January 18, 2017

The Worst Betrayal of Marriage

Gary Thomas — 

The Worst Betrayal of Marriage

My wife loves to play Boggle and she’s really good at it, which is why few people want to play her. But on her birthday and Mother’s Day, and usually at least one evening during a holiday, her family joins her. Our love for her calls us to join her in her great love.

Lisa also loves to bike, which is why I bike a lot more than I probably would otherwise. I prefer to run. But Lisa’s love for biking makes me much more of a biker.

That principle—we do what our spouse loves and likes to do—is fine when it comes to hobbies. It is spiritually deadly and poisonous when the same principle is unleashed by our sins.

If you hold on to a sinful attitude, there will come a time when you will want your spouse to join you in that sin.

Marriage contains within itself the power of glorious good—encouragement, support, enthusiasm, love, service, loyalty. It gives us the tools to bless one particular person like we can bless no one else. But this potential comes with a sinister side—it also offers a platform from which we invite our spouse to enter into our own temptations. From this vantage point we can do great and serious evil.

In an old, old sermon Clarence Macartney warned that while Satan is “the ultimate source and author of temptation, yet it is sadly and fearfully true that men deliberately tempt other men…One fallen person has a diabolical delight in bringing another down to the same level.”

Once we give in to sin, we can’t contain its spread any more than we can immediately confine an oil tanker spill. Sin spreads widely and chaotically by its very nature; it multiplies beyond our control (the more we give in, the stronger its hold on us) and therefore makes those closest to us most vulnerable.

The challenge is that no one—not a single soul—is exempt from sometimes fierce temptation. To live is to be tempted. To breathe is to be lured toward a fall. Sometimes we will fall, and we will be grateful for God’s grace and Jesus’ remedy. But one aspect of temptation, particularly as it relates to marriage, that we need to be especially careful about is not dragging our spouse into the temptation.

Macartney writes, “However much we have been marred and scarred by the tempter’s shafts, let us at least see to it that ours shall not be the guilt of tempting another soul. If in hell there are gradations of punishments, as the words of Jesus about few and many stripes would seem to indicate, then hell’s severest retributions must surely fall upon the souls of those who have deliberately and malignantly tempted other people.”

How do we tempt our spouse?

If you are a liar, you will eventually ask your spouse to also lie in order to cover up your initial deceit. You may even ask them to lie to one of their dearest friends or nearest relatives. Perhaps you’ll ask them to lie to a government official. When you do that, you have entered a new level of evil and are abusing the intimacy of marriage.

If you cherish a sexual sin, the time will likely come when you will ask your spouse to join you in that weakness. It will no longer be sufficient to merely get lost in a fantasy of thought—you may want to live it out. And your spouse, predisposed to please you and enjoy you, will feel more intense temptation even though the weakness may be something they never would have thought of on their own. This is a serious betrayal of the marital bed and the marital bond.

If you are negative or a gossip, you will try to draw your spouse into speaking critically of others, or make them feel less than thankful for the good things God has given them. Instead of leaving church satisfied by the worship, you will remind them that the pastor said one sentence that could possibly be taken the wrong way. Instead of making them grateful for how God has provided, you will be a constant drip of negativity for how everything in your house or car or life isn’t quite “perfect” and you can’t be content until everything is, in fact, perfect.

These are just three examples—you can supply many others on your own. But the possibility of tempting our spouse and maybe even unthinkingly inviting them to join us in our sin should be enough to make us pursue holiness for the sake of our spouse. I hate my sin and I hate how I am tempted—I’m sure you do as well. The last thing I want to do is to take something I hate and make it a part of my precious wife’s life as well.

You cannot accommodate sin without endangering your spouse. Your apathy toward growing a heart that is a bulwark against sin is tantamount to a man who, out of laziness, refuses to even close the door of his house while he is away, inviting all to enter as they wish.

One of the reasons we bought our particular house in the Heights is that it has a locked wall around it. The outside gate is a stout door surrounded by brick; the other side is protected by a tall barred fence (the Heights is in the urban part of Houston, so crime isn’t all that uncommon, unfortunately). We have video cameras on both entrances. Every time I leave the house in the morning while Lisa is still inside, I lock the inside doors, and I lock the outside door and gate. I have no peace of mind until I know my wife is safe behind at least two formidable barriers.

But how foolish would it be to lock physical doors while leaving spiritual ones open? How stupid would it be to protect our house from physical theft while leaving Satan a highway into my wife’s heart and soul through my own uncontested weakness?

Don’t accept in your own soul that which could poison your spouse’s. It’s not just about you. It’s about your spouse, your kids, and others.

If you ask, how can I grow out of my particular sin and confront my particular temptation, let me suggest N.T. Wright’s After You Believe. It’s a bit academic, but the teaching is gold. It’s my favorite “go-to” book on sanctification. If you want a less academic approach, you might consider one of my old books The Glorious Pursuit, about practicing the virtues (I talk about how the best defense is often a good offense—grow a virtue that is opposite the vice and thereby suffocate the vice).

Perhaps you could list some other books (or sermons, with links) that have helped you pursue a life of holiness in the comments section below, so that we can encourage each other.

It’s a sober thought, but one we need to take seriously: if we consistently fall to temptation, our beloved spouse (and kids) will likely be the first casualty.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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31 responses to The Worst Betrayal of Marriage

  1. I am engaged to be married and your ministry about marriage is such a great impact to my future marriage. Please continue to share and encourage others through your ministry. You cover topics in a Christian marriage that married couples or divorce couples don’t share with you. This type of teaching isn’t taught at most churches. Thank you for allowing God to use you.

  2. Melody Bollinger January 25, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Gary, I LOVE the heart of this message and I especially value work that promotes the honoring of a spouse and marriage, and so, THANK YOU!! I’d like to caution you on the word, ‘merely’ that you used in stating, “It will no longer be sufficient to ‘merely’ get lost in a fantasy of thought…”. Jesus warned us that if a man looks on a woman with lust in his heart, he has already committed adultery. I also know firsthand the reality of betrayal of a heart even though not lived out physically. Betrayal of the heart is still betrayal. My concern is that most in Christianity take too lightly how we think and we accommodate and justify our thought life far too easily. I probably wouldn’t be sensitive to this truth if it wasn’t also something that I experienced the reality of its damage. May God continue to use your heart and the work of your hands to glorify Christ and build up His cherished ones. Most sincerely, Melody ~

  3. I am grateful for the concept. Although I have see how it plays out in my my life, i see it also as a false tradition of the father altering our posterity.

  4. Barbara McSpadden January 19, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    As a newlywed , this is eye-opening in a profound way. Thank you all for the resources.

  5. I visualize the moment of judgement. My husband will be no excuse for my choices and the platform of my influence will be taken into judgement. Faith produces righteousness and one of the highest forms of loving ourselves and our spouses (I believe) is encouraging righteousness and building our faith. May God deliver us from temptation.

  6. “The Utter Relief of Holiness”
    (Republished as “Free to Live”)
    – by John Eldredge

  7. Battlefield of the Mind, by Joyce Meyers, offers useful biblical strategies for standing against lies and temptations by memorizing and recalling scripture at opportune moments. I found it extremely helpful in opposing Satan’s schemes.

  8. My Utmost for His Highest, classic edition, read every morning.

  9. That is so true Gary!!! Thanks you for this post!

    During the worst time in our marriage when my husband was giving big time into temptation I felt the same pull! I didn’t know it a the time, thought that maybe I just felt neglected and lonely but I sensed there was something more to it. And then when I discovered the truth I knew!

    I saw clearly how in marriage we are the “communicating vessels”. I’m sure many people know it from physics classes. The pressure always equalises. And we are one too! So we one of us sins it affects the other. Even if the other one doesn’t know!

    • That’s true, isn’t, the aspect about being “one,” so that a temptation for one almost necessarily (in a spiritual sense) becomes a more likely temptation for the other? That would be another good vein to explore.

  10. Great post, and a much needed topic. I would recommend Humility, by Andrew Murray. He says “Pride is the soil in which all the other vices grow.” Deal with it and you’re well on the way to lasting sanctification.

    • Yes. I LOVE that book. And he’s right–virtually every sin is a breakdown, in some way, of humility (think about it and you’ll see the truth behind it).

  11. Excellent article. I believe people make similar mistakes when they keep evil people as part of their lives. This portion of your writing is so worth repeating, “But how foolish would it be to lock physical doors while leaving spiritual ones open? How stupid would it be to protect our house from physical theft while leaving Satan a highway into my wife’s heart and soul through my own uncontested weakness? Don’t accept in your own soul that which could poison your spouse’s. It’s not just about you. It’s about your spouse, your kids, and others.”

  12. The Sinner’s Guide by Venerable Louis of Granada.

    • Thank you, Tom. I thought I had read just about every Christian classic out there but this one had escaped my notice. If it was a favorite of Teresa of Avila, it must be worth checking out. I just ordered it.

  13. I’m single, and find that everything that Gary mentions also applies to me. Yes, the temptations that are in a marriage relationship, are just as real to single people too. Why is that? Because we are ALL sinful, fallen human beings. God knows that, and that is why He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from out sins. I can’t thank God enough for the gift of Jesus Christ, and His cleansing blood. We ALL need to be sanctified. Not just once, or only on Sunday mornings, but EVERY MOMENT that we are alive. All of our: Thoughts, Behaviors, . . . EVERYTHING . . . must be surrendered to God. Single, or Married, we ALL need Jesus more than ever before. That isn’t a bad thing at all. It keeps us dependent on God, and going back to Him for More & More of His love for us!

  14. Incredible insight, as always I’m blessed by your writings.
    We were taught that a leader’s sin is a leading sin, how true especially in marriage where one has so much influence towards their spouse and kids, and even moreso when it comes from the man who is supposed to lead the home in the fear of God.
    The only book that comes to mind now for me would be the bible (in particular 2 pet 1:5-8) and an awesome message by Ravi Zacharias, living the faith we defend:

    • Well done to bring in “the leader’s sin.” Another good angle to explore and think about. I’ve been reading a bit about Jonathan Edwards lately, and he would have hit that hard. Thank you

  15. Realizing that I will fall to temptation often, I daily ask the Holy Spirit to not let me say, or do, or think anything stupid. (Sinful)

    He protects me and keeps evil away from me. Runs interference, if you will.

    All I have to do is ask.

    • And that’s what Jesus tells us to do in the Lord’s prayer. Thanks for reminding us about the “non-reading” aspect–prayer and spiritual dependence.

  16. I so appreciate your writing based on God’s Truth! A life changing book for me is Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

  17. I really appreciate your honesty in facing these issues. This has already happened in my house and the results have been devastating. I have prayed every prayer I know how to pray, read books, taken courses, and the advice is usually the same: be kind, etc a wife can win her husband without a word…well, not if he has no interest in being one. I think, sometimes, we look at the sin and advise how to get past it ie forgive etc…but you hit the nail on the head- it isn’t only the sin itself, it’s the open door that sin leaves for many many other sins. Not a “one contained sin” but Sin itself which spreads insidiously. I finally separated as the only means I knew to offer some protection to myself and the children. It’s still affecting us though, and that’s the really hard part. God bless you for being a light .

  18. This is an excellent and very thought-provoking post. I had never looked at things this way before, but I certainly will try to from now on. Thank you Gary.

  19. Knowing God by J.I. Packer