I once heard about a pastor who would come up front during the middle of the service and say, “The peace of Christ be with you,” and in response the congregation would always respond by saying, “And also with you.” And yet, when the pastor got up that particular Sunday, he realized that his microphone wasn’t working, and so his first words instead were, “There’s something wrong with this microphone.” And the congregation faithfully responded as usual by saying, “And also with you.”
With a topic as heavy as ours today, that seems like the right place to start. Let’s try it ourselves. “There’s something wrong with this microphone.” “And also with you.”
One of the great travesties within the church is that we have a tendency of highlighting certain sexual sins, while diminishing all the others. And we always do so in such a way that shifts the focus on to others, while letting ourselves off the hook. Friends, that should not be so. After all, as we consider the 7th commandment this morning, “Do not commit adultery,” we might think to ourselves, “This is a sexual sin that’s got nothing to do with me, I’ve never done that before.” And yet, when Jesus goes so far to connect the sin of adultery to the sin of lust, he is forcing all of us to look within, and probe the depths of our own sinful hearts.
You see, the way forward is not to excuse all sexual sin and look the other way. Rather, it’s by facing all of it head on, first and foremost our own, and taking it all to Jesus and laying it at the foot of the cross.
Now one more thing before we really get started here, if you’re new here or if this is your first Sunday with us in a while, I just need you to know, we don’t talk about such sensitive topics all that often. We’re in the midst of a sermon series on the 10 Commandments, looking at a different commandment each Sunday, and so if you’re asking yourself, “What are the chances that I’m here for the one on adultery?” I suppose the answer to that question is, approximately, 1 in 10.
Anyway, for today, we’ll very briefly consider the sin of adultery, then, we’ll turn our attention for quite some time on the sin of lust, and then we’ll get into some specific application.
First, adultery. Adultery is when someone who is married has sex with someone other than their spouse. And we will keep this first section on adultery rather short, because my hunch is, I don’t think I have to go to great lengths to explain to you why adultery is wrong. In addition, it is probably not all that helpful to go to great lengths identifying why exactly adultery is so deeply painful. Marriage is the most intimate earthly relationship two people can have and sex is the most intimate earthly experience two people have. And to share something that is so personal, so intimate, that is meant to be enjoyed exclusively within the marriage covenant with someone else is what I imagine to be the most devastating form of betrayal and rejection there is. And those feelings of betrayal and rejection extend beyond just the marriage itself, often affecting children, friends, and extended family too.
And in what might be the clearest sign of just how damaging adultery is to a marriage, Jesus names sexual immorality, and certainly adultery would fall within that, as reasonable grounds for seeking a divorce. Now, that is not to say that if your spouse commits adultery that you must get a divorce or even that you should get a divorce (those are decisions that require great wisdom and guidance) and there’s virtually no limit to what Jesus can redeem and restore. The point here is simply to say that if your spouse has committed adultery against you that it is biblically permissible to seek a divorce, because Jesus recognizes the damage that has been done.
Painful as it is to talk about, and far more painful as it is to experience, in midst of it all, we must see that when God commands us to not commit adultery, we must also see the very good gift, the very good relationship that God is trying to protect, that is, marriage.
And here’s where we begin to ever so slowly shift our attention from adultery to lust. As we’ve said throughout this series, for every “do not” there is also a “do.” And that for every commandment that is described in the negative, there is also a grand positive that we are called to pursue.
And here, in this seventh commandment the grand positive, to be pursued by both married and single people alike, is marital faithfulness and sexual purity.
After all, simply not committing adultery is no guarantee of a joyful and life giving marriage. And simply not committing adultery is no guarantee that we’re honoring the Lord with our sexuality.
And so it’s here that we must consider Jesus’s words and the expansive obedience, to borrow a phrase from Jen Wilkin, that he calls us to when he connects adultery to lust. Here again is what he says,
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Before we try to make sense of why Jesus makes this startling claim we need to first understand what he is saying by defining terms.
To be physically attracted to someone is more than fine, in fact it’s good. God has designed us to be physically attracted to one another. Lust, however, takes those initial moments of attraction and takes it much, much further. To follow up on our commandment from last week “do not covet,” think of lust as sexual coveting. It’s as though the heart had hands reaching, grasping, wanting what it does not have, and doesn’t belong to it. Where if adultery is the act of sleeping with someone other than your spouse, then lust is to not only imagine that act, but to entertain it, indulge it, to be consumed by it. In other words, lust takes a thought or image or moment and makes a movie out of it.
And Jesus says anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
And yes, it can go both ways. Women can lust after men too. It just so happens that Jesus is speaking to a male majority audience as he shares these words.
Now let’s consider why Jesus says what he says. Chances are, these words from Jesus are surprising . Because I think that we would expect that Jesus would take part of the Old Testament sexual ethic and lower the bar, but instead he raises it. So what’s he up to?
For starters, he is helping his followers and especially the Pharisees in the crowd see that they do not perfectly follow God’s law. Similar to the commandment on murder, we might think we get a perfect score on this one, but here Jesus says, “When you lust, you’re committing adultery in your heart.”
In addition, in drawing this connection between lust and adultery, Jesus is helping them see that adultery rarely comes out of nowhere, and that is it often the product of lust untamed and lust unchecked, and for them to get ahold of their lust before it becomes something far worse.
And yet, even more, I’m convinced that there is one more thing that Jesus is up to here, and that is, Jesus is showing us a more beautiful way, pointing us towards the sexual ethic that we want deep down. That sounds counterintuitive, I know, but let me explain.
For example, to my married friends, what is it that you want and hope for from your spouse when it comes to their faithfulness to you and their own sexual purity?
Sure you hope that your spouse remains faithful to you by never committing adultery, and yet, you want far more than that. You also don’t want them going to strip clubs, or looking at pornography, or flirting with their co-worker.
Or imagine if you were to learn that while your spouse has never cheated on you, they in fact think about it or imagine it all the time. You’d be crushed.
You see, it’s not just that we don’t want our spouses to commit adultery with their bodies, we also don’t want them to commit adultery in their hearts.
The point here is not that adultery and lust are one and the same, they are not. The point is that deep down, in your heart of hearts, you hope for neither.
And in a strange sort of way, here we find a marital application of the command to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Where if this is what we hope for in our spouses or in our future spouses, if this is how we want them to love us, then we must pursue the same ourselves.
You see, when Jesus calls us away from not only adultery, but also lust, he is giving us the sexual ethic that we long for, the sexual ethic that we desperately need.
And so, the question becomes, “How do we get there? How do we free ourselves of not only the sin and temptation towards adultery, but even more the sin and temptation towards lust? And how do we make forward progress towards marital faithfulness and sexual purity? Here, at long last, we begin to make the turn towards application.
In case you were taken aback by what Jesus said moments ago, well, take a look at what he says next:
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, 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.
Here Jesus is using extreme language that we might take him seriously, yet not literally. And the truth is, you and I do this all the time. For example, if I were to tell you that I received news an hour ago that broke my heart, I’ve got your attention, you’re taking me seriously, but not one of you would take me literally by calling 911 reporting that there is a man in the building with a broken heart.
Jesus is doing a similar thing, going to the extreme here, that though we should not literally gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands, he is being deadly serious here.
That we must ruthlessly eliminate those things or situations that tempt us or cause us to lust. Get rid of any and all pornography. Maybe make your accounts and passwords available to your spouse so that nothing is hidden. Be thoughtful about where and when you meet 1on1 with people of the opposite sex. And be careful, be diligent about what you consume, not in terms of your food diet, but in terms of your information and entertainment diet.
Which brings me to a story that has become quite legendary in the Triller house. I told this story about three years ago, and there’s no better time to retell it than right now.
A few years ago, it was getting late one night, Noah was fast asleep upstairs, Callie and I were sitting on our living couch, Callie was on her phone, I was looking for something to watch on Netflix or whatever. I picked a show, and though it was popular and well known, let’s just say it was not the most wholesome of entertainment options out there. And as the show is about to begin, I reach over to close the window blinds, because if you know our home setup, the TV is right there in our front room facing the street, and there was no way I was going to be caught dead with this show on in our living room. And as I close the blinds, Callie, who again is sitting right nearby, at some point gently and lovingly says, “Daniel, if you have to close the blinds, is this a show you should be watching?” (Boom).
Funny enough, shortly after I told that story, Inez Reynolds, one of the older women in our church, and who lived in one of the apartments over at the Bicentennial, found me afterwards, and said, “the great thing about my apartment is that I live up on the 3rd floor, so I never have to worry about closing the blinds when I watch T.V.” Amazing.
For those of you who didn’t know Inez, she passed away a couple years ago, for the record she was a faithful and godly woman, who as I found out that day, also had a wicked sense of humor.
Believe it or not, I share this story with you all to drive home a very serious point. And that is, when it comes to sexual sin and our temptation to lust, ask yourselves this question,
“If I have to close the blinds, is this a thing I should be doing?”
When Jesus tells us to gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands, he is being deadly serious, that we must be vigilant, we must be persistent in eliminating those things or situations that tempt us or cause us to lust.
And friends, are you seeing why this matters so deeply? I know that for us men in particular, images stick to our minds like Velcro, and we must be so careful what it is that we’re putting in here. And to be with our spouses, whether in the bedroom or wherever else, and to be thinking about someone or something else in those moments, is not only something our spouses don’t want for us, we also become a prisoner to our own thoughts and imaginations.
We must be vigilant, we must be persistent in eliminating those things or situations that tempt us or cause us to lust. It is the way forward in both pursuing marital faithfulness and sexual purity.
Alright, here’s the second point of application and in this one I’m primarily speaking to the married couples, however, since married life always exists within a broader community, there’s a part for us all to play here.
And so to those who are married, I want you to think of your marriage as if it were your own car. And I want you to ask yourself, “Is the check engine light on?” You and I both know that when it comes to our actual vehicles, when the check engine light turns on, we’ve got to get that car to the shop sooner rather than later so as to not run the risk of further damage.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, adultery rarely comes out of nowhere. One way or another, sometime before, the check engine light had turned on.
And so be willing to get under the hood if you will. Seek outside help if you need to. Maybe one spouse feels unappreciated, working tirelessly trying to manage everything at home, while the other spouse receives all the accolades and praise at work. Maybe you’re in a season where you’re so hyper focused on caring for the kids that you might as well be invisible to each other. Maybe you’ve become so resigned to the likelihood of a mediocre marriage that you’ve begun to lust, “I wonder what it would be like to be with her, I wonder what it would be like to be with him.” Or maybe your spouse has been telling you for months now that the check engine light is on and yet you just keep on driving.
Friends, is the check engine light on? Don’t ignore it. Face it head on. Get help if you need to.
And in addition, all this talk of lust and adultery might lead us to think that sex is bad or gross or some kind of necessary evil. No way. God created sex as a good gift, a gift that is given to be enjoyed exclusively with the covenant of marriage.
In fact, married couples, be open to the possibility that your marriage would benefit from having sex more often. And yes, that is a bold thing for someone who has been married for 7 years to say to those who have been married 7 times that, but here’s why:
With adultery, we recognize that sex outside of the marriage covenant has the potential to destroy a marriage. And yet, we must also see that the opposite is just if not more true, that when sex is enjoyed within the marriage covenant has the potential to unite and heal a marriage. Sex has the power to do incredible harm, but by God’s good design also has the power to do incredible good.
And so, married couples, don’t underestimate the role that sex is meant to play in your marriage to bring healing and unity and oneness.
Alright, we’ve got to wrap this one up. We’ve covered a lot of ground this morning, and yet here is where we must land things for today.
I wrestled back and forth with using the Prayer of Confession that we read today. I wondered if it was too specific, too deep, too much to handle. I know it personally stirred up a lot for me. And yet, I left it in anyway, because I wanted you to know that the Assurance of Pardon still stands, that Jesus’s promise of forgiveness is still good. And that with our sexual sin, as with all sin, that forgiveness can always, always be found on the other side of confession and repentance. “That though our sins are scarlet, he’ll wash them white as snow.”
And that’s because the marriage covenant ultimately points us to a greater covenant, not between husband and wife, but ultimately Christ and his church. In other words, marriage is meant to point us and fix our eyes on a greater love, a deeper love, Christ’s love for his people. One who always has and always will be completely faithful. Who always keeps us promises.
You see, friends, our only hope is to hitch our wagons to a greater love, to the faithful one, to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
When we do, we not only find the forgiveness that we long for as we reckon with our sexual past, but in addition we lay hold of the transforming power we need in order to become more sexually pure persons.
And for that we can say, “Thanks be to God.”