“Thou shalt not Commit Adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
By Matt Kerry
In Deuteronomy 6:7, God instructed Israel concerning the statutes and commandments of the Law. “Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (ASV). If commandment number seven was solely to avoid committing the act of adultery, it would be a short conversation. But Israel was told to talk of them “when thou sittest,” and “when thou walkedst,” and “when thou liest down” and “risest up.”
This suggests there are aspects of the Law that needed to be explained and highlighted. The act of adultery is where sin may hit its grossest form. But God wanted much more than that, from both the Israelites and ourselves. He wanted to uncover our heart intentions, to discuss not only how to avoid a certain pitfall of sin, but how to proactively steer our course towards a happy, committed, and loving marriage in which adultery would be the farthest thing from our minds.
It is common to read this commandment and feel that success is simply controlling our actions, assuming that anyone who does not commit adultery is not violating the spirit of this command. Although there is some truth in this statement, the devoted followers of Jesus must go further. A relevant question Christians may ask themselves is, “If physical adultery is the ultimate failure of this commandment, what must I do to run in the opposite direction? If adultery is on the ‘far side of sin,’ where is the opposite of that, ‘the far side of righteousness’?” What does a truly successful marriage and other profitable human relationships look like to God?
“Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28 ASV). Jesus’ words deepen the meaning of true loyalty. Even sinful thoughts must be battled. Success comes best when sinful thoughts are replaced with godly principles and reflections on what is good and wholesome.
The Principle of Unity
Fidelity to one’s spouse carries with it more than the physical aspect of a couple’s relationship. It also indicates the spiritual and emotional bond that should exist between man and wife. However, this is not just a marriage principle. It also applies to those who follow Christ. Many scriptures echo the same sentiment of spiritual unity between brethren.
John 15:12-13 states, “It is my command that your love for each other should be the same as my love for you. The greatest love that a man can have is to give his life for his friends” (William Barclay). This statement describes a willingness to give up one’s life on behalf of another, which is a single act. A broader application means the sacrificing of one’s time, personal desires, comfort, and putting the needs of others before their own.
Philippians 2:2-5 counsels, “Make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
These words describe the spiritual unity that should exist in the body of Christ. This principle also applies in marriage. If God is shaping us into the image of His son, what better tool to use than our relationship with the one person we spend most of our time within this life? Marriage often provides the best opportunity for applying the principles of righteousness, selflessness, patience, humility, discipline, trustworthiness, and love.
Love and Obedience
“Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25, Colossians 3:19). The exhortation to love one’s wife means more than just accept, tolerate, or like them. As husbands, are we grateful for our wives? Do we appreciate them? Do we understand both their gifts as well as their faults? Do we love them unconditionally, and forgive their faults, understanding that their intentions are usually pure? Do we forgive them as we would want to be forgiven? Does our love translate into action? Do we strive to lay aside our own desires and preferences to serve them, showing our love in the way Jesus loves the church? Love for one’s wife involves respecting her contribution to the team and keeping her best interests in mind in all of the discussions and decisions involving the relationship.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5: 22). Submission to the Lord is the sweet aroma of faithfulness. When the Lord gives us a command, how refreshing it must be for him when we say, “Yes Lord,” and do our best to obey. Although a wife’s submission to her husband should not be as a servant to a master, submission to others is a wonderful preparation for serving the Lord.
Do wives sometimes read this verse and feel insulted that they should be submissive to another person? Or do they see it from the Lord’s perspective, as a refreshing character trait? Wives should respect their husbands as the head of their household. When there is unity of purpose, the submissive role of a wife helps to create a cooperative team effort.
Loyalty — A Key Principle
The commandment against adultery extends beyond marriage and applies to our relationship with God and the body of Christ. God instructed the Israelites to love Him. When Israel sought other gods, He considered it adultery. Jeremiah 3:8 reads, “And I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorcement, yet treacherous Judah her sister feared not; but she also went and played the harlot” (RVIC). There is great loyalty inherent in the love one has for their spouse. God expected loyalty from His chosen people, and was sorrowed when He did not receive it. There were some in the early church who, over time, became disloyal to God when their love grew cold.
Consecration is a complete commitment to God as well as to the brethren. 1 Corinthians 10:16 reads, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Unity and love are forever bound together.
The underlying principle of “thou shalt not commit adultery,” is heart loyalty. This includes unwavering devotion to our spouses, our brethren, to Jesus, and to our Heavenly Father. Any obstacles to our loyalty and love should be quickly removed. The work of putting away the flesh, and renewing our minds, develops the strength of character which increases our devotion in every area of life. Our goal is to become an image of our Lord, who so faithfully manifested his complete loyalty to us and his Father.
The relationship between a husband and wife can be a great blessing. Learning to respect and submit to one another, becoming the best of friends and spiritual partners, can be a source of great support in our Christian walk.
Let us strive not simply to avoid the devastating mistake of adultery, but work towards a loving bond between two servants of God, walking hand-in-hand toward spiritual maturity and a full measure of love. et loyalty fill our hearts!