Summary: Our sexuality is a good gift from God, to be treasured, protected and enjoyed in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
Most people in our culture today don’t often associate the word "God" with the word "sex". In fact, for most people, the only thing they think they know about God and sex is that God is against it. Often Christians are thought to be hung up about sex, accused of viewing the human body as dirty and human sexuality as shameful. Words like "repressed," "Victorian," and "prude" are the words that our culture uses when they think about the Bible’s view of sex.
Most people don’t know that this is closer to the ancient Greek view of sex popularized by the philosopher Plato centuries before Jesus was ever born. So there’s been a bit of confusion between the ancient Greek view of sexuality and the Christian view of sexuality.
And we Christians have often just encouraged the confusion. Most followers of Jesus today don’t talk about sexuality with nearly as much openness and honesty as the Bible itself does. Often our own confusion and struggles in this area has led us to reinforce the stereotype our culture has about Christians and sex.
But if Christians have sometimes been slow to address sexuality, our culture seems to obsessed with it. Of course, this is nothing particularly new, because human history is filled with examples of sexual indulgence. From the child molestation that swept through ancient Greece to the temple prostitution in the ancient Near East, from the orgies of the Roman empire to the American sexual revolution of the 1960s, every generation has struggled to control and understand sexuality. Today our media portrays most sexual behavior as harmless and morally neutral so long as it occurs between two consenting adults and doesn’t hurt anyone. Sex is used to sell everything from toothpaste to sportscars, a membership at the gym to a Caribbean cruise. People turn to sex to find excitement, fulfillment, spirituality, intimacy, adventure, and a host of other reasons. Our magazines seem obsessed to find the perfect sexual experience, and millions of Americans watch as people disclose their deepest, darkest sexual secrets on daytime TV.
So with all this sexual confusion, it seems that a discussion of the seventh commandment--God’s commandment against adultery--is particularly relevant. We’ve been in a series through the 10 commandments called LANDMARKS FOR A NEW MILLENNIUM. Today as we look at the seventh commandment we’re going to try to answer four questions. First, what does the seventh commandment actually address? Second, why is adultery wrong? Third, what leads people to adultery? And finally, how can we follow Jesus in an adulterous culture?
1. What Does the Seventh Commandment Address?
Let’s begin by looking at the seventh commandment together: "You shall not commit adultery" (Deu 5:18 NIV).
Now at first this commandment seems is pretty clear. After all, we all know what adultery is...right? Usually this word describes married people having sex with people other than their spouse; that’s it’s normal meaning (Tigay 71). But this same word can also refer to other kinds of immoral sexual conduct (NIDOTTE 3:2). So before we jump to conclusions, let’s let the rest of the book of Deuteronomy tell us what the seventh commandment is addressing.
I’ve mentioned before that the heart of the book of Deuteronomy--chapters 12 to 26--is an explanation of how the 10 commandments apply in the nation of Israel. We find specific case laws applying the seventh commandment in chapters 22-25, and you don’t have to turn there, but let me just describe some of the areas Moses applied the seventh commandment to. Of course, we find in-depth explanation of literal adultery: How to investigate it, and what to do if a person is found to have committed adultery (22:22). But a close reading of this section also reveals that pre-marital sex, prostitution, rape and incest are also forbidden on the basis of the seventh commandment. So this leads me to think that the seventh commandment covers more than just literal adultery.
So what does the seventh commandment address? THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT FORBIDS ALL VIOLATIONS OF GOD’S BOUNDARIES FOR OUR SEXUALITY.
This is evident from how the seventh commandment is applied in the law of Moses. This is also how the Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin understood the seventh commandment as well (Willimon and Hauerwas 94).
We find "no trespassing" signs throughout the Bible around various kinds of sexual activity. These "no trespassing" signs warn us that by stepping over these sexual boundaries we’ll short-circuit our relationship with God, undermine our relationships with those around us, and ultimately destroy ourselves in the process. So these "no trespassing" signs are for our own welfare, an expression of God’s love toward us.
Now what are some of these boundaries God has set up? An obvious boundary is literal adultery. Literal adultery is whenever a married person engages in any sort of sexual activity with a person other than his or her spouse. Next to the sin of idolatry--which is a violation of the first commandment--no other sin is as condemned more in the Bible than the sin of adultery. A University of Chicago study in 1996 found that 23% of married men and 15% of married women have committed adultery. Now the vast majority of Americans believe adultery is morally wrong. In fact, more people today believe adultery is morally wrong than twenty years ago. In 1977 75% of Americans said they thought adultery was morally wrong, but in 1997 that number was up to 86% (Handy). Yet our culture still glorifies adulterous relationships in popular movies like "The English Patient" and "The Bridges of Madison County."