[dropcap]D[/dropcap] ear Mrs. Happy:
How do you respect and honor a husband that cheats? I know God wants us to save our marriage, but is there a fine line when you just say “No more” and still honor God? AIDS is real, and spouses out there are risking their marriage and, most of all, an innocent person’s life if I stay and keep honoring a man who keeps being disobedient to Christ. How do you submit yourself sexually and basically give him what he wants when he’s constantly betraying you? If he says I don’t want to use protection and you refuse to give him what he wants because of the constant disappointments, is that your fault? Mrs. T.
Dear Mrs. T.,
If your husband is cheating, he has broken the marriage covenant. Sex is a benefit of the marriage covenant. In fact, it is only appropriate within the bounds of the marriage covenant. When the covenant has been broken, the faithful spouse is under no obligation to provide covenant benefits—unless and until repentance has taken place, and the covenant of marriage is re-established.
I know these are strong statements. So let’s look at the Word of God.
A covenant is a binding agreement between two or more parties, accompanied by promises to do or provide certain things. Marriage is a covenant (Malachi 2:14)—and, in fact, is much more than a covenant. It reflects the relationship between God and the Church, which is His Bride (Ephesians 5:31, 32). The marriage bed, where a husband and wife celebrate the covenant between them, is to be kept undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). Adultery defiles (Mark 7:21, 22).
The marriage covenant lasts until the husband or wife dies—with two exceptions noted in Scripture: When an unbelieving spouse chooses to abandon a believing spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15), and when there is unfaithfulness in the marriage. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus Christ allows that “marital unfaithfulness” is a just cause for divorce—in other words, a permissible reason for dissolving the marriage covenant.
When there is unfaithfulness, in fact, the covenant has already been broken and is in need of repair. Many times in Scripture, Israel’s penchant for “whoring” after other Gods is described as adultery (Jeremiah 3; Ezekiel 6; Hosea 2), and repentance was required before the covenant between God and His people could be restored. Breaking the covenant was an extremely serious matter; you didn’t just say “I’m sorry” and step back into it, expecting the covenant benefits to snap right into place.
Repentance must take place first. To repent means to turn away from sin. It is not the same as confessing sin; actions must follow repentance. John the Baptist rebuked the religious leaders who came to him to be baptized, telling them, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). The leaders had gone through the outward motions of repenting from sin, but John the Baptist knew their sincerity would only be proved by results. True repentance always produces fruit: a changed life. A truly repentant person says I’m sorry and takes concrete steps to correct his or her ways.
Repentance is the first, essential step when the marriage covenant has been broken. But it doesn’t stop there: The covenant must be renewed. Both spouses agree to obey God from this point forward, seeking His help. You see an example of covenant-breaking and renewal in the reign of Josiah, Judah’s last righteous king (2 Chronicles 34). My point is that covenant-breaking in marriage shouldn’t be dismissed with a pious pledge to forgive and forget; witness God’s anguish over His adulterous people in Jeremiah 3 (one of many examples in Scripture) if you want to know what He thinks about infidelity.
When the marriage covenant has been broken through unfaithfulness, the innocent spouse has a choice: He or she can leave the marriage, or he can stay and pursue reconciliation. It is possible for a marriage to be restored with God’s help. I would also suggest seeking counsel from a mature Christian couple. Regardless of what happens, we must forgive the unfaithful spouse, from our heart (Matthew 18:35).
But until there is repentance, we do not slap a Band-Aid on the marriage covenant and go on having sex as though nothing happened. To do so would be harmful spiritually, emotionally, and physically—because of the real dangers of disease.
Mrs. Happy has been married to one man for a long time.