Let’s be honest: you’re at least a little worried that this is going to be an uncomfortable sermon, aren’t you? Why is that? Is it because we want to protect our children’s tender ears and eyes? The truth is that our kids are going to learn about sex (probably before we know it) – the only question is: will they learn about it at Jesus’ feet or in one of Satan’s many classrooms? Is it because sex is something that shouldn’t be discussed in public? The Apostle Paul clearly wasn’t ashamed to discuss this topic in his letters – which were intended to be read publicly. (1 Thessalonians 5:27) Is it because we want our sexual desires to be off-limits for anyone else to judge, something we want to keep hidden, not just from other people, but from God himself? Getting warmer. Do you know the real reason the 6th commandment makes us uncomfortable? At Creation: the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Seven verses later we are told then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7) And, when God appeared, he said, “who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11) Why does it make us uncomfortable to talk about sex and marriage? Sin. The sinful thoughts that lurk in our minds and the sinful desires that control our bodies; the sin that has twisted our hearts and leads us to misuse God’s good gifts; sin – and the shame that comes with it – is why we try to run away and hide from our holy God. That’s why we need this commandment. That’s why even though it might make us squirm, we need to take an honest look at God’s will for sex and marriage – because like it or not, we are at war, and it’s time to take back territory from Satan and the ungodly world he controls. Today, God leads us to honor his gift of marriage; a gift that protects purity, promotes unity, and points to Christ.
The Hebrew word for adultery (naaph) appears 31 times in the Old Testament. It refers narrowly to unfaithfulness within marriage. And yet, while the definition of the word is very narrow, the Bible as a whole has a far broader definition. Paul goes so far as to say that among [Christians] there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality. (Ephesians 5:3) Simply stated, God’s will is that his gift of sex be practiced only within the bond of marriage – defined as one man and one woman who have publicly committed to one another for life. (Genesis 2:24)
These days, people – maybe even people you know – like to try to set Jesus against this commandment. They will say, “Yeah, I know that no one should separate what God has brought together (Matthew 19:6), but the passion is gone; doesn’t Jesus want me to be happy?” “Sure I know that God reserves sex for marriage, but doesn’t Jesus want me to show my love for my girlfriend/boyfriend?” “Yeah, I know that God expects that two people only begin living together after they have made their public vows to one another – but doesn’t Jesus want us to get to know each other before we make a permanent commitment?” Or “Yeah, in the past marriage was between a man and a woman, but come on, Jesus loves everyone, what’s wrong with two committed men or women getting married?” Perhaps more than in any other area of doctrine or life, many want to find some kind of contradiction between Jesus and the rest of Scripture. But listen again to Jesus’ words: You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28) Jesus does not stand against the 6th commandment; he stands behind it. He does not take the edge off of the law; he sharpens it. Many argue that Jesus doesn’t explicitly forbid living together before marriage or hook-ups between two consenting adults or homosexuality. But they miss the fact that Jesus didn’t have to explicitly name every way mankind could come up with to pervert God’s good gifts – because he zeroed in on the source of every sexual sin: the lust-filled heart.
Most people today do not consider lust a sin. Young people today are growing up in an oversexualized world, one where texting naked pictures is as common as making a phone call; where sex-ed is taught before driver’s ed; where even animated movies carry sexual overtones. Many parents don’t even question if their teenagers should be having sex, the biggest concern is how to teach them to have safe sex. As much as ever, Christian parents and grandparents need to be responsible for teaching their children about sex and marriage – and God’s guidelines for both – because every other teacher, be it in public schools, TV shows, or friends is not teaching from God’s instruction manual but Satan’s.
One of the best tools we have in doing that is Luther’s explanation to the 6th commandment: we should fear and love God that we lead a pure and decent life in words and actions. In other words, in this commandment God protects his gift of purity. This purity is not something we were born with – since we are all stained with sin from birth. (Psalm 51:5) This purity is something God gave us in Baptism. Paul explains do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders will inherit the kingdom of God…and that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) This is why Christians don’t go along with the crowd in their attempt to change the definition of marriage. This is why Christians avoid flirtatious conversations and dirty websites. This is why the most unloving thing you can do when your child tells you he’s moving in with his girlfriend is to say nothing. Jesus didn’t die to save us for the filth of sin, he died to save us from the filth of sin. In 1st Corinthians Paul explains that sexual sins (which the world calls harmless) not only damage our own bodies, they damage our relationship with God: flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) Young or old, single or married, we will honor God with the way we use our bodies because it’s not my body to do with it whatever I please; Jesus died to buy us back from sin and Satan; we belong to him and this commandment protects the purity he has given us.
That’s one side of this commandment. Luther also leads us to consider the other side: Husbands and wives, love and honor each other. Here we return to the narrow definition of adultery, unfaithfulness inside of marriage. Scripture allows for divorce in two instances: When the bond of marriage has already been broken by 1) marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9); or 2) malicious desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15). In those instances, the innocent party may seek a divorce. However, to seek a divorce for any other reason is a sin itself. (Matthew 19:1-12) Unwilling to fight against the sick desires of the sinful nature, our world has made a mess of things with its “no-fault” divorces and providing easy access to divorce in spite of the damage it does to families and especially children. But God is the great simplifier. He declares through the prophet Malachi: I hate divorce. (Malachi 2:16) Or, in the words of one Bible commentator: God gave you the ultimate wedding present when you stood before his altar and said “for as long as we both shall live”; he took you at your word. There is no such thing as a “no-fault” divorce in God’s eyes. Every divorce is the result of sin on the part of one or both spouses.
But even apart from divorce, this commandment calls all of us who are married to examine our own words, our actions, and our hearts. Our world tends to treat marriage more like a business arrangement than a sacred institution. And with the prevalence of prenuptial agreements and secular counselors who advise ending marriages rather than working through problems, it has taken hold even in Christian homes. But God was not forging a business contract when he pulled a rib out of Adam’s side, made Eve, and brought her to him. Adam recognized this in the first love song ever written: this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man. (Genesis 2:23) The spouse God gave you is not a business partner – he or she is a part of you! Jesus affirms they are no longer two, but one. (Matthew 19:6) That’s what God sees when two people come before him and pledge to be faithful to one another as long as they both shall live. What do you see in your own heart and life? Husbands, Paul says, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25) Do we consider the needs and desires of our wives as more important than our own needs and desires? Are we willing to sacrifice our time, our career goals, our hobbies to give her the time and attention she needs? Or do we find ourselves tuning out and shutting down, which leads to coldness and lust, peering across real or virtual fences at greener pastures? Wives, what do you see? Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord…as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22, 24) Do you find yourself resenting the unique role God has given you? Do you find yourself checking out old boyfriends on Facebook, fantasizing about what could have been? Whenever either of us, husbands or wives, follow the way of the world and demand our own personal happiness at the expense of our spouse – not only are we breaking this commandment, we are really hurting ourselves. The 6th commandment promotes the precious gift of unity that he gives only in marriage – a “one-flesh” unity that leads husbands to imitate Christ in his sacrificial love for the church which, in turn, leads wives to submit to his leadership and authority in everything.
And by now, I expect most of us are feeling torn inside. We know what God commands, but we also know how powerfully temptation pulls at us. We know that God instituted marriage to be a blessing, but we’ve also seen how sin has ruined God’s sacred institution. Part of us wants to live the way God intended from the beginning – but it’s perpetually at war with the part that says “It’s your body, if it feels good, go for it!” There’s a line in Luke’s Gospel about the response Jesus’ preaching received: all the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right. (Luke 7:29) That’s the primary aim of the 6th commandment. It’s not to prevent every teenage pregnancy or homosexual desire. It’s not to fix every problem in every marriage or reconcile every divorce. It’s not to bring up past guilt or provide a club for a future argument. The real aim of this commandment is repentance – a change of heart and mind that can be worked only by the One who loves us more than we love ourselves. When we stop arguing with God, when our hearts are softened enough to confess that God is right and we are wrong – then the 6th commandment has done its job. Because, finally, honoring marriage isn’t the end in itself. Honoring marriage is one important way we honor the God who overcame the separation our sins, sexual or otherwise, created to reconcile us to himself. (2 Corinthians 5:19) Paul tells us that marriage is no less than a picture of what Jesus did when he came down to earth to live a perfectly pure life in our place and suffer the hell we deserve to reunite us with God. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
From the water of Baptism to the dust of the grave, God has bound himself to you. He will never be unfaithful to you. He will never break his vow to forgive you and love you and take you back. So whatever irreparable mistakes lay in your past, whatever baggage you may carry, whatever struggles you face right now, know that the way of repentance is always open. The blood of Jesus is powerful enough to wash away any sexual sin – and the guilt and shame that come with it, and the Holy Spirit will renew your faith, enabling you to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives. (Titus 2:12) In all things, God’s forgiveness changes the source of the problem: our hearts – so that instead of looking for loopholes in God’s will, we will instead turn our eyes to the cross, where we discover what real love and real faithfulness look like. Joined to Christ as a bride is joined to a groom, we will honor marriage, because we know it as God’s good gift that protects purity, promotes unity, and points sinners everywhere to Christ. Amen.