Our series this week tackles the fourth of five commitments we’re making to help ensure that marriages end “happily ever after.” As a gentle reminder, we have covered (1) Seek God with our spouse; (2) Fight fair, not just to win; (3) Have fun, face-to-face, side-by-side, and belly button-to-belly button. Today, it’s all about keeping your marriage pure.
Now, that sounds like a no-brainer, right? But statistics show that the majority of marriages will suffer from at least one of the following: adultery, addiction to porn, an intimate emotional relationship with someone other than the spouse. No one plans to do any of this stuff on their wedding day, so why does it happen? Well, it turns out that if you don’t purpose to not let it happen, you can just fall or walk right into it.
How important is maintaining purity in a marriage? Hebrews 13:4 says this, “Marriage should be honored by all" That’s “all"—not just married folk, but everyone. Everyone is on the hook for honoring marriage and keeping it pure. Hebrews goes on, “And the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Serious consequences demonstrate just how important all this is. We opened our message with a video about Paul Curry, who was arrested several decades after his wife died and charged with poisoning her to death with nicotine. He was convicted in 2014 and is now serving a life sentence. That’s a horrible crime, isn’t it? But there are other ways to poison someone, to poison your relationship, to poison your marriage.
We’ll talk about more than just adultery today, but we’ve got to begin there. It’s interesting that well over 90% of Americans believe that adultery is always wrong. Even so, more Americans are engaging in it. A University of California study looked at trends in adultery from 1998 to 2008, finding that it more than doubled during that decade. It appears that everyone believes adultery is always wrong for everyone else, just not for them when they do it. Why is this poison, this impurity, on the rise? There are many reasons, of course, but I want to zero in on three trends in our culture that, I believe, feed the trends we’ve seen recently in America.
1. More temptations today than in the past. There are more and easier ways to get into trouble. Social media is a great way to connect. It’s also a great way to connect in all the wrong ways. Hardly a week goes by that you don’t see a Washington Post article about someone arrested for arranging to have sex with a minor through a chat room. One-third of divorce proceedings where adultery is claimed cite Facebook as a contributing factor. Hey, it’s not Facebook’s fault. It’s just a new form of temptation for some.
We’ve all heard about the Ashley Madison website. And you know, I hope, that the client list was hacked. But you don’t have to go there. You can go to Craigslist.com and get a screwdriver, a spare tire, a guitar, and a prostitute. But perhaps the greatest game changer has been smart phones, iPads, and computers. With a few clicks, everything you should not want to see is available 24/7. And that temptation is taking a lot of people down these days.
2. People are getting married later in life. I got married at 22, and my wife was 21. That’s not the norm today. Now, nothing with getting married later. Waiting for the right person beats marrying the wrong person every time. But when, as a culture, people are waiting, and especially when the majority of people in that culture do not hold to God’s view of sex as something reserved for married couples, then what we have is a lot of singles who have had a lot of dating partners. And that means that they’ve had a lot of sexual partners. The 2013 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles revealed that the average guy has had 12 sexual partners, and the average girl has had 8. Recalculate that based on the number of people who are pretty much one-woman men and one-man women, and you can get much closer to 18 partners for the average Jack and 12 partners for the average Jill.
Dwaine, so what? Why does it matter? It matters because people are walking into marriages with a lot more baggage. Yeah, it’s not God’s best, but the reality is that a lot of people are doing things during the dating phase of a relationship that God intended to be reserved for married couples who have made a lifelong commitment to each other. They are having sex, and they are living together, and all of it is not the cementing of a commitment, but more of an audition. And you watch TV, don’t you? It’s just accepted that sex will be one of the first things people do when they are attracted to someone. And if the sex is good, then maybe things will proceed to more sex, and then maybe to a relationship. But not always. I cited the book by Donna Freitas, The End of Sex, about the damage caused to both men and women from the hookup culture so prevalent these days.
So, think about it. You’ve engaged in a sexual relationship with 4, 8, 12, 15, 18 different people. You’re doing things God reserved for marriage without being married. And then things go bad. And you do what? Yeah, you walk away. It hurts. But what have you really done? Well, you have practiced, 4, 8, 12, 15, 18 times a lack of commitment. You have essentially been training and practicing over and over again for divorce with partner after partner. Now comes the time when you eventually do get married, and problems and issues come up—because they always do. What do you do? Yeah, what you’ve trained so hard for all those years of dating. You walk away, find someone else, whatever. You don’t stick with it. Listen, do you know that the number one reason dating couples break up? It’s because one of them has cheated on the other.
3. A growing sense of entitlement. OK, if you are a millennial, you’ve been hearing this for at least 5 years now, right? But here’s the truth. Even millennials, contemplating millennials, admit that their generation suffers from a sense of entitlement. It’s the “I’m worth it. I deserve it. If he or she isn’t meeting my needs, I have the right to go out there and get it from someone else. Because God wants me happy, doesn’t He?”
To break the cycle of temptation, the culture of dating in our land, and a sense of entitlement, we covered two specific areas we need to zero in on.
Grappling with the behaviors we know are poisoning our marriages or relationships.
Paul says this in Ephesians 5:3, "But among you there must not be a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity..." Now, the “you” in that passage is referring to Christians, since that’s who his letter was addressed to—the church in the city of Ephesus. It’s a call to avoid even a hint of poison. See, you and I would not drink water with cyanide in it, no matter how diluted we’re told it is. We don’t want even a hint of cyanide in the water we consume. Apply that to our marriages. Don’t excuse things that fall short of actual adultery, but are, nonetheless, laden with hints. So, we know we shouldn’t have sex with the babysitter or the office secretary. But are you looking at porn? Is there a hint of sexual immorality there? Sure thing. How about lusting after Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansen? Lusting here is essentially imagining what it would be like to have sex with them. A hint of immorality there? Yep. How about if you dress provocatively, to show off your assets. Maybe you don’t think God gave you much in that department, so you get you some new and improved assets. Not going to comment on that. Do what you want. But if you then turn around and purpose to show yourself off and invite everyone to look, is there a hint of immorality there? Yep. You’re on a business trip and you go dirty dancing with a guy while your husband is at home. A hint? You bet.
So, avoid the hint. Don’t let it get close. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says it this way: "Flee from sexual immorality." And for you Christians out there, we don’t have the right to claim that, “It’s our bodies. We can do what we want.” Nope for us, we are bounded by 1 Corinthians 6, which also says “. . you are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
So, in terms of your behavior, you know full well where you are tempted. You need to build some walls, some roadblocks, in your life so you don’t even go down the road where the temptation is. I avoid being alone with a woman who is not my wife or daughters. It’s just safer for me and the women. Not a hint, OK? If you struggle with porn, get software that will send a report to your accountability partners of every click you make where there’s a hint. And get accountability partners who will ring you up, not wink and let it pass. You can lock down your cell phone to keep YouTube and Safari away, and instead use a filtered web site. Some married couples just refrain from having separate Facebook accounts. Jackie and I have separate Facebook accounts, but we share the passwords with each other, so nothing is hidden from the other. I’m not going to tell you what you need to do. I will tell you that you know full well where you are vulnerable. Your own protection is to avoid getting close to that temptation. Too many people think they’ll be just fine getting as close as they can, but once they get close, they simply get sucked into the vortex. That’s why Paul says we need to flee from it, not see how close we can get to it. Run, Forest, Run!!
Commit to Strengthening Inward Purity
OK, roadblocks are great, and they will help, but they are not the answer for the long haul.
Concurrent with these roadblocks, you want to begin to allow God to change you from the inside out. David, a man well acquainted with temptation—you remember his affair with Bathsheba, don’t you?—asked this question in Psalm 119:9ff — "How can a young man keep his way pure?" Here’s how he answered that question, "...By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
It starts with seeking God, our very first commitment back in week one of this series. And this is a dangerous prayer he throws out there—God, do not let me stray from your commands. You see what he’s giving God permission to do? To get in his face when he strays, to expose him when he strays, to increase the pain of straying. And you wonder how it was that David was declared by God to be a “man after God’s own heart?” It is because David took this seriously. The more he sought God, the more his mind aligned with God on what was good and what was wrong. When he strayed, the pain of that and how it interrupted his relationship with God got his attention. And he began to find that joy existed where he was choosing what God wanted, and pain resulted from falling prey to temptation. So, the choice to pursue joy began to be the choice he wanted to make. It’s not as if he were no longer tempted by the immoral stuff. It’s just that God’s best began to tempt him more. And this occurred at the heart level, where the Holy Spirit of God was working. And you put that into play along with the roadblocks, and we see people emerge from a life of simply being buffeted by all manner of temptation, to a life increasingly evidencing purity. And that, my friends, is where “happily ever afters” in marriage result.
As we close this message, there may be some who are engaged in things that bring impurity into your marriages. And you’re, perhaps, a little defensive about that, seeing it as her fault or his fault, that you’ve been driven to these things by your spouse. The truth is, none of us are above being corrected by God, so drop your guard and allow God to deal with that sin straight up. Maybe you tend to respond to the realization that you’ve allowed poison into your marriage by throwing a pity party—I’m so awful and horrible. I’m never going to be anything but a failure. Or maybe it’s, “Well, I’m sorry.” (But you’re really just sorry that you got caught.) Look, the right response to all this is repentance, not just some feigned remorse. Confess that you’ve mucked up to God. Agree with Him about this thing being sin. And this might be the hardest part—you need to repent to your spouse, too. Trust me when I tell you the pain of coming clean to him or her will do wonders for helping keep you away from that temptation down the road.
Finally, if any of you have spouses who come to you and come clean and ask forgiveness, I pray you would meet them with compassion and forgiveness. Come alongside them, realizing how much courage it took to lay it all out to you, and be there to encourage them. Purity in marriage. It’s one of the five ways we can strengthen the marriages we have, and, for you singles, a key way to prepare to have strong marriages down the road.