You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)
Like the sixth commandment (You shall not murder), the seventh commandment is equally, short, unequivocal and seemingly quite straightforward. And, just like the sixth, it’s altogether more far-reaching than we might imagine.
While there’s no such concept as ‘small sin’ versus ‘large sin’, adultery has the particular characteristic of involving deceit and a desire for someone who is, in effect, out of bounds for us and so it breaches at least two other commandments, namely; the ninth : ‘Don’t lie’ and the tenth: ‘Don’t covet’.
As with the fifth commandment (Honour your father and your mother), this seventh commandment was given to the Israelites to support the strength and stability of their fledgeling nation. The stability of any society is a reflection of the solidity of its families and nowadays we can see all too clearly how the decline in respect for marriage undermines society as families splinter and fall apart.
When we looked at the fifth commandment we noted that if, as parents, we want to be honoured, we need to be honourable and to set a good example to those who look up to us. What lessons do children learn if they evidence adultery within their family? How may it affect their view of marriage when they become adults? What example does it set within the Church and what kind of testimony does it present to unbelievers?
The dictionary defines adultery as ‘voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse’.
Adulterate: verb: to render (something) poorer in quality by adding another substance.
Adulterated: adjective: not pure or genuine.
Derived from Latin adulterat – ‘corrupted’
Corrupted – that says it all, doesn’t it!
‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick!’‘For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’ (Mark 7:21-23 ESV) Not for the first time, we see that there’s no distinction between any of these sins – including adultery – they’re all classed as evil.
It’s worth noting that the ‘person who is not the spouse’ may or may not be married, giving lie to the notion that an unmarried person can’t commit adultery. (And yes, I’ve heard people express this spectacularly naïve and self-deluding opinion!)
The dictionary definition doesn’t specify whether or not there is consent between the married couple for either of them to have a sexual relationship with a third party. If a couple agrees to an open marriage that allows infidelity, does that constitute adultery? The Bible makes it very clear that yes, it’s still adultery.
‘Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.’ (Hebrews 13:4)
If we commit adultery, we’re not just sinning against our spouse but against God. This fact is underlined in David’s famous Psalm of repentance. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. In Psalm 51, he acknowledges his sin: ‘For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.’ (Psalm 51:3-4)
Many people erroneously imagine that they’re not in breach of this law because they’ve never had a sexual extra-marital affair but how did Jesus define adultery?
‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ but I say to you that everyone who [so much as] looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (Matthew 5:27-28 Amplified Version)
Clearly, this applies to women as it does to men and it covers a range of sinful activities.
Pornography and erotica
Many people assume that men are the chief consumers of pornography but statistics show that there are many women who also indulge in this sin. There are also those who claim that it involves no victims since the people being filmed or photographed are consenting adults and the consumers of porn aren’t harming anyone because they’re not actually physically taking part.
But consuming pornography or erotica is sexual sin. Jesus made it clear that giving in to lust is exactly the same as the act itself and it makes no difference whether you know the person or not.
The Marriage and Religion Research Institute reported that: Pornography is a visual representation of sexuality which distorts an individual’s concept of the nature of conjugal relations. This, in turn, alters both sexual attitudes and behaviour. It is a major threat to marriage, to family, to children and to individual happiness. In undermining marriage it is one of the factors in undermining social stability.
A solid and happy marriage will demonstrate both physical and emotional closeness that’s unique to that couple and both elements are to be respected at all times and by all parties. While it’s good and perfectly acceptable to have both male and female friends, we need to guard against friendship that edges over into emotional intimacy. This may be evidenced by thinking about them all the time, longing to see them, imagining sexual contact, physical contact, such as hug that lasts a fraction too long, exchanged glances filled with meaning and shared secrets.
Divorce and remarriage
This is quite a debated topic within the Church today because it’s becoming ever more prevalent. As part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He included this teaching: ‘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)
It’s interesting to note that the only grounds for divorce – in God’s eyes – is sexual immorality. We are fully responsible for what we see, very specifically what or who we look at in ways we shouldn’t and we’re instructed to give absolutely no leeway to such behaviour.
‘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)
Marriage is God-ordained and it’s designed to be permanent and pure. Given the distress, heartache and marriage breakdown that adultery causes it would seem that we should be ever more vigilant in applying the second great commandment; ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Mark 12:31) This applies as much within our marriage as it does to other people’s marriage.
‘But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ (Mark 10:6-9)
Perhaps because adultery in one form or another is so prevalent, people seek to justify it and will even claim that Christ was the friend of sinners including prostitutes and adulterers. This is certainly true but whenever He met them in their sin and at their point of need, while He forgave those who were truly repentant, He added this admonition: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’ (John 8:11) Forgiveness is an extraordinary gift of God’s mercy and grace. Our ‘part’ in it is not to repeat the sin.
The seventh commandment : You shall not commit adultery.
If, just one time, we have sexual relations outside of marriage or with a married person, if we indulge in lust, if we remarry after divorce – except for sexual immorality on the part of our spouse – we are in breach of this commandment.
Guilty as charged.