A third grade Sunday school teacher was teaching her class on the Ten Commandments, and she asked the kids, “What is the hardest commandment for you to keep?” She was shocked and bewildered when some of them responded, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” She thought, “How in the world could third graders struggle with that one?” She said, “You’ve committed adultery?” They said, “Oh yeah, a bunch of times.” “With who?” “With the teachers at school, the lunch room lady, my baseball coach, the baby sitter, my parents.” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, until she thought to ask, “What do think, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery means’?” They said, “Thou shall not sass back to adults.”
Well, it’s too bad that’s not what adultery means, because if it did this lesson on the seventh commandment “You shall not commit adultery” would be a more comfortable one to give. But unfortunately adultery means sex in which one of those involved is the spouse of another. And what God’s word has to say about it is unwelcome in our culture.
We live in a climate of opinion where adultery is not considered to be that bad as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody and the two people involved in the act are in “love.” Adultery is sort of in vogue today. You have popular shows on TV like Scandal, Mistresses, Desperate Housewives. I tried to find some statistics for adultery. I found a number of different studies that have been done. They say given the secretive and, for some people, shameful nature of infidelity exact numbers about extra-marital affairs is nearly impossible to establish. Probably not everyone who is surveyed about it is being totally honest. But generally it’s estimated that between 30 and 60% of all married individuals in the United States will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage.
Jesus’ elaboration on adultery (Matthew 5:27-32)
Jesus expanded a little bit on the seventh commandment. And His words on the subject are all the more unwelcome in our culture. Let’s turn to Matthew 5. And let’s notice what He says beginning at v27.
v27, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In other words Jesus is saying that you don’t actually have to be with someone other than your spouse sexually to be guilty of adultery in the sight of God. To look at one other than your spouse for the purpose of lusting is to commit adultery in your heart. Today there’s lots of adultery taking place when people are by themselves with a computer or a television or magazines or a smart phone. I suspect the percentage of married individuals in the United States who engage in adultery in their hearts at some point during their marriage rises to 90 something %. And to my shame I’m not in the small % exception.
Jesus’ next words tell us how serious we need to take adultery of the physical kind and of the heart kind. v29, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”
No, I don’t think He’s literally advocating amputation and plucking out eyeballs. But what He says is literally true, isn’t it? It would be better to gouge out your eye or cut off your hand than it would be to keep your whole body intact and go on sinning and go to hell. Can you imagine the pain and the cost of gouging out your eye? Without anesthetic, sticking a knife in under your eyebrow and twisting and cutting and prying your eyeball out and cutting all the ligaments and things connected to it? That’d be horrible. Then you’d have to deal with the challenges of having only half your vision the rest of your life. And Jesus says it would be better for you to do that than to let yourself go on sinning. I hear Jesus saying, “Whatever you need to do to avoid adultery physically or in your heart, no matter the cost, no matter the pain, you need to do that. Do you need to get rid of your computer? Do you need to trade your smart phone for a dumb phone? Oh that would be painful and costly. Not as much as gouging out your eye, and Jesus said it would be worth it to gouge out your eye. Do you need to change jobs because you’ve gotten to romantically connected with somebody that’s not your spouse at work? Oh that’d be difficult. Not as much and cutting off your hand, and Jesus said it would be worth it to cut off your hand. Whatever it takes, do it.
And then Jesus says some more hard stuff in v31-32. You might also look at Matthew 19:9 on the subject. He teaches that divorce doesn’t necessarily free you to remarry and be with who you want. Remarriage can be adultery. There is an exception. And Paul in I Corinthians 7 I think clarifies that Jesus does not have in mind if you’re married to an unbeliever who deserts you. But He is teaching the truth that divorce is not a way to avoid adultery. In other words if you want to be with another person, you cannot avoid committing adultery by just divorcing your spouse and marrying that other person. God doesn’t play that game. That’s still adultery as far as God is concerned.
Why is God against adultery?
Why does He want us to stick it out faithfully to our spouse even if we’ve lost the feelings for her or him? Is it because God doesn’t want us having too much fun? Is it because He wants our lives to be dull and bland?
I don’t know all the reasons. But I know those aren’t the reasons. And I know one reason is because He’s for stable lifelong marriages. He’s against adultery because it ruins marriages. And He’s for stable lifelong marriage because that’s best for us, for our kids, for our community, for our nation, for our world.
There’s a book called Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Post-Modern Society, and the author Glenn T. Stanton has compiled a great deal of evidence that reveals the shocking effect that divorce is having in this country. It demonstrates how first-time, life-long, monogamous marriage significantly improves the lives of adults, their children and the nation at large. Here’s a few of the discoveries in the book.
• People divorced once are twice as likely to be alcoholics than those who have never been divorced. Folks divorced more than once are almost three times as likely to have drinking problems.
• The suicide rate is almost three times higher among the divorced than among life-long spouses.
• The National Institute of Mental Health says that the divorced are about four times as likely to have problems with depression as are the never-divorced.
• The prevalence of psychiatric disorders was significantly lower for those in stable marriages.
• The children of divorced parents are much more likely to drop out of school than children from one-time-married couples.
• Children from broken homes are much more likely to have a difficult time obtaining and maintaining steady employment.
• … more likely to become “teen parents,” producing out-of-wedlock babies.
• They are 20-30% more likely to have health problems, or to be injury-prone than youngsters whose original parents are still together.
• The children of divorced parents are three times more likely to have emotional or behavioral problems.
And what a brick is to a building, a marriage is to the community in which it lives. A society will crumble and collapse if marriage collapses. Dr. 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 civilizations begin with strong moral principles and strong family values but that, in time, these principles deteriorate and it leads 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. Here’s a quote that fleshes out Unwin’s conclusion.“If the British anthropologist J. D. Unwin is correct in his assessment of society, this present generation in the Western world may be the last one. In his book, Sex and Culture, professor Unwin studied eighty ‘uncivilized’ cultures and compared his results with sixteen ‘civilized’ cultures extending over the last 4,000 years. He found that when strict heterosexual monogamy was practiced, the society attained its greatest cultural energy, especially in the arts, sciences and technology. But as people rebelled against the prohibitions placed upon them and demanded more sexual opportunities, there was a consequent loss of their creative energy, which resulted in the decline and eventual destruction of the civilization. Remarkably, he did not find any exception to this trend.”
America is not likely to be the first nation to prove this wrong. Likely our country won’t fall because of a lack of military might or due to attack from outside forces but rather to an adulteration or weakening of the family, among other disregards of the commands of God.
God is not being a big kill-joy with the seventh commandment. He knows a lot of stuff that we don’t know. His commandments always have our best interest in mind.
David’s story of adultery (II Samuel 11-12)
Let’s look at a true story in the Bible that illustrates for us many of the principles that the rest of Scripture wants us to know about adultery. You can turn to II Samuel 11 if you’d like to see it for yourself.
If you would have said to David at mid-afternoon on this particular day that by 8:00 p.m. he would commit adultery, he would have either laughed at such a ridiculous idea or maybe thrown you in jail for slandering his reputation. David was a man of God. He’s the one in his younger years who had greater faith in God than all the men in the army of Israel and went out and slew Goliath the giant. He was called the man after God’s own heart. He was called “the sweet psalmist of Israel.” He wrote many of the beautiful Psalms of praise and adoration for God and devotion to God.
And at this point of his life, he stood above all the kings of the earth in power and wealth and prosperity. Things were going well in his family. Most everybody loved him. He seemed invincible to his enemies. But all that was about to change because of this one night. This one night was the pivot point in his life. From this night on things changed from uphill to downhill for David.
Maybe the first factor was he didn’t have much to do. The men of Israel were out at war. Normally he would be out with his army. But for some reason, we’re not told, this time king David stayed home in Jerusalem. It says in v2 “when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house.” Sounds like he’d been just lying around. I’ve heard the adage put different ways. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Or “idle hands are the devil’s tools.” Or “if the devil finds a man idle, he’ll put him to work.” It’s good to stay busy.
As he causally wandered on his rooftop, thinking about this and that, enjoying the cool evening air, he noticed something out the corner of his eye. Down below there was a woman bathing. He knew he should look away. But nobody was around. And it says the woman was very beautiful in appearance. Probably he thought it wouldn’t do any harm to look. But the longer he looked the more inflamed with lust he became and the more difficult it became to look away.
And the heat of lust has a way of clouding your thinking. It has a way of suppressing all thoughts about why what you’re desiring to do is a bad idea. It minimalizes those thoughts and fills your mind with justifications and excuses for what your desiring to do. “Nobody will know. Nobody will be hurt. You’re not going to make a habit of it. You’re just going to do it once. You can be forgiven later. It’s not an uncommon thing for people to do. It’s not a big deal.” In the heat of lust your mind works to permit what you’re desiring.
And so David inquired about her. Maybe he asked some of his servants, “Who’s the woman that lives in such and such a house down there.” Some said, “Isn’t that Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Uriah was a mighty man in David’s army. And he was away at war at the time.
The text doesn’t give us many details. It very briefly records the facts. It says he sent for her, she came, and he laid with her. It’s doesn’t say it was rape. I think it would if it was. I think Bathsheba consented. It appears it was just one time. Rarely in extra-marital affairs is it just one time. But in David’s case it appears he felt too ashamed over it and he decided “I’m not going to do that again.” And he probably expected life to continue as usual. But this sin did not come with an honest price tag. He could not have imagined the price, the unraveling of his life and his family and hers and the heartache and pain that would follow.
After a month or two Bathsheba sent word to David, “I’m pregnant.” David could not bear the thought of word getting out that he impregnated another man’s wife. He acted quickly to cover his tracks. He sent for Bathsheba’s husband Uriah from the battle field, supposedly for a report on the progress of the war. And after getting the report from Uriah, David told him to go home for the night. Brilliant plan. If Uriah spent one night at home with his wife, Uriah and everybody else would think the child was Uriah’s.
But Uriah was a man of character. He slept that night at the entrance of David’s house. People told David the next day, “Uriah never went home.” And when he asked Uriah, “Why didn’t you go home?” he said, “All my comrades are sleeping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? I will not do such a thing.” So David’s next step was to get Uriah drunk that evening. He thought then maybe he’d go home and sleep with his wife. But that plan failed too.
And then in desperation David sunk so low that he wrote a note to the commander of his army to have Uriah placed in the front line of the fiercest battle and then withdraw all support from him so that he’s killed in battle. And he sealed up the letter and placed it in Uriah’s hand to take to the commander. And the commander complied with the instructions, Uriah was killed and then David took Bathsheba as his wife. And now maybe he thought, “It’s all over now. People won’t find out what I’ve done.”
But don’t think David was relieved. Don’t think he was at peace. Don’t think he could enjoy life now. Don’t think he slept well, just because he thought nobody on earth would know what he’d done. He knew that God knew, and he was absolutely a wreck inside. In Psalm 32:3, 4 David tells us how he was feeling. “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.” If you had seen David in those days, he would have appeared much the same—still on his throne, still carrying out his royal duties—but inside his heart, his sin was tearing him apart.
After Bathsheba gave birth to David’s child, a prophet of God named Nathan came to him. Now let’s read in ch12 beginning at v1 – Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 “The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. 3 “But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb Which he bought and nourished; And it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, And was like a daughter to him. 4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, And he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd,To prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; Rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. 6 “He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.” 7 Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! [And he explained how David is the rich man who had so much yet he took the one precious think that the poor man Uriah had] Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 ‘I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! 9 ‘Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 ‘Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 ‘Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.'” 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.” 15 So Nathan went to his house.
What a testimony to God’s amazing grace. When David acknowledged his sin and was repentant in his heart, God forgave him. I don’t care what you’ve done, you’ve not messed up so much that God’s grace is not available to you.
But this also helps us see that forgiveness does not mean that there will not be devastating consequences for your sin that you have to deal with in this life. Though David was forgiven, though David could go to heaven, he had to live with many painful consequences because of what he’d done.
All that Nathan spoke in the name of the Lord is exactly what happened. The child Bathsheba bore died. One of David’s sons raped David’s daughter, perhaps following the immoral example of his father. Another son, Absalom murdered the one who raped her. Then that son, Absalom got hungry for power and tried to take away the throne from David. He won the hearts of the men of Israel and led an insurrection against David. David had to flee Jerusalem for his life. He was betrayed by friends. And then Absalom pitched a tent on the roof of David’s house and brought in David’s wives and had relations with them as the public knew all about it. Then there was war between Absalom and his men and David and his men, and Absalom got his hair caught in a tree and was killed. And David grieved bitterly over losing that son too. There was so much violence and turmoil and heartache the rest of David’s life that came as a result of that one little fling with Bathsheba.
The Scriptures tell us not to think that the sort of thing David experienced after adultery is uncommon for adulterers. In fact the Scriptures tell us that…
We should have no doubt that there will be devastating consequences if we commit adultery.
Let’s look at some proverbs. Big chunks of proverbs are about this subject and the consequences of adultery. I had trouble picking which sections I wanted us to look at. We could have a few sermons just on what the proverbs say about adultery. But let’s just look at a few.
Proverbs 6:24 he speaks of the what the wisdom of the proverbs will do for you if you take it to heart. It will “keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart, Nor let her capture you with her eyelids.” And v26 through the end of the chapter speak of the consequences that await the adulterer. 26 “For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life.” It’s a way of saying the cost of the sin is great. You will be reduced to a loaf of bread. It will cost your precious life. It will cost the love and respect and trust of your spouse. It will cost the happiness of your kids. It will cost the respect of your family and friends. It will cost your reputation, your peace mind, your joy, your sleep, your health. And in case you think “No, not me. I won’t get caught. I can do this without paying for it,” as most who do it think, Solomon says, v27 “Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can a man walk on hot coals And his feet not be scorched? 29 So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished.” It’s as sure as the law of entropy. You step on hot coals, the heat will travel from the coals to your feet. They will be burned. You touch your neighbor’s wife and you will not go unpunished in some way, shape or form. Look down at v32, “The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it. 33 Wounds and disgrace he will find, And his reproach will not be blotted out.” Or his shame and humiliation will not be blotted out. It will haunt him the rest of his life.
Then in chapter 7 Solomon describes what he calls a young man lacking sense because he goes and hangs out in the evening by the house of a loose woman whose husband is away on a long journey. v21, “With her many persuasions she entices him; With her flattering lips she seduces him. 22 Suddenly he follows her As an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, 23 Until an arrow pierces through his liver; As a bird hastens to the snare, So he does not know that it will cost him his life. Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, And pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths. 26 For many are the victims she has cast down, And numerous are all her slain. 27 Her house is the way to Sheol, Descending to the chambers of death.” I don’t think he means that the young man will literally physically die at a young age because of this. I think he’s talking more quality of life. It will cost him his life in the sense that it will ruin his life.
And listen to these Scriptures about those who persist to be adulterers, who are not penitent of it as David came to be. I Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” You can’t make it in the kingdom of God as an adulterer. God won’t let you in. That’s what it says. Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”
Sexual purity should be more important to us than life. There’s a little animal I’ve read about recently, a species of weasel in northern Europe and Canada some places here in the northern United States, called the ermine (ur-men) that has snowy white fur. The most unusual characteristic of this animal is its hatred of anything that might soil its fur. The ermine will do anything to keep its beautiful coat clean. In fact, when hunters find an ermine’s den, they dab the entrance with tar or other filth, then use their dogs to track the animal and chase it back to its den. When the ermine sees the tar and filth, rather than entering its den of safety and soiling its fur, it turns and faces the dogs. Then, while the dogs hold it at bay, the hunters are able to trap it. To the ermine, purity is dearer than life. And it should be to us as well, because fornicators and adulterers God will judge, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those are just the plain statements of God’s word.
Let’s end with just a verse that gives us somewhat of…
A strategy to avoid adultery (II Timothy 2:22)
It tells us to do 3 things.
#1, Flee from youthful lusts.
Flee means run away. Flee means get away from as quickly as possible. It means if a bathing Bathsheba catches your eye, when she comes on the computer screen, on the TV screen, through the window next door, or when there’s somebody of the opposite sex at the office or across the street or in the chat room online that’s more than friendly, you need to think “Grenade!” and run for cover. It means don’t let yourself see, smell, hear, feel stuff that fuels your lust. Run at first sight of temptation.
#2, Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.
In other words don’t be idle, don’t be bored. Get yourself busy in righteous things, in faith building things, in loving things, in peace making things. Get busy in the study of the word, in prayer, in fellowship, in encouraging, in building relationships with the lost, in good deeds, in planning and organizing and preparing things to meet needs you see. Actively give each day to the service of Christ who died for you. And it will help you avoid temptation and you’ll discover the joy of pleasing God and doing something meaningful in your life and the assurance of salvation. And as you grow in joy and peace and a sense of meaning and love, your desire for the other things will become less and less.
#3, Do so with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
Or, “in the company of those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” We teach our kids the importance of the kind of friends they have. We know there are people in whose company it is easy to be bad. And there are people in whose company it is easy to be good. There are people who pull us toward youthful lusts. And there are people who motivate and encourage and help us toward greater righteousness, faith, love and peace. Paul is saying we need regular association and close relationships with genuine Christians, with people who call on the Lord in prayer and praise and have pure hearts. Close relationships with such people makes purity a much easier thing to maintain.
May God help us to see purity and fidelity like He does. May it be dearer to us than life itself. May we flee from the lusts, pursue the things of God and do so with Christian family.
– James Williams