Because of the importance of the content, this one is rather lengthy, but please read to the end…
VII – Thou shall not commit adultery.
It’s the Difference That Makes the Difference
Matthew 5:27- “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Vs 31-32; “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Adultery, what a nasty word. It’s no wonder people don’t call it that, they refer to it as an affair, a fling, an extramarital relationship, anything but adultery. In Exodus 20:14 God gave the people of Israel the Ten Commandments and number seven said, “You shall not commit adultery.” The old testament laws were laid down for a nation to keep it from deteriorating into moral decay and rotting away from the inside. The concepts that Christ goes on to deal with here were meant to hold the moral fabric of marriage and family together.
The sin of adultery was considered so serious under Jewish law that the consequence was death. It’s laid down in the book of Leviticus 20:10 (NIV) “’If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. And while this seems to put an end to the thought of possible reconciliation it certainly cut down on repeat offenders!
But again, Christ says that the Christian is to go beyond the limits of the law. The law says no adultery, Jesus says no lust! Listen to his words in Matthew 5:28 (NIV) “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman “lustfully” has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
What is the sin of lust? Lust in Greek is an impulsive, passionate desire. That desire can be appropriate in marriage. And we can certainly also have a deep passion toward God. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)
But lust as a sin is a longing for sexual satisfaction outside of marriage. It seeks to fulfill its desires without considering love. As Christians we are to be people who love one another. Society teaches that lust and love are similar. But lust bypasses love and moves directly to passion. It eliminates relationships and turns the other person into an object or thing. They become a body to conquer. Lust is temporary and never has any lasting satisfaction.
Now, Matthew 5:29-30 says “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Now let’s not confuse this teaching with Islamic law that actually uses this type of action as a punishment for sin. Jesus isn’t saying this is punishment instead he is saying it is prevention. How would you put this into words today? Don’t look! Turn away! Don’t linger! And it bears repeating this doesn’t just apply to the men, dirty dogs that they are, but also to the ladies. Listen, God recognizes our sexual needs and desires, after all he created them. But, again, we are talking about lust and not love.
Now, according to God’s Word, there are two ways to control our thought process, the first is to say – “I will not think about that.” So, everyone close your eyes. Come on humor me, close your eyes. Now, whatever you do, do not think about pink elephants, don’t think about big pink elephants at all. Ok, just tell yourself that you’re not going to even picture a pink elephant in your mind…. Get the picture? That never works!
The second way of course is to fill your mind with good thoughts. How many people have read the book or watched the movie Peter Pan? Can you remember how to fly? Peter Pan told John that “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts and they lift you high in the air.” Need a more spiritual quote, then how about this Philippians 4:8 (NIV) “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” You fill your minds with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise worthy and I can almost guarantee you won’t have problems with lust.
Now, as if Christ hasn’t stirred up enough of a hornet’s nest, listen to his next statement in Matthew 5:31 (NIV) “It has been said, ’Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’… What Christ is quoting here is the only Old Testament regulation concerning divorce. This ties in with the last statement that Christ made in that it also deals with the family. The Jewish law recognized that the marriage was both sacred and binding. The Rabbis said, “The very altar sheds tears when a man divorces the wife of his youth” and the Prophet Malachi wrote in Malachi 2:16 (NIV) “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel. Now that’s fine in theory but it didn’t work well in practice. One of the major problems of the time was that women weren’t viewed as people nearly as much as they were as things. So, when a man didn’t want his wife anymore he simply showed her the door. Well you can well imagine the effect that this would have on society and so the law brought about a proper procedure to deal with the situation and again it was a law for unredeemed people; You just give her a certificate of divorce!
Do you remember Deuteronomy 24:1 (NIV) “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her”?… The big debate with the Jews was what was meant by the term “Indecent” the most conservative teachers said that it meant adultery, or he discovered that she wasn’t a virgin when they married. Others said that it meant that she made her husband unhappy in some ways. It could be that she couldn’t have children, that she was disobedient, that she was a nag, or burnt the dinner or, that he had found someone that he preferred over her.
It was this second more liberal view that was held by the majority of the Jews at the time, at least the majority of the men. And so if the wife displeased her husband then he gave her a writ of divorce that said Let this be from me your writ of divorce and letter of dismissal and deed of liberation, (you can get them at any Wal-Mart.) so that you may marry whatever man you wish. This actually was the law for society, and it remains so today. If you cannot live with your spouse and whether you are a Christian or not, you don’t simply desert them, you go through the necessary actions and paper work and make it official. That is there to protect the institution of marriage, to provide a waiting period so to speak, to make it a little more difficult then simply walking away.
As Christians we need to keep the law, but we are also required to go beyond it, to fulfill it. So, Christ states in Matthew 5:32 (NIV) “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” And with those words Jesus opened up the biggest cans of worms in church history.
(I would mention that all of this is addressed to men because under Jewish law women had absolutely no right to divorce, however today this stands for both men and women.)
What this says is that the only acceptable reason for two Christians to divorce, and remember this is for two believers, is for “marital unfaithfulness”, and this then, permits remarriage. Now I know that not everybody agrees… but, bear with me, these are the words of Jesus not mine.
I realize that Matthew is the only place in the New Testament which includes the adultery option. Some maintain that is because it wasn’t a part of the original text, but that becomes the cop out you use any time you disagree with Bible. Others maintain that Christ was talking about the year of betrothal that the Jews observed. Others and I guess I’m in this camp, believe that the reason neither Mark or Luke mention it is because in Jewish society divorce wasn’t an option in the case of adultery, it was required. (Remember the story of Mary and Joseph?) During the “betrothal year, it was mandatory. When adultery happened the marriage vows were considered to be nullified and that was that. The other thing we need to remember is that adultery was a capital offense under Jewish law, you didn’t become a divorcee if your spouse cheated, you became a widower! There was less paper work that way.
In Matthew 5 and 19, Christ tells us that divorce and remarriage are permissible on the grounds of immorality, a broad word that includes the concepts of adultery, the practice of homosexuality, or other perverted relationships, and abuse. That does not mean one MUST divorce a spouse guilty of such offenses, but rather that one MAY do so…
O.K. Here is a brief summary of my perspective on divorce and remarriage… (They are worthy of discussion.)
* Divorce and remarriage can be proper if there is a breach of faithfulness through immoral practice, such as adultery. Even in these situations, divorce is not always the answer – but may be appropriate in some cases.
Divorce and remarriage can also be proper if one is deserted. In almost every case it is for someone else…which is adultery.
* If a spouse finds living with his/her spouse is intolerable (due to things like abuse, illegal activity, etc. divorce may be appropriate. (Why, because he/she has broken the marriage covenant!)
* I also believe that divorce that happens before a person accepts Christ is covered by His forgiveness. Neither Divorce nor adultery are the unforgivable sin! See John 8:1-11 –“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
* Lack of happiness or incompatibility are not grounds for divorce. Marriage is a covenant of commitment “until death”; There is no “shoulda, coulda, woulda,” in marriage…or dreaming of greener pastures. I happen to be one who believes you better know what you are getting into before you get into it!
* Are sinful thoughts as bad as sinful actions? No!….but, the earlier you check a sin, the better. We cannot help the thoughts that come into our minds; we can choose which ones to savor and entertain in our minds.
The bottom line is this; The Bible says that when a man and woman marry they become one flesh…there is only two ways they can be separated…one is death, the other is divorce… And, both leave scars! The scars of death heal well over time, and we come to realize that it is a part of life… However, the divorce requires radical surgery that leaves deep wounds and scars, some of which never heal. In fact, quite often, though people survive the operation, the scars never heal. This applies to the parents as well as the children of divorce. That’s why Jesus opened the can of worms and tells the Christians to go beyond the law…It’s the difference that makes the difference.