SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 27 March 2022
Sermon Text: Exodus 20:14
Sermon Series: “The Ten Commandments” (#8)
Watch Sermon Video: (Link will be posted soon)
I. What is adultery?
II. Old Testament’s teaching on adultery
III. New Testament’s emphasis
IV. Adultery and unfaithfulness
One afternoon, King David was walking on the roof of his palace. Probably his heart was unrestful as his army was in the battlefield fighting against the enemies of Israel. Every year about the same time he used to go out with his army to defend the nation from various enemies, but this year he sent his general instead. As he was walking on the roof restlessly, he lifted his eyes and saw a beautiful woman bathing. So, what happened? As you know well, he brought her to his palace and committed adultery.
About a millennia later, in the same city, a mob of people brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. Not too long after this incident, in Corinth of the province of Achaia, Greece, there was in that Corinthian church a man who had his father’s wife as his wife. All of these are the cases of a serious sin of adultery.
In fact, adultery is a sin of all generations. Innumerable people have broken the seventh commandment that says, “You shall not commit adultery.”
A question arises: ‘What is adultery and why did God specifically designate this sin as one of the sins the Ten Commandments forbid, listing it before such sins as stealing, bearing false witness and coveting?’ There are other sins that seem to be more serious than adultery, but why is this sin in the spotlight? There must be a good reason.
So, let us follow the Holy Spirit and hear His explanation, beginning from what the Bible says about this sin.
I. WHAT IS ADULTERY?
Simple definition of adultery is to lay with someone else’s wife or husband. However, the main point of this sin is having sexual relationship without marriage covenant. So, adultery includes all kinds of sexual immorality committed without or outside of marriage covenant.
Yet, some Christians seem to have an incorrect impression on adultery. I mean, they conceive that there is a slight difference between the teachings of the Old and the New Testaments on adultery. They suggest that the OT has harsh standards on adultery while the NT shows some compassion. Some others think that no longer are the OT laws on adultery applicable in the NT church. A few Christians, at least, believe that the time of considering adultery as a sin against God is gone – they concur the world’s view on it and simply say it as an ‘affair.’
For this reason, I believe it is necessary to have a brief search on both testaments to see whether they differ from or agree with each other.
II. OLD TESTAMENT’S TEACHING ON ADULTERY
So, we begin with the OT. The most prominent aspect of the OT teaching on adultery is that this sin deserves capital punishment. Lev. 20:10 says that if a man commits adultery, both he and the adulteress shall be put to death. Lev. 20:10 is not the only reference that talks about death penalty for adultery – the OT makes a unanimous voice on this.
Why should both adulterer and adulteress be put to death? Couldn’t they be excommunicated or fined or imprisoned? Our generation doesn’t see adultery as serious a sin as the OT does. If a married one commits adultery in our day and age, its consequence would probably be divorce, or losing face. In case anyone is found guilty of adultery, do you think any church in our time would put him/her to death, let alone to excommunicate them? I don’t think many churches of the 21st century would consider any form of discipline as a possible option for dealing with their adulterous members. Hardly anyone would remember, let alone mentioning, the OT law on this sin.
Another question arises and that is: ‘Why does the OT decree death penalty for adultery?’ The immediate answer the OT presents is the principle of God’s creation. In Gen. 2:20-25, you hear about God’s creation of man and woman and listen to v. 24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” God didn’t say a man and multiple wives, or a wife and multiple husbands. God’s creation is about ‘a man and a wife.’ Anyone who commits adultery breaks this foundation of God’s creation. Breaching it is sin, rebellion against the God who set the foundation of all things, who enacted all rules according to His holiness, righteousness and goodness. For the same reason, any and every sin deserve capital punishment. Adultery surely deserves death!
The second reason is that adultery defiles, contaminates and pollutes the community. Narrowly, one’s immediate family, and broadly, the community of which that adulterous person is a member. Dt. 22:24 says that people should bring both adulterous man and woman outside of their city, and carry out death penalty by stoning them there. By doing that, they ought to purge the evil from their midst. So, taking the sinners outside of their city, rather than killing and burying them within their city, is a symbolic act of purging the evil in their midst.
And the third reason for capital punishment is that adultery turns one’s own soul ‘senseless’ and destroys oneself, according to Prov. 6:32 which we heard earlier today together with Ex. 20:14. The Hebrew word translated to mean ‘senseless’ or ‘lacking sense’ in Prov. 6:32 means something like ‘without conscience’ or even ‘without the image of God in that person.’ What does it mean that any person has lost God’s image? It means, his real and true essence or reason for his existence is no longer in him. Once the image of God is gone, that person would be like a plant separated from its root. That word ‘senseless’ implies this sort of picture – committing this sin, the adulterer is already dead, and the punishment commanded was, in this sense, a simple confirmation of the death of the adulterer.
III. NEW TESTAMENT’S EMPHASIS
Unlike some people’s impression, the NT agrees with the OT on adultery. The NT does not teach anything new or different from the OT. Instead, it elaborates the OT teaching by underlining the internal, spiritual aspect of the OT teaching on adultery.
In Mt. 5:27-32, Jesus teaches that adultery is not only the external act, but also, and more importantly so, the internal lustful thought, intent or wish. Even looking at a woman (or man) with lustful intent is already a fully ripe sin of adultery.
This teaching is not Jesus’ invention. Rather, this has always been the teaching of the Bible. In this matter, Job is our witness. The book of Job is regarded as the oldest book in the Bible, believed to be predated to the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible, namely, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. In Job 31, vs. 1 and 9 and 10, we find Job in full agreement with the Lord Jesus. Hear what Job says in v. 1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” Do you hear what Job said? He means that he would never look at a woman with lustful intent, meaning that doing such is sin of adultery. In Job. 31:9-10, he says, “If my heart has been enticed toward a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbour’s door, then let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down on her.” As the oldest book of the Bible sees, being one’s heart enticed toward a woman is definitely adultery. In this way, Job and Jesus are in full agreement, and so are the Old and New Testaments.
Furthermore, 1 Cor. 6:9 clearly says that the adulterous are the ‘unrighteous’ who cannot inherit God’s kingdom. Do you remember the OT command to bring the adulterer and the adulteress together outside of the city and stone them there? They are ‘out’ of their inheritance which is the message of 1 Cor. 6:9. Heb. 13:4 also emphasises that God will judge the adulterous.
In summary, the Old and the New Testaments are in full agreement with each other, and teach us one authoritative, inerrant message, that is, adultery in both forms of internal lust and outward act is sin that deserves death penalty.
IV. ADULTERY AND UNFAITHFULNESS
Why is then adultery picked out from among millions of sins we human beings commit? Is adultery that horrible and intolerable sin? The answer is, no. Truth is that every sin is the same in nature, effect and result. Every sin is a rebellion against God the Most High; it separates man from God, breaking the relationship between Creator and creature; each sin puts man under the curse of death; and its result is eternal damnation. There’s no sin more serious and offensive than others; and adultery is as serious sin as is any other sin. Then, why is adultery listed as one of the sins the Ten Commandments forbid?
The reason is that man’s sexual adultery explains our spiritual adultery. In other words, among numerous sins we humans commit, this sin of sexual adultery best describes our unfaithfulness to our God Almighty who is our Creator and Lord. Like the way a husband betrays his wife and lies down with another man’s wife, like the way a wife looks at another man, other than her husband, and embraces a lustful desire, we have betrayed our Creator and heavenly Father, and sought others. More than that, we’ve dismissed Him as our God; we’ve tried to erase Him, declaring that we no longer belong to Him. As in Isa. 54:5-8, Jas. 4:4, and Rev. 21:2, just to name a few Bible verses, we’re told that our relationship with God is like that of husband and wife. We belong to our husband, the God of the heavens and the earth, our Creator, thus, we ought always to be faithful to Him as He is to us.
Instead of being faithful, however, we humans have gone after other gods which are not really gods; we’ve been bowing to not the Creator but creatures such as the Sun and the Moon, and mountains and seas and trees and rocks. And we even declared men as gods and worshipped them, and many in this 21st century, worship self.
Listen to God, speaking through His prophet in Jer. 5:7, “How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken Me and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores.”
So, like a husband would surely burn with anger toward his adulterous wife, like a wife would surely be furious with anger toward her adulterous husband, all men/women who are spiritually adulterous should expect God’s divine anger toward us His adulterous creatures! The 7th commandment teaches and reminds us of this reality.
Yet, the ultimate message of this commandment is not the horror of divine wrath, but the gospel, the good news of our God in and through Jesus Christ. How? Because, like all other commandments, this command tells us that none of us will be able to refrain ourselves from this sin of adultery. You and I can never be innocent in terms of adultery. No one is able to stop himself/herself from having a lustful intent toward a woman or a man. We might be able to refrain ourselves from actual act of adultery, but we’ll never succeed in removing internal lust. In a word, we are born adulterers; we breathe as adulterers, and will die as adulterers.
Yet, to us sinners, God commands and requires of us not to commit adultery. How? By believing in the name God has provided us, that is, Jesus Christ who is the Son of God and our Saviour. He is the truth and the way and the life for sinners to come and find life! By faith in Him, the sin of adultery will be forgiven, taken away, and no longer are those who believe adulterers but the faithful of Jesus Christ before the eyes of God.
Of course, the habit of internal lust will stay as long as we’re in this flesh. But that lust has lost its power and grip over all who believe and forgiven, thus, renewed in Jesus. We’ve been moved to dwell in Jesus!
This is the ultimate message of the 7th commandment; it leads us to see how desperately each human being needs the Saviour Jesus. Then, the rest of the Bible tells us that, through faith, any and all adulterers can live in Jesus, rather than die in sin! Praise God for His mercy and thanks to Jesus for His salvation! ***
Prayer: Oh, gracious Heavenly Father, how great You are in Your unfathomable grace and love! You are the Lord, we confess, our Father; You are the only God to whom all men and women shall eternally bow and worship and praise. Hear us, and uplift us, Father, in Your Son Jesus, so that we may be free from lustful desires and intent, and filled with the joy of Your salvation and grow in faith daily. We pray this in Jesus’ name. ***