SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE EXODUS 20:14
In 1631, the printers of one edition of the King James Bible were fined 300 pounds by Archbishop Laud—the equivalent of a lifetime’s earnings. Their crime consisted in leaving one word out of the biblical text. By omitting the word not, they had turned the seventh commandment on its head. And so it read: “You shall commit adultery.” As a result, this 1631 edition became known as “the wicked Bible.”
This morning, we will examine the seventh commandment given by the Lord God to the nation of Israel. You shall not commit adultery. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said “Although one kind of impurity is alone referred to, it is sufficiently plain, from the principle laid down, that believers are generally exhorted to chastity.” God demands that His followers live a life of purity. The Law, as I have stated, is a reflection of the character of God. So as Christians we are to live like Jesus.
So “The seventh commandment requires the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech and behavior” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). This command is more than just behavior; it involves the heart and speech.
Yet, society is different from the one which omitted the word not from the seventh commandment. Today, adultery is considered a private activity between consenting adults with little or no public consequences. This has not always been so. In 1963 when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor began an affair during the filming of Cleopatra, they were shunned and Taylor was condemned even in Hollywood for stealing Burton from his wife. In 1987, Gary Hart withdrew from The Democratic primary because of his relationship with Donna Rice. And in the 1990s, things changed when Clinton was caught with Monica Lewinski. Now there is a distinction between public life and private life. So I would say this command is relevant to believers today.
A recently released Barna survey shows that over 40% of the people in America see nothing “morally” wrong with sexual dalliances by married men and women with people of the opposite sex who are not their mates. The cover story in a recent issue of Business Week boldly proclaimed “unmarried America” and described the alarming trend toward couples living together apart from marriage.
Young adults don’t talk of marriage; they talk of entering a “relationship” or “hooking up.” They cohabitate with one another, they have sex with one another, and if the relationship doesn’t work, they pick one of the “fifty ways to leave your love” and take a hiatus. Then, after a few months, they begin another relationship, and so the cycle continues.
The formality of marriage is avoided or postponed for years. At the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 5.5 million couples living together outside of marriage, and the trend is accelerating. Tragically for the nation, for every two marriages that take place in America, one marriage ends in divorce—a 50% divorce rate. From the viewpoint of the Ten Commandments, this coupling and uncoupling is tantamount to the nationwide practice of adultery.
So this commandment is relevant because it speaks to a culture that witnesses affairs every night on television. It is relevant because we read about politicians, athletes, and celebrities who commit this sin. It is relevant because there are people in the church who have committed this sin from the pew to the pulpit. It is relevant because we will see that it is a sin committed in the heart by all.
There are two truths that I want to communicate to you, this morning, about this commandment. The first truth is what does this commandment mean? And the second truth is what does this commandment involve?
WHAT DOES THE COMMANDMENT MEAN?
This commandment protects the sanctity of marriage, just like last weeks command protected the sanctity of life. George Orwell said that restatement of the obvious is sometimes the first duty of a responsible man. It is therefore worth restating what was once obvious and commonly held: Marriage involves a man and a woman.
Men did not invent marriage. God instituted marriage with Adam and Eve before they fell into sin. So, that means that without any distortion due to sin, the clearest picture of marriage came before the Fall. Genesis 2:18-25 sets forth the divine pattern for marriage. The Lord God declares, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." "Suitable" means one that corresponds with him; one that rightly fits him. The Lord then caused the animals to pass before Adam so that he named each one, "but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him." The intensity builds, as all of the animal kingdom failed to be "suitable" for Adam. Then the Lord put him into a deep sleep, took one of Adam's ribs, and out of that, "The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man." Look at the divine pattern: one man and one woman; that is God's design for marriage. He just as easily could have created another man for Adam. But a man would not correspond to him. He needed one to complete and complement him—that belongs only to the woman.
Adam's joyous song follows: "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." And now Moses draws the conclusion and identifies the pattern for every marriage to follow: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." "Leaving and cleaving," as it has often been called, demonstrates more than just two people living under the same roof. It means that a new loyalty has developed; a covenant of faithfulness has been entered into. "And shall... be joined to his wife," refers to the intimacy that takes place in this new loyal relationship of marriage. They are cemented or glued together. That is best expressed through the conjugal relationship within marriage. Leaving and cleaving, and becoming one flesh focus the attention on the uniqueness of the marriage relationship as one that is to be enjoyed to the fullest and always to be kept inviolate, since the man and his wife are "one flesh."
The marriage ordinance of Genesis 2 stands upon faithfulness. That's why, "You shall not commit adultery," guards the integrity of every marriage. Jesus Christ went back to this text as the foundation for His teaching on marriage and divorce (cf. Matthew 19:1-12). When the Pharisees asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, Jesus' response begins with the affirmation that marriage must be between one man and one woman. "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?" That is, He created them as complements to each other. Then He quotes the leaving and cleaving passage, and further makes this declaration. "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate." Adultery tears away at the "one flesh" of covenant loyalty in marriage. Further, they asked, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" His response explains that the only thing that can break this relationship is "immorality," the Greek word for any kind of sexual involvement apart from the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (porneia). Divorce was a Mosaic concession not the divine purpose. "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." In other words, this was never God's intention when He established marriage between one man and one woman. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality (porneia), and marries another woman commits adultery."
Scripture is replete with various passages that deal with the danger and punishment of adultery. One such passage is found in Proverbs 6:20-35. In the previous chapter, Solomon says that a man should enjoy his own wife. A great example of self-control in this area is found in the life of Joseph.
Joseph's brothers, jealous of the favor shown to him by his father and the success that he had in all his endeavors, sold him into slavery. He ended up as a servant to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard. Potiphar found Joseph so dependable, that he entrusted everything in his household to him.
But Joseph, being a handsome man, caught the eye of Potiphar's wife. Day after day she sought to entice him into an adulterous relationship with her. Day after day he refused. Joseph stood his ground. "Behold with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?" He saw restraint as a matter of personal integrity toward his master that he would not dare breach. He stood firmly on fidelity in marriage, that she was Potiphar's wife and not his own, and that to engage her proposal broke the trust of her marriage and his future marriage. And he saw this, not as a chance to satisfy his lusts, but as a "great evil" that would be sinning against God. Stolen water is sweet, she enticed. Bread eaten in secret is pleasant. "It's just the normal kind of desires and satisfactions that you need; go ahead Joseph and satisfy yourself! No one will ever know!" But Joseph did not believe the lies and the promotion of moral impurity that he heard day after day from Potiphar's wife. He was willing to be wronged and falsely accused by others in order to not sin against God by committing adultery. His integrity before the God who created him and redeemed him mattered more than passing lusts (Gen. 39:1-18).
Now, I want to turn our attention from what this command means to what this command involves.
WHAT THIS COMMAND INVOLVES
In order for us to better comprehend what is involved in this command; we again have to turn to the New Testament and the teaching of Christ on this command. If you will go to Matthew chapter 5 so that we can see how Jesus viewed this command. Let me read Matthew 5:27-30.
Again, I remind you that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So Jesus says the Law is a spiritual matter. It is a matter of the heart. It begins with a thought. You may have heard this poem, but it is true: Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny. This fits clearly with what Jesus is saying in these verses.
Jesus is concerned for believers to be holy and pure not only in their outward life, but in their inward life. They are to strive to be inwardly pure with regard to their sexual behavior. It's not enough to abstain from physical adultery. It's not enough to abstain from physical fornication. Jesus wants us to be pure in our hearts and in our thoughts, in our thinking.
So Jesus tells the Pharisees that there is more than one way to break this commandment. You do not have to lie with a prostitute to break this commandment. You do not have to have premarital sex to break this commandment. And you do not have to have extramarital affair to break this commandment. No, this commandment is broken in our thinking, in our hearts, and in our desires.
There have been some who have a perverse way of thinking of this verse. Since I have already committed adultery in my heart, I might as well go ahead and follow through with the action; either way I am guilty. This is based on the assumption that there is a difference between mental and physical adultery. Without lessening the impact of this teaching, we need to recognize the difference between physical and mental adultery.
Adultery breaks the marriage covenant; adulterous thoughts do not. Adultery provides grounds for divorce; mental adultery does not. Adultery violates and defiles each other’s bodies; its mental counterpart does not. Adultery is the vehicle for sexually transmitted diseases; whereas the mind is not.
In other words, Jesus gives a caution that our hearts should not follow our eyes. Job declared, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then can I gaze at a virgin” (Job 31:1). Solomon warns in Proverbs 4:23-27, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
I must admit that we live in a culture that is driven by sex because you see it in commercials, on television, in movies, and on magazine covers. Everywhere you turn you are bombarded with these images.
Pornography is pervasive in our community. You can see it on regular television, you don't even have to own cable. You can see it in the movies and you do most of the time when you go. You can read it books, you can hear it on radio, you can see it on billboards there are even some living, walking, talking examples of pornography that you can see from time to time in our community. Pornography is a pervasive problem and it is a challenge for men. There are, I am told, over 150,000 pornographic internet sites, and 200 are added everyday. There must be some customers out there because it usually takes a credit card.
Immodesty is the second area that I’d like to address. Friends, if we are dressing in a way that is provocative. May I speak to the young women especially? If you are dressing in a way that is provocative, if your clothing is provocative, then you are inviting trouble upon yourself as well as causing difficulty for your brothers. Ladies of this congregation, I’ve never been in a congregation, community, or state where the women were more beautiful. It is difficult for men to look at your faces and to remain pure, when they are tempted to look everywhere else in public. It makes their sexual purity almost impossible. If your clothing is provocative, even thought it may be your heart's desire to remain pure for your spouse, you are sending the message to men, to boys, that you are ready for that sexual activity now. You're sending a conflicting message and you're making it hard for your brother to remain pure. When your clothing draws attention through its tightness, or through the flesh that it reveals, away from your face, where you could be treated as a person of intelligence and dignity, and to those parts of your body which have sexual functions, you are asking for trouble and you are causing your brother to stumble.
The world tells you that apart from experimenting and indulging in sex outside the marriage covenant, you are a dull, outdated person. The world exaggerates by telling you that everyone is having sex outside marriage, so it can't be wrong. It won't matter, the world suggests, that you've lost your moral purity or that you've been unfaithful to your spouse. No one will know. You've got the right to be happy and to pursue whatever makes you happy. It's all about you! But God knows; and it is the Lord God that has called you to holiness and finding your joy in relationship to Him, not the ways of the world.
So how do we guard against such temptations? Alistair Begg gave three helpful suggestions. 1) Practice the presence of God. We need to remind ourselves that our heavenly Father knows when we sit down and when we stand and our words before we speak. We will soon stand before Him in judgment, and we should never consider doing anything that we would not do if we knew it to be the last hour of our lives.
2) Memorize the Word of God. We should keep the Word of God in our hearts so that our walk might be true. Psalm 119 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. . . .I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (9, 11).
3) Join with the People of God. There is safety in numbers. When we isolate ourselves from the company of God’s people, we are increasingly vulnerable. The writer to the Hebrews urged them not to give up meeting together as had become the practice of some. Instead, they were to encourage each other and especially as they thought about their final destination (Hebrews 10:25).
God has promised that He will not let us be tempted beyond our ability to bear it. He will provide for us a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). In this confidence we must learn to deal with temptation immediately, realistically, ruthlessly, and consistently.
Maybe through the preaching of this word some hidden thoughts and attitudes of the heart have been exposed or brought to light. You see the Law is a mirror that reflects what is in the heart. You have been convicted and know that changes need to be made. Let me provide you with some practical suggestions.
Make no provision for the flesh. Paul put it so plainly, "Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Rom 13:14). You may need to lose the phone number, ditch your computer, cancel the magazine subscription, change your job, or even alter your daily routine. Do whatever it takes to separate yourself from the occasion to sin. Remember Christ said gouge out the eye or cut off the arm.
"We must realize once more the price that had to be paid to deliver us from sin." Let us think upon Jesus Christ dying for us! Paul tells us why He died, "Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). He died to deliver us from sin - not so that we can frolic in sin but maintain purity as believers.
So you have committed the sin of adultery and feel you are outside the love of God, but I remind you that there is hope. As bad as this sin is it is not unforgivable. God’s kindness points to a door marked REPENTANCE. To enter is to acknowledge you are a sinner and that sin is an offense against God. Yet, David in Psalm 51 reminds us we can appeal to God’s mercy, unfailing love and great compassion. This grace is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
My favorite hymn exalts in this thought: My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more bless the Lord, bless the Lord, oh my soul!