Adultery: Who Do You Help?

Who do you help once a couple confides in you about an affair? You want to be careful not to “pick sides.” Of course you are concerned about the person who has been betrayed, but do you have any biblical foundation to care for the one who committed adultery? Let’s look at the character of God and see how he responds to both.

God has Been Betrayed and Understands

Isaiah 54:5--Who God Is

For your Maker is your husband. The LORD Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

Ezekiel 16:32--What Israel, His bride, did

You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!

For the spouse who has been betrayed, they have experienced the agony of rejection. Rejection is a prominent theme throughout the Bible and it is God who is rejected by his people again and again. No one in the entire universe knows rejection quite like God. Many times God compares his people to wayward prostitutes who give themselves to strange lovers (Ezekiel 16:30-34). Despite their unfaithfulness, God promises “your Maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth he is called.” (Isaiah 54:5)  

Hundreds of years later, Jesus, in the most agonizing moment of his life, cried out as he hung on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Being rejected by the Father and the Spirit was more painful than the confrontations, the beatings, and the actual crucifixion. As he was crucified, Jesus was our representative, taking the brunt of our sin on himself. He was getting what we deserved: condemnation and utter separation from God. His perfect life and sacrificial death paid the penalty for our sins. He suffered rejection, so we might escape the penalty for our sins and be accepted by God.

God Draws Near to the Unfaithful and Brings Hope

Isaiah 49:14-16--Israel’s Cry

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”

God’s Reply

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

As you work with the spouse who has committed adultery, remember that Jesus came for unfaithful people, too. He came to serve sinners and sufferers and make them both into saints. For the person who betrayed their spouse, Jesus’ death and resurrection bring hope to them.  Jesus’ death guarantees that forgiveness is available for them when they come to him in genuine sorrow and repentance. Jesus’ resurrection means that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is theirs for the asking.  His resurrection power is able to change them over time into a faithful, loving spouse.

Real Life

I remember a Christian husband meeting with me to tell me he had been having an affair. The first words out of his mouth were, “I don’t know why I came to talk to you, a pastor, about what I have done, but here I am.” He then told me about the affair. I had the privilege to say this to him. “You have come to the right place. This is why Jesus came to live, die and be raised. You and I are both in need of God’s grace. This is exactly why Jesus came to form a people called the church, his bride. You and I both need a family where we can find encouragement and strength to change.”

Nothing is more rewarding that the opportunity to extend grace to both spouses and begin the process of change that will be needed if the marriage survives and grows stronger.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Adultery: Alive and Well in Your Church?

Welcome to the real world that I was not prepared for upon graduating from seminary! Early on in my pastoral career, I was faced with a host of marriage situations including marital infidelity. Consider the following potential scenarios:

  • Robert and Susan entered my office.  Robert looked sheepish. Susan’s mouth was tight and angry. After they sat down, Robert said, “I had an affair with a woman at work that ended a year ago. Susan and I both want to save our marriage, but we’re stuck. Susan doesn’t trust me, and I am tired of always having to talk about it.  I want to make things right with her, but I don’t know how.” 

  • Greg sat silently as Rachel struggled to tell the story. She had become emotionally involved with her best friend’s husband. They weren’t sexually intimate, but he had replaced Greg emotionally in Rachel’s life. Rachel was relieved because everything was out in the open and Greg still wanted to work on the marriage. Greg, though, was reeling from the initial shock and struggling with hurt, anger, self-doubt, and fear.

  • Joe called and asked if he and his wife, Melissa, could meet with me.  He told me that when he was on the road for work he had a series of one night stands. A few months ago Melissa caught him, and he promised to stop. They wanted to keep their marriage going because of their children, but they were fighting all the time—was there hope for their marriage?

It is encouraging that each of these couples is trying to put their marriage back together after it was ruptured by some degree of infidelity. After the initial shock, they are attempting to rebuild their marriage, but it is harder than they expected.

 According to Peggy Vaughan, in her book The Monogamy Myth, 60% of men and 40% of women will engage in some form of an affair. She says that these numbers are conservative. What pastor, friend or counselor has not faced the challenge of walking with a couple through the difficult season of unfaithfulness? Typically, what is true in the broader culture is reflected in the church. We should assume that people who are in our congregations are facing these temptations and be prepared to offer help.

Are you and your spouse struggling to rebuild your marriage after adultery? Don't give up. Are you a pastor, friend or counselor trying to find your way as you seek to help a couple in the midst of unfaithfulness? Whatever you do, don't be shocked and see this as yet one of many opportunities for Christ-centered ministry.

Over the next several days I will highlight some things that have been helpful for couples who have experienced the hard reality of adultery.

1 Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.