The 7th commandment; A Life of Sexual Purity and Self-Control

March 17, 2024 / No. 4237

Dear radio friends,

We live in a sex-saturated society. The prevailing view of many is that my body is mine to do with as I please, and that I may enjoy sexual activity with it, in any form, with whomever I want, at any time. Doing as we please sexually is considered one of the greatest freedoms we have in our society. So society promotes it. The mantra is, “if it feels good, do it.” Pornography is available at the touch of a button; strip clubs advertise their wares on highways; and prostitution is legal in some places. Schools promote sexual activity by recommending “safe” sex and distributing the equipment that supposedly leads to “safe” sex.

What God’s Word says about sex is ignored. Society laughs at the idea that sex is a gift of God to be enjoyed exclusively between one man and one woman. It ignores as so outdated the idea that the gift should be exercised only in the bond of marriage, and therefore not until marriage. That God’s Word condemns sex between men and men, and between women and women, and between close relatives, and between people and animals, matters not.

Nor is society concerned that God, in the holy Scriptures, sets forth clearly that He will judge societies that ignore His word on this matter. As God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, including sodomy; as He told the Israelites not to be like the Canaanite nations around them, or Israel also would be judged; so when Christ comes to judge all men, He will judge in light of this sin also.

But we also see that judgment all around us. What society considers its greatest freedom is actually ruining us. For society’s craze about sex, ignoring the principles set forth in Scripture, explains and contributes to sexual abuse of minors, to men treating women as objects for the satisfying of a man’s desire, to much psychological damage of people, to venereal and other diseases, and to difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. It goes far in explaining why divorce in our society is so rampant, and therefore why children do not grow up in stable homes with a good foundation on which they can build, an example which they can follow.

It is good that today we go to school again—not to the world’s school, but to the school in which Jesus Christ teaches us about God’s law, to be educated. And as we go, we must be willing to learn, and to implement what we learn. Only those who will live as Christ directs can truly claim to be His disciples, can find in His shed blood forgiveness for any sexual sins we may have committed, and can find in Him the power to put aside the world’s view of sex and live as God requires.

Today we turn to the school of God’s law in the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The instruction of Jesus regarding this commandment is found in several places in the gospel accounts, but one very familiar one is in Matthew 5:27-32:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

We see today that the seventh commandment requires us to live a life of sexual purity and self-control.

Let us begin today with the prohibition, “thou shalt not commit adultery.” In the ten commandments, the action that God explicitly forbids encompasses an entire category of activities. In other words, these commandments include a figure of speech called metonymy, in which one specific thing is forbidden, and that one specific thing encompasses everything in the same category.

In the seventh commandment, the specific thing forbidden is adultery. The category in which this falls is that of sexual activity.

Adultery is willful sexual activity with one who is not one’s spouse, although one is married. I emphasize that it is willful: rape victims need not think that they have committed a sin. But a sin has been committed against them, and that sin involved the use of sex. Those who willfully engage in sexual activity with one to whom they are not married are guilty of adultery.

But as the broader category is that of sexual activity, God forbids many different actions. He forbids taking sexual advantage of another, whether that other is a minor or not. He forbids sexual activity by people who are not married—something that even many Christians downplay today. He forbids finding sexual pleasure or gratification in viewing pornography.

We can refer to Old Testament laws in Leviticus 18 and 20 to show that God forbids sexual activity with animals, with close relatives, and with people of the same sex. In a sense, that should come as no surprise to us. At bottom, the basic starting point of God’s law with regard to sexual activity is this: it is to be enjoyed between one man and one woman in the bond of marriage. That person is inconsistent who speaks out against homosexuality today but will not speak out against adultery between married persons, or against premarital sex. All of these are displeasing to God.

Now in His sermon in Matthew 5 regarding how we should live in God’s kingdom, Jesus takes another step, by getting to the heart of the matter. He says that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Not that a man merely observes a woman’s presence, nor that he talks to her or is kind to her, but that he desires her, is the sin. Men commit this sin quickly, do they not? She is beautiful, or she is easy to talk to, or she has some charm about her—and a male, in his heart, quickly desires her sexually. This, says Jesus, is sin against the seventh commandment.

Jesus addressed males specifically, but even here there is an application to females. Females are less quick to be aroused by sight than males are; but they will sinfully desire a man who is very compassionate, who cares, who tries to understand them. When such a man is off limits for them, according to the boundaries God sets in His law, such women must also see that their desire for the man is sinful.

If this commandment governs the outward act in forbidding adultery and all sexual activity outside of marriage, and if it governs our hearts and desires, then it also governs our speech. Suggestive words and gestures, jokes that make light of that which God calls sinful, and a demeaning of sex by our speech are all forbidden by this commandment.

When God forbids something, He by implication requires the exact opposite; so our question now is, what is God saying positively about how we are to live? Two words summarize the positive keeping of this commandment: sexual purity, and self-control.

Sexual purity is called chastity. It is a respect for God’s law, and particularly the seventh commandment, that proceeds from a desire to glorify God and live in His service. Recognizing that God has bought us to Himself by the blood of Jesus Christ, and has delivered us from sin’s power so that we can serve Him, the chaste person says, “I desire to use my body in God’s service, not my own! Therefore, I desire to enjoy the gift of sex within marriage.” If single, the chaste person prays for grace to refrain from sexual activity until marriage. If married, the chaste person prays for grace to enjoy the gift within marriage alone, and then also seeks grace to address any issues in one’s marriage that is hindering true intimacy. If one never marries, and therefore never has sex throughout his or her entire life, chastity enables one to realize that this isn’t bad, but rather that life still has been and can be full of many joys.

With such a mind-set and heart-set, one lives a life of self-control. Our society does not promote self-control, not only regarding sexual activity but regarding all of life. In all of life, people are out for themselves and do what they want. Self-control is the ability to recognize that one’s thoughts are not leading one in a good direction, to turn from those evil thoughts to good thoughts by God’s grace, and therefore to control one’s actions. A person without self-control, given an opportunity to indulge in sexual pleasures, will rush forward headlong—what is to stop me? A female with self-control will say: wait a moment; an hour of physical pleasure is not worth the heartache of realizing tomorrow that that man wanted only my body; has no intention of helping me support the baby he fathered; and left me with a venereal disease. A male with self-control will say, as did Joseph: wait a moment; although my flesh desires that woman, how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? An unmarried man with self-control will say: if I wait, God will give me this gift in the form of a marriage, and a wife, with whom sexual activity is an expression of true and deep intimacy. A married man with self-control will say: if I wait, I can enjoy time with my wife, without any guilt before God.

Radio listeners, pray that God give you sexual purity and self-control. And if this commandment requires you to come face to face with past sin, or present sin, then acknowledge it to God in prayer. Don’t deny, minimize, or excuse your sin, but acknowledge it to God, and seek His forgiving mercies in Christ. Be encouraged by the reminder that, when the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman taken in adultery, Jesus did not shame her all the more for committing this sin, but assured her that He would not condemn her. To be clear, Jesus was not saying that He had no real concern about her personal life, that what she did was not His concern; He was saying rather that His shed blood would cover her sin. And in gratitude to Him for covering her sin, she was to go and sin no more. Our Lord receives in mercy those who have committed adultery and fornication, in word, thought, and act, but who are ashamed of their sin, and grieve that they have offended God by it and seek His forgiving grace.

Now we come to another application of this commandment to which Jesus referred in Matthew 5, as well as in Matthew 19: divorce and remarriage. Now what I say will not be any more popular than what Jesus said to the Pharisees, but I don’t intend to say anything other than what Jesus said. First, God does not permit divorce except in the case of sexual infidelity on the part of one of the married people. This is quite a different approach than our society takes, which permits divorce for any reason, and usually the desire of one for divorce means that the courts will grant the divorce, even if the other doesn’t desire it. And it was a different approach than the Pharisees took, who permitted divorce for many reasons, so long as the proper legal papers were provided.

Jesus reminds us that God intended marriage to be a life-long bond between a man and a woman. When God created Adam and Eve, He did not give them instruction regarding what to do if they were to get divorced. Rather, in Genesis 2:24 He said that the marriage of Adam and Eve was an illustration of a creation-long truth: God intends that a man leave his parents, and cleave to his wife, as one flesh, until death parts them.

And yet, the Old Testament law provided for divorce, and Jesus did also. Not, however, in any instance, and for any reason, but for one: adultery. Sexual infidelity within the marriage is not merely a sin; it is an attack on the marriage itself. It indicates that in that marriage is not trust, and is not the genuine heartfelt love that God requires of a man and woman. Jesus permits divorce in the case of adultery. May it often be, that when one married person commits adultery, he or she is brought to see the horror of the sin, seeks God’s pardon, is forgiven also by the spouse, and together the married couple works anew to live to God’s glory. But divorce is permissible when one spouse has demonstrated that he or she does not honor the marriage.

And then what? Jesus says that a man commits adultery when he marries one that is divorced! Elsewhere (Rom. 7, I Cor. 7) God makes clear that marriage is intended for life, and is dissolved at the death of one’s spouse. In I Corinthians 7, the married person whose spouse leaves him or her is told to remain unmarried, or be reconciled to the spouse. The point is that God is not pleased with the remarriage of divorced persons while their spouses are alive.

Now this seems harsh. But it underscores two points. First, that when a husband and wife together address whatever issues in their marriage are hindering them from true unity, they will grow in their love for each other, and in true oneness. Second, it underscores that God requires us to be like Him. And here we come to the great truth about Jehovah that underlies this commandment: He loves us, His covenant people, with an unending love, and He is always faithful to us. Our marriages are to be pictures of His love for us; as redeemed children of God, we are to live in marriage the way He lives with us.

So much is marriage a picture of God’s relationship with us, that in the Old Testament He spoke of Israel as His bride (Hosea, and Ezekiel 16, for instance), and in the New Testament He speaks of heaven as the place where the great marriage supper of the Lamb (Christ) and His bride (the church) will be eaten. God married Himself to His church and people in Jesus Christ. Though we are sinners, He loved us; He even sent Christ to the death of the cross, to bear God’s wrath for sin, so that we, although sinners, could be the spouse of God. His love is such that He desired us when we were sinners, made provision for the removing of our sin, and is always faithful to us. Never does God say to us, though we are sinners, that He will find another church, another bride.

The greatness of God’s love for us is all the more underscored by our sins. Our love for Him is not perfect. Israel served idols, and God considered that a spiritual adultery. James calls the people to whom He wrote adulterers and adulteresses, in a figurative sense, because they also sought the world’s favors and esteem rather than God’s. God chastised Israel for her sins, and chastises us for ours. But the goal of His chastisement is not the destruction or abolishing of the relationship of marriage that He has established with us; rather, the goal is to turn us to Him with our whole heart, in genuine love.

Now our marriages are meant to be like that. Husbands, we are to love our wives as Christ loved His church; when we do that, we will not divorce our wives, nor be unfaithful to them. Wives, we are to seek the love of our husbands alone, as the church is to seek the love of God in Christ alone. When both spouses do this, the marriage in which each seeks and loves each other exclusively will be an occasion for great joy and blessing. When both spouses do this, they are living as God requires them to live. Indeed, they are living as God Himself lives!

So, while Jesus’ prohibition of divorce except for adultery, and His statement that one who marries a divorced person is committing adultery, seem harsh to us, it is not in fact harsh. It is God telling us to live toward our spouses as He lives toward us.

This is the law for the kingdom of God. This is the law for children of God, for citizens of His kingdom, for members of His covenant.

This law is not a burden for such, but a delight. Because Christ died for us, we have the incentive; because He arose again and renews us, we have the power; and because he possesses our bodies and souls, we know that He will always enable us to keep this commandment.

Let this encourage you, radio friends. What Jesus sets forth in His law is radically different from the advice that the world gives. So the question is simply this: whom do you serve? Jesus Christ, and God through Him? Or yourself, and the society in which we live?

Seeking to serve God in Christ, in the power that Christ gives, may you, whether married or single, enjoy the greatest happiness that anyone on earth can enjoy–that of having peace with Him, and knowing that He is always faithful to us.