To finish up what we were talking about last week, here are Keil and Delitzsch, who have a tendency to say things a whole lot better than I do and in a much smaller amount of words:
“If, therefore, the first three commandments in this table refer primarily to deeds [murder, adultery, theft]; the subsequent advance to the prohibition of desire is a proof that the deed is not to be separated from the [mindset], and that “the fulfillment of the law is only complete when the heart itself is sanctified” (Oehler). Accordingly, in the command, “Thou shalt not kill,” not only is the accomplished fact of murder condemned, whether it proceeds from open violence or stratagem, but every act that endangers human life, whether it arise from carelessness or depravity, or from hatred, anger, and revenge. Life is placed at the head of these commandments, not as being the highest earthly possession, but because it is the basis of human existence, and in the life the personality is attacked, and in that [attack,] the image of God [is attacked].”In other words we could go through our entire life, never shooting or stabbing anyone, never physically ending someone’s life. But that does not mean we have never committed murder. Because, as Jesus said, and as the apostle John said, if we hate someone we are already committing murder—in the heart. It’s not just actions that t God wants to change—it is the heart and the mind.
Which brings us to another commandment that Jesus said is broken long before any action is taken. We are making our way through the Ten Commandments, we are number 7. Many times when the Ten Commandments are taught, they are broken up into what are called the “Two Tables” of the Law. The “First Table” contains the first four commandments, found in Exodus 20:3-11—“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” These are commandments that show us how we should view our God, and our relationship with Him. The “Second Table” contains the last six commandments, found in Exodus 20:12-17—“Honor your father and your mother…You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.” These commandments show us how we are to deal with one another. Today we are looking at the third commandment of what is called the “Second Table.” And as I said last week, we may be tempted to say “Do we really need a commandment telling us this is wrong?” Well, yes we do. Because if we human beings do not have something chiseled in stone, then we are not likely to think much about it.
We saw that last week in the story of the Virginia woman who killed the child she gave birth to. She couldn’t be charged with murder because, basically, Virginia law said it wasn’t murder. Today we have another commandment that shouldn’t really need to be a commandment, it should be common sense. Exodus 20:14—“You shall not commit adultery.” It’s simple: if you're married, you are commanded to not sleep with anyone but your spouse. Also, you are commanded to not sleep with someone who is married to someone else. And again, as we saw last week, God considers the act of adultery to be so heinous that the penalty for adultery, in the OT, was death. Leviticus 20:10—“The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.” And, just as murder does not begin with the actual taking of another man’s life, adultery does not begin with the taking of another man’s wife. Adultery begins when the unmarried sees someone who is married or the married sees someone other than their spouse, and says in their heart “I would like to have that person.” The married person is not satisfied with the spouse they have made a covenant to be faithful to. The unmarried is jealous for someone that has made a covenant to be faithful to someone else.
Augustine wrote the following:
“Passion is the evil in adultery. If a man has no opportunity of living with another man's wife, but if it is obvious for some reason that he would like to do so, and would do so if he could, he is no less guilty than if he was caught in the act.”He is of course paraphrasing what Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28—“You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Now, let me take this opportunity to mention this: In the Gospel of John, we read the story of a woman who was caught in the act of adultery, and brought to Jesus to judge her. John 8:2-11—Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." Jesus is not letting her off the hook here. The main thrust of the story is the Pharisees being guilty of doing the same thing they were accusing the woman of doing. BUT—after Jesus says He does not condemn the woman, what are His last words to her? “Go forth and—” what? “Sin no more.” He was still calling what she did a sin. Let’s not forget that. He does not say that He didn’t find fault with her. He was still calling her a sinner. When He said “I do not condemn you,” He was basically saying, “I am not passing a final judgment on you at this point. Now, go forth and sin no more.”
If He said He did not find fault with her, He would be destroying the Law. What He was saying is that even someone who has committed a sin worthy of death under the OT Law could still be given the opportunity to be saved. And that is the heart of the gospel—that even though we are all worthy of eternal damnation, God sent His Son to take our sins upon Himself, to bear the penalty we deserved, that He does not simply destroy us as soon as we sin. Listen to what God said through the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 1:16-20—“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword.” So, why does God take adultery so seriously? Why does God decree that the person committing adultery is worthy of the same punishment as the murderer?
Well, we find the reason if we go all the way back to Genesis. In Genesis 2, God sees that The LORD God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Genesis 2:18). And to do this, of course, I think we all know that God took one of Adam’s ribs and formed the first woman, Eve. Woman was created from man, and we see in Genesis 2:24—Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Now, Jesus expands on this statement in Matthew 19:3-6—The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh' ? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Now, you'll hear people say “Well, yeah but God didn’t join us together. We didn’t make a covenant with God when we got married.” Yes they did. Whether two people are Christian, non-Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto—doesn’t matter. When a man declares that he is taking a woman to be his wife he is, by default, making a covenant with God. When they say “I do”, God makes those two into one flesh. And if you don’t believe me, listen to the apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 6:15-18—Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh."…Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Basically, he’s saying that when two people have sexual relations, and/or commit to marriage, they have been joined one to the other. It is even more imperative for a Christian to not be joined to a heathen because once we have been joined to Christ--once we have confessed that He is Lord, and we surrender our lives to Him, and we are united with Him--our body belongs to Him. This is where we get the principle that the church is the “Bride of Christ.”
And because we are the “Bride of Christ,” we are not to use our bodies for immoral purposes. Paul is echoing what Solomon wrote in many places in the Proverbs. Listen to Proverbs 6:32—Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul. In fact, in Proverbs 5, Solomon gives us a perfect illustration of the perils of adultery. There are people in the church—even elders and pastors—who are married, yet they will have an affair with another woman in the church. And they almost always have the same excuse—“This is the woman God wants me to be with.” Ummm…no. God does not endorse adultery. Listen to this from Proverbs 5:1-14—My son, pay attention to my wisdom; lend your ear to my understanding, that you may preserve discretion, and your lips may keep knowledge. For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell. Lest you ponder her path of life—her ways are unstable; you do not know them. Therefore hear me now, my children, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others, and your years to the cruel one; lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner; and you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say: “How I have hated instruction, and my heart despised correction! I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me! I was on the verge of total ruin, in the midst of the assembly and congregation.”
The culture we live in kinda gives a wink and a pass to adultery. We recently had a president who admitted to committing adultery in the White House, and most of the country just kinda passed it off as “sowing wild oats” or even “One of the perks of the job.” No, it is sin. It is just as much sin as murder. Listen to James 2:10-11—For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” In fact, many states still have laws against adultery, and one can be tried and convicted of it. It doesn’t really happen much anymore because you won’t hardly find 12 people who think adultery is a crime. But God does. And here’s why. I mentioned last week, in finishing up the verse about honoring father and mother, that the family is the building block of any society. It is the most basic training ground for submission to authority. And under the OT Law, any child who would not submit to the authority of their parents was not fit to dwell among God’s people, and the penalty for striking—or even cursing mother or father—was death.
Likewise, the union of husband and wife is the most basic unit of the family. And if one of the two members of that union does something to disrupt that union, then the family falls apart and, in the long run, the nation falls apart. The same is true of the church. When two people, who claim to be Christians, make a covenant with God to be faithful to one another, and the one says “I don’t want you anymore, I want someone else,” they are turning their back on not only their spouse, but on God as well. And God will deal with that person. Now, God does indeed hate divorce. He said that through the prophet Malachi. But, He has given us liberty, in the NT, to put away the unbelieving spouse who departs. 1st Corinthians 7:12-15—If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.
God takes adultery very seriously, and it is not something that should be trifled with or taken lightly. Thus this command to avoid that which society treats as something that's no big deal.
Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.