As discussed in the first post in this series, Eric and Rachel disagree about the appropriateness of Eric having lunch alone with a female colleague. How might a moral triage benefit them?
Is this issue explicitly addressed in the Bible?
Various biblical passages may help Eric and Rachel develop a foundation for answering this question. Genesis 2:24 displays a vision for marriage that reflects unity and mutual commitment. Various texts condemn adultery (Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:27‒30), but Jesus demonstrates that a man may be in close proximity with a woman without sinning (Mark 14:3‒9, John 4:1‒45). The Scriptures do not appear to explicitly address the issue of a married man sharing a meal with a woman other than his wife.
Are there any biblical prohibitions or prescriptions that apply to this issue?
In regard to Eric’s relationship with his co-worker, he is certainly not free to lust after her (Matthew 5:27‒30). However, he could have a meeting with her without lusting. As a married man, he is commanded to lead his wife lovingly and selflessly (Ephesians 5:21‒33). Therefore, he should consider every possible solution that would put her mind at rest. Nonetheless, the Bible does not seem to condemn his action.
Does the Bible suggest this action could lead a person into temptation?
In the case of Eric, one could argue that it does. While Jesus demonstrates in John 4 that it is permissible to be alone with a woman, Proverbs 7 warns of the inherent danger. Other Proverbs speak to the value of avoiding temptation in general. Proverbs 6:27‒28 asks two questions pertinent to Eric’s situation: “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” This is the crux of the issue for Eric. It is biblically permissible for him to have lunch with a female colleague. But is it wise? The Scripture suggests this action lacks wisdom and therefore, should be avoided if possible. Now that Eric and Rachel recognize they are dealing with an issue of wisdom, they can begin to address it biblically.
Develop a biblical plan of action together.
Although he has not committed a sin in this particular situation, Eric should recognize the danger and work with his wife to discover some wise alternatives. He should begin by seeking to understand his wife’s concerns according to his biblical responsibility as a husband (1 Peter 3:7). In turn, Rachel must acknowledge that Eric has not sinned against her in this matter and should commit to helping him come up with creative solutions. Together, they should consult other Christians who may be able to share wisdom from similar contexts (Proverbs 24:6‒7). Eric could speak with other Christian businessmen to see how they handle this issue. Rachel could talk with other wives in her church to learn how she can serve her husband as he works to alter his schedule. Together, the couple can brainstorm about potential solutions to help Eric avoid temptation. Perhaps he could meet this colleague at a different time so they can avoid the implied intimacy that comes with sharing a meal. If the lunch hour is the only time they are both consistently available, maybe they could get take-out and bring it back to the office where there would be more accountability and less privacy. Realizing that they will not be able to control every variable, Eric and Rachel should agree upon a system for dealing with this issue when it arises. Perhaps Eric could commit to telling Rachel anytime he has to have lunch with his female colleague before it happens so that Rachel can be praying for him during the meeting. Maybe Eric could arrange an opportunity for Rachel to get to know his associate so that she is less tempted to suspect her of having ill intentions. A variety of solutions could help alleviate this conflict for Eric and Rachel. Regardless of the path they take, they should consider Eric’s female colleague as well. It may be that she does not prefer the arrangement either and it would serve her to at least let her know their concerns.
However, their first step toward success is to understand what kind of moral category they are facing. When an issue falls in the category of wisdom, there is much hope for a couple to resolve their differences by looking at the Scriptures together. In this particular instance, Eric and Rachel have several possible solutions available that would honor the Lord and preserve peace in their marriage.
But what if Eric’s actions did not align with anything the Scripture considers foolish? What if the situation did not have the potential to lead him into temptation? How would that have changed the classification of this issue? We will address this type of situation in the following post.
This post is in a series on Marriage Conflict.
Further posts from this series will be released throughout the month of September.
Matthew D. Haste, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Ministry Studies at Columbia International Seminary and School of Ministry in Columbia, SC, where he leads the 5-year B.A./M.Div Program. He is married to Cheyenne and they have three kids: Haddon, Anna, and Adelyn. He is co-author, along with Robert L. Plummer, of Held in Honor: Wisdom for your Marriage from Voices of the Past (Christian Focus, 2015).