The Seventh Commandment
Scripture: Matthew 5:27-32
I tried to let everyone know ahead of time – today’s sermon is rated PG. I’m not going to say anything shocking or explicit in nature, but I’m going to use plenty of Bible words that may require some explanation by parents later. If your child is old enough to ask the question, they are probably old enough to get an age-appropriate answer. But as the parent, it is your judgment call and I wanted you to be prepared.
With that, let’s begin. Matthew 5 beginning in verse 27:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
This is the seventh commandment. Like the sixth commandment, the seventh is easy to remember and relatively easy to keep, at least it was in the mind of a first century Jew.
But we live in 21st century America and we are perhaps the most sexually broken society in the history of the world. Roughly 20% of all married adults admit to cheating on their spouse at least once.
The average American will have more than 20 “partners” before marrying. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Nearly half of all children are born out of wedlock.
20% of all advertising is designed to trigger the sexual part of our brains. Between 75 and 95% of all men view pornography regularly. Between 30 and 50% of women.
The number of LGBT adults has doubled in only the past ten years. Twenty percent of all adults between the ages of 18 and 25 identify as LGBT. I could go on, but you get the idea.
By comparison, first century Jews were living a lifestyle far closer to God’s design for human sexuality. And yet, Jesus did not think of them as pure. He didn’t say “good job for keeping the seventh commandment so well!” Let’s keep reading.
28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Again, Jesus uses a commandment that most people think they are keeping. The vast majority of the people listening to Jesus had never committed an adulterous action. And yet, Jesus says that they are guilty of breaking the seventh commandment.
Jesus says very clearly that sin is not limited to our actions. It also involves our desires. Just as he linked anger to murder, Jesus now links lust to adultery. The law is not only concerned with our actions. God is also concerned with our desires.
Sexual desire is normal. God created the experience. It is a gift from God, but not in every context.
I spent 13 years ministering to students and I often got a question from young men about their relationships. They would ask me, “How far is too far?”
In other words, what can I get away with before it becomes sin? It’s a very bad question and it reveals our tendency to define sin very narrowly. That was the problem with the religious leaders in the first century. Like Bill Clinton, they defined sexual sin in very narrow ways.
But if we accept the definition of sexual sin offered by Jesus, then we have all gone too far. This is a very broad definition of sin, that even includes our thoughts. And God takes it very seriously. How seriously? Look what Jesus says next.
29 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. 30 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.
This was a favorite teaching of Jesus. He used it often and it’s extremely violent. We recoil at the thought of someone doing this. And that’s the point. Our own sin should make us recoil.
No one in the history of Christianity thinks that Jesus wants us to literally cut off parts of our body. Everyone agrees this is hyperbole. He’s teaching a lesson.
Think about it like this. If you’re diabetic and it gets out of control and you develop gangrene in your foot, what will the doctor tell you to do? Amputate your foot. And as sad as that is, we understand the need. If you keep your foot, you will die. Lose the foot and you survive.
That’s the illustration. Sin is deadly and we must be willing to take drastic measures to deal with it because it wants to destroy us.
And notice that Jesus mentions hell twice. In fact, Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. And if you follow the argument, what is he saying? He’s saying that we deserve hell long before we have committed a sinful action. We deserve hell based on the lustful intent in our hearts – something only God knows about. And that alone can destroy us.
But in a culture like ours, no one really believes that sex is dangerous as long as it is consensual. And no one thinks of desires as a moral issue at all. Even Christians struggle to understand this.
Part of the problem is that we haven’t done a great job in the church of explaining God’s design for sex and marriage. We have been afraid to talk about it, which means our people are consuming the garbage of the world and getting nothing healthy from the church.
As a result, I don’t think most Christians really understand why God commands sexual purity. The typical Christian answers we hear are, “You might catch an STD or you might get pregnant.” And that never persuades anyone. But God is very clear about this in the Bible.
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. – 1 Cor. 6:18
In other words, it is wrong because it is both extremely selfish and self-harming. Why? Because it violates God’s design for sex and marriage.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. – Heb. 13:4
In other words, there is a right context and a wrong context for sexual intimacy, just as there is a right context and a wrong context for starting a fire. I can start a fire in my fireplace, but not in the middle of my living room. Beautiful in the right context. Destructive in the wrong context.
Listen to this quote by Lewis Smedes: “When two bodies are united, two persons are united. Nobody can go to bed with someone and leave his soul parked outside. The soul is in the act.”
He goes on to say that sex outside of marriage is a “life-uniting act committed without life-uniting intent.”
We need to be teaching this to our kids, early and often. We need to be talking about it with other Christians. We also need accountability and encouragement, because we’re dealing with something that is much more dangerous than most people realize.
I watched an interview recently with a former adult film star. She talked about the immense shame that she carries. She talked about men approaching her in public because they recognized her and the things those men would say and do to her in public because they assumed it was ok. She described is as a living hell.
We convince ourselves that our secret sins are not a big deal. But we are people made in the image of God and so are the people on the screen. Jesus commands us to take it seriously. Cut it off. Eliminate obvious sources of temptation from your life.
Unfiltered, unmonitored, and unrestricted access to a smartphone is not going to work for most people I know, especially men. That’s like leaving the gates to the city wide open when you know the enemy army is standing outside.
But we need to consider one final word from Jesus, this morning.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. It is the only law concerning divorce in the Old Testament. It’s about a rare circumstance in which a man might try to remarry a woman he previously divorced in order to gain a second dowry. The law was actually meant to protect the woman from being taken advantage of by a man.
But the Jews started using it as a justification for any man to divorce his wife for any reason and that’s what Jesus condemns. He interprets the law much more narrowly. Divorce is only permitted in cases of adultery. Period.
If you divorce someone only because you don’t want to be with them anymore, it makes you guilty of adultery. There is more we can say about divorce from Scripture and if you have questions, I can point you to some helpful resources. But Jesus is sufficiently clear. He’s not a fan of divorce. It’s almost never the right decision, especially for the children involved.
I also want to say, I know this is a tough sermon. Jesus cuts us pretty deep here. But remember, He is not wounding us without cause or purpose. God exposes us to heal us.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
If the goal of Jesus is to lead us to repentance and faith, He must first convince us that we need it. And that was always the purpose of the law. It is meant not only to show us a better way to live. It also holds up a mirror to show us our deep need for salvation.
So, let’s use this as an opportunity to dig deeper. If we could summarize our main problem with the seventh commandment, I think it is probably a lack of contentment. That is the central heart issue.
Am I content, or satisfied, with who the Lord has provided me as a spouse? Or if you’re not currently married, are you satisfied in your current singleness? Are you satisfied with the male or female body that God gave you? Are you satisfied with His will for your life? His design for you?
Lust creeps in when we lack contentment. And every human being struggles with this on some level. We see it all around us, don’t we? Our culture is the most sexually broken because we are also the least content. We are restless and lonely, naked but unseen. Unknown. It’s never enough.
If you think you’ve never broken the seventh commandment, then you’re probably in the wrong place. If you think you’re the most sexually broken person in this room, then you’re definitely in the right place, because this is where Jesus promises to be. Jesus calls the church His “bride”. We are hardly the perfect bride, but He is the perfect groom.
God has a high view of marriage because He designed it as a picture of the Gospel. His love is offered to us freely, it starts with forgiveness, and it never ends. But it also requires sacrifice.
Jesus died to redeem seventh commandment breakers and restore the One relationship we are all searching for in our sin.
This is the promise of God, written to the prophet Hosea about His people:
I will betroth you to me forever.
I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,
in steadfast love and in mercy.
I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
No matter our past failures, no matter our present struggles, Jesus offers us a healthy, eternal relationship. And through that relationship, we are offered grace and healing for what has been broken. He takes us the way He finds us, but He never leaves us the way He found us. He’s calling us to purity, but He provides the grace we need to walk in t