The tendency to commit adultery and to think immorally about sex is a characteristic of all humanity. It is a natural expression of mankind’s sinful nature.
God gave Moses the commandment against adultery knowing full well of man’s tendency to commit sexual immorality. An infinitely wise and all-knowing God would not have given a prohibition against adultery if only a few people were apt to fall into the sin. God knew then, and knows now, that sexual immorality is common. In my many years of practice I have seen this truth proven over and over again. The natural sex drive that God designed to be fulfilled in marriage is easily perverted into something else. Research provides further confirmation. I have seen surveys in which 5–25 percent3 of married individuals admit to infidelity. The sin is remarkably common.
The fact that 75–95 percent of individuals claim to be faithful does not mean that these people are guilt-free. When we consider Jesus’ teaching that men who wrongly view women are guilty as well, there are very few innocent people. It appears that the majority of people struggle with adultery. “You shall not commit adultery” is clearly on God’s top ten list for good reason. Just as murder resulted from devaluing human life, so too, adultery is a result of devaluing sexual intimacy.
As plain as it is that God intended sexual intimacy to be a foundation for the marital bond, I believe that there is much more to the union than a physical connection. Faithfulness in marriage means more than simply avoiding sexual sin. Physical intimacy is the most tangible expression of the intimacy of marriage, but the bond goes far beyond mere sexuality. The oneness God described in the Genesis account includes intimate emotions, thoughts, and words, nonphysical things that are not to be shared outside of marriage. Jesus’ words on adultery illustrate the truth that such thoughts and feelings are important.
When Jesus warned against looking at a woman with lust in the heart, He was referring to a woman who was not a man’s wife. (It is rather difficult to commit adultery with one’s spouse!) I believe it is appropriate to look at one’s wife with desire. The longing to be with one’s spouse is part of a healthy marriage, desiring someone else is not. Implied in Jesus’ teaching is the truth that the desire for sex, and the look that accompanies that desire, are the sole property of one’s spouse. If a husband gives such a look to another woman, he is giving away something that only his wife deserves. The marital bond is weakened not only because a lustful look separates sex from marital intimacy but also because the look itself belongs only to one’s spouse.
When a marital partner shares with another that which rightly should only be shared with a spouse, he/she violates intimacy and trust. This breach makes adultery especially harmful. There are things in a marriage that are meant to be unique to a marriage. The marriage bed is the most sacred of these trusts, but there are others as well. Just as looking at another person as a source of pleasure is a type of adultery, so also is giving to another person anything that rightfully belongs only to one’s spouse.
As I reflect on my own marriage I can think of a number of things that belong only to my wife. In addition to my physical self, only she deserves my sexual desires. To her alone belong my admiring stares and flirtatious smiles. To her alone belongs my heart. No other woman deserves to know my deepest thoughts and fears, my greatest hopes and dreams. The deeper things of my heart are hers and hers alone.
There are words that belong solely to my wife as well. There are compliments that carry with them an admiration and appreciation that rightfully belong only to my wife. While I may tell another woman that her new haircut looks nice or compliment the color of a new outfit, I should not give any praise that communicates any sexual desire. Compliments such as “You look beautiful,” “You have the prettiest eyes,” or at times even something as seemingly innocuous as “You look really nice today,” may be wrongfully giving away admiration that belongs to my wife. Wisdom demands that I be careful in what I say.
Out of love and respect for my wife I have chosen to avoid giving other women any compliments that might make a woman think she was an object of my desire. I will never compliment another woman in a way that might make my wife uncomfortable or jealous. Years ago I was discussing these things with a neighbor of mine. He thought I was being foolish and legalistic. To him words were harmless. As a salesman, he regularly would compliment other women, telling them they were beautiful or that they looked great. I shared with him that I thought that was “verbal adultery,” that certain types of praise, particularly praise of someone’s physical appearance, could easily be interpreted as expressions of desire or as a type of flirtation. For that reason I felt it best that no woman except for a man’s wife should be addressed in this way. Although he could not understand it at the time, as he grew in his faith he realized the wisdom in what I was sharing and changed his behavior.
I have taken steps to intentionally put these attitudes into practice. As a man who has female employees I have learned what to say and not say. I carefully choose words that cannot be misinterpreted as flirtatious. I am very careful in how I compliment female patients. I make a conscious effort to compliment actions (such as losing weight) rather than appearance.
It is not just words of praise that should only be given to my wife. There are specific types of attention and time that should not be shared with other women either. Included on the list of things that belong to my wife is intimate time alone. It is very dangerous for a man to spend time alone with another woman. Great caution should be used when it comes to lunches, dinners, or meetings in private. There are very few men who spend so much time with their wives that they have any extra time to share with another woman! I believe that intimate friendships with members of the opposite sex should be avoided, as it is inevitable that things will be shared with such a “friend” that rightfully should have been shared with a spouse.
If we truly desire to follow the spirit of God’s instructions regarding sexuality and marriage, we will do whatever we can to preserve all of the types of intimacy marriage includes. Practically speaking, asking ourselves the question “Do these words, actions, or thoughts rightfully belong to my spouse?” will keep us out of a lot of trouble! Just as wrong thinking leads to sin, right thinking leads to godly behavior. When I began to consider all of what belongs to my wife, my behavior changed. Movies with nudity and sexually provocative content became even more inappropriate. I did not want to give desirous looks to any woman, including one on a movie screen. I began to carefully watch my words. I starting turning down some invitations. As I did, I grew in love and appreciation of the wife God gave me.
This is the 7th post in a series on adultery excerpted from my book Life Medicine. The book can be purchased on Amazon. A small group study guide is available here. If you have a church group interested in the book, I will gladly donate the books for a group study. Contact me through this site. If you have questions or comments please share them! Most of all please consider sharing this post with your friends.