THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN THE 21st CENTURY
7) YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
What exactly is adultery? It means going to bed with a man or woman who is legally married to someone else. In ancient times this also included going to bed with someone who was engaged to be married to someone else, because a promise to marry was counted the same as actual marriage. That is why Joseph decided he would divorce Mary when they were engaged to be married, and he discovered she was expecting a baby, and he knew it was not his.
Adultery was a very serious offence in ancient times. Hundreds of years before the Law of Moses, in the story of Abraham, Abraham came to the country of the Philistines and pretended Rebekah was his sister, not his wife. As a result, Rebekah was taken into the palace of the king of the Philistines. When the king found out she was already married, he was very angry with Isaac – see Genesis 20:3-7. Notice here that the punishment for adultery was death. This was also the punishment under the Law of Moses. See Leviticus 20:10.
Why did God consider adultery so serious? There are two reasons. In the beginning, God introduced marriage as a union between a man and a woman that was so close that they would become ‘one flesh’. The sexual act is an expression of that unity. To go to bed with a third party breaks that precious bond. Secondly, in Bible times marriage began with a solemn vow between the man and the woman that they would remain together for life. In Bible language this was called a covenant. Let us demonstrate this important point – see Proverbs 2:16, 17 and Malachi 2:14, 15. To break the promise you made when you married was very serious in God’s eyes. He always keeps his promises, and he expects us to keep ours.
What does Jesus say about adultery? As we have seen before, he insists the Law of Moses is not strict enough for his followers. It is not sufficient to say ‘I have never been to bed with someone who is not my husband’. In Jesus’ view, to look at someone else’s husband day after day with a desire to go to bed with him is just as bad as the actual deed. We have to stop the unlawful desire in the first place. See Matthew 5:27, 28 (the Greek word here carries means more than a casual glance; it implies a regular, lustful gaze). The Apostle Paul is very strict about this subject. He says that people who regularly commit adultery will not enter the Kingdom of God. See 1 Corinthians 6; 9, 10.
We live in a world where adultery takes place all the time. They call it ‘having an affair’. We see adultery in films and plays, in novels, and all around us in our neighbours’ lives. But it is wrong. God hates it, and serial adulterers will be banned from his Kingdom. It is obvious that the same was true in the society of the First Century, especially in big ports like Corinth where there were many sailors and prostitutes. Paul says some of the Corinthian Christians had been like that before they became Christians. But their old sins had been washed away in the water of baptism, and now they must lead a pure and holy life, verse 11. The same thing applies to us. We may have led bad lives before we heard about the Truth, but when we were baptised all our old sins were forgiven, and now we must keep ourselves free from immorality.
People sometimes ask what will happen if we do commit adultery after we are baptised. Does that mean we are banned from the Kingdom forever? The answer is that all the other sins in Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 6:11 will also ban us from the Kingdom if they represent our way of life. Drunkards, thieves and extortioners are no better and no worse than adulterers. God is merciful, and if we do sin in this way, but repent and ask forgiveness, and do not continue in that sin, God will take away our guilt for the sake of Jesus’ blood. A classic example would be the case of King David, who had an affair with the wife of one of his soldiers. He tried to keep it quiet, and covered his tracks so that when she became pregnant people would think the baby was her husband’s. But God knew the truth, and eventually he sent the prophet Nathan to charge David with the sin. When David eventually repented and asked forgiveness, God forgave him. But he suffered from the consequences of his sin all the rest of his life. See 2 Samuel 12:10-13. So the answer is, God will forgive our sins, however serious, if we genuinely repent and forsake them. But if we live a life of sin, we shall not be suitable company for God’s son, and teachers and rulers of his Kingdom. Such people must be above reproach.
(NEXT MONTH: 'YOU SHALL NOT STEAL')