Advice To Other Pastors–Don’t Muddy the Water!

The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. -Ezekiel 18:20, NIV

wpid-2014-10-05-16.28.25.jpg.jpegSo much confusion exists on the day of discovery for the faithful spouse. The last thing this person needs is a religious leader asking them how they contributed to the sin committed against them and God. This just adds more confusion and more pain to an already excruciatingly befuddling experience.

My best one piece of advice for a pastor helping a faithful spouse is to hold the line over responsibility for adultery being the cheating spouse’s alone.* Similarly, I strongly advocate this advice when dealing with a divorce following adultery. If the faithful spouse is allowed to divorce following adultery as Scripture teaches (see Jer 3:8, Mt 5:32, and Mt 19:9), then they did not sin and ought to be treated with care not condemnation.

It is vital that a pastor does not feed into the “shared responsibility lie.”  They need to stand firm on Jesus’ clear teaching that adultery flows from the heart of the one who sins alone (see Mk 7:21-23). Furthermore, they need to remember that the guilt is therefore the adulterous spouse’s alone as we see taught in Ezekiel 18:20.

In my opinion, they cannot overemphasize the point to the faithful spouse:

It is not your fault!

You did not commit adultery. This is not your sin to own even partially.

This clearheaded teaching is needed not only for the faithful spouse but also for the adulterous spouse. It is only by owning one’s poor choices fully that one can learn to repent choosing righteousness in the future. And it is a basic law of justice not to blame a victim for the sin committed against them.

And it is important that pastors stand for justice and righteousness in this. If they perpetuate the “share responsibility lie,” they teach by their example and role that God blames the faithful spouse for the adultery committed against them. This is ungodly. I might even venture to say it is abusive. Certainly, God does not hold the faithful spouse at all responsible for a sin committed against them.

Also, it is important to hold firmly that the adulterous spouse is fully responsible for the adultery so that the faithful spouse does not fall victim to false guilt and further shame. They will likely be willing to take some blame thinking this is expected of them as a “good” Christian. Don’t encourage this as it is damaging and not Biblical. Satan would love nothing more than to add to their already incredibly humiliating and worth-destroying experience. Stand gentle yet firm on this one.

In sum,

Don’t muddy the water. Hold the adulterous sinner fully responsible for the sin and not the victim of said adultery. And remind the faithful spouse it is not their fault or responsibility in the least.




*By saying this, I am not saying faithful spouses are without sin. We are all sinners. And I think everyone needs help in growing in holiness this side of Heaven. Just because someone is divorced or a victim of adultery does not necessarily make them a worse sinner or worse married person than someone who remains married. The adultery says something about the sinner, not the sinned against. So, I encourage holding to important distinctions when working through sin or dysfunction issues in the faithful spouse. And I do not recommend doing this sort of work until the faithful spouse is clear that the adultery is not at all their fault, and you see it as 100% on the adulterous spouse to repent. The faithful spouse is 100% responsible for the dysfunction or sin they contributed to the marriage, but that is not the same thing as committing or causing adultery. This distinction must never be collapsed. Even being a perfect, godly spouse does not insure one against being a victim of adultery as we see with God’s relationship with Israel (Jeremiah 3:8). This goes for causing divorce as well as we need to keep in mind divorce is a choice, and not every spouse gets a say in the choice. They ought not to be blamed for a choice they did not make, and if they did make it, then it matters whether or not the choice is Biblically justified (as it is when one is a faithful spouse for example).

2 thoughts on “Advice To Other Pastors–Don’t Muddy the Water!”

  1. DM, You rock. I think that because one has entered into the relationship that joins two into one… that people (pastors. friends. etc) have some difficulty at times really really understanding that though it takes two of the three people in the relationship (God being the third) to do the work – it only take one to walk away, destroy or not work on this most intimate covenant of human relationships. And then of course, when they “ask” what went wrong, I think it also the unstated acknowledgement of fear that this spiritual “epidemic” could spread to their coveted relationship as well. Suffering through adultery is definitely not for the faint of heart.

    1. Yeah, mommythree. I do agree fear and an avoidance of realizing one’s vulnerability are strong motivators for bad advice on these matters. But we are called to resist the spirit of fear as I see it.

Comments are closed.