March 5, 2022 - 7th Commandment

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Today we’re going to talk about the 7th Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” A lot of people get the wrong idea when we talk about sex. They think the Bible teaches that sex is dirty or bad. Here’s the truth, if you hear nothing else from what I say today: Sex is wonderful, and God wants to keep it that way.


God is not the cosmic killjoy. Sex is an essential part of God’s good creation. God has timeless wisdom on this subject, to bring us joy and to help us avoid needless heartache. Nobody listening to me today needs to kick themselves for mistakes they may have made in the past. What we want to focus on today is what God says is best for us, and why.


The 7th Commandment applies specifically to the violation of marriage vows. The NT expands this command to forbid all sex outside of a loving, committed marriage between a man and a woman. I devote an entire chapter of my book What’s on God’s Sin List for Today? to say more about this; we also talked about this on our May 9th broadcast last year on the “Biblical Sexual Ethic.” You can also search online for “Hobson God’s Sex Mandate.” God’s consistent teaching on sex, found in Genesis, Jesus, and Paul, is: “The 2 [a man and a woman] shall become one flesh.” God rules out any form of sex that is not a lifelong union of a man and a woman.


God’s advice on this subject is rooted in the very heart and character of God. Why should we keep love pure? Because God is pure. God’s love is free from all that would contaminate God’s love for us. Another way to say it is that God is faithful. God will never betray us or cheat on us. God will never abandon us for someone else.


Another reason why we should keep love pure is because God has declared, “The 2 shall become one flesh.” God made sex to unite 2 lives, not for an expression of temporary passion. God made sex to join a man and a woman into an enduring one-flesh relationship. Any other way we use it violates the manufacturer’s manual.


Sex is like fire. Fire is wonderful. We depend on fire to keep us warm and well-fed. Fire can be beautiful. But fire becomes far from wonderful when it is used in the wrong place, like the sofa or dinner table. God tells us to keep love’s fire in the fireplace where it belongs.


The world around us preaches sexual freedom. Some people argue that we humans are supposedly designed to need multiple partners, that we are supposedly designed to outgrow relationships and exchange them for new ones. But for some strange reason, even folks who don’t mind sex without rules get surprisingly upset about unfaithfulness. We see it on shows like the old “Temptation Island.” We see people who don’t mind fooling around or moving in together, who get mad when their partner cheats on them. Why should they object? Why do they think it’s OK to sleep around, but not to be unfaithful?


Why does infidelity provoke such intense negative responses? Why didn’t so-called “open marriage” work back in the 1970’s? Why didn’t spouse-swapping work? Was it just lack of emotional maturity? Is faithfulness just a crutch for insecure people? I believe the answer is much deeper. I believe jealousy proves that sex is a lot more than simply sharing an ice cream cone with a friend. It is far more personal. It is far more powerful. Sex reaches down into the deepest parts of our souls. I believe that God created us to crave secure intimacy. To violate that intimacy produces explosive results. Hollywood tries to glamorize adultery. They often don’t show you the down side. The truth is that unfaithfulness causes pain: broken trust, shattered self-esteem. Everybody loses. God wants to protect us from that pain.


Why do spouses cheat on each other? The primary reason is not biological. It is not our hormones. The #1 reason for infidelity among both men and women is ego needs. Both sexes are equally vulnerable to this consuming desire to be admired and wanted as an object of romance. In Proverbs 7, we find the tale of the clueless young man at Two-Time Square who gets seduced by a fatal attraction to a Desperate Housewife. What is it that weakens the young man to the point where he snaps and gives in to the woman? It says, “He could not refuse her flattery.” Her words made him feel like a man.


We all have desires we know it is wrong to fulfill, or at least, we know there are better ways to fulfill them. It is natural for counselors and counselees to be attracted to one another, but we dare not put those desires into action. Same-sex desire seems to be rooted in an unmet need for love from one’s own gender, a need for which sex is not the answer.


We are all attracted to what we find lacking in ourselves. That’s what happens in both opposite-sex attraction and same-sex attraction. Our needs may be real, but what is the best way to meet those needs? What people with same-sex desire need from us is LOVE, a love for which sex is a poor substitute. They need a love that can truly meet the unmet needs of their hearts.


Most unfaithful spouses don’t go looking for sex. They’re looking for love. They’re looking for self-esteem. But in the vast majority of cases, they find nothing but an empty, fleeting sexual thrill. When we hear a struggling spouse say, “I’ve found someone at work I can really talk to,” we know they are a statistic waiting to happen. That’s why if you want to keep a spouse faithful, it’s not their morals you need to worry about, it’s their morale. Unfaithfulness is usually not a cause but a result of marital failure. The quality of your overall relationship will determine how healthy your love life is going to be.


Josh McDowell says that our most powerful sex organ is: our mind. He says, “No one has invented a condom for the mind.” No one has invented a device to protect the mind from the pain of premarital or extramarital relationships. And furthermore, it is in the mind that the battle for sexual purity must be fought. As Jesus teaches, it is the thought that also counts. Jesus says in Matthew 5:28, “So what if you haven’t been fooling around? I say to you, If anyone looks on an eligible partner and desires to possess him or her, you’ve already committed the act in your heart.” The word Jesus uses is just the plain old Greek word for “desire,” good or bad desire.


We must attack tempting thoughts before they gain a foothold in our hearts. Married people must fight this battle, the same as single people do. An available spouse is not a guaranteed cure for temptation. We must be constantly on guard against putting ourselves in tempting situations where we are all alone and can be swept away by a combination of desire and opportunity. Married persons are wise to avoid even flirting with persons other than our spouse, lest we become emotionally involved.


Pornography is also a form of infidelity. Whenever a picture comes between you and your spouse, it will undermine your relationship. Often the partner can’t compete with the pictures, and the pictures will create unrealistic demands on the spouse. Plus, from what I hear from people who have this problem, pornography can be a powerful addiction. My advice is to stay as far away from it as possible.


Why does God care about our love life? Because our love life is connected to our spiritual life. Freud thought that sex was one of the 2 most powerful life-dominating forces at work in our lives. Whenever such a powerful force in our souls is out of control, we will suffer life-dominating effects. Logically, a God who cares about our welfare will give us advice on how to handle this powerful force.


Someone might ask, “What if I’m not married? What if I’m not breaking any vows to anyone? Why should I wait?” Sex before marriage deprives your future spouse of the chance to share the most special gift you can ever share, with you and you alone. It likewise deprives your partner’s future spouse of that exclusive experience.


That’s why Paul writes in his second-earliest letter (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8), “For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from fornication.” (The word Paul uses is porneia, a word for all sex outside of marriage.) Paul says that everyone should know how to take a spouse “in holiness and honor, not in the passion of desire, like heathen who do not know God.” The show “90-Day Fiancée” demonstrates how, the more that a match is based purely on sexual desire, the more it is likely to go down in flames. Paul goes on and says, “Let no one transgress and defraud his brother in this matter.” Here Paul’s talking about cheating our future spouse, and our fellow believer’s future spouse, out of the chance for an exclusive relationship. Paul finally says, “Whoever rejects this teaching rejects not man, but God.”


Every NT author but James rules porneia (unmarried sex) out of bounds. We find porneia listed on Jesus’ sin list in Mark 7, and on Paul’s sin lists in 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5 (and also in Ephesians 5). Paul warns believers at Corinth (who were surrounded by illicit sex of all kinds), “Flee from porneia! Every sin a person does is outside the body, but whoever does porneia sins against their own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) Jesus agrees. Jesus lists porneia on his sin list in Mark 7:22.


You ask, “Why does Jesus forbid premarital sex? The 7th Commandment only forbids adultery.” Yes, but the Hebrew Bible treats premarital sex as an unpaid form of prostitution. Hebrew uses the same word zanuth for both kinds of unmarried sex, paid and unpaid. And contrary to what some have claimed, God’s word never OK’s or permits prostitution. As Paul tells the Corinthians, prostitution is a clear violation of the Bible’s central sexual ethic, “The 2 shall become one flesh.” He asks, “Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? God forbid! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a harlot becomes one body with her?” For Paul, unmarried sex for a Christian is a total contradiction.


Someone may ask, “But what if the 2 of us plan to be married someday? Why is getting married so important?” Good intentions often fail to materialize. Anything less than total commitment is a risky place for sexual involvement. Someone may ask, “What about living together? Do we really need a piece of paper if we are truly committed to each other?” Who would put down $50,000 on a house without a piece of paper to back up their claim that the house belong to them? Back in 1976, there was a great non-Christian article in Cosmopolitan magazine on this subject called “Living Together Is a Rotten Idea.” You won’t find it anywhere on the Internet except posted on our website


A lot of people think that living together will help them know whether marriage will work for them. No, the best way to find out what a relationship is made of is to keep sex out of it, until you are ready for that step of total commitment. Not only can sexual involvement fool you into thinking you’re in love when you’re not, it also sets you up for the very pain you want to avoid when a relationship fails. When sex is involved, the pain of breaking up is just as real whether you were married or not, with or without divorce. I do not speak from experience, but from lots of observation. God wants to spare us that avoidable pain.


While the Law of Moses does allow for divorce, Jesus says that God allowed it only because of human “hardness of heart.” Here is where Jesus appeals to God’s original intention declared first in Genesis 2:24: “The 2 shall become one flesh.” In his radical teaching on divorce (found nowhere else in the Judaism of his day), Jesus teaches that we cannot erase a one-flesh union; only death can do that. Jesus does not teach that remarriage after divorce is forbidden; Jesus teaches that we cannot put asunder or undo the previous relationship.


Which raises the question: What about polygamy? What’s wrong with multiple partners to whom we have made a lifetime commitment: multiple wives, multiple husbands, or even Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice? Why does the Bible never condemn Abraham or Jacob or David or Solomon for having many wives? In 2 Samuel 12:7, God says that he gave Saul’s wives into David’s bosom (God doesn’t tell him to have sex with them). Jehoiada the high priest even provides 2 wives for King Joash. None of this sets aside God’s clear command that “The 2 shall become one flesh,” not the 3 or 4 or more. To be one flesh with multiple partners at the same time is a mess that God never intended. (We see that mess right in the Bible’s examples.) Like divorce, polygamy is a reality that God grudgingly allowed, but it still grieves his heart.


What about sex with a minor? For some reason, we treat an adult who has sex with a young person one day below an arbitrary age as a criminal, but not if they are one day older than that arbitrary age. God’s got a better idea. The real issue is lifelong marriage. We know that both partners in many marriages in Biblical times were below today’s legal age. Parental permission often makes a difference, as it does in many of today’s laws. The real problem is whether being too young or too much age difference between the partners is wise, not whether it is immoral; many times such a marriage is not wise. But God’s teaching of sex only within marriage is the better way to approach the age issue.


What about same-sex marriage? Same-sex intimacy is clearly named on Paul’s sin lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. But some (like Jimmy Carter) claim that Jesus never spoke one word on the subject. Wrong! Not only does Jesus only affirm marriage only between a man and a woman, but Jesus also names the sin of aselgeia in his sin list in Mark 7:22. It’s a word our Bibles usually translate as “lasciviousness,” “lewdness,” or “licentiousness.” Jews used this word to mean shocking sexual behavior beyond mere fornication or adultery. It’s not hard to guess what Jesus means by this word. (You can find the link to my journal article on this word at


You may say, “The Bible’s sexual ethic is outdated.” Nonsense! The world where the Bible was written was full of sexual freedom of all kinds, both gay and straight. The Bible’s teaching on sex was countercultural back then (it still is). And whatever God said about sex in a world that was so much like ours in its sexual freedom must be the same as what God says to us today.


The only alternative to loving, committed marriage between a man and a woman is contented celibacy. Paul says to the unmarried, “If they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9) Granted, it’s not always easy to find the right person; I had that frustration myself when I was young. But being a sexually active single is not an option. And both Jesus (Matthew 19:10-12) and Paul (1 Corinthians 7:7) strongly endorse contented celibacy. Paul says he wishes all could be like him. Jesus and Paul are living proof that we don’t have to have sex to be complete human beings. And nowhere is marriage commanded as necessary in order to spend eternity in heavenly kingdom. If it was, Jesus would have said so


Sex is wonderful! God wants to keep it that way. If you want the very best for your love life, take God’s advice. Save God’s most beautiful gift so that you can enjoy it only in the bond of a lifelong vow of commitment. God wants you to enjoy that gift with security, free from baggage, free from outside entanglements, free from intrusions or emotional complications.


Marriage is not a foolproof guarantee that you will never suffer betrayal or abuse. Like democracy, marriage is only as good as the mortal humans who are trying to make it work. All I can say is that on this side of heaven, we’ll never find a place for sexual love that is better than faithful, loving, exclusive marriage. Why settle for less than God’s best?


A final note: Nowadays, it’s hard to find people who haven’t already made mistakes in this area of their lives. God has no desire to beat you over the head for past mistakes! God does not want guilt to destroy your life. The devil wants you to feel like dirt, but God wants to put you back on your feet. God offers you forgiveness. No matter what you have done, Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary to take away our sins and put us right with God. God wants you to be able to enjoy God’s most beautiful gift the way God created it to be enjoyed, “forsaking all others.” Sex is wonderful. God wants to keep it that way.


On our next broadcast, we’ll take a look at the 8th Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” Great! you say. I’m not a burglar or a bank robber; I’m off the hook on this one. Don’t be too sure. There are all sorts of other ways that we are tempted to be dishonest about what does not belong to us. Keeping our hands off our neighbors’ goods is part of how we love our neighbors. We’ll talk about honesty with what is not ours next time on Biblical Words and World!