Lessons from the Law: No.9 : Respect Relationships
Ex 20:14 You shall not commit adultery.
These commands are all about relationships. The first four were about relationship with the Lord. The fifth one was about relationship with parents – the most fundamental of all relationships, a relationship we all have whether we like it or not – and then the sixth one was about respecting life and not taking it except under very specific circumstances that only occur in a fallen world. This seventh command now goes to the heart of marriage relationships.
Genesis 2:24 speaks of a man being “united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” Now most commentators maintain that that refers to far more than just physical oneness. This seems to be affirmed in the sense of Paul’s words about not being united with a prostitute (1 Cor 6:16). Uniting with your partner in this way is also a joining of spirit and therefore anything that breaks that unity is to be condemned. Marriage is supposed to be the commitment of two people to each other and indeed in a wedding service those two people make vows in respect of each other. It is a sign of the insecurity that many people feel in the twenty first century that so many people simply cohabit and do not go through any ceremony where they commit themselves to one another. Possibly it is for this reason that cohabiting couples are more likely to split up than married couples, even though divorce is so common.
Adultery is sexual intercourse outside of marriage involving at least one married person. What is supposed to be probably the most intimate of encounters is, in God’s design, purely for within marriage. Adultery is unfaithfulness by one marriage partner whereby they abandon their love and commitment to their partner to give themselves to another. Yes, adultery is first and foremost an abandoning of the marriage vows, the promises made to one’s partner. It is a giving to another person what should only be given to your partner. It is also a discontentment with the present relationship. It may be called ‘an affair’ or given some other term but it is basically disloyalty to one’s partner.
The consequences of such ‘affairs’ are always painful. In secret it breeds guilt, and when it becomes known it creates pain, shame, anger, and mistrust. It has the potential to utterly destroy the marriage relationship. When it becomes casual, as in our society today, it brings upheaval and insecurity to society and our world is littered with individuals who are the hurt cast-offs of another’s casual sexual encounter outside of the marriage relationship. In early Israel so important was it that the death penalty was the punishment for adultery (e.g. Deut 22:22-24).
Possibly one of the greatest impacts of such adultery – even if it was a one-off fling that didn’t mean anything more than a ‘one night stand’ – is loss of trust. Even if the guilty party wishes to maintain their marriage relationship, whether it comes out through others telling the other partner, or the guilty partner confesses to it, then loss of trust is a guaranteed outcome. Where it is more than a one night fling, it completely undermines the present marriage and many children today are the painful recipients of all of the outworkings of a marriage break up. You only have to be a teacher to know that children don’t weather these things casually. The break up of a marriage is the most devastating and undermining thing that can happen to a child. We apparently have no idea of the hurt the practices of our modern societies are causing to our children. The casual approach that many modern Western societies have towards marriage may be causing more hurt than we can possibly comprehend, with outcomes that are yet to be seen in society in the decades to come.
Jesus, as always, went behind the outward act and confronted the mind. He expanded the basic commandment and said simply looking at a woman lustfully was already committing adultery with her (Mt 5:27,28). His warning was don’t even start moving in that direction. In a world where the media is full of sexual pictures, it is difficult to keep a pure heart but that is Jesus’ call to us who call ourselves Christians. No excuses, it is quite clear!
It used to be the prerogative of men to look at women lustfully, but modern trends indicate that it is also a woman thing. We need to reinforce our marriages, often telling one another we love our partner – it needs to be said! We need to be spending time with one another to reinforce and strengthen the relationship. When we work alongside members of the opposite sex, we need to avoid compromising situations and when we return to our partner we need to rejoice afresh at that unique relationship. Failure to do this may mean we join that band of unfaithful men and women who are answerable to God. Modern society may be casual about it, but God isn’t. Unlike a mere bout of anger, adultery has many long-term consequences that mean lives will never be the same again. Unfaithfulness in this area often has the undermining effect of meaning unfaithfulness in all areas of life. Commitment is something that has to be worked at. Do it!