The Eighth Commandment seems clear enough:
“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
It should go without saying, but in the world’s terms, adultery is when voluntary intercourse occurs between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.
Straightforward enough, right? Well, the team here at Focus regularly fields questions such as:
- “My spouse sent a romantic text message to another person, is that cheating?”
- “Does an emotional affair really count as adultery?”
Beyond mere curiosity, these are actual real-life situations. Perhaps you’re even wrestling with a version of it in your own marriage.
But in the rush to address these very practical questions, I fear we may be missing the larger issue of why we marry and remain committed to our spouse.
Even more to the point, what motivates us to remain faithful to our wife or husband?
Simply put, when we honor each other with our fidelity, we’re honoring God. It was the popular pastor John Piper who aptly observed that “Human marriage is the earthly image of [God’s] divine plan. As God willed for Christ and the church to become one body (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13), so He willed for marriage to reflect this pattern—that the husband and wife become one flesh (Gen. 2:24).”
Our sinful nature, though, can strain this divine ideal.
Not only that, but new technologies and work environments are creating more seemingly gray areas and fresh opportunities to sin. Throw in how rapidly our culture is changing, and you have a recipe for moral confusion.
Here’s one example of that confusion. Editors at Salt Lake City’s Deseret News recently asked, “How often, if ever, would you say the following activities would be cheating on a spouse or partner?”
Some of the responses they received are surprising.
Only 76 percent of people polled answered “having regular sexual relations with someone other than your partner” was “always” cheating.
Here are other answers:
- 73 percent said that having a one-night stand with someone other than your partner is “always” cheating
- 71 percent said romantically kissing someone other than your partner is “always” cheating
- 51 percent said flirtatious messages to someone other than their partner is “always” cheating
- 19 percent said watching pornography without their partner would “always” be considered cheating
That may be the general public’s opinions on what counts as cheating – but what does the Bible say?
Scripture uses different words and phrases to describe sexual activity that falls outside of God’s perfect design for humanity.
Let’s look at Hebrews 13:4 as an example:
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
Here we see Scripture seems to differentiate between sexual immorality and adultery.
Indeed, “sexual immorality” is a broad term. Most often, when you see that phrase in the New Testament, it’s a translation from the word porneia in the original language. This word is also translated as “fornication,” and it means “a surrendering of sexual purity.” It includes any type of sexual expression outside the boundaries of a biblically defined marriage relationship.
Satan is determined to try and put a wedge between you and your spouse. He is a splitter and wants to tear apart what you and your wife or you and your husband have put together. The enemy of our soul always wants to undermine.
Don’t let it happen.
Our counselors will tell you that emotional affairs often begin when a person’s heart is craving attention. Both the Old and New Testaments speak to the importance of maintaining a healthy heart (Proverbs 4:23, Psalm 51:10, Matthew 6:21). The heart is used as something of a metaphor for the inner life.
Given this reality, what can you do to build up and lift up your spouse today? Might it be a quick phone call, a loving text message or a surprise date? Maybe it means turning off the television and suggesting a walk together after dinner.
Have you wrestled with some of life’s seemingly “gray” areas surrounding marital fidelity? Has your spouse? How have you managed it, and what safeguards and guidelines have you and your spouse established?