The Command to Love Marriage
Last week we concluded our study of the sixth commandment by discussing just war. Just war is really just a part or portion of a much larger war going on over who will be the King of the universe. It is a battle for the hearts and souls of men. And one of the front lines in this war runs, not through the cities of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, not through the halls of power in Washington or Beijing or Moscow or London, but through each and every home, right through the bedroom. You would have to be a hermit not to know that human sexuality is close to the eye of the storm in the “culture wars” going on in the world right now.
There is a deep reason for this. God created us as male and female, and the way we use our ‘maleness’ and our ‘femaleness’ is an expression of our deepest religious commitments. Peter Kreeft has said that “sex is the effective religion of our culture.” That is on the right track, but I would argue that it goes deeper than that. Sex, as our culture expresses it, is actually an expression of our paganism. The reason that there has been a volcanic eruption of degraded sexuality in the past couple generations in our country is because we have effectively embraced paganism as our socially controlling religion. When I say paganism, I mean any religion which takes a part of this universe as what is ultimate (e.g. Darwinian evolution). There have been quite a variety of pagan religions over the course of human history, but for our purposes today I simply want to draw attention to the fact that pagan religions always involve a distortion of human sexuality. Biblical religion stands in stark contrast to this, denying all sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage, while at the same time showing the goodness of the one flesh relationship in marriage.
The Bible was written in a world setting that was very aware of pagan sexuality. The Israelites who heard Moses preach this command were about to enter Canaan. The Canaanites at this time were horribly debased. Their worship even included ritual prostitution. In NT times, Corinth, for example, was famous for its immorality. What we see in our society today is not something new. It is actually the same old paganism. So what we are seeing is an attack on God and his rightful rule over his universe. Satan is viciously attacking the sanctity of the marriage relationship in order to attack God. The fifth commandment protected God’s authority structure, the sixth commandment protected God’s image, and the seventh commandment protects the very seedbed of God’s plan for humanity.
So as I post this today, I truly desire that we would get a vision for the glory of God reflected in the way he has ordained the holy estate of matrimony. We desperately need to see this in these days. I post this message for the young man and young woman who want to be pure and holy and without regret as they gaze down the isle at one another on their wedding day. I post this message for the children who need to grow up understanding what it means to be a man and a woman and what a wonderful thing that is in the context of a godly marriage. I post this for the woman or man who has been caught in adultery, who has taken fire into his own bosom and has been horribly burned. I post this for the man or woman who has been affected by adultery and has felt the sting of the whip of infidelity lacerating his heart. I post this message so that Christians will show the world the beauty of holiness in the happiness of married love. Ultimately, I post this message to point all of us to the ultimate husband, our Savior Jesus Christ, so that we would know him and be a part of the bride that he is purifying for himself. Marriage, the way God designed it, is a wonderful way to bring honor to God and to accomplish his purposes in the world.
I’m going to approach this commandment very simply. I want to show what it prohibits, what it commands (pointing us to the true nature of marriage), and how it points us to Christ.
What Is Prohibited
Adultery. Specifically, adultery in Scripture is having a relationship with another person’s spouse. It applies equally to either a husband or a wife. Jay Adams helpful defines adultery as having a physical relationship with anyone other than the one with whom you ought to have a relationship. You see, marriage is an exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman. There are specific rights and responsibilities that define the relationship. No one else may trespass on the marriage property and steal what rightly belongs only to the one man and the one woman who are married.
It is important that we understand here that this prohibition extends beyond just the physical act itself, all the way back to the thoughts that precede the act. Jesus condemned the kind of thinking that leads to adultery in Matthew 5:27-28. We must remain pure in our thinking about those who are not our spouse. Thus, I believe the seventh commandment radically eliminates all the things our society justifies as “not actually adultery” but which lead us to think toward adultery. Pornography is a huge problem today. In fact, we live in a society which has so given itself up to sensuality (Eph 4:19) that much of the portrayal of sensuality is not even called pornography. But as Christians, whatever arouses lustful thoughts in our minds must be put away! Flee immorality (like Joseph, unlike David)! Renew your minds. Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and attack sin at its root. While you cannot eliminate all encounters with seductive or immoral material, you must be very careful to set a guard over your heart and never allow any door to your mind to be open to the devil’s enticements.
Watch out for the entertainment industry in this way, including books, movies, music, and games. They love to throw out teasers which say seductively to your mind, “Come this way.” But make no mistake – these are the smooth words of the adulteress whose steps follow the path to Sheol. Watch out for the music of our day. If you took away “sexiness” from the pop music industry, you wouldn’t have much left. “…Parents [of the 1950’s] made no mistake in identifying the subversive sexual charge in the music. Although it was criticized, softened, and censored in the service of the status quo, rock ’n’ roll was pivotal in a reassessment of sexual attitudes and behavior that only seemed to spring out of nowhere in the 1960s” (Glenn C. Altschuler, All Shook Up [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], 68). “In all its many phases and styles, modern pop music’s enduring message, conveyed by the aphrodisiac of a pulsing bass beat, was as simple as it was subversive: surrender to the pleasures of the body” (Brink Lindsey, The Age of Abundance [New York: HarperCollins, 2007], 188). The same applies to much of “country-western” music. There isn’t much country or western about it these days. The music didn’t come from the West, and the performers don’t sing about fixing fence, cattle drives, and the hardships of drought. Now, this is not a message on all the ins and outs of music, but I’m saying that if we want to flee immorality, we have got to cut it out of our thinking.
Impurity. What I have written so far helps us to understand that the 7th commandment is ultimately concerned about purity. It is not merely about not taking what rightfully belongs to another (which is dealt with by the 8th commandment). It is intended to guard the purity of the home and the marriage relationship. We will cover this more later, but remember Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Marriage is to be an honorable, pure institution.
When we understand that the 7th commandment is prohibiting impurity, we can see why Christians have historically understood that it has implications for more than just adultery per se. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) says this: Question 108: What does the seventh commandment teach us? Answer: That all uncleanness is accursed of God: and that therefore we must with all our hearts detest the same, and live chastely and temperately, whether in holy wedlock, or in single life. Question 109. Does God forbid in this commandment, only adultery, and such like gross sins? Answer: Since both our body and soul are temples of the holy Ghost, he commands us to preserve them pure and holy: therefore he forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever can entice men thereto.
When God gave the law to Moses, he specifically dealt with all these unchaste actions. We need not go into detail here. You can read it in your Bibles. But let me just state that God is excruciatingly clear that all forms of sexual activity outside the bounds of heterosexual marriage are sinful. Having lustful thoughts toward anyone who is not your spouse is wrong. Arousing lustful thoughts toward yourself, through dress, talk, touching, and so on, in anyone who is not your spouse is wrong. That’s the Bible standard – no sexual thoughts, desires, and actions outside of marriage.
This flies in the face of what is publicly accepted in our day. The contemporary dating scene is many times fornication looking for a place to happen. Governing authorities are extending marriage benefits to “domestic partnerships” and the homosexual agenda grows stronger. Over 1/3 of the children born in the US today are born out of wedlock. We are a nation that is completely in the gutter when it comes to the seventh commandment.
What should we do? In a society so obsessed with impurity, how can a Christian live purely? What should Christian living look like? We will deal with that next time – the positive implications of this commandment.
But right now, we need to deal squarely with sin. What about your thought-life? What about the way you interact with people of the opposite sex? I’m not saying that we have a huge problem with this in our church. But I am warning you about this because the world is throwing it in your face at every possible opportunity, and you must not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your minds. The world makes it look glamorous, daring, exciting, or even normal. The world often treats a lifelong commitment to marriage as bondage or as boring. However, the world doesn’t like to dwell on the lives wrecked through marriage break-ups, the pain of betrayal, the depression, the rise in crime where marriage has crumbled as a social institution, and so on. Most of all, the world doesn’t want to admit that whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.