This post is a last minute addition to the series on Psalm 73. The absolute necessity of being able trust God to define what is good for you has been painfully illustrated by the sad announcement of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s infidelity. Sanford decided that his “good” was a relationship with a woman who was not his wife. In his news conference, the governor appeared to struggle with giving up the “goodness” of his extra-marital relationship. Even though this relationship brought nothing but pain to his wife and children and dishonor to God, his struggle seemed to focus on how hard it was to end his adultery. Mark Sanford had defined good on his terms, not God’s. The nearness of God was not his good. The paragraphs that follow are from today’s Shepherd Press Newsletter. You can best guard your heart by defining good as the nearness of God.
“It began innocently.” These words have been used by many to describe the beginning of some event that resulted in personal devastation. Most recently, these words were used by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford at the press conference in which he described the events that led to unfaithfulness to his wife. Governor Sanford stated that he met his future lover innocently, with a note of irony. They had a conversation eight years ago in which he counseled her to stay with her husband and not divorce him. The Governor went on to say that emails followed that conversation, and they began to develop a remarkable friendship over the next eight years.
It began innocently. This phrase, however sincere, offered no protection for Mark Sanford, his family, or the woman he was trying to help. There is a reason that the Bible warns so strongly to guard your heart. Proverbs 4:23 is emphatic: Above all else guard your heart! None of our actions are truly neutral. Even when seeking to help this woman eight years ago, about an issue where he appeared to be well-intentioned, Governor Sanford did not guard his heart. He did not protect the intimacy of his marriage. How did he fail to guard his heart? He did not provide the accountability necessary to guard those close to him. He could have provided this woman with the name of a competent counselor. He could have brought his wife into the conversation right from the beginning. Instead, he chose to “help her” himself.
For all of you who are parents – please listen to Solomon’s warning. For all of you who are parents in public service or ministry – please listen to Solomon’s warning. Talking with another person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse about intimate relational issues, without open and immediate accountability, is dangerous. It is not innocent; it is a high risk activity. When there is open discussion of intimate relational details with someone, there is always the possibility of things going horribly wrong. Christians have an enemy who is like a lion looking to devour the foolish of heart. The flesh is deceitful and it is at war with the Spirit. It cannot be trusted. Governor Sanford went on to say that he and his future lover went on to develop a remarkable friendship over the next eight years. Sadly, what was remarkable about it was that the relationship led to full blown adultery. This friendship was built upon deceit and misplaced trust. As the governor said, his actions were first and foremost selfish. Selfishness is not the path to guarding your heart. Self pity will not guard your heart. Enjoying conversations about intimate relational struggles, with a woman who is not your wife, is not guarding your heart. Rather, it is the precursor to disaster. God has provided the family and the church for protection for God’s people. The marriage relationship must be guarded with relentless diligence. Don’t have conversations that you cannot speak openly and freely about with your spouse. As soon as intimate issues come to the surface in such conversations, be like Joseph–flee!! Urge the other person to speak with someone who can truly, objectively help him or her. Many relational failures in the church community happen simply because hearts are not being faithfully protected. Trying to help someone else’s marriage by talking privately with one of the spouses is asking for trouble.
Governor Sanford’s affair is high profile. But sadly, thousands of low-profile marriages in the church are put at risk daily because hearts are not being guarded with fierceness. Learn the names of those in your church who are reliable counselors. When someone comes to you with marital troubles, immediately point them to these counselors. Then let them know you are informing your spouse of this conversation. Tell them that you will also encourage an elder or pastor to check up on them. Following this practice is an important, effective way to guard your heart.
Please consider carefully Solomon’s warning: