JULY 19 2015

The Seventh Commandment

Part One


[I. Introduction] We are in the midst of a study upon the ten commandments. David wrote:           

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.

(Psalm 119:93 ESV)

 What did David mean by this? He did not mean that if you follow God’s precepts, God’s commands, then you will have eternal life. David was not referring to eternal life. It is not possible to earn eternal life by obeying the law. Jesus and Paul after him made this abundantly clear. David meant that when a person lives by God’s directives he discovers that he finds an abundant life right here on earth. David referred to life here and now. This is because God knows what is best for us.


He says it even more explicitly through the prophet Isaiah: This is what the Lord says—
 your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God,
 who teaches you what is best for you,
 who directs you in the way you should go.

 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
 your peace would have been like a river,
 your well-being like the waves of the sea. (Isaiah 48:17-18)


He created us, knows us inside and out, and His commands are for our good. Living by God’s commandments brings blessings because they are the way we are designed to live. Things go well for us and we find that we have a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction when we obey the Lord. We might call all of this natural blessings.


There is also a supernatural blessing that attends to the one who joyfully follows God’s commandments. Things go well for us beyond the good life that is itself represented by obedience. To the one who possesses, loves, and lives the commandments a double portion of blessings come!


To live out the commandments requires that we understand them. Hence, we study them. This morning we will examine the seventh commandment. READ Exodus 20:14. 


[II. Meaning] The first question to consider is what is adultery? The English word “adultery” derives from the Latin word “adulteratus” which means “to mix” or “to alter.” Adultery has to do with the marriage covenant and the act of adultery corrupts or alters, may even break, the marriage covenant. However, the English meaning of the word is too general, at least in its etiology, and we must look to what the word meant as it is used in the Bible.


Even before we do this, however, it is important to understand that marriage is not man’s idea. It is God’s. God is the one who instituted marriage. It is a divine institution, not an institution of human origin. Man does not have the right to define it and neither does he have the right to dissolve it except it be by divine permission. Because God created marriage only He can regulate it.


Because it is God’s idea it is something very good, something needful, and something to be encouraged.


Getting back to the definition of the word adultery:  It is not just any act that corrupts or alters a marriage that is considered adultery.  The Bible is more specific. Adultery has to do with sexual acts. It is sexual acts are considered adultery in Scripture, with one exception, which we will discuss. The words for “adultery” in Scripture refer primarily to sexual acts.


[III. Every commandment has prohibitions (the negative aspect) as well as advocations (the positive aspect) regardless of the way it is stated. What is the negative aspect of this commandment?


[A.] Most obviously, this commandment prohibits sexual acts with anyone other than our husband or wife. This commandment has primary application to the married. But, single people are also charged to keep themselves pure sexually by many passages of both the Old and New Testaments. That is to say, a single person must wait until marriage to engage in any sexual activity. To do otherwise is the sin of fornication. Fornication is a different sin than adultery, although it constitutes the sin of adultery when a marriage is involved. The two sins are related and we can say that the principles of the seventh commandment reach the unmarried as well as the married.


We must flee adultery at all costs. Consider what Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has said. After describing the seductive ways and words of a woman intent on committing adultery, he says in Proverbs 7:24-27, 

And now, O sons, listen to me,

and be attentive to the words of my mouth.


Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;

do not stray into her paths,


for many a victim has she laid low,

and all her slain are a mighty throng.


Her house is the way to Sheol,

going down to the chambers of death.


Adultery leads to death. If it does not lead to our physical death, as it often does (one has only to read the newspaper or listen to the news to know that this is true), then it will lead to the death of your heart and your spirit.


We must do everything in our power to avoid this sin in its most basic meaning. We must flee from it with everything that we have. Never place yourself in a situation where the temptation may arise. 


[B.] Jesus shows us that God demands more than mere outward conformity to this commandment.           “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. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

(Matthew 5:27-30 ESV)


As it is with each of the commandments, God is after our hearts, and He is not just about regulating our behavior. The Lord desires that our hearts be pure with respect to sexual thoughts. Jesus is addressing those that are married here. But, look at verse 28. If Jesus were addressing the single person we could change just one word in this verse and it would be equally true. What word would that be? [Answer: changing the word “adultery” and replacing it with the word “fornication.”]


Of course, it goes without saying that these things apply to women as well as men. Jesus addresses men here because men are to be the leaders, both by example and by teaching, in their families and in society. But he may also be addressing men because men are more inclined to have a problem in this area than women. This is not just speculation. It is a fact. Biologically, men have a proclivity to engage in sexual activity that women do not possess. Because of the way the mammalian (and, biologically, human beings are mammals with the same systems as other mammals) reproductive systems are created and designed by God, there is a greater requirement for sexual activity in the male than for the female. We call this the sex drive in common parlance. Hence, both biologically and psychologically the man is subject to greater temptation than the woman. I am speaking in generalities. There are psychological and spiritual exceptions to this general observation.


This command, therefore, applies to both men and women and to both married and single.


[1.] Jesus said, “…everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent…” What is lustful intent? Simply put, it means imagining sexual activity with another person who is not your wife or husband. It does not mean that one cannot admire the qualities of another person. Martha and Mary admired the qualities of Jesus and it was not sin. It is likely that Martha was married to Simon the Leper, although we do not know this for certain. Therefore, it is not wrong to admire the qualities of another person even if married. Neither, is it wrong to have affection for another person even if married. However, that affection must be pure – a brotherly or sisterly affection and, by the nature of the marriage covenant, the highest and best affection must be reserved for our husband and wife.


[2.] This is also an appropriate time to address a perverted, even demonic, form of thinking that goes as follows: “Since I have committed adultery in my heart,” some may mistakenly reason, “I might as well go ahead and follow through with the action. Either way I am guilty.”


This entails two great errors. [a.] The first error is in thinking that there are not degrees of sin. The Bible clearly teaches that some sins are worse than others. One lady actually thought that stealing a piece of candy worth one cent was as equally sinful as raping a child! That is how biblical ignorance can get people into thinking things that are absurd. All sin is bad, but not all sins are as bad as others in the eyes of God. Actual adultery is a more heinous crime than committing adultery in the heart. Both are evil and both are destructive, but one is more destructive than the other. Which leads to the second error:


[b.] failing to see the results of different sins.


  • Adultery provides the grounds for divorce, adulterous thoughts do not.
  • Adultery violates and defiles each other’s bodies, mental adultery does not.
  • Adultery is the agent for sexually transmitted disease, even deadly ones; its mental counterpart is not.


Instead of allowing lust to conceive and give birth to even worse sin we need to mortify all moral filth from our lives.


[3.] How do we do this if we are guilty of adultery in our hearts? We confess the sin to our heavenly Father. Forgiveness is promised and received if we do that. Just as important, we take measures to avert any further thoughts of such a kind from either entering or remaining in our mind.


It is not that complicated. Do not look at things that incite lustful thoughts, whether photos, movies, or live people. When a thought does enter your mind, do not dwell upon it, but rather expel it. Your thoughts are under the control of your will. Martin Luther once said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.”


Above all, call on the name of the Lord! His name is powerful. Calling on the name of Jesus out loud will subdue any temptation. Not just praying. Praying may be silent. Calling is verbal and audible. Call upon his name to be delivered from ungodly thoughts!


[C.] Sexual acts are adultery. Lustful thoughts are adultery. There is one more act that is explicitly forbidden by this commandment. It is found in the words of Jesus immediately following the verses we just read from Matthew chapter 5.            “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

(Matthew 5:31-32 ESV)


The person who remarries, unless their prior marriage was upon the grounds of fornication (sexual immorality), then they have committed adultery. Not only that, even the person who marries a divorced person (the exception for fornication still pertaining) commits adultery. Here, a non-sexual act constitutes adultery. Although, of course, if one marries sexual activity is the normal course of action soon after.


The way to avoid this sin is refuse to court a divorced person until there is certain knowledge about the circumstances of the divorce. Taking it one step back, it would be wise to guard one’s heart regarding a divorced person until there is adequate knowledge about that person’s past. It is called being careful. It is called being watchful. It is called being vigilant regarding the directives of the Living God. Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. So said Solomon.


[D.] The effects of adultery are destructive and far-reaching. Even in a best-case scenario, where the innocent party forgives the guilty and the marriage is preserved, the trust has been lost and it cannot be regained. A marriage lacking trust is a diminished marriage. There can be healing and the marriage can still be good, but it will never be quite the same. Intimacy and closeness must be restored and that can be a slow process.


Many times divorce results from an act of adultery. Divorce, even when allowed by the Lord, still has damaging ramifications. It hurts the emotional well-being of the children if children are involved. It often leads to depression in both the innocent and the guilty.


As has been noted, for the one who commits the act there is a deadening of our spirit.


Because the effects of adultery are far-reaching, never play the fool and fall into this sin.


[IV] For those who have been following this series of messages on the ten commandments, you have heard me say numerous times now that there is both a positive and a negative aspect to each commandment. There may be some, though, for whom this is the first message that they have heard on the commandments. Therefore, please bear with a little repetition for a few moments.


Whether a command is stated positively (You shall do …) or negatively (You shall not…) it necessarily implies the opposite.


For example, the first commandment, You shall have no other God’s before Me, necessarily means that we should worship the true God. Of course, that command is found elsewhere in Scripture. Likewise, You shall not take the name of LORD your God in vain, necessarily means that we must use His name in the way He intended. One way He wishes His name to be used is by calling upon Him using His name.


So it is with the seventh commandment. If adultery, which destroys a marriage, is forbidden with severe sanctions then the promotion of marriage is enjoined by necessity.


God’s interest is not merely in preventing adultery and divorce but in promoting marriage. God’s interest in not merely in preventing lust but in promoting the expression of love in marriage.


[A.] If the commandment condemns in the strongest terms sex outside of the marital union, which it does, then it orders sexual relations within the marital union. Why does God desire this? The apostle Paul reveals in I Cor 6 that sexual union brings a oneness between the participants. He terms it a oneness of flesh, following Moses’ words in Genesis. But the oneness cannot just be a oneness or closeness of bodies alone. The “flesh” stands for persons.


There is a closeness and an intimacy that is brought about that strengthens the emotional bond between husband and wife. Therefore, it is God’s will that husband and wife enjoy one another so that they will be drawn closer to one another.


The positive side of the seventh commandment is also stated explicitly by Paul in I Cor. 7.


This will also help prevent adultery and divorce. When adultery occurs we call the one who did not actually commit the act the “innocent party.” In actuality, there is seldom an innocent party. There is never an excuse for infidelity, but the way one spouse treats the other often contributes to the temptations that the other spouse must face.


Jim and Vanessa were married for five years. The first two years the romance was alive. They went out together, told each other they loved each other, and enjoyed just talking. Then the kids came. Their “alone time” became quite limited and Vanessa started noticing that Jim paid less attention to her and seldom and said and did things for her like he used to. She felt as if he did not appreciate her and began imagining that he did not love her.


She met Bill and they became friends. It always starts as “just a friendship,” you know. Bill did express appreciation and affection for her. It wasn’t long before adultery happened. Yes, Jim was innocent in one sense. But he contributed to the temptation that Vanessa had to face because he did not love her in the way that God has called husbands to love their wives.


But Bill has his own story. He was married to Sheila. Whenever he would seek the most intimate relations with his wife she came up with a different excuse to avoid such each time. Bill was a young man in his 20’s and he began finding it difficult to keep his mind off of other women when he was having so little interaction with his wife. Vanessa was not only needing affection but she was an attractive woman as well. It was what might be called a perfect storm for sin to occur.


Sheila might be called the innocent party with respect to adultery but she contributed the environment that made it more difficult for her husband to remain true.


The seventh commandment, in promoting sexual relations between husband and wife, both draws the two closer together and establishes a hedge of protection around the marriage.


[V. Conclusion of part one] I had a close friend who was not a Christian. In one of our conversations, as we discussed our relationships to God, he shared why he rejected the Christian faith. He was a teenager and was raised Catholic. In Catechism Class he was taught that it was a sin to think sexual thoughts. When he heard this he said to himself, “This is all too much. I cannot live this way. He decided then and there, in that class, that he wasn’t going to be a Catholic which, in his mind, was the same as being a Christian.


It is not just rebels who think that God’s laws are too much. Sometimes it is Christians. What my friend failed to understand, as do many in the household of faith, is that it not within the power of the human will to successfully live out the seventh commandment nor any of His laws. As Jesus taught, obeying them is more than just an outward formality. It is a call for a changed heart.


The seventh commandment prohibits outward acts. But it also demands a pure thought-life. That is a high calling that can be disheartening, especially to the single person. It promotes a coming together physically between husband and wife. That can be challenging, especially when there are other problems within the marital relationship, and there inevitably will be since we are still a fallen people.


The high demands of the seventh commandment can be lived out only by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is given to every true believer in Christ. Do not depend on your human will, but turn to Him who is ready and available to change both your heart and your mind.


When we do this we discover it is easier to obey this command than we thought. And we discover the benefits of obedience: For the single person it is the preservation of our hearts for our future husband or wife. For the married it is a greater love for our husband or wife. That is, in the words of Isaiah, “what is best” for us. That is the good life!