Now if you would please take a copy of the Holy Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to the book of Exodus, chapter 20; page 61 in the church Bibles. Exodus chapter 20. We’re going to read the first seventeen verses. We have been working through the Ten Commandments together as part of our larger ongoing studies in the book of Exodus, and we’ve come this morning to the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” And before we read the text in its context, would you please bow you head with me as we pray together.
O God, how we pray that You would attend the reading and the preaching of Your Word in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much conviction. Would You take Your Word and with force and effect drive it deeply into our hearts and consciences that it may have life transforming results, slaying our sin, bringing us to Jesus, and getting glory to Your name. For Jesus’ sake, amen.
Exodus chapter 20, at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And God spoke all these words, saying,
‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.
A tectonic shift has taken place in our culture when it comes to answering the identity question, “Who am I?” a vital question. For most of our history the way we answered that question had to do with a complex of issues - things like gender, culture, ethnicity, economics, education, employment, upbringing and religion. They all helped us locate ourselves in our world and understand who we are. But today, the identity question is increasingly being answered almost exclusively in terms of sexuality and sexual orientation, and crucially for the very first time, the issues of gender and sexual orientation are being understood in a way completely divorced from the shape of our bodies. In a great deal of contemporary thinking, sexuality and gender are entirely internal and free standing. They have nothing to do with the maleness or the femaleness of our anatomy. The old binary categories male and female that provide the fundamental operating system for the Biblical view of human identity have now been almost entirely eroded for significant portions of contemporary society. And that means that in the modern view, “No one can tell me what my sexual orientation is, or even frankly what my gender is! It is unique and specific to me, knowable only by me! I now define my gender and my sexuality idiosyncratically! I am my sexuality, and my sexuality is defined by me and no one else! Freestanding independent of my anatomy whether I am male or female, some combination of both or neither, has nothing to do with my body. I identify it! I define it! I determine it!”
And understand the implications of that contemporary approach to this question! By elevating sexuality to the controlling place, the central issue that defines our essential identity, and then by making sexuality unique to each individual, our society has ensured do you see, that norms for sexual behavior must all now become redundant or at least totally individualistic, and determined and defined by each person alone. There can be no one-size fits all sexual ethic if the contemporary perspective is right. We can’t say homosexuality is wrong! We can’t say polyandry or polygamy are wrong! “That’s just who I am!” will come the response. “You are oppressing and denying my right to be who I really am as I define it!” Now remember that the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” deals with more than the narrow and precise question of marital infidelity. It is the heading for an entire category and species of sexual transgression! You remember that fact and suddenly it becomes clear, doesn’t it, that the seventh commandment appears in the eyes of our society to be the most obsolete and oppressive of all the prohibitions in the canon of Biblical morality.
And of course the person who must bear the most blame, the most blame for advocating and developing those oppressive and obsolete demands is Jesus of Nazareth. You remember Matthew chapter 5 verses 27 to 32? He spoke extensively about the seventh commandment. “You have heard it said,” Jesus says, “that you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has committed adultery with her in his heart. Everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” The seventh commandment speaks to lust, it condemns the second glance, the indulged fantasy, the pornography epidemic! It condemns divorce and remarriage on any other grounds than sexual immorality or desertion, as Paul will further go on to clarify in 1 Corinthians 7 and verse 15. It condemns sex outside of marriage and the abuse or neglect of sex within marriage. It speaks about sexual sins of the heart and the imagination, of sight; “what you look at,” and speech; “what you say.” In other words, the seventh commandment simply will not allow for the kind of radically privatized sexual ethic that is now the norm in our society. I think there’s a good case to be made that together with the tenth commandment dealing with greed, the seventh is probably the command most out of step with the spirit of our age.
And lest we are tempted as a church at this point to some sort of moral superiority, as it turns out; those who profess to be Christians are almost as out of step with the ethics of the seventh commandment as the rest of the United States! The National Association of evangelicals recently found that 44% of millennials who identify as Evangelical Christians have had sex outside of marriage. Tim Keller recently said of the church he serves in New York that, “We are just like the rest of the city. If I preach on the issues of sexual sin, everybody gets real quiet.” One survey I read said that 77% of Christian men aged 18 to 35 look at pornography at least once a month; 35% of Christian men have had an affair. This is not a problem out there, is it? This is a problem in here! It’s not just the world that’s out of step with the seventh commandment, it’s the church; it’s us, it’s me. Our culture is cruising at high speed along the highway of a new sexual revolution carrying many of us in the church along with it, but the seventh commandment is a flashing red light; it is a stop sign. It is warning us of danger ahead. It is divine GPS saying, “Make a U-turn! Go in a new direction!”
Now no doubt one of the reasons the seventh commandment has suffered eclipse in the thinking of many Christians, even dismissal as out of date and outmoded, and why it has suffered frankly outright ridicule in our culture I suspect it’s because of our failure as the church to present the seventh commandment in context with reasons. When we read it merely and present it and proclaim it as a bald prohibition, we are then exposed to the accusation of being prudish and phobic about sex and sexuality. The world hears it as just another weapon in the hands of Christian killjoys who like to equate holiness with misery. But actually, you know, if you trace the teaching of Scripture on sex and marriage carefully enough, you will find that far from being an oppressive, restrictive buzz kill, the seventh commandment offers something incredibly beautiful and incredibly liberating. So let me try and show you that under two simple headings and then we’re done.
- The Creation Template for Biblical Sexuality.
First of all, let’s think about the creation template for Biblical sexuality. The creation template for Biblical sexuality. In Genesis 1:27 we are told that “God made man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Gender, we need to realize, is given by God. It’s vital we get this straight! It may seem elementary and basic, and obvious perhaps. It is actually precisely here that the Biblical paradigm is most under attack in our culture today! Maleness and femaleness are part of the given-ness of the created order by God’s design. Our gendered natures reflect the image of God in their diversity as well as their compatibility. “God made man in his own image; male and female he created them.” God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is unity and diversity in God, and the way that reality is reflected in human society is by making man in His image, male and female.
You will remember when God made Adam He declared it was “not good for the man to be alone,” Genesis 2:18. “I will make a helper,” He said, “suitable to him.” That is to say, when God made Eve, He made her emotionally and spiritually and physically compatible. They fit together! And when God gave Eve away in the first marriage in human history, you remember it was the groom himself who provided the music for the bridal processional. He burst into song when he sees Eve coming; “This, at last, it bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” he says. “She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man!” He’s not merely reflecting on the way God made Eve from the rib from his side; he’s actually celebrating the special union God had created them to enjoy uniquely in one another. “The two,” we learn, “shall become one flesh!” Human sexual union is intended to be an intimate celebration, and an expression of the unity and diversity that God has brought into being when He joins a man and a woman in marriage. That’s its function! To tear sex from its context in marriage is to shatter its meaning and to rob it of its value. That’s why the seventh commandment addresses all manner of sexual sin under the rubric specifically of adultery. When it might have used any other form of sexual sin as a general category heading, it uses adultery because God intends to teach us in the seventh commandment that marriage is central and normative, and the only appropriate context for sex and sexuality. That means to be faithful in understanding and expressing our sexuality requires us to recognize that gender and sexual identity are not invented by us, nor are they merely assigned to us by others; they are given to us by God. And we must learn, in humility, to accept our embodied selves as men and women and recognize that sex, in God’s purposes, is designed to cement the loving relationship of one man and one woman for life in the covenant of marriage.
The Biblical Vision of Sex is Remarkably Positive and Affirming.
And far from prudish or phobic, the Biblical vision of sex, given those fundamental parameters, in light of that basic framework, the Biblical vision of sex is remarkably positive and affirming. If you read the Song of Solomon you will see very quickly it is unashamedly sexual, even if it is also purposely metaphorical and modest in its celebration of romantic love, which, as an aside, by the way, ought to help instruct us on how we should speak about these things with appropriate decorum and modesty. Let me offer another example in 1 Corinthians 6 verse 18! The apostle Paul addresses very directly sexual sin. Unflinchingly he says, “Flee sexually immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you whom you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God with your body.” He deals with sexual sin directly! We’re not free to use our bodies as we please when it comes to sex and sexual expression! God has a design for us that we must submit to and reflect.
Paul’s View of Sex Within Marriage
But then having addressed sexual sin in the church, Paul is not content to leave it with a mere rebuke. In the very next chapter, in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Paul becomes remarkably positive about sex and sexuality in God’s intended design. The husband, he said, should “give his wife her conjugal rights and likewise the wife to her husband. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a limited time that you may devote yourselves to prayer. But then come together again so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self control.” Paul is not a prude, is he? He’s remarkably positive and straightforward about the value of sex within marriage.
And having said that, he’s also thoroughly realistic about the continuing power of sexual temptation even for those who are married. And what’s his strategy for fighting sexual temptation? It’s not simply rebuke; it involves rebuke. Much more than that, it is to celebrate sexual union as God intended it, as a vital expression of joy and love in the bonds of marriage. This is how married couples are supposed to fight sexual sin. Philip Ryken entitles his exposition of the seventh commandment, “The Joy of Sex.” I thought that was probably too risqué for First Presbyterian Church, but I doubt the apostle Paul would find it risqué at all. I think the apostle Paul would celebrate that as a way to articulate very well his view of sex within God’s designed pattern. The joy of sex is a beautiful thing that brings God glory! He was a single man, and yet he affirmed sex and sexuality as a gift of God that only makes sense, only finds its purpose in the lifelong union of one man with one woman. And so first of all, we need to get our heads around the creation template for Biblical sexuality.
- The Gospel Meaning of Biblical Sexuality.
But then secondly, we need to understand not just the creation template but the Gospel meaning of Biblical sexuality. The creation template and the Gospel meaning. There are, as you know, different metaphors used in Scripture to describe how God relates to us and we to Him. He is our Father, our Judge, our King, our Shepherd, and so on and so forth. But when the Bible intends to describe the special bond of redeeming love between God and His covenant people, wayward and fickle though they often are, He turns to the covenant of marriage as the primary metaphor. So for example, Isaiah 54:5, God says to Israel, “Your Maker is your husband.” In Jeremiah 3:20 when Judah disobeyed the Lord and they turned to idolatry, He said to them, “Surely as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel.” On the other hand, Hosea 2:16-20, pictures a day when God’s people come back to Him. “In that day, declares the Lord, you will call me, ‘my husband,’ and I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord.” And in Ephesians chapter 5:31-32, the apostle Paul takes up that Old Testament pattern using marriage as the image of God’s relationship with His people and focuses the lens even more clearly on the identity of the bridegroom. “Therefore,” he says, quoting Genesis 2:21 that we cited earlier, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Then he says something remarkable! “This is a great mystery and I am saying it refers to Christ and the Church.”
Sex is the Symbol of Our Union With Jesus in the Gospel
The union of a husband and a wife, do you see, is the great metaphor, the great image of the redeeming love of God for sinners like me and you in Jesus Christ. And so he says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The pattern and the template of our sexual intimacy and our marital fidelity is the purity and faithful love of Jesus for His Bride the Church, and that is why sex, sexual intimacy, is sacred! Casual sex is a contradiction in terms; it’s an oxymoron! Sex, in God’s purpose, is a picture of the Gospel of grace of a believing sinner’s union with the Savior. Sex is sacred! It can never be toyed with, or treated flippantly or casually! 1 Corinthians 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ.” Our union with Jesus isn’t simply abstract and spiritual. It deals with our whole humanity, including the flesh and bones of our bodies. What we do with our bodies matters because even our bodies are united to Christ, and so Paul says, “Shall I take the members of Christ and join them with a prostitute? For as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But the one who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality.” You see what he’s saying? Sex is the symbol of our union with Jesus in the Gospel. It is a sacred thing, and we cannot play with it or toy with it, or treat it casually!
So part of what it means to honor and serve Jesus Christ faithfully, if we’re Christians, is to honor and serve our spouses faithfully for His sake. It is to flee sexual immorality for His sake. For our Maker is our Husband and Christ our great Redeemer! And if we’re going to take that seriously, for many of us it will mean taking radical action, which if you turned to Matthew chapter 5 and Jesus’ treatment of the seventh commandment you will see is precisely what He prescribes. Matthew 5:29-30, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away for it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away for it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” What is He saying? He’s saying you’re playing with fire! It’s deadly! Be killing sin or sin will be killing you! Take radical action! Literally, cut it out! Deal with the source of your stumbling!
Practical Advise to Prevent Sexual Sin
If I may get very practical and concrete here, he’s saying things like “break off the inappropriate relationship that has become a snare to you” He’s saying “dress modestly so as not to be a stumbling block to others.” He’s saying “speak carefully so as not to demean by our crude language what God has called sacred.” He’s saying “use an effective internet filter, something like Covenant Eyes. Put it on all your platforms, on your phone, on your tablet, at home and at work. Keep your eyes pure! Get accountability! Take radical action!” If I can say this as a word merely of pastoral counsel, none of you please understand me to say for a moment that this is the obligation of Scripture, but simply as pastoral counsel I would urge every parent to take those important steps to secure online purity for their teenagers before there is a problem. Pornography is an epidemic in our society and it is targeting pre-teens increasingly! So there are things you can do; charge all the devices downstairs, no devices in your bedrooms or behind closed doors. Parents, claim absolute right to look at the phone, look at the device any time you wish! No accounts that you cannot access! Adequate and effective internet filters and accountability software. The seventh commandment you see, is calling us to pursue purity for yourself, for your household, those entrusted to your care, pursue purity when you’re alone, when you’re together, when you’re single, when you’re dating, when you’re married. Do it all because our Maker is our Husband! Because we have a Savior in Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us, and we want to honor Him well in our relationships.
But what about when we do fail and we do fall? And let’s be clear; everybody here has fallen! There is nobody here, no matter how terribly respectable they may appear to you, who has not broken the seventh commandment in their thinking, in their looking, in their doing. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul said, “Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality will inherit the kingdom of God.” The Scriptures are unambiguous in condemning all breeches of the seventh commandment! And then Paul says something simply stunning, a word frankly filled with wonder and hope for those of us who break the seventh commandment. Look at what he says; “Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality will inherit the kingdom of God, and such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Jesus has been relentlessly faithful to His adulterous bride. We are adulterers! We are transgressors of the seventh commandment with our hearts and our eyes and our bodies, but Jesus loves His sinful adulterous people! In Jesus, God has not forsaken you. He has taken the reproach of our sin. Our Husband has loved His wife well and given Himself up for us all, paying the penalty our adultery deserves.
“Such were some of you,” “Such were some of you!” You look at pornography and you need help? You’ve been sleeping with your boyfriend, your girlfriend? You self-identify as gay? You want to be faithful to Jesus but you find yourself stuck in a pattern of behavior and you feel just enslaved to your appetites? You’ve had an affair? You’ve shattered your marriage? You’re a broken man, a broken woman? Is there any hope for you? Yes, there’s hope! “Such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” There’s a path out of the darkness, out of the shadows where you have been hiding into the light, a path into pardon and cleansing; new hope, new life, right-standing before God, cleansing of conscience. It’s a path that must start at the foot of the cross. Stop hiding in the shadows hoping that tomorrow will be different while you indulge today! It’s time to stop running from yourself, deceiving yourself! The truth about you is known, laid bare before the eyes of the God with whom we have to do. It’s time to start listening to the Scriptural GPS that has been saying, echoing in your conscience, “Make a U-turn! Make a U-turn! Turn back to Jesus Christ! Turn back to Him!” Won’t you do it now? Right now? In the quietness of your heart as you sit there, won’t you turn back to Him and cry out to Him, “Lord Jesus, make me clean! If You’re willing, You can make me clean!” And He will!
Let’s pray together!
And so as we bow before You, Lord Jesus, we have business to do with You. And so hear us as we confess our sin, as we acknowledge our need, and as we bend our knees at the foot of the cross. Amen.
©2016 First Presbyterian Church.
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