THE STRATA OF LOYALTY

A particularly ironic confusion arises from our society's general disregard for the virtue of loyalty. We have contracted an inability to prioritize our loyalties. That is to say, confusion in society results from failure to establish appropriate levels of loyalty. Not all loyalties are created equal. Spheres of loyalty will often conflict. Weakness and instability in character will be the result of failure to distinguish levels of loyalty and to resolve this inner conflict.

A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.—JAMES 1:8

Only by working downward from the ultimate loyalty can such dissonance be avoided. By first establishing the nonnegotiable, which can never be denied, the tension is eased at descending levels. Once that loyalty among all loyalties is settled, questions of conflict are more easily resolved.

A woman came to me for counseling claiming that her husband was ordering her to engage in prostitution. He was not a Christian, but he knew she was. He made this perverted demand by exploiting her convictions. He was head of the household, and she must be loyal to him. She evidently had accepted some kind of strong, legalistic teaching that convinced her that, no matter what her husband said, she had to submit to him as head of their household. This Christian woman was actually considering acceding to his demands.

She was deceived by confused loyalties combined with a false sense of submission. By allowing a secondary loyalty to her husband to supersede her ultimate loyalty to Jesus Christ, she nearly entered into serious immorality. Her unsaved husband was using her slavish misunderstanding of Scripture to manipulate her into doing what he wanted.

Another woman with whom I once counseled was awaiting her criminal trial for embezzlement. She had gotten involved with a man who was heavily in debt. He had pleaded with her to get some money for him or he would go to prison. She embezzled a substantial amount of money from her job to help him, fully intending to repay it. The scandal of her arrest was a bitter shock to her church and her family. When I asked how she could have fallen for such a tired old line, she responded that "she had no idea."

She was right! She had no idea. She rationalized her disloyalty to her God and to her employer by hiding behind loyalty to a man, and not much of a man, at that.

MARRIAGE: OUR COVENANT OF LOYALTY

For the married, loyalty to spouse is second only to loyalty to God. A marriage can struggle along racked by bitterness and unforgiveness, but once the cracks of disloyalty appear, only the grace of God can save it.

My wife and I have counseled with many couples whose marriages have been shaken by extramarital affairs. We try to bring them to the point of being honest with each other about the adultery. In so doing, we have found that husbands and wives generally ask very different questions.

Betrayed husbands typically ask questions about the sex. "Was he a better lover than I am? Was there something he did for you that I didn't? Did you enjoy him more than me?" Wounded wives more frequently ask, "Did you talk about me with her?" That shocked me the first time a woman asked it. I thought to myself, Of all things, that's what you want to know? You want to know what he was talking about? Her husband was sleeping with another woman, and she's interested in what they talked about!

I came to realize why the wives and not the husbands were asking the truly important question. The wives wanted to discern what the act of immorality really meant. They intuitively grasped that in the pillow talk the true depth of the disloyalty could be discerned.

Loyalty in marriage is quite the same as loyalty in any other relationship. It means constantly building up the other, even at one's own risk or expense. I cannot imagine a woman being more loyal to her husband than my wife is to me. When I go to preach where my wife has previously spoken, I am often asked, "Are you really as wonderful as your wife says?" Of course, that makes me feel like a million dollars. I must, of course, humbly defer to my wife's wisdom and discernment.

Her loyalty, in turn, makes me want to respond in kind. It escalates, and we begin to race with each other to see who can build up the other more. For many couples the same cycle seems to work in reverse. My wife and I are always shocked to hear couples argue and contradict each other in public.

The husband will say, "I remember back in 1957, we moved to Topeka."

"No, no, dummy," the wife interrupts. "It was 1956."

"No," he insists, "it was 1957 because it was the year Charlie was born."

"Great!" she cries. "That's typical! It was the year that Charlie was born, but he was born in '56. You don't know any of the birthdays of the children."

This tedious argument goes agonizingly on and on until I imagine myself jumping on the table like the Mad Hatter, stamping about in the tea cakes shouting, "I don't care! I don't care whether it was in '56 or '57. And I don't care about Charlie's birthday!"

Such pathetic arguments are a complete breakdown of marital loyalty. The loyal wife allows her chronically confused husband to state categorically that it was 1957 even if she knows it was actually before the Crimean War. Alone in the car, away from everyone else, she tenderly reminds him, "I know you said 1957, and you're probably right. You almost always are. It just seems to me we were driving a DeSoto that year. Did we own a DeSoto as late as '57?"

That affords him a little latitude. If she shouts "1956!" like the volcano goddess, he is going to fight back. It is naive, if not insane, to think he is going to admit in front of five other couples, "Oh, yes, dear, you're right. What a donkey I am."

Husbands, on the other hand, often say the most outrageously disloyal things disguised as jokes. "Are you going to eat all of that?" the husband asks as his wife's banana split arrives, borne by two waiters.

Her spine rigid with wounded, feminine pride, she announces, "Yes, I'm going to eat this and five more. By Christmas I intend to be as big as the Hindenburg."

A small gathering at our house was attended by a couple who were desperately trying to dig their way out of debt. The woman loudly complained ad nauseum that her husband had taken a second job. The family never saw him, the children were neglected and she felt like a widow.

When my wife suggested that the woman help her in the kitchen for a few minutes, they were gone for nearly half an hour. When the woman came back, she looked like a naughty child returning to class from the principal's office. For a while she sat quietly. Then, completely out of nowhere, having nothing to do with the conversation, she announced, "That reminds me of what a wonderful man my husband is! Did you know he has taken a second job? He works so hard just to take care of me and the kids."

Alison had helped her realize she was being disloyal to her husband. She was tearing her husband down in front of others, which in turn elevated her stock with no one.

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