfaithfulness in the church has grown by leaps and bounds. The permissiveness in our society and a general acceptance of divorce as a solution has negatively impacted Christian marriages. Anyone who has much contact with individuals who are divorced because of marital unfaithfulness knows they wish the divorce had not been necessary.
The small group community can usually spot a marriage in trouble by the emotional distance between the husband and wife during the meetings, or phony, artificial and insincere closeness, or actual hostility. In such cases the small group can decide to check out each other's marriages for the sake of Christ and God's glory.
Often an individual ends up in an "affair" because he or she meets someone who is more sensitive than is the spouse. It feels so good to be understood. Thus, too many married individuals fall in love outside their marriages. Actually, most of the time this falling in love is merely finding trust because someone of the opposite sex understands feelings and personality. But trust is confused for romantic love and things go too far. This is because there is little in American culture that teaches acceptable closeness in friendships. Almost all our movies teach that closeness and trust must lead to sexual involvement.
The deep understanding of the Christian community group for each group member can reduce this need to be understood by someone of the opposite sex. The group's empathetic understanding of a vulnerable husband or wife can be taught to the spouse so that he or she can do a better job in the marriage. The group can also explain that it is not necessary for a man or woman to be fully understood by someone of the opposite sex -- an extramarital partner or even the spouse. Besides, such understanding by someone of the opposite sex can occur right in the group by someone else's faithful husband or wife.
Nevertheless, it is still remotely possible that a group member will feel drawn emotionally to another group member of the opposite sex, or, more dangerously, to someone outside of the group. It will be easy for a group to spot in the group a growing and special closeness between two people married to other people. The loving group will gently confront this by asking the spouses if either are jealous and the two who are developing the closeness if they are doing okay in accepting their friendship as trust and not romance. The group can express its expectation that should any temptations arise, they should be brought to the meetings or privately discussed with members.
Another reason affairs occur is boredom in a marital relationship. The successful group will analyze whether the marriages of its members are still exciting and interesting. Marriages that have lost their zest and companionship, as well as their helpfulness, will be exhorted by the group to do something to shore up the marriage in the weak areas.
One more reason for extramarital affairs is excessive and continual stress. Sometimes a person has an affair for the excitement that blocks out personal pain from some unbearably severe personal stress. The strength of emotions during an affair (especially from the risk factor) is strong enough to override stress, worry, fear and other strong negative emotions. This provides relief from the emotional pain, and consequences on the marriage and family are not even considered -- only escape from the strong emotional pain taken into account. The successful Christian community group will watch for such severe emotional stress and do whatever possible to also provide relief. Furthermore, the group will not allow the group member under such stress to be alone, lonely and vulnerable.
In small group community, there can be significant protection against marital unfaithfulness IF the group is run correctly and IF the group has the purpose of helping one another live for God's glory. (Please keep in mind that we are defining 'Christian community' as longer-term involvement in a small group with the purpose of implementing the Togethers of Scripture and going far beyond Bible study to Bible obedience, significant love and meaningful involvement with one another.)
In particular, a group needs to struggle to make it easy for its members to admit weaknesses, temptations and sins. Only once a group has discussed this and developed a pattern of confession of sin without corresponding judgment will members be willing to expose the temptation toward or occurrence of an affair -- or to tell the group of marital problems.
Recently I met with a couple where the wife had been unfaithful. I suggested to her pastor that she and her husband be in a small group. Proudly he told me that the couple had been in a group focused on marriage all the previous year. He described a weekly group that seemed to be a Bible study on marriage. Why wasn't this enough?
Study groups and Sunday school classes will rarely provide adequate protection from marital unfaithfulness. It is wrong to think that knowledge and superficial relationships can do what only relationships can accomplish. We all know that knowledge alone is not enough. If knowledge were enough, we would never disobey known biblical principles. Only in close-knit Christian community can group members discern whether or not individual group members have sufficient love for Christ to be obedient to what is being learned about righteous behavior from Scripture. (See John 14:21.) In the end, it is really our love for Jesus Christ that gives us the power to do what is right and prevent humiliating our Savior.
Many things in community operate to help prevent marital unfaithfulness.
Within small group community there is the purpose to help one another live for Christ as together they fulfill God's desires for His church. Therefore, it falls within the purpose of a small community group to watch out for one another's marriages and find solutions where there are problems. Such intervention in a Bible study might be seen as intrusion, whereas when members join a small group community, if led correctly, there will have been agreement that problem areas are open to group counsel for any intervention good for God's glory, the church, the individual and/or the couple.
This does not say that any marriage overseen by small group community will survive, but it does mean that a great deal more help will be given to struggling spouses. Conflict will be more easily spotted in the small group. Since it is prearranged that talking about the condition of the group's marriages is acceptable, the group can jump right in and save a marriage or two in its life span.
We must note the critical importance that the primary small groups of a church (cell groups) have purposes that are all-encompassing. The problem with Bible study as a purpose is that people only develop superficial friendships and, therefore, do not relate to one another with the depth wherein marital difficulties or other vulnerabilities would be spotted by the group or any of its members. And, as already stated, in such groups low on intimacy, two people can grow into dangerous intimacy that sometimes leads to marital unfaithfulness. Since the group is not meeting for the purpose of assuring that group members live obediently, but merely to study the Word of God, there is not the required depth to make all relationships intimate, thus cutting off the need for one special intimate relationship while at the same time allowing helpful watchfulness over one another's lives.
Let me close with the admonition for groups to help husbands and wives be one another's helpers in things more significant than washing the dishes. Husbands and wives should share the workload of running a household and raising a family, but there is a whole lot more to do than that. First of all, God has designed each of us with strengths and weaknesses, and we need to use our abilities to help those without them, especially our spouses. Second, Satan and the evil he has sown in the world has wounded all of us. It is God's great assignment and privilege in marriage for husbands and wives to help one another overcome the damage done by the devil in our pasts by how we were raised and the traumas we have experienced. Marriages where husbands and wives work hard to help one another seldom experience marital unfaithfulness. 
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