The Seventh Commandment: Protect the Marital Relationship
"You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14).
Men and women were designed to be together, to need each other. Marriage, a natural union of a man and a woman, is divinely ordained, established by God at the creation. His laws—in particular the Seventh Commandment—authorize the marriage relationship and establish it as the foundation of the family, which in turn stands as the foundation and most important building block of society.
God told our first parents that "a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). God's instruction clearly established what all future generations were supposed to learn regarding marriage and sex.
As children grow old enough to shoulder the responsibilities of a family and come to love and honor someone of the opposite sex, it is natural and proper for them to marry—be joined together—and create their own family apart from their parents. Only then should they "become one flesh" by physically uniting in a sexual relationship. Jesus makes it clear that God, from the beginning, intended that marriage be a monogamous and permanent relationship (Matthew 19:3-6).
Blessings with risks
God intended that marriage and sex—in that order—exist as tremendous blessings to humanity. Their potential for good is boundless. But the same desires that bring a man and a woman together into a loving, natural relationship—a godly blessing—can pose risks.
Unless the natural desires that attract us to members of the opposite sex are channeled exclusively toward a loving marriage relationship, the temptation to engage in sexual immorality can easily overpower our self-control. This weakness is the focus of the Seventh Commandment: "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14).
Adultery is the violation of the marriage covenant by willful participation in sexual activity with someone other than one's spouse. Since God's law sanctions sexual relationships only within a legitimate marriage, the command not to commit adultery covers, in principle, all varieties of sexual immorality. No sexual relationship of any sort should occur outside of marriage. That is the message of this commandment.
In much of the world sexual immorality is no longer regarded as a significant social evil. God, however, categorically condemns all forms of sexual immorality (Revelation 21:8).
Our need for sexual direction
God gave us the Seventh Commandment to direct and define the sexual roles that bring lasting happiness and stability. Nothing is more desperately needed in this age.
God created sex. It was His idea. Contrary to some long-held opinions, He wants us to enjoy an abundantly pleasurable and stable sexual relationship within marriage. In that context, our sexuality endows us with the capacity to convey our appreciation, tenderness, devotion and love to our mate. It can add immeasurably to our sense of well-being and contentment.
The joy and confidence we derive from a proper marital relationship can positively affect our interaction with others, especially our own children. God wants the marital relationship strengthened and protected.
He tells us in His Word: "Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life, and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:9, New American Standard Bible).
But of adultery God warns: "For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths. His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin" (Proverbs 5:20-22).
Again concerning adultery we are warned: "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:27-29). "Wounds and dishonor he [the adulterer] will get, and his reproach will not be wiped away" (verse 33).
Are these warnings nothing but unenlightened, outdated rhetoric? Don't believe it! Instead, consider the worldwide havoc wreaked by sex outside of marriage.
Consequences of sexual sin
The social and personal harm brought by sexual immorality is so pervasive that it defies our ability to quantify its toll in human suffering. Most people simply refuse to contemplate its staggering consequences.
Two prevailing views stand out. Some people assert their right to do whatever they please: "Nobody is going to tell me what I can do in my personal life." Others rationalize virtually any kind of behavior: "It doesn't matter what I do so long as no one gets hurt." These arguments are used to justify all sorts of sexual behavior, including promiscuity.
Both views ignore a fundamental reality: People do get hurt—badly hurt. Immorality in any form is ultimately destructive. As the proverb says, "whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul" (Proverbs 6:32). Adultery's first casualty is the damage to our mind and character.
Equally damaging is the personal abasement that flows from sexual immorality. It can be denied, but it cannot be avoided. Paul told Christians in the licentiously infamous city of Corinth: "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). These warnings apply equally to men and women because "God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34).
Consider the disastrous effects of the sexual revolution. The explosion in sexually transmissible diseases (STDs) is an international disgrace. STDs account for many of the most commonly reported infectious diseases in the world. AIDS alone takes a frightening toll in lives and suffering and rivals the most deadly epidemics in history. Treatments and medical research for cures are expensive. Ironically, all this is avoidable because these diseases are spread almost exclusively through sexual promiscuity or perverted practices.
The decline in commitment to marriage and family and the resulting decrease in spouses' loyalty and devotion to each other have contributed heavily to the steady increase in extramarital liaisons. A growing segment of our society has adopted the practice of casual live-in relationships. Ours is a throwaway society. Intimate personal relationships are routinely discarded.
Children are the big losers in our fast-track society with its touted sexual revolution. They receive less and less parental guidance. In the United States fathers spend an average of only a few minutes per day in one-on-one contact with each child. Is it any wonder that we see a rapidly expanding subculture of alienated and disaffected children? Society is losing sight of what families are all about.
The cost of broken homes
Broken homes are another staggering cost of the sexual revolution. They, in turn, spawn other social tragedies. A majority of the economically disadvantaged live in one-parent homes. Homes headed by a single parent are a leading factor in the incidence of subsequent criminal activity. Broken homes are the main consequence of sexual immorality and shattered marriages resulting from sexual infidelity.
To this we must add devastating legal fees and decreased productivity and income, not to mention the frequent loss of dwellings and personal property. These factors reduce many people to poverty—particularly single mothers with young children. The problem is compounded when some of these children grow up with inadequate job and social skills and remain wards of the welfare system even as adults.
Divorce makes for even deeper personal problems. Custody fights go on for years. Children become pawns in a tug of war between parents for their love and loyalty. Children's grades suffer; some drop out of school. Teenagers in turn become parents at younger and younger ages.
The psychological cost
Long before a divorce, emotional and psychological damage is often inflicted on the mate and children of the sexually unfaithful. Many are permanently scarred from disillusionment, shame and a loss of a sense of self-worth. In these situations, a home can no longer provide the warmth, comfort and security that builds confidence and hope. Lack of hope contributes to suicides, which after accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. Such tragedies can occur years after the sowing of the seeds of despair.
The psychological cost of betrayal, rejection and abandonment is staggering. The spirit of millions is submerged in anger, depression and bitterness because their trust in one whom they loved—whether mate or parent—has been betrayed. Many of these people are emotionally distorted for life. Some of them seek counseling, but others look for vengeance.
The problems go on and on. Who said no one gets hurt? Adultery and promiscuity are tickets to social disaster. The real cost of sexual immorality is astronomical.
Adultery begins in the mind
The Bible labels humanity's obsession with self-gratification for what it is: lust. "For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:16-17).
Lust is the beginning of adultery and immorality. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery,'" said Jesus Christ. "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).
Contrary to the opinions of most people, sexual fantasies are anything but harmless. Our actions originate in our thoughts, in the desires that float through our minds (James 1:14-15). Daydreams of illicit sexual encounters render us especially vulnerable to the real thing. Make no mistake. Opportunities to sin will come. We need to heed Jesus' warning that adultery begins in the heart.
Not all attraction is lust
It is also important that we do not transfer what Jesus said about lust into a context He never intended. Otherwise our view of legitimate attractions that naturally precede courtship and marriage can become grossly distorted.
Throughout the Bible, God approves the legitimate sexual attraction that promotes proper courtship and marriage. After all, those desires are a part of the mental and emotional makeup He created in men and women. Jesus denounced only sinful thoughts and behavior, not the legitimate desire to marry and build a proper relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Nor did He proscribe the acknowledgment of someone of the opposite sex as attractive. He did, however, condemn lust—mentally savoring of an immoral relationship.
We can control sensual desires by replacing them with an unselfish concern for others. Of course, this kind of love is a gift from God, possible as God's Spirit works in us (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22).
Dealing with sexual sins
Thanks to the prevalence of promiscuity, not many people begin serving God with a clean slate, sexually speaking. For us to have a proper relationship with God, it is important that we correctly understand how God views our past.
We must understand that God is merciful. He takes no pleasure in punishing us for sins. He much prefers to help us turn our lives around. He is eager to share eternal life with us in His Kingdom (Luke 12:32). He rejoices when we repent and obey Him—and begin living by His royal law of love (Ezekiel 33:11; James 2:8).
When the woman was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus, He did not condone her sin. But neither did He condemn her. He simply told her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). David tells us that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). The apostle John explained that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Should we take other steps, then, to alter the course of our behavior? God's Word offers this advice: "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!" (Psalm 119:9-11). People of all ages should heed these words.
Simple regret for what we have done isn't enough. God wants us to diligently study His Word to learn His rules of life. Then, when we sincerely begin turning our lives around, God promises that "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow . . ." (Isaiah 1:18). Genuine repentance followed by the acceptance of the forgiveness of God is an integral part of our spiritual development.
Stability in marriage
Companionship is one of the greatest blessings we can gain from a stable and loving marriage. God recognized this when he created us. "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him'" (Genesis 2:18).
"Two are better than one, for their partnership yields this advantage: if one falls, the other can help his companion up again; but woe betide the solitary person who when down has no partner to help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, REB).
Most of us need the support and companionship of a loving spouse. We need someone special who can share our ups and downs, triumphs and failures. No one can fill this role like a mate who shares with us a deep love and commitment.
Society suffers because we have lost the vision that God had for marriage from the beginning. Marriage is not a requirement for success in pleasing God. But it is tremendous blessing to couples who treat each other as God intended. Most people desire and need the benefits that come from a stable marriage.
To return to what God intended, we must give marriage the respect it deserves. We must faithfully obey our Creator's commandment "You shall not commit adultery."
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