- Always around?
ILLN – Last night Melinda and I sat down to watch one of the latest Hollywood fluffy love comedies – this one was ‘Failure to Launch’. You may have seen it – about some parents who are desparate for their 35-year old son to leave home, so they employ the services of a young lady to help them. Within the first 5 minutes the male star was in bed with his girlfriend, and at one stage in the film the parents are over-joyed when their son announces his intention to move in with his new girlfriend. All up yet another example of Hollywood’s great divorce between sex and marriage.
Adultery and sexual immorality have been around for centuries, and still today are almost always in the media – whether its Bill Clinton, Shane Warne, gang rapes or 6-year old American girls – it is seemingly inescapable.
In the decade of the noughties, in the so-called age of raunch, God’s word shines as a bright beacon in a very dark world. PRAY we might hear it!
- Absolutely awesome gifts
I want so set the scene as we come tonight to look at the 7th Commandment, with 2 principles which arise out of Gen 1-2.
1) the first is that relationships matter to God. In Gen 1:27 God creates man, in the sense of humanity, as male and female. And male and female they enjoy relationship with God, one another and the rest of creation. When Adam and Eve break their relationship with God through sin, the rest of the Bible is the story of how God will restore that relationship – as we know ultimately through the death of his own Son the Lord Jesus Christ. The first principle is relationships matter to God.
2) The second principle which flows out of Gen 1-2 is that within the relationship between a man and a woman sex is a good gift of God. Some people think God is anti-sex – not at all. He designed it. In Gen 1:28 after creating humanity God blesses them and his first command is to be fruitful and increase in number. Now that’s a hard thing to do without sex. And at the end of Gen 2 we read the man and the woman were both naked and felt no shame. Here is the ideal marriage relationship – a perfect, harmonious relationship between a man and a woman of which sex is a part. When God made us he included sexuality as part of our make-up. Christians ought not to be ashamed of sex, it is a great thing - when handled properly. The trouble is that as fallen people, our sinfulness brings an incredible capacity to distort, misuse or abuse every good gift God gives us. Including sex.
Well all that’s by way of introduction.
- Adultery: actions or attitudes?
a) Actions only? (Ex 20)
We move forward to Ex 20:14 and God’s seventh commandment to Israel, to this group of people whom he himself has brought out of slavery in Egypt to freedom now, and the promise of their own land.
How are they to act now as God’s chosen people? The Commandments come to them, based on the very character of God himself, and so set the guidelines for them, in both their relationship to God (Commandments 1-4) and in their relationships with one another (Commandments 6-10). Last week we saw – you shall not take someone’s life; this week do not take their body.
The seventh commandment is very simple isn’t it – you shall not commit adultery. And there are no tricks of meaning here – adultery meant then what it means today – either a married man having sex with a married or engaged woman who is not his wife, or a married woman having sex with a married or engaged man who is not her husband. It didn’t really pick up sex between someone who is married and someone who isn’t – because Deut 22 expects that a woman will remain a virgin until she is married.
It’s an important commandment because it gives a basic framework for social law – it shows God’s ideal for the right structuring of families and society. And it would have been in marked contrast to the promiscuity practiced by other religions of the time.
In Israel’s religion adultery was seen as a serious crime against God, and society, and the individual. And so the penalty for adultery was death – so Lev 20:10 (and in Deut 22:22) – ‘if a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbour – both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.’
Now as we saw last week with murder, this commandment seems to be one many of us have kept. I can stand before you this morning and honestly say that since I have been married I have never had sexual relations with a woman who is not my wife. And for that I thank God. And please pray that it will always be so.
But we can’t leave this commandment only in the realm of our actions. Jesus, as he does so often, cuts to the real issue – that God doesn’t just weigh up our actions, but also our attitudes and our thoughts. We saw that last week, and it is the same this week. Jesus doesn’t narrow the focus of the 10 Commandments, instead he broadens them out really beyond measure.
b) Attitudes also (Matt 5)
So look with me at our 2nd reading – Matt 5:27ff. You have heard it was said – you shall not commit adultery. We’ve heard it this morning. But – v28 – but, I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Whoa! Repeat – anyone, anyone who looks at a woman lustfully, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
ILLN – so when Bill Clinton stood up and said ‘I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman’ and thinks he is therefore blameless, Jesus would say think again.
Picking up another US President – in 1976 Jimmy Carter was interviewed by Playboy magazine. Carter said ‘I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something God recognises I will do – and I have done it – and God forgives me for it.’
It is in this understanding of the Commandment where the rubber hits the road for us – we may be OK in terms of the physical act, I haven’t physically committed adultery – but what about our thoughts, our desires, our hearts. God is interested in our hearts – what is in them. I stand with Jimmy Carter in acknowledging and confessing my guilt. And my guess is that for many of the men here this morning you are likewise guilty. I don’t know enough about ladies to know if they share the same problem – my guess is some do, since we share the same sexual make-up and the same fallen nature.
As we move into the rest of the New Testament, the writers broaden out what God expects in the sexual realm into ‘sexual immorality’ generally.
– in Matt 15:19 Jesus lists some of the things which make us unclean, they include adultery and sexual immorality; so we see straight away that sexual immorality is broader than just adultery.
- in Acts 15:20 & 29 the Council of Jerusalem write to the Gentile Christians asking them to abstain from sexual immorality;
- in Gal 5:19, the first item on Paul lists of the acts of the sinful nature is sexual immorality. It is so serious that in 1 Cor 5:11 Paul urges the Christians in Corinth not even to associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral. Instead in Eph 5:3 he says ‘among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people’, and in v5 ‘no immoral, impure or greedy person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of God.’ So also in 1 Cor 6:9-10 he writes – do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, …(etc, etc) will inherit the kingdom of God.
- and in case you think it is just Paul; well Heb 13:4 says ‘marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.’
- and finally in Rev 21:8 as John has his wonderful vision of the new heavens and the new earth, he hears the voice of Jesus from the throne of heaven say ‘the sexually immoral – their place will be in the lake of burning sulphur.’
Sexual immorality is a deadly serious issue. It was a danger for God’s people in the Old Testament, and perhaps even moreso in the New Testament. You would think we would have learnt from the mistakes of the past. But we haven’t. Sexual immorality remains one of the biggest problems in our society. It causes the denegeration of societies, and the destruction of families and individuals. Even within the church. You don’t need to read the newspapers or watch TV for proof.
But it is one thing to point out the problem. We all know it exists. Many of us are guilty. Is there anything we can do? On the outline I’ve listed a few possible answers and antidotes to adultery and sexual immorality. You may have some more.
- Antidotes and answers to adultery and sexual immorality
a) Prayer – it is a spiritual battle (Eph 6:10-18)
The first key is prayer. Temptation is a spiritual battle. Paul writes in Eph 6 ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’. Satan wants to destroy me, my wife, my family, my ministry, this church. And I am not strong enough to face him alone. He could cut me down in an instant. But Jesus Christ who is in me is stronger than he who is against me. To access his power, that power which can enable me to say ‘no’ to temptation, I need to pray. And you need to pray for me and I for you. Prayer is the final and greatest of our spiritual weapons. Eph 6:18 ‘Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.’
b) Flee immorality (1 Cor 6:18; Rev 21)
Pray. And run away. Paul writes in 1 Cor 6:18 – ‘flee from sexual immorality’. It is such a powerful pressure we need to flee from it. It’s like going near the edge of a high cliff. We so perversely think we can go right up to the edge and look over without falling into sin, but Paul says go the other way. Run away! Don’t put yourself in a position where you know you will be tempted sexually, but work out strategies for running away. Flee immorality.
Flee immorality on your TV - don’t watch those shows where you know you will be tempted to disobey God, whether it’s Big Brother uncut, some SBS movies, video hits, or the soaps like Desperate Housewives, and so many others, which portray such a godless view of sexuality. Turn the TV off rather than channel flick.
Flee immorality in magazines – I don’t buy Inside Sport much as I love sport, because the images of the girls in it are not helpful. And as for Ralph or FHM or all the others, or for ladies Cosmo – they are even worse. Try to find a newsagent or a service station which doesn’t have them in full view as soon as you walk into the shop. Get what you went in for and leave quickly.
Flee immorality on the internet. So much harmful stuff on there – think of the latest outrage over that 11 year old Year 5 boy who had porn on his mobile phone at school. Get some net protection – a mate of mine bought one of the net nanny type products, and asked his wife to put in a password so he wouldn’t be tempted to over-ride it. Don’t think you’re strong enough to avoid it – because my guess is you’re not.
Flee immorality if you‘re not married but going out. Avoid settings where you may be tempted to be promiscuous. Don’t be in the car alone, or in the room alone, and don’t think heavy petting is OK just because it’s not sex. Flee immorality.
c) Change your mind (Rom 12:1-2)
It will mean changing our habits, and changing our mindset. Rom 12:1-2 reads ‘offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Change your mind. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it is right. In fact if everyone else is doing it and they’re not Christians it is probably wrong. You will get mocked and abused. But change your minds about this area of your life. We need to think God’s way, and the Commandments help us understand more of the mind of God.
d) Get married (1 Cor 7:2, 9)
But sexuality is part of us, so if you just can’t control your passions, then get married. So 1 Cor 7:2 – ‘since there is so much immorality each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband’. And v9 - To the unmarried and the widows I say: if they cannot control themselves they should marry, for it is better to marry than burn with passion’. A radical suggestion perhaps, but it may be what you need.
e) Be accountable (Heb 12:16; Eph 6:18; Gal 6:1-2)
And help one another. Heb 12:16 – ‘see that no one is sexually immoral’. One of my friends and I have agreed to ask each other when we meet how it is going for us in this area of sexual sin. Who is a close enough friend that you could be honest with in this area? Ask and pray: for and with one another. Use the prayer diary – pray that each person will not give in to sexual temptation, and that every marriage would be strengthened. Gal 6:1-2 – ‘Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’ If sexual temptation is a problem for you find a good Christian friend, of the same sex, and pray for one another.
f) Take whatever action is needed – even drastic action! (Matt 5:29-30)
Overcoming and avoiding temptation will take drastic action. Jesus makes that clear doesn’t he in the second half of our second reading. ‘if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.’ It is a call to not to self-mutilation. It is a call to take drastic action to save our souls from sin.
g) Remember why you were made and saved (1 Cor 6:13; 1 Thess 4:3-8)
Why? Remember who you belong to. 1 Cor 6:13 ‘the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.’ Sex is a great gift from God but don’t treat it as god. Our bodies were made by God for him and for his glory, not just for our pleasure.
God’s will in 1 Thess 4:3 is this – ‘you should be holy; .. you should avoid sexual immorality; .. each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God.’
In the midst of a world which idolises sexuality, God has given us ways out. Please use them.
- And afterwards …atonement (John 8)
Friends we’ve seen this morning how seriously God takes our sexual sin. I think it is so serious that I changed our normal service programme and put the baptism on last week which would have been this week. The 7th commandment is not just about not committing adultery – it is about being sexually pure, being holy, godly and clean of heart and mind. None of us shape up to that by ourselves. We are guilty.
And whilst we will hopefully try to use the answers and antidotes God gives us, this commandment will continue to remind us, and convict us, of sin.
Which is why we need to hear another ‘a’ word – atonement. When he died on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for my sin, even my sexual sin, even those thoughts no one knows about except me and God.
Let me remind you of the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 –
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
That is Jesus’ call to each one of us – go now and leave your life of sin. We’ve heard this morning much about sin. Maybe you feel particularly guilty or burdened. Then hear too the word of grace - come to Jesus. He offers us forgiveness, he offers to free us from our guilt and burden, he offers us a fresh start no matter what we’ve done or said or thought; whether it be adultery, sexual immorality or otherwise. Jesus offers us all the chance for a clean start, not just once, but over and over again, if we will come to him in repentance and faith. In Him we will find the grace and the love of God. Remember 1 Pe 3:18 – ‘Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.’