The 12th Sunday after Pentecost August 16, 2015
14, 286, 400, 50
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“You shall not commit adultery.”
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know,that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
Ted Turner, the media mogul, reportedly said, “We are living with outdated rules. The rules we’re living under are the Ten Commandments. And I bet nobody even pays much attention to them because they’re too old.”
Turner’s view typifies that of the world—a world which either denies the existence of God, or paints Him as a doting, senile grandfather, who cares nothing about the behavior of His children so long as they “stop by for a visit” on Sunday mornings. Rejecting God and His laws, the world lives by its own set of rules—or lack of them— calling wrong right and right wrong.
Nowhere is this attitude more evident than in the worldly view of marriage, adultery, and sexual immorality. Immorality has existed since the fall into sin and in many perverse forms. Homosexuality was rampant in Sodom, the source of our word “sodomy.” Immorality was prevalent in ancient Rome and Greece. In fact, the city of Corinth was so immoral, that the Greek term corinthiazomai, which means literally, “to Corinthianize,” was synonymous with fornicating.
In our modern age, sexual immorality is not only prevalent, it is proudly flaunted—even marketed as “natural” and “beneficial.” Those who oppose it are labeled as unloving, uncaring, and un-American—the product of too much parental scolding or religious programming.
Today, every conceivable form of filth is available on the internet. Gay rights and gay marriage are paraded through the streets. Traditional marriage is under attack from social progressives and even the U.S. Government. Companies like Ashley Madison advertise adultery on TV: “Life is short. Have an affair.” When asked about the morality of encouraging adultery, the founder of Ashley Madison replied: “Monogamy has never worked in society, and in many respects and in many regards it doesn’t deserve to be upheld as a social value. So we just want to call it as it is. People stray, that’s all there is to it.”
To such a world the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery,” is—as Ted Turner insisted—“outdated” and “old.” Yet, this commandment of God has never been more needed or more relevant.
What is adultery? Our English word adultery is from the Latin word adult-er-ar-e, meaning: “to corrupt.” The Hebrew word used in the Sixth Commandment, na-af, has a similar meaning. It literally means, “to stain with a dye,” and by extension, “to defile.”
So adultery is a staining or defiling of God’s holy institution of marriage. This defilement occurs when a married person has sexual relations with anyone other than his or her spouse.
While the Sixth Commandment refers specifically to unfaithfulness within a marriage, it also forbids sex outside of marriage. Adultery, after all, is a form of sexual immorality. And sexual immorality is condemned throughout Scripture: in Old Testament passages like Deuteronomy 23:17, “There shall be no ritual harlot of the daughters of Israel, or perverted one of the sons of Israel,” and in New Testament passages such as today’s text: But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints.” [v.3]
As with all of God’s commandments, the Sixth Commandment embraces both action and thought. Human nature asserts, “It’s okay for me to look, as long as I don’t touch.” Such logic is often used to justify viewing pornography or sexual flirtations at the office. But according to Scripture, if the looking inspires lusting, it is sin and by no means acceptable to God.
Jesus no doubt shocked His listeners when He said of the Sixth Commandment: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
While the world views immorality as natural—the founder of Ashley Madison says, “People stray, that’s all there is to it.” The Bible describes it as both sinful and destructive.
Clearly, adultery is against God’s will. The Sixth Commandment is His commandment, and any sin against this commandment is first and foremost a sin against God. When seduced by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph responded, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). After repenting of his adultery with Bathsheba, David confessed to God, “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4).
The seriousness with which God views adultery and immorality is evident throughout Scripture. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, at least in part, because of their sexual sins. Under the Mosaic Law, adulterers were executed: “…the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).
While the death-penalty for adultery is not part of the New Testament era, God’s view of marriage, adultery, and immorality has not changed one “jot or tittle.” Hebrews 13:4 says, “…fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” And as Paul states plainly in our text: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” [v.6]
But adultery is also a sin against countless others, especially one’s spouse and family. Such a betrayal of intimate trust—the marriage vow—is difficult to forgive and forget. The long-term cost of a “moment of pleasure” is virtually incalculable when measured in terms of broken hearts, broken homes, and broken families. By destroying families, adultery also undermines the God-ordained building-blocks of human society. Adultery and immorality are also sins against one’s own body. The apostle Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, saying, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Therefore, are adultery and immorality as harmless as society insists? Far from it. Solomon writes in Proverbs 6:32, “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul”—or translated another way, “destroys his own life”—his life, and the lives of many others.
God created us as sexual beings. He intended the gift of sex to be pleasurable, procreative, and reserved for the lifelong commitment of marriage. Within that commitment, sex was to be an intimate expression of the intimacy of marriage—intimacy which Adam immediately recognized in Eden, saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).
Marriage was also intended to be the loving, stable framework for raising children. There is nothing caring, committed, stable, or loving about adultery and sexual immorality. These are selfish, destructive acts. This is why God prohibited them.
“You shall not commit adultery.” No one likes to be told, “no,” especially the old sinful nature. Yet, even at a purely human level, saying, “No,” is paramount to safety. Loving parents tell their children, “No,” to protect them, not to deprive them. If this is true of earthly parents, how much more true of our perfect Father in Heaven?
God did not give the Sixth Commandment to deprive us, but to keep us from hurting ourselves, our spouse, our children, our ‘neighbor,’ and ultimately, society itself.
As Christians, our sincere desire is to please the Lord and obey His commandments. Yet, despite our best intentions, we still sin against the Sixth Commandment, in thought even if not in deed. With the apostle Paul we lament, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not do, that I practice…O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:19, 24).
But we also rejoice and take comfort in the apostle’s answer: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In Him we find the forgiveness of sins. In Him we find the will, motivation, and strength to walk the way of God’s commandments; and, when tempted to commit adultery, to say with Joseph, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
The Sixth Commandment prohibits adultery. But the immeasurable cost of Christ’s sacrifice, even more than the commandment, shows how wrong, how out of godly character, and how utterly ungrateful the acts of adultery and immorality are. This is why our text first speaks of God’s forgiveness in Christ before urging Christians to lead lives worthy of their high calling and the high cost of their redemption. “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints.” [vv. 2-3].
As Luther rightly explained: “We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and each love and honor his spouse.”
Be faithful to your marriage vow;
No lust or impure thoughts allow,
But keep your body free from sin
With self-control, discipline.
Have mercy, Lord! (CW 285:7)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.