Topical Scripture: Exodus 20.14
Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? is the talk of America. When Darva Conger married Rick Rockwell on national television three weeks ago, everyone was amazed. When she told him two days later that she didn’t want to be his wife, everyone laughed.
Unfortunately, marriage has become much more like that game show than anything God ever intended.
There are half as many divorces granted in a given year in America as marriages performed. One fourth of our adult population has been divorced. 53% of Americans said on a recent anonymous survey that they would have an affair if given the chance. 92% of sexually active people say they have had ten or more partners in their lives.
Marriage today is a game, played for our amusement, and we think we can change the channel whenever we want.
God knows better. He wants us to be pure and holy. He has given us all we need to defeat the temptations of our culture, and offers us hope even when we fail. Let’s see what he says.
What is adultery?
Martin Luther had picturesque ways of putting things. As relates to our topic today, for instance, he once said, “If your head is made of butter, don’t sit by the fire.” On another occasion he declared, “You cannot prevent the devil from shooting arrows of evil thoughts into your heart; but take care that you do not let such arrows stick and grow there.”
We’re going to use his metaphor for our study this morning. So, our first question: what is adultery? What is this “arrow” the enemy fires at us?
Jewish law defined adultery as voluntary sexual relations between a married person and someone other than the lawful spouse. That much is clear. But there’s more.
Adultery is not the only kind of sexual sin forbidden by God’s word.
Colossians 3.5: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.”
1 Corinthians 5.9,11: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. . . . but now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”
1 Corinthians 6.9-10: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Satan has many such arrows.
And Jesus condemns them even further. In the Sermon on the Mount, he articulates the purest standard to be found in all of literature: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5.28).
Jesus forbids immoral action, and even immoral thoughts, as arrows from Satan. Why?
Why is adultery wrong?
There are three basic answers to our question. First, sexual immorality destroys the family.
Dr. Frank Pittman, an internationally renowned expert on sexuality and marriage, reported recently in the New York Times that in thirty-seven years of practice as a therapist, he has encountered only two cases of first marriages ending in divorce where adultery was not involved.
Of those who break up their marriages to marry someone else, 80% are sorry later. Only 10% actually marry the person with whom they had an affair. 70% of those who do later get another divorce.
Sexual immorality is an arrow to the heart of your family and home.
Second, sexual impurity destroys our witness. The only credibility for a Christian is his or her character. If that is ruined, our witness and ministry is ruined. And Satan knows this—he is a great economist. If we can get me or you to sin sexually, even one time, he knows that our witness and ministry will be ruined, perhaps forever.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that the great failures among prominent ministers in recent years have been sexual in nature? Aren’t these Satan’s arrows, fired at us all?
Third, sexual impurity destroys our spiritual lives, our souls. Listen to these profound words from Proverbs: “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6.27-29). This is an arrow to the soul.
Charles Allen was the longtime pastor of First Methodist Church in Houston. In his book on the ten commandments he quotes a theology professor’s statement, “About 50% of all human misery is caused by a violation of the seventh commandment.” After decades of pastoral ministry, Dr. Allen came to agree. So would I. This is Satan’s sharpest arrow, indeed.
How do we defeat this temptation?
God has given us some shields to use when we’re being attacked. First, agree with God that sexual immorality is wrong.
Refuse to accept the culture of our day, the “sexual revolution” characterized by the slogans, “Just do it” and “If it feels good, do it.” Hollywood is wrong. The advertisers who simply want to make money off us are wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong.
The Cherokee Indians, in their marriage ceremony, would join hands across a running stream to signify that their lives would flow together forever. And “white men” called them primitive! Agree with God that all sexual immorality is wrong.
Second, guard your heart. This is Satan’s target.
Jesus warned us not to “look at a woman lustfully” (Matthew 5:28). The Greek here does not refer to natural, normal human instincts, but to the man who looks at a woman with the deliberate intention of lusting after her. This is not about the first look, but the second.
We are to do whatever it takes to keep this sin from growing in our hearts and souls. In the next verses (Matthew 5:29,30) Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” This is rabbinic hyperbole, overstatement to make this point: we must do whatever it takes to keep from sinning.
Turn off the television set. Walk out of the movie. Cancel the magazine subscription. Block immoral internet sites. Change your friends. Change your job. Do whatever it takes to remove this cancer before it kills your soul. Say “no” to sin, now.
Third, get help. I believe every Christian needs an accountability relationship with someone. We need to empower someone to ask us the hard questions, to tell us when they see us going down the wrong road, to support and strengthen us with total confidence. Start with someone you already trust; covenant to make a time to be together this week; begin by sharing something with each other you’d not share with others. Ask God to help you help each other.
And if you’re in trouble here already, you must get help. Dr. Brian Newman on our staff spent ten years as a full-time marriage and family therapist. I once asked him if he knows of a single person who has gotten out of an adulterous or lustful situation on his own. He doesn’t know of one.
Here’s the bottom line: run. 1 Corinthians 6.18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” If you think you’re the one person in all of human history who can get away with this, know that you’re being deceived. My college professor was right: if we say “maybe” to sin, eventually we’ll say “yes” to it. If we turn down the lights, our eyes adjust to the dark. As do our souls. Stop now. Run, now.
What if you’ve sinned?
But, what if it’s too late? What if you’ve already fallen here, if the arrow has already pierced your heart and home? God’s word gives us the help and hope we need. His Spirit can pull out the arrows of the enemy, and heal their wounds.
The first thing to do is to turn to God. You may think your failure has forever ended God’s love and care for you. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Listen to this verse of Scripture: after citing the “sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes and homosexual offenders,” Paul says to the Corinthians: “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 6.11).
It’s never too late to turn to God. He can pull out arrows we cannot.
Next, with God’s help, you must make right what is wrong. Get out of the relationship, now. The arrow will never be easier to remove than it is today.
Bill Hybels tells of a couple who visited at Willow Creek, and eventually became Christians. The pastor talked with them, and during their conversation it became clear that the couple was living together. The pastor explained that this was not pleasing to God, and that they needed to make a change. They did—he made arrangements for her to live with his parents, and they lived in sexual purity until they were married a year later.
Hybels concludes, “They’ve been married two years now, and it’s obvious God’s hand is on them. They readily admit that the turning point in their relationship and in their spiritual lives was the day they decided to become sexually pure. I challenge those of you who are living in sexual sin to follow their example” (Laws of the Heart, 81).
Third, ask God to help you make things right with others. Who else has been hurt by your arrows? We need forgiveness from all those we have harmed, unless asking for that forgiveness would hurt them further.
Gordon MacDonald is an example for us. This well-known pastor committed the tragic sin of adultery. Immediately he confessed this to his wife, then to his entire congregation. He resigned his pulpit, and entered into years of counseling and accountability. Over time another church called him as their pastor; then several years later, his original church invited him back as their pastor again. He serves there today, and has a national ministry to hurting souls and broken lives.
God can redeem anything, given the chance. But we must be willing to make things right with all those we have wronged.
Luther was right—the arrows of the enemy don’t have to kill us. God stands ready to help. But we must choose to let him, now.
It’s never too late to make that decision. Last week Darva Conger told ABC’s Diane Sawyer, “I have worked my whole life to be a credible person, a person of integrity. Unfortunately, in two hours I destroyed much of that credibility. And . . . I’d like it back.”
Don’t go where she did. If you have, turn to God. Do it now.