One of my favorite series of books has always been C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. How many of you have read them? Those of you who raised your hands know that these seven little books were written to be enjoyed by CHILDREN but each chapter contains ADULT-sized truth.
A great example of this is seen in the sixth book, which is entitled The Magician’s Nephew. In the beginning of this part of The Chronicles two English children named Digory and Polly, are presented with a dilemma while exploring a strange, ancient world. In the crumbling ruins of a once-great palace, they come across a beautiful GOLDEN BELL, somehow untarnished by the passing ages. Lying beside the bell is a tiny golden HAMMER. Below the bell is a SIGN. At first the children can’t read the letters. But as they stare at the sign, somehow the words reform themselves into English, which allows them to read this WARNING:
Make your choice, adventurous stranger: Strike the bell and bide the danger, Or wonder, till it drives you mad, what would have followed if you had.
Well Polly steps away from the bell. She wisely wants nothing to do with the prophesied danger. She prefers instead to go home at once! But little Digory is seized with an insatiable curiosity. And before Polly can stop him he suddenly grabs the hammer and strikes the bell. It immediately produces a clear, sweet note. But rather than fading—as does the sound of normal bells—the sound produced by this bell begins to grow and grow—until it becomes deafening. Walls and buildings begin to collapse under the massive reverberation, and the children barely escape with their lives. Through a series of circumstances that follow, Digory’s impulsive act brings tragedy beyond anything he could have imagined. You’ll have to read the book to find out more!
I share this excerpt from The Chronicles because all of us are a lot like Digory in that, we QUESTION warnings or rules that in essence say, “NO.” We don’t like to be told we CAN’T do something. If we see a sign on a door that says, “Do not enter,” our first inclination is to take a peek inside to see what all the fuss is about.I’ve been in museums and come upon exhibits displaying priceless artifacts that are covered with fingerprints—in spite of the sign below it that says, “DO NOT TOUCH.”
The truth is we don’t like rules. We began not liking them as children and we don’t outgrow this dislike of boundaries. Words like “can’t,” “shouldn’t,”or “thou shalt not” sound harsh in our ears. Perhaps this is one reason there has been such opposition in past years to the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools and courtrooms. People look at them like Digory did—as warnings they would rather ignore. I’m reminded of an anonymous quote I came across a few years back, “Everybody looks for different things in the Ten Commandments. Some look for Divine guidance, some look for a code to live by—but most of us are looking for loopholes.”
And we DO look for loopholes—we seek ways around these ten tender guidelines from God. No doubt this is a character trait that we inherited from our first parents: Adam and Eve—whose questioning of God’s FIRST rule cost mankind so dearly.
Today we’re examining the seventh of these commands—where God has lovingly provided us with a rule—a law—forbidding ADULTERY. Before we read it let’s use our sign language to review the prior five commandments we’ve studied. By the way these signs originated with a pastor in Michigan named Brian Bill.
- Law #1 – Keep God First (pointer finger pointed Heavenward)
- Law #2 – Worship Only God (left pointer finger bowing to right)
- Law #3 – Honor God’s Name (three fingers over mouth)
- Law #4 – Honor God’s Day (four fingers on your cheek as if to nap)
- Law #5 – Honor my parents (five fingers over your heart)
- Law #6 – Value every life (hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun” and aim at the other hand.
Bobby pointed out something I hadn’t noticed in these symbols. Each one uses the number of fingers that corresponds to that particular commandment. This week’s uses seven. Cool! Okay, look at the screens and let’s read today’s commandment: Exodus 20:14 where God says, You shall not commit adultery. The symbol for this seventh command is to hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer and middle finger on the other. Intertwine them by putting the middle one over the pointer to show that they are bonded together to remind us of Gods rule NOT to commit adultery.
The word “adultery” comes from the term “adulterate” which means to contaminate or make impure and an individual makes himself or herself impure—when he or she doesn’t heed this command and violates their marriage vows. As Leviticus 18:20 says, “Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile—or contaminate—yourself with her.”
Years ago, in a New York church’s Sunday School, children were studying the Ten Commandments one a week like we are. And each week the children would bring home an illustrated card that dramatized one of the Ten Commandments. The first week showed people worshiping at church. Another week, to illustrate, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” the card pictured Cain in the act of slaying Abel. I imagine it was done in a non-graphic way—but parents began to kind of dread the picture that would come home the seventh week. They anxiously wondered how the publishers would illustrate the act of adultery non-graphically. But fortunately, tact prevailed. Under the caption, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” was this picture of a dairyman, leering villainously, as he pumps water into a can of new milk. And—this illustration wasn’t too far off the mark for, adultery is anything that dilutes or weakens or contaminates the exclusivity of our marriage vows—vows we make to each other and God.
The Los Angeles Times once published the following definition of adultery submitted by one of its readers: “Adultery is when you participate in the type of close behavior with someone who is not your spouse, and you would not want your spouse to behave likewise with someone else.” And that’s not perfect but it’s not too bad because in His book God is saying that adultery is much more than improper physical relations with someone other than your spouse. Adultery is anything you do that threatens your spouse’s trust of you. It is any action that gets you closer to another person than you are to your mate. It’s any behavior that weakens or dilutes your relationship with her or him. I had a good friend who destroyed his marriage because he had a female friend with whom he would pray alone regularly—pray about things that he would not discuss with his wife. He let this other woman get closer to him in the intimacy of prayer than he did his own wife and this adulterated—or fatally weakened—their marriage relationship.
This is a good time for me to stop and remind you that Jesus said we commit adultery in our MINDS when we lust after someone who is not our spouse. In Matthew 5:27-8 our Lord said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully—-has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This makes me think of McQuilkin’s definition of lust: “to desire any kind of sexual pleasure with anyone who may not legitimately provide that pleasure. Any thought that would be immoral to act out is sinful lust.” So, in the same way we are all guilty of breaking God’s command against murder because of our murderous thoughts we are all guilty of adultery with our adulterous thoughts.
But, let me be clear—DOING is always worse than THINKING. I mean, MURDER and ANGRY thoughts are both sins but MURDER is far worse. And in the same way ADULTERY and LUST are both sins but the physical act is far worse. R. Kent Hughes explains, “Adultery provides the ground for divorce, whereas mental adultery does not. Adultery violates and defiles another’s body, whereas its mental counterpart does not. Adultery invites abortion whereas the other does not. Adultery is the vehicle for STD’s, whereas the mind is not.” Well, sadly, thinking this way about adultery and marriage is not popular these days. I mean it’s pretty obvious that our culture today does not embrace God’s seventh commandment.
You may remember me telling you a few years back that the first edition of the King James Bible was published in 1611—but in an edition that came out in 1631 the printer made what was possibly the most SCANDALOUS mistake in the history of the printing press. As you can see the word “NOT” was left out of the seventh commandment so it read, “Thou SHALT commit adultery.” Thereafter the 1631 edition came to be known as “the Wicked Bible.” When the mistake was discovered, every copy was promptly withdrawn from the public and King James FINED the printer, Robert Barker, 300 pounds—equal to a lifetime income in those days.
But you know, when I look at our society today, it makes me think that in his book burnings ole King James must have missed a few copies. Because, many people today live as if they leave the word “NOT” out of the 7th commandment.
- According to a Readers Digest survey 50% of all husbands and 35% of wives have broken their marriage vows.
- Another study reported that up to 60% cheat on their spouses over the course of marriage.
Of course accurate stats are difficult to find because most people don’t tell the truth about this part of their lives so it’s probably much worse.
One indication of our culture’s mindset is a website designed to facilitate extramarital affairs. Log on and you have immediate access to thousands of men and women willing to kick their vows to the curb for a no-strings-attached sexual tryst. And should you want to use the site to have an affair, the designers behind the site have worked hard so that no one will ever know about your misdeeds. For example, they just released an untraceable cell phone app so you won’t leave a trail of virtual evidence behind on your home or work computers. So far the site has been a through-the-roof success. In June of 2009—just one month—679,000 men and women used the site to have an affair, and since 2008, site membership has doubled to 4 million people. It sees its largest traffic just after Father’s Day (when men feel most unappreciated) and Valentine’s Day (when women feel most unappreciated). According to the personal profiles of those who use the site, 92 percent of the males and 60 percent of the females are, in fact, married. The CEO of the site, Noel Biderman, shrugs off any criticism, saying: “We’re just a platform. No website or 30-second ad is going to convince anyone to cheat. People cheat because their lives aren’t working for them.” He went on to insist “Humans aren’t meant to be monogamous.”
Well, Biderman is wrong because humans ARE meant to be monogamous. God lovingly designed sex to happen in one relationship only and that is between a man and a woman who are married for life. Any behavior that violates this boundary is a sin. But as I have said, our culture no longer embraces this aspect of our God-given design. These days the majority of people think ANYTHING is okay between two consenting adults. In the past 55 years, we’ve gone from a culture in which TV programs were not permitted to show husbands and wives sleeping in the same bed—to today in which 90% of every sexual activity in the media is between partners who are not married or not married to each other. Not too many years ago The New York Times had an article in which a sociologist is quoted as saying, “Data indicates that the vast majority of Americans think adultery is wrong, pure and simple—about 80% feel this way. But the interesting thing is that more people think adultery is wrong than have been faithful. People think adultery is wrong the way they think it’s good to be thin, yet they lack the will power to keep off the weight.” The fact is our culture has come to the point that it glamorizes, defends, and promotes adultery. Katie Roiphe writes for the New York Times Magazine and says, “Women’s magazines practically recommend [adultery] to their readers as a fun and healthy activity, like buying a new shade of lipstick or vacationing in the Caribbean.”
Even religious groups seem to ignore God’s commandments when it comes to sex. In a survey of 20,000 church members of one denomination 70% said that a person can embrace a homosexual or lesbian lifestyle and still be a growing Christian. In another denomination the chairman of a controversial committee on human sexuality said that the committee did not consider marriage to be the only valid context for sexual expression. So—it seems as if the WICKED BIBLE has appeared again—but this time it is not a mistake and no one seems to be upset about it.
Okay—I want us to arrange our study of this command around the answers to three questions and the first is this: How does this seventh command PROTECT us while PROVIDING God’s best for us?
(1) First obeying this RULE protects us by keeping us from HARM.
You see adultery literally hurts people—but we rarely hear that out in the world these days. This is because Satan is the deceiver. He’s very much like an unprincipled used car salesman who will do anything to get us to purchase a car that we cannot possibly afford. I mean, when it comes to adultery he doesn’t want us to think beyond “now.” He doesn’t want us to consider the painful cost of our actions. Satan doesn’t want us to calculate how many “payments” we will be making for the rest of our lives: payments of loneliness and regret—payments of destroyed families and shattered marriages. He would rather not have us understand the pain that will come with this sin.
One experienced marriage counselor took the time to actually list the agonizing consequences of yielding to the temptation of adultery. Here’s what he came up with:
- I will inflict untold hurt on my wife, who is my best friend and has been faithful to me.
- I will lose her respect, love, and trust.
- I will destroy my beloved daughters. All their lives, they will hurt if I do this.
- I will shame my family—my parents–my siblings.
- I will destroy my example and credibility. Others may follow my example and yield to this sin.
- I will lose my own self-respect. (Though God could forgive me, could I ever forgive myself?)
- I could form memories and flashbacks that plague future intimacy with my spouse.
- I could cause a pregnancy that would be a lifelong reminder of my sin.
You can probably think of things to add to this list because the road to adultery is a road to unbelievable pain and anguish. Much of today’s liberal philosophy about sex outside of marriage is fruit of the sexual liberation movement of the 60’s that taught that sex is simply another APPETITE to be fulfilled. When we’re hungry, we simply pull up to a Taco Bell or a McDonalds and take care of that appetite in five minutes. So—if you have a sexual appetite our culture says you should find a way to fill it. But something happens when you adopt that philosophy. Instead of being FILLED the opposite happens. You have a sense of profound EMPTINESS and LONELINESS. And God wants to protect us by giving us this law. According to Dr. Lana Staneli, author of a book on marital triangles, “Of those who break up their marriage to marry someone else, 80% are sorry later. Of those who do marry their lover, which is only about 10%, about 70% get another divorce. Of the 25-30% who stay married, only half of them are happy.” I’m saying adultery is anything but a route to happiness and bliss. Proverbs 6:32 says, “A man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.”
Now—of course Satan doesn’t want us to realize the incredibly painful price of this particular sin. One of his tactics is to use Hollywood and mass media to make adultery look romantic and exciting—fulfilling and even funny. Producers surround it with laughter and beautiful music—at the same time they carefully airbrush away the inevitable shame, deceit, betrayal, and pain. People who watch these weekly make-believe encounters begin to think, “My life is dull—so unromantic—maybe an affair is what I need.” And this is nothing new. I remember seeing this old classic biblical epic entitled “David and Bathsheeba” starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. I love Gregory Peck movies but I was disappointed with this one because it portrayed the adultery between David and his bathing neighbor as a tragic but romantically wonderful love affair. The film showed silk sheets and marble tubs and a palace with servants but they never told what happened in the remaining years of David’s life because of this sin.
Proverbs 6 warns, “Do not lust in your heart after [the beauty of an immoral woman] or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife.” Adultery hurts and God wants to protect us from that.
(2) Obeying this 7th Command also protects us by preventing the destruction of SOCIETY.
J. D. Unwin was a British social anthropologist who spent seven years studying the births and deaths of 80 different societies. His studies showed that all civilizations begin with strong moral principles and strong family values—but that, in time, these principles deteriorated and this led to the destruction of that civilization. Dr. Unwin stated that when a man is devoted to one woman and one family, he is motivated to build, protect, save, plan, and prosper on their behalf. However, when his sexual interests are dispersed and generalized, his effort is invested in the gratification of his own sensual desires. Then he spends all his time trying to satisfy self—and as a result he neglects his family. Dr. Unwin concluded, “Any human society is free either to display great energy or to enjoy sexual freedom. The evidence is that they cannot do both for more than one generation.” And America is not likely to be the first nation to prove this wrong. There is strong historical precedent that our country won’t fall because of a lack of military might or due to attack from outside forces—or even terrorism—but rather to an adulteration or weakening of the family.
(3) A third way this law protects us is that breaking it alienates us from GOD.
Remember, God invented sexuality. It wasn’t something that we came up with. No—the gift of sex was presented to mankind by God Himself. In Genesis, after God created the universe it says, that He created man as, “male and female.” So there is nothing dirty or ugly about sex between a husband and wife. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed is undefiled.” But, the fact that God invented or designed sex also means that there is a spiritual dimension to it. If you leave out the spiritual aspect of sex, you lower it to the animal level.
And I think all people know this deep down inside. I say this because when people disobey this commandment they naturally tend to shy away from talking with God in prayer. They shrink back from worshiping Him and they tend to stop reading their Bible. They stop interacting with Christian friends whose moral lifestyle only accentuates their own sin. As a result, their spiritual life shrivels away as their heart turns numb and indifferent toward God. And as Bonhoeffer put it, “No sacrifice is too great if it enables us to conquer a lust which cuts us off from Jesus.” That’s exactly what happens. Breaking ANY of God’s laws—including the act of adultery—alienates us from the God Who loves us. And of course this pleases Satan. You see, Scripture records that the home and the church are the two institutions ordained by God on earth to visibly model His love. And it is in Satan’s interest to mar and disfigure both of these models. So when it comes to improper sexual desires we must not forget that, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12. It is no wonder that the frequency of the prohibition of adultery is second only to idolatry in the Old Testament and second to none in the New Testament. God wants repeats this law in His book so often to protect us. He doesn’t want us or our families hurt physically or emotionally. He doesn’t want to see cultures and nations destroyed. And most of all He doesn’t want anything to weaken our relationship with Him.
So, as I said, one reason God has given us this command is to protect us from all this pain but He has also given us this law—and all his laws—to PROVIDE HIS BEST for us. This law is no exception because sex as God intended it—sex in marriage between a man and a woman committed to each other for life FAR outshines all other forms of intimacy. As I have reminded you in past sermons on this subject, there is a misconception in the world today that monogamous Christians are somehow sexually repressed—that sex within God’s guidelines is somehow not as “FUN” as it is outside those guidelines—that if you follow God’s rules and regulations in this area you miss out in some way. But this is simply not true. Obeying God’s rules for sex provides us with the purest form of pleasure—and this makes sense! After all God designed these “earth suits” including their sexual systems. God created us in such a way that husband and wife can experience a pleasure and a oneness which is impossible for a man and woman otherwise. His will is that husbands and wives would enjoy a vital, regular, and mutually satisfying physical relationship. If you doubt this then read the Song of Solomon! God is pro-sex. He designed it and it is wonderful when it is done within the context of His commands.
I love that commercial for eharmony.com that shows a husband and wife at their 10th anniversary party sneaking off to be alone because it shows that God’s rules don’t bind us! They liberate us to experience intimacy in its most fulfilling form. So to refer back to that children’s SS curriculum I guess you could say that the best sex is “unadulterated” sex—PURE sex–sex that is between one man and one woman united in holy marriage.
Okay—second question. How can we avoid this sin? Or to put it another way, what catalysts lead to adultery? Ron Mehl suggests three:
(1) The first is simple IMMATURITY.
You know, babies naturally come into the world demanding that their needs be met and that’s normal. We expect this from infants but sometimes people never outgrow this immaturity—and they go into a marriage like babies selfishly expecting their spouse to meet all their needs.
This is seen in the way that many people tend to define love. Some say that love is based on PASSION: “I’m empty without you, but if I can have you, I’ll be fulfilled and satisfied.” Others say love is based on NEED: “I need you and I’ll never make it if I don’t have you.” But six months from now, they find themselves “needing” someone else. Both of these definitions of love are selfish and immature. Biblical love—love that will enable you to steer clear of adultery—is based on a firm commitment not to meeting your needs but rather to meeting your spouse’s needs. The whole purpose of love as God designed it is to serve, satisfy, and fulfill the person to whom you’ve committed your life. Marriage works when both husbands and wives are selfless.
One of the chief falsehoods in Satan’s great Encyclopedia of Lies is that love is a “feeling.” But that is a selfish concept. Love is not a feeling. It’s an act of the will. It may certainly produce wonderful feelings—as do many other of God’s blessings in our lives. But genuine love is still love when you wake up in the morning and don’t feel anything at all. Love is a selfless commitment to the other person no matter how you feel. I’ve been quoting Robertson McQuilkin frequently in this series. You may not recognize that name but you may remember his resignation speech. Among other accomplishments Dr. McQuilkin was the president of Columbia International University. He resigned at the height of his career to care for his wife who had developed Alzheimer’s. I want you to listen to this speech for it shows the kind of selfless, MATURE love marriage requires to grow into the kind of blessing God intended it to be.
McQuillson video – 1:49
(2) This leads to a second catalyst for adultery: unrealistic EXPECTATIONS.
We often put pressure on our spouses believing that they are the ones who are going to satisfy us and fulfill us. But God—not your spouse—is the only one who can meet our deepest needs. He is the only true Satisfier in life. There is no man or woman in the world who can fill all the empty places in your heart. Ask King Solomon. He had a thousand wives and who knows how many concubines, yet he ended up saying, “everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) He discovered that only the Lord God can fill the vacuum in a human heart. Do you remember his conclusion after considering all this? In Ecclesiastes 12:13 he said, “Fear God and keep His commandments.” He came to realize that this is the only thing that makes us feel whole. So—don’t expect your wife or husband to do what only God can do.
(3) A third thing that often leads to adultery is a lack of NURTURE.
At the marriage altar all brides and grooms make a commitment to LOVE and CHERISH one another. But when they don’t follow through on this both marriage partners suffer. When they do both benefit. So, throughout marriage spouses must work to nurture and grow their relationship by dating, going to I STILL DO conferences and marriage enrichment retreats. They must work on communication skills AND maintain a healthy physical relationship. In short, they must LOVE and CHERISH each other all the days of their lives.
In October 2011, this couple, Gordon Yeager, 94, and his wife Norma, 90, died exactly one hour apart after 72 years of marriage. They were holding hands when they died. The couple had left their home in Marshalltown, Iowa, to run some errands in town, but they never made it. A car accident sent the couple to the emergency room with broken bones and other injuries. When they were transferred to intensive care the nurses knew not to separate them. But, even in the hospital, they were more concerned about each other. Their son Dennis Yeager said, “Mom was saying her chest hurt and what’s wrong with Dad? Even laying there like that, she was worried about Dad. And dad’s back was hurting but he was asking about mom.” When it became clear that their conditions were not improving, the nurses moved them into a room together in beds side-by-side so they could hold hands. Gordon died at 3:38 P.M. holding hands with his wife as the family they built surrounded them. Their son Dennis said, “It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because his heart monitor was still going. We were like, ‘He isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat?’ The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands. Mom’s heart was beating through dad’s and the monitor was picking it up.” At 4:38 p.m., exactly one hour after Gordon died, Norma did. This was a couple that had obviously NURTURED a strong relationship where their hearts beat as one. They loved being together and almost literally held hands from the day they said “I do” until the day God called them home.
Okay last question: What if you’ve broken this law? What if you’ve already messed up in this area?
(1) Make a decision to repent and confess your sin to the Lord. Agree with Him that what you have done is wrong.
(2) Second accept His forgiveness. Let God forgive you. Remember no sin is greater than Christ’s sacrifice
(3) If you are in and adulterous relationship—even if it’s just an emotional affair—end it now. Not tomorrow—not a week from now—NOW.
Remove any source of temptation—anything that weakens your exclusive relationship with your spouse. Remember repent means to turn from your sin.
(4) Thank God. Praise Him for His mercy
And then—if you are the victim of adultery hear this. There are few agonies in this life that are as deep and lasting as the knowledge that your spouse has committed adultery. There is an incredible sense of betrayal and even shame. My heart hurts for you but please know that God hurts for you as well But there is a difference between a pastor’s care and the care of God. I can sympathize with your broken heart but God can heal it. It is God Who will give you the power to forgive and restore your life and make it possible for restoration in your marriage. He can truly make all things NEW again.
Let us pray.