Commandment 7 – No Adultery

June 2, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Commandment 7 – No Adultery

Exodus 20:1-2, 14

            We are an adulterous generation. We have institutionalized adultery in our entertainment and in our literature. Adultery is now trivialized by our entertainment culture and routinized by public example. Whatever the genre of literature – mystery, thriller, sci-fi – adultery is expected within the pages. Modern music also has institutionalized adultery through lyrics that celebrate infidelity. At times, adultery creates the dramatic conflict for our sitcoms, and increasingly it is the backdrop to the news stories on the front page and major divorces of prominent people in our society.

         There is an old joke about the Seventh Commandment, “Do not commit adultery.” Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and announces: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I got Him down to ten. The bad news is that adultery stays.” “The joke is telling,” Dennis Prager says in his book on the Ten Commandments, “The prohibition on a married person having sexual relations with anyone except his or her spouse may be, for many people, the most consistently difficult of the Ten Commandments to observe.”

         Folks, the reasons shouldn’t be hard to guess. First is the enormous power of the sex drive. And second, is the human desire to love and be loved. For normal people, there is no more powerful emotion than love. But if we add in the unfortunate circumstance of a loveless marriage, adultery becomes even more difficult to resist.

         Why is adultery prohibited in the Ten Commandments? Because, like the other nine, it is indispensable to forming and maintaining higher civilization. Adultery threatens the very building block of the civilization that the Ten Commandments seek to create. That building block is the family, a married father and mother and their children. Anything that threatens the family unit is prohibited in the Bible. The family is essential to social stability. The family unit enables us to pass on society’s values from generation to generation. And nothing comes close to the family in giving children a secure and stable childhood. More about this in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         You might not believe this, but there is a line of greeting cards out there for adulterers. A few years ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that Cathy Gallagher developed a line of cards for couples involved in an adulterous affair. The whole idea is profoundly sick, but it tells us a great deal about our society. In an article entitled, “Adulterers Need Cards Too,” the writer described a Christmas card developed for this series of greeting cards, which includes this line: “As we each celebrate with our families, I will be thinking of you.”

         According to the Los Angeles Times, Ms. Gallagher says her “Secret Lover” collection of twenty-four cards is the first line exclusively for people having affairs, and she expects, no pun intended, hot sales. Gallagher says her cards express sentiments that people in affairs can’t express to anyone else, even their best friends. Folks, there is nothing like a little home-wrecking sentiment to warm the adulterer’s heart at yuletide.

         Adultery is not a modern invention. The Seventh Commandment reminds us that adultery is one of humanity’s first sins. When Moses read this to the Hebrew people, they knew exactly what it meant. “You shall not commit adultery.” Albert Mohler, Jr. writes in his book Words from the Fire this: “Remember, the Lord gave the Ten Commandments as he was preparing His people to enter the Land of Promise. As they did so, they were to reflect His character, living according to the covenant that He established with them.” God wanted a covenant of fidelity and faithfulness between Him and his chosen people.

         Today though, the sin of adultery stabs at the heart of the covenant between a man and a woman; it strikes at the heart of trust and faith, of love and affection. It undermines the husband-wife relationship and the family itself.

         “Adultery begins a breakdown of order that threatens the entire society,” Mohler writes, “for how can we trust each other if we cannot trust each other in our most intimate commitments? If we cannot maintain trust and fidelity within the small and inherently meaningful universe of marriage, how can we trust each other in commerce, in politics, in business, in culture, in life?” Mohler ends with this, “A culture that embraces adultery, accepts within itself a poison pill for every other relationship, a toxic substance that threatens every other commitment. Adultery is primal in its attack upon all that is honorable and good and true and faithful, unraveling precious bonds and commitments.”

         When couples take their marriage vows, the vows sound something like this: “In the name of God, I, John, take you, Jane, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, to love and to cherish, (now hear this part), and to be faithful to you alone as long as we both shall live.” Just as God made a covenant with his people through the Ten Commandments, so do a husband and wife make a covenant with each other through their marriage vows. God’s covenants with humankind last forever. And so should these covenant vows between husband and wife, “as long as we both shall live.” Sexual adultery violates this covenant vow.

         “You shall not commit adultery,” also has a larger spiritual context as well. Spiritual adultery in the Bible is no minor theme. Time and time again Israel sins against God by playing the harlot and spiritual adultery is identified as its primal sin. In his book on Israel’s adultery called Whoredom, Ray Ortlund, Jr. writes this: “For post-Fall humanity, adulterated by sin, the Bible unfolds the drama of a loving God winning back to himself a pure bride for her one husband.”

         You see, God wanted to create a bride for His Son the Bridegroom, and to present this bride to the Bridegroom without spot and without blemish. Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we, the church, are the bride. We in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ look forward to that end-time promise of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as found in the Book of Revelation. As Mohler writes, “God’s big purpose of salvation, His dealings with His people, His redeeming love, all these are seen against the backdrop of this biblical theology of adultery.”

         Think about it this way. A husband and a wife have established a covenant together in marriage that they will be faithful to each other. When that covenant is violated by sexual adultery, the covenant breaker violates the precious and sacred covenant by inviting within the marriage one who does not belong. The adulterer forsakes the one to whom all is due and all must be given, and gives it instead to the one who has no rights to what the adulterer would give.

         In spiritual adultery, the same thing happens. We forsake our Creator, denying Him His rights. Many times, Israel repeatedly violated the marriage covenant with God in going after other gods. Remember, scripture describes Yahweh as a jealous God. That word is inherently meaningful within the context of marriage. Like a jealous husband, God will not share Israel with other gods. God will not share Israel’s affections and allegiance with pagan deities. You can read about Israel’s harlotry in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Judges, and especially the book of Hosea. Each time Israel became the harlot, God’s punishment was usually swift on the nation of Israel. But the punishment usually brought Israel back to God and God’s loving and redeeming forgiveness for his chosen people.

For Israel, this seventh command had a very clear meaning: so long as there was no sexual activity between a man and a woman, there was no adultery. That does not mean there was no sexual sin, but it does mean that at that point there was no adultery, because adultery comes only as a violation of the marital covenant. Fidelity to covenant was Yahweh’s point, a point that the law makes clear. But then, along comes Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount.

         Jesus teaches that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In Matthew 5:27-28, he says this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Wow! Jesus certainly set that bar higher!

         Clearly, God is calling His new covenant people to a standard that is not only about body parts and motion; it is now about the heart and its inclination. Adultery becomes a more urgent and higher reality for us. The commandment now stands against adultery with our eyes, with our brains, with our imagination. The commandment is about the totality of who we are.

         We cannot fantasize about this sin. We cannot enjoy the thought of this sin. Jesus says that lust and adultery are the same sin. Jesus did not say lust has the same effect, humanly speaking, as the actual sin of adultery. But He tells us the essence is the same, desiring one who is not deserving of the gift.

         Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must think about adultery in both a spiritual and a sexual, human context. When God said, “You shall not commit adultery,” He spoke words Israel and we today can understand. He spoke to something they and we witness and observe in our midst. God spoke of something that is a dagger to the heart of civilization, to the heart of marriage as an institution, and to the heart of Israel’s testimony among the nations.

         In the end, when the bride, that is the church, is presented to the Bridegroom, Jesus, it will be without spot, because God in all his love, will cleanse this bride of all sins, and those sins will be known no more. But just remember this, my Christian friends, everyone who is in heaven will be a soul that has at some point committed spiritual adultery. And many who are there, all too many, will be those who have also committed sexual adultery.

         God said, “You shall not commit adultery.”

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