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© Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pa 1983. Revised by the author 2001

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VIS-À-VIS ADULTERY

Jesus called the society in which he lived an "adulterous and sinful generation" (Mark 8:38 KJV). What words do you think he would use to describe ours?

Soap operasSoap operas may not mirror what is happening in real life, but they do at least demonstrate what people in real life find to be entertaining. Entertainment reflects and is one of the factors that forms public attitudes. The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications reported the results of a survey of the sexual behavior portrayed in popular soap operas. Forty-nine percent of the intercourse was between unmarried lovers. Twenty-nine percent involved strangers, and six percent involved a married couple. "Given the growing viewership of these series and the audience composition," the report concluded, "soap operas are potentially a major force in the transmission of values and lifestyle and sexual information to youthful viewers."

Some have given up the battle for moral standards. They have thrown in the towel and called it quits. Ann Landers who has given more advice to more people than any clergy said, "As for standards of morality, I'm sorry to say, forget it. That train left a long time ago." (LA Times, 7/12/91) Dr. Ruth Westheimer, renowned sex therapist, said on the NBC Today Show (7/5/88), "Previous generations didn't talk about sex; our generation doesn't talk about morality."

Ours is an adulterous and sinful generation. I wish I could say that refers only to the pagans of our society. Even Christians are caught up in the moral climate. Instead of being thermostats they are thermometers. Instead of changing their moral environment they reflect the attitudes of a decadent culture. The Christians' starting point is not supposed to be the Gallup poll but the timeless Word of God, who declared on Mt. Sinai and throughout the Bible, "Do not commit adultery."

Adultery Adulterates
Why should people refrain from adultery? Because God said so! And he said so for several obvious reasons. First of all, adultery adulterates. Sex is essentially pure. It is part of the creation that God pronounced good. But precisely because it is pure, it must be protected from adulteration. We need God's pure sex law for the same reason we need pure food and drug laws. The laws protect us from contaminants that would destroy our health and happiness. The Bible is not against sex. To the contrary, it values sex enough to rescue it from adulteration.

The first commandment (worship the right God) made it clear that it is the good things in life that are most easily turned into idols. We are tempted to give them the kind of devotion that belongs only to God. To worship Aphrodite, i.e. sexual sensation, diminishes rather than increases sexual pleasure. The Hollywood marriage-go-round is a public demonstration that sexual promiscuity kills marital happiness. Rev. Glynn "Scotty" Wolfe held the Guinness Book of Records title as the most married man in the world. After 29 marriages, he died alone at the age of 88 in a Redlands nursing home. For two weeks nobody stepped forward to claim the body. The loneliness of Scotty Wolfe pictures the failure of many others who cannot make and keep a long-term relationship. The world isn't ready to return to strict Puritanism, but it cannot long survive the modern mud hole that makes sex a pastime, women mere playthings, and morality a joke.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the presence of love that makes sex chaste nor the absence of love that makes it sinful. The distinction between adultery and chastity does not depend upon one's state of feeling at the moment. The sex act, like other acts, is justified by far more definable criteria: by keeping promises, by charity, by obedience. When these criteria are met, the sexual union becomes total commitment.

Moses declared and Jesus confirmed that in the act of marriage, "the two will become one" (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:16). Marriage is not just a union but a profound reunion. The point of the story about the woman being made from Adam's rib is that Adam's unity, which was divided in the creation of Eve, was restored in marriage. The marital reunion prefigures another kind of reunion — the soul's reunion with God — and requires a level of self-surrender second only to surrender to God (Ephesians 5:28-33). When marital union is only partial, sex is hardly worth having at all — a momentary pleasure and a permanent loneliness.

There are many ways to adulterate sex. The Bible's pure sex law specifies a number of practices that are not safe and effective. On its list of forbidden practices are premarital intercourse (Deuteronomy 22:13-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9, KJV: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, KJV), extramarital intercourse (Proverbs 2:16-19; 5:15-22; 30:20), incest (Leviticus 18:6-18), sodomy (Leviticus 20:15-16) prostitution (Proverbs 6:24-33 KJV; 7:6-27), rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-29), and divorce (Mark 10:2-12). These are sexual practices that are so obviously destructive of the welfare of society and individuals that they are forbidden even by governments like the People's Republic of China, which has no belief in Moses or Jesus.

God does not bid and forbid just to be bossy. Out of compassion for people, God warns of the dangers of adulterated sex. People cannot improve their sex life by these forbidden practices. They will only destroy something precious.

God wants to set people free to enjoy sex to its fullest. One entire book in the Bible was written to celebrate the joys of romantic love. Do you suppose there is any significance in its initials? S.O.S.! In spite of all the modern books and information, people’s love life is crying for help more now than ever before. Answering that plea are the Song of Solomon and the Ten Commandments. By defining the limits of sexual behavior, God protects sex from adulteration.

Adultery Fascinates
Jesus redefined the ancient law of Moses: "You have heard it was said, `Do not commit adultery.' But now I tell you: don't worry, be happy!" Is that what your Bible says? No! Jesus said, "Anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her is guilty of committing adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus condemned not only the act of murder but also the anger that causes it. Likewise, he condemned not only the act of adultery but also the mental fascination that motivates it.

So long has this generation suffered "sexploitation" that it has lost the ability to distinguish clearly between lust and love. Lechery is pictured on a wide screen with violins playing. People call it love, but it is not. The difference is found in the pronouns. Lust wants it, sex, the thing itself. Love wants him or her, the beloved. The thing is a sensory pleasure that occurs within one's own body. It is often said that a lustful man wants a woman. But that's not what he really wants. What he wants is pleasure for which a woman happens to be a convenient piece of apparatus. Lust is what makes one want sex even when one has no desire to be with the other. Love is what makes one want to be with the other even when one has no desire for sex.

Moses said, "Don't do it." Jesus said, "Don't even think about doing it." Now to be perfectly honest, or 97 percent thereof, most people haven’t come as far as Moses, much less as far as Jesus. Many have broken the Seventh Commandment in deed as well as thought. The important thing to note here is that God looks upon all as sinners. Jesus says to self-righteous prudes, "Before you condemn the adulterer, look to your own heart." If thoughts could be read faces would be redder!

The secular press had a lot of laughs a few years ago about President Carter's confession that he had committed adultery in his heart. The fact was, of course, that he spoke the truth, not only about himself but also all of us. The difference was that President Carter was human enough to admit it. Are we?

Since we are all adulterers in thought, if not also in deed, what then shall we do about it? Jesus offers some very practical advice in strong metaphorical terms:

"If your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you sin, cut it off and throw it away! It much better for you to lose one of your limbs than to have your whole body go off to hell" (Matthew 5:29-30).

Jesus' advice is meant to be taken seriously but not literally. Most people can see as much with the left eye as with the right and do as much with the left hand as with the right. The sin is not found in the eye or hand but in the heart. Jesus and good sense demand that people eliminate anything that causes them to stumble.

Jesus principle does not impose a uniform code of behavior on everyone. What causes one person to sin may not cause another person to sin. In December 1975 Israel's chief rabbi, Oavdiah Yosef, declared that Orthodox Jewish men could listen to a woman singing on the radio but only if they did not know her personally. "According to some religious authorities, a woman's voice can turn one's thoughts away from the spiritual… But if a man has never met the singer, there is little danger of his being seduced." No arguments about that! But don't laugh so hard that you lose the point. Few Christians would go to such extremes to avoid an adulterous relationship, but all Christians need to know their limits. Every Christian is responsible for himself or herself. If something causes you to sin, get rid of it. But remember this is do-it-yourself surgery. Nobody has the right to amputate a brother's or sister's hand or eye.

Late one night a pastor got a phone call from one of his parishioners who asked, "Will God forgive a person for committing adultery?" The pastor's answer was, "That depends. Did you, or are you about to?"

Adultery in act or thought is a sin which no child of God would deliberately commit, but it is not the unpardonable sin. King David, the Samaritan woman, and the woman taken in the act of adultery broke the Seventh Commandment but were forgiven and restored to holy living. No matter what you have done, no matter how guilty you feel, you can confess it right now and hear Jesus say, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11, KJV). You can start all over again with a sex life that is as pure and unadulterated as Jesus himself.

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