The Key to a Healthy Society


The sixth Commandment goes like this:

You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14 NIV)

That’s pretty simple, and there is no other way to interpret this commandment from God. The problem with this commandment is that more often than not, the people that break it think they are entitled to. It might well be the easiest of the Ten Commandment to justify breaking.

“But we love each other,” they say.

“He understands me,” she says.

And so it goes. In fact, this attitude toward sexual purity goes way, way back. Cicero, a Roman politician, had this to say about his culture’s sexual preferences:

If anyone thinks that youth should be forbidden affairs even with courtesans, he is extremely severe. That view is contrary not only to the license of the age, but also to the custom and concessions of our ancestors.

In spite of the prevailing attitude of Cicero’s day, the early Church grew and the teachings of Christianity spread like wildfire. One of the teachings and practices of Christianity was that of sexual purity, which was a transplanted bit of theology from Judaism. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi Himself, had this to day about it:

The laws of Moses said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say: Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27, 28 TLB)

Now that’s strict! And it goes downhill from there.

So if your eye—even if it is your best eye!—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. Better for part of you to be destroyed than for all of you to be cast into hell. And if your hand—even your right hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Better that than find yourself in hell. (Matthew 5:29, 30 TLB)

Talk about severe. Since most Christian men and husbands still have two eyes and two hands, there seems to be an understanding that our Lord, while seriously defending sexual purity, was exaggerating to get His point across. Or was He? Let’s delve into the meaning and reason for the sixth commandment and see how Jesus interpreted it and how it applies to our modern society.

Sexual purity=a healthy society

The sixth commandment, which prohibits have sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse, is the most difficult of the Ten Commandments for some people to observe. The reasons are many and diverse and obvious. I would wager that even those husbands and wives who have remained absolutely faithful to each other during their entire marriage have, at one time or another, thought seriously about having a fling or an affair. That temptation is hard to resist because the person you are not married to is always more attractive than the person you are married to. That attraction could be physical, but often it’s emotional or something else that captivates the attention and imagination. It’s very surprising what people find attractive in other people, and in the context of sexual purity, that attraction can sneak up on you and catch you off guard. As my wife is fond of reminding me, sin will always take you farther than you want to go. How true that is.

But one of the main causes of adultery is simple: the strong desire to love and be loved. When that most basic of human needs is not met within a marriage, one or both spouses will often find someone else to meet it. It takes a lot of effort to fight that temptation.

For Christians, adultery is not only wrong but it’s sinful. Even people who have never picked a Bible and have had no exposure to the Christian or Jewish faith instinctively know how bad cheating on your spouse is. But it hasn’t always been like this. At the time God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, adultery was common, especially in pagan Egypt, where sexual promiscuity inside and outside of marriage was the norm. As the Israelites marched on to the Promised Land, they would encounter other societies with similar lose attitudes toward marriage and commitment. It’s no wonder, then, this admonition was given.

Remember, the Ten Commandments was to be the “founding document” of a new society God was building. Like the other commandments, this one is indispensable to forming and maintaining a decent, ordered, higher society. Adultery threatens the existence of society unlike any other because it endangers the very building block of all societies: the family. And in spite of the fad of our day, a family by definition includes a married father, mother, and children. Throughout Scripture, not limited to the Ten Commandments, anything that threatens the well-being of the family unit is prohibited. Sticking to the Law, in addition to adultery, not honoring your parents threatens the family, as does the Scriptural prohibition against incest.

This raises a very good question: Why is the family so important to God? The answers should be obvious.

* Without stable, strong families, a stable, strong society is impossible.

* Without the family, the passing on of values from one generation to the next doesn’t take place.

* A wife and children make a husband more mature and responsible.

* A family meets a woman’s deepest emotional and material needs.

* Nothing can offer a child more security and stability like an intact family does.

Adultery threatens a family more than unemployment or sickness or economic stresses or anything else. Again, the reasons are simple. Sex with someone outside the marriage often leads to one or both parties walking out of the marriage. Cheating on ones spouse is a horrible betrayal of vows that cuts deep. Adultery doesn’t always break up a family, but it always harms it, even if the betrayed spouse is unaware.

The prohibition against adultery is absolute; there are no exceptions. Ever.

The New Testament spin

Over in Matthew 5, as part of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tackles the sixth commandment and proceeded to give it a higher interpretation. Let’s take a look at the context before we consider His view of adultery.

As Christians, we ought to thank God every day that we live under grace, not under the Law. However, that doesn’t get us off the hook for living righteous lives that please God. Throughout His teachings, Jesus stated emphatically that He requires a higher righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave six examples of what He wanted from His followers. In a sentence, Jesus wants a righteousness not based on rules and regulations, but rather a righteousness that flows from an inner attitude. This is a lot harder to achieve than it sounds. A serious Christian must guard not only his actions, but also his attitudes; not only his words, but also his thoughts. To keep the law of Christ is far more demanding that keeping the Law of Moses!

In re-stating the sixth Commandment, Jesus seems to take it even further than merely forbidding the act of adultery. Jesus was concerned with thought, too. But this wasn’t unique to Him. Jesus actually applied the final Commandment to the sixth, which forbade lust.

The wording of Jesus’ statement needs to be understood, otherwise it would be easy to get the impression that every Christian husband is an adulterer in his heart! The NIV states it like this:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 NIV)

The way this is worded in the Greek helps us understand what Jesus is getting at. It seems almost unreasonable that a man could be considered an adulterer without actually committing the act; that a thought is the same thing as an act. In the Greek, the man who casts the lustful looks is already an adulterer to begin with. That particular sin is already “in his heart” and the fact that he looks lustfully is evidence of that. In essence, then, what Jesus is saying is, “Stop acting like an adulterer. Only an adulterer would look at another woman like that.” If your heart is pure, as your heart should be if you are a Christian, no lustful look should even be possible. The only lustful look husbands with pure hearts should have is the lustful look at his own wife.

But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:9 NIV)

We understand that what Jesus said of a man also applies to a woman.

The commandment against adultery in the Old Testament and Jesus’ admonition provide no way out. There is no exception given in either Testament. To drive that point home, Jesus said things like this:

So if your eye—even if it is your best eye!—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. Better for part of you to be destroyed than for all of you to be cast into hell. And if your hand—even your right hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Better that than find yourself in hell. (Matthew 5:29, 30 TLB)

What Jesus is doing in these verses is meeting excuses head on. If the man with a lustful eye wants to blame his sin on his eye, then he ought to just gouge it out. The seat of the sin is never the eye or the hand; it’s always the heart. Jesus just gave a principle a lot us miss. If we slip up and sin, we can’t blame anything or anybody but ourselves. So, if a man commits adultery, he has no right to blame his lover or his wife or his eye or short skirts. The fault lies with his heart.


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