As you turn our Bible passage, I think it would helpful to say something about the Ten Commandments as a whole. One of the criticisms that some people have about these commandments is that there are, they believe, worse things that someone could do than what is mentioned in the Ten Commandments. For example, many believe that forms of sexual assault are more grievous than adultery. Or they assert that not taking a day off is not nearly as much of a sin as abusing your wife and children.
And, if the good Lord left me to rank sins, I would probably have to agree with them about how they are ranked.
The thing is though, if we are looking at the Ten Commandments, we are not looking at the Top Ten worst sins. What are looking at, when we look at the Ten Commandments are commands that are basic in our life together. Instead of being exceptional or extreme, they are foundational and spiritually formational.
The Ten Commandments lay some basic stakes and build some basic fences. They create some basic moral boundaries for the people of God that lay the foundation for what they are about, who they are, and who they are called to be. Anyway…to our passage we are studying. God’s word says this.
1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3“You shall have no other gods before Me.
4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
8“ Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
12“ Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
13“You shall not murder.
14“You shall not commit adultery.
15“You shall not steal.
16“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Judge Roy Moore of Etowah, County Alabama was sued by the ACLU and the Alabama Free Thought Association in 1995 for displaying the Ten Commandments on the Courtroom wall. A Montgomery County judge ruled that the judge must take down the display from his wall. The Supreme Court then issued a stay of that removal, and then the Governor issued a decree that the Ten Commandments would be able to stay up, and would be defended by the National Guard of Alabama if necessary.
At the same time one person wisely uttered, “Don’t worry about the Alabama legislature hanging up that display of the Ten Commandments there. Until they figure out a way to do something about that thing about adultery, those senators and representatives will want to keep those commandments in court, and as far away from them as possible.”
I have a pastor friend who used to go around telling a joke that never really took off. He said he had found proof that God must be a female. He would receive odd looks. “How did you do that?” someone would ask.
Because the Bible says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” he would respond. Half the people would moan. The other half would raise a scolding eyebrow and shake their heads, and then the conversation would awkwardly transition to the next subject.
The truth is, that although the command, “You shall not commit adultery” is pretty straight forward, it is not heeded as often most of us would hope it would be. Studies and surveys are all over the place, but the most reliable research tells us that somewhere around a little over 1/3 of men commit adultery at one point in their lives, and somewhere near 1/4 of women do the same. Which is not so many people that transgressors can say, “Everyone else is doing it”, but enough people that most of us might be alarmed.
There are a lot of people who seem to view marriages in our society like working their way through a baseball farm system. You know, you start with some minor league mate, then after a few years you find a way to marry up from single A to Triple A. Then eventually, the plan is with these people, to hit the big leagues with someone who is hot, kind, and well-financed, and stay with them for as long as you can last.
Martin Luther said with the previous commandment—thou shalt not kill—we are commanded to learn how to live next to our neighbor. With this command we are commanded to learn how to live with the one that lies next to us in bed. (That Luther was a pretty witty and earthy fellow)
The truth is, marriage is not an easy calling. It is difficult to commit your life to someone, to raise children with them, to share—your finances, your heart, your future, your life, and your bed with someone. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of God’s grace to have a strong, faithful marriage.
I think a lot of people struggle with marriage, and being faithful within the context of marriage because they do not understand these truths: that marriage is not easy, and that marriage is a life’s calling given to us by God.
Marriage is not easy. And it is not always the big things that will drive you apart. Sometimes it is the little things that will just drive you nutty. For my wife, I am sure there are many of these things that she puts up with by suffering silently. But, when she has the baby bundled up and is ready to head out the door and I cannot find my keys or my wallet, I know it tries her patience. And as I have shared with some of you, when I drop ice on the floor and she steps on that piece of ice 20 minutes later because I did not pick it up I can hear her groan from the living room.
Marriage is not easy, for the most part, though, because it forces us to be less and less selfish. In other words, a good marriage forces us to grow as people in ways that we might not be willing to do otherwise. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to God’s Word, in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.
21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body,[b] of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Submitting is not easy! It means to surrender your wants and desires for the betterment and benefit of another. Submitting means choosing not to get what you want. And the Scripture says husbands and wives are to submit to one another. It goes on say that husband ought to give of himself for his wife in the same way Christ gave of himself for the church. That means self-sacrifically. And truly honoring and respecting one’s husband is not easy work—especially when it means you often need to do the thankless things to support your family that nobody ever appreciates.
You see, when we don’t remember that marriage is work, and it is difficult at times, then what we do is have this worldview that marriage is about making ME happy, ME being fulfilled, ME feeling good, ME getting the life that I want. We read romance novels or watch movies that promise happily ever after, and when we don’t experience our “ideal” relationship in marriage we look outside our marriage to fulfill our relational and emotional needs as well as our physical urges.
Let’s face it. There are times when most of us guys get tunnel vision. And we get involved in all our work and our little projects. And our wives can talk about their concerns over and over again, and we can just blow them off. And then you gals can easily get to the point where you feel alone and taken for granted. If you haven’t found ways to do the hard work that marriage requires at these times, it can be easy to be tempted to stray to someone who treats you like you are special and gives you attention.
And let’s face it. Those honeymoon years where you can lie in bed together all day can quickly move into times in our marriage when we have to try fit in our moments of marital bliss into narrow windows of time when we are not working, the children are asleep or out of the house, the dog isn’t barking at the bedroom door, and company has not dropped by. Even then, when you are more likely to smell like diaper cream than Chanel No. 5, and you still have breathe that smells like Ruffles and onion dip, that it can be tempting to have a wandering eye, and to forget that marriage takes effort, and things won’t be like this forever.
And it is being faithful to one another in moments like these and others like them, that we grow up. It is in this kind of life together with a person we have made promises to that we learn what it is like to be faithful, and to have someone be faithful to us. We learn what it is like to see ourselves with our many faults and shortcomings, and then look next to us and see someone who continues to love and care for us in spite of them. And we can look next to us and see someone who we have grown up with and grown old with, and know that you may not have gotten rich or done anything extraordinary, but you have created something beautiful simply by staying with one another, raising kids together, sharing life together, and truly becoming the “one flesh” that the Bible describes marriage as.
And when you commit adultery, you scar that beauty, that sense of safety, that experience of unconditional acceptance and love by chasing after some idealized experience that leads nowhere. What you do when you commit adultery is you begin to treat people in your life as objects to be used instead of gifts to be treasured. You become a taker instead of a giver. You become a human parasite, sucking the life out of everyone around you to feed your unrestrained appetites, and destroying their happiness and joy and your soul in the process.
And I am going to be as blunt as I can, so that there is no doubt about what I am saying. Don’t be deceived into believing that your sin will just be between you, your spouse, and whoever that person is you have on the side. You’re unfaithfulness to your marriage will affect your children’s ability to be happy and maintain healthy relationships when they are older. It will affect their sense of confidence and security in the world around them. Your hopping into someone else’s arms and someone else’s bed will affect the ability of coworkers and friends to trust you and respect you—whether you notice it or not. And it will ultimately make those issues that you are trying to escape from by going outside your marriage bigger problems and harder to deal with. Adultery is more destructive that most of us ever anticipate.
Yes marriage takes work. But marriage is also a call from God. The passage in Ephesians said that marriage mysteriously teaches us about the relationship of Christ and the church.
Here is what part of this is saying. One of the concepts that the Bible teaches us about is covenant. A covenant is a promise between two or more parties, designed to be a blessing to all parties involved. The Bible talks about God making covenants with humanity. It describes him being faithful to the covenant he made. He keeps his promises. It is for that reason we can trust Him. We can trust Him with our lives and our eternities because he keeps his promises and he is faithful.
Marriage is a promise between a man, a woman, and God where we make a covenant. And this covenant mirrors God’s covenant with humanity, and his faithfulness to those who have put their trust in Him. As we remain true to the covenant, both by doing the work marriage entails (by truly loving and giving to and respecting one another), and by avoiding unfaithfulness, we give witness to the faithfulness of God who brought us together.
You have seen it. You have seen that couple that has been married faithfully for 50 years. They are in a church basement or the senior center. People are standing up to celebrate them and their marriage as they sit at a table. Underneath the table cloth they are holding hands. They look at each other and smile. You notice that the longer that they are together, they more they look like they have always just belonged together. They have given one another the covenant love that they promised, and God’s covenant love has went with them. Someone stands up and says, “It is rare to see a marriage last this long these days”. People nod and smile. They know that this faithful marriage has been blessed by God’s grace. The couple has blessed many in the room in ways they have not even begun to imagine. They have been a blessing because they have been faithful to their promise. They have been faithful to their call from God to be a faithful husband and wife, and it has made all the difference.
And somehow, when you think about that faithfulness, you are struck by its beauty. And it is in those moments you are to remember that they did not learn about that self-sacrificing, beautiful, faithful love from the world. They learned about it from a man who lived a perfect life and was crucified in order to remain faithful to his promise to love and redeem sinners like you and like me. And that love and truth seems to make perfect sense all over again.