Some years ago a man came to see me who’d committed adultery. He wasn’t a Christian, and he was struggling to understand why he had done what he had. It was obvious to him that it wasn’t worth it. For the sake of a short-term liaison with someone at work, he’d devastated his relationship with his wife, and distressed his relationship with his kids. He wished he could undo it, but knew he couldn’t. He wanted help to understand why he’d done it and what hope there was for him.
For many modern people this commandment – you shall not commit adultery, is one of the most ridiculed. Even more laughable to some is Jesus’ teaching that this command points beyond physical adultery, to heart attitudes like lust. Many today consider adultery and lust to be a joke, sex before marriage to be normal, living together before marriage as standard, pornography to be a basic right, monogamy to be boring, and this commandment to be oppressive, unnatural and outdated. Yet many modern people also long for the kind of faithfulness in relationships this commandment points to, many have felt the pain brought on by themselves or a partner who’s betrayed them through adultery or pornography. Why is this pain so real, if sexual immorality is no big deal? What relevance does the idea of sexual purity have for modern life? As we look at this commandment let’s consider five things: 1. The joy / delight of purity 2. The benefits of purity 3. The purpose of purity 4. The seriousness of purity 5. The power for purity
1. The joy / delight of purity
When God created the first human couple we read that: The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:25). This verse speaks of physical intimacy, but also of an emotional intimacy that humans long for: we long for someone who knows us completely, someone we don’t have to pretend with or hide from, someone with whom we can be honest, open, with no embarrassment or fear. There’s a joy, a delight in this ideal of being fully known yet fully accepted, loved.
Christians are often accused of being prudish or squeamish about sex, but the Bible certainly isn’t. The Bible isn’t embarrassed to talk about sex as a joy or delight. The Bride, or beloved in Song of Solomon delights in the love and physical affection of her lover, her husband: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for your love is more delightful than wine…How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant. (Song of Solomon 1:2,16).
Earlier we read from Proverbs 5 where a father tells his son to find joy in his wife: May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.. (Proverbs 5:18-19). Notice the joy and delight in these verses: Rejoice, be satisfied, be intoxicated. Sex isn’t just permitted in the Bible, it’s celebrated, encouraged, even commanded.
The Corinthians had written to Paul, suggesting they adopt an ancient Greek view that it was better not to have sexual relations. Paul disagrees, he says in reply: Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband… Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:2,5). God commands his people to regularly enjoy sex within marriage. He wants us to delight in it. Of course in our fallen world, all sorts of things can hinder sex: tiredness, children, conflict, frustration, pain, various difficulties, yet despite these real issues, the Bible views sex as something to persevere with and even delight in.
At one period in church history, the Roman Catholic view had become that sex was only for having children. They had begun to prohibit sex on certain holy days of the year. By the time of Martin Luther, that list had grown to 183 days –more than half the year. The Reformers, referring to the Bible challenged the view that sex should be restricted to certain days or was only for having children. The Biblical view is that sex is not merely procreational, but also relational, and even recreational. Sex is for love, for pleasure and for joy…Husbands and wives are called to do more than “have sex”; they are called to find joy in the sexual love that they share. (Philip Ryken)
Some modern people claim monogamy is boring, they say you need more variety than being with the same person year after year. But if you’re married relationship has become boring, it means there are other issues to be dealt with that won’t be solved by just changing partners. Monogamy doesn’t have to be boring, humans have an amazing depth.
Singer Andrew Peterson, talks in his song World Traveller about growing up in a little town where he longed to see the world. Eventually he did begin to travel:But I had hardly seen a thing Until I gave a golden ring To the one who gave her heart to me And I became, A world traveller That’s the day I hit the road ‘Cause I walked the hills of the human soul Of a tender girl
He’s saying that for him the wonder of travelling the world is surpassed by the wonder of the life long journey of being married to another human soul. He’s not suggesting marriage isn’t difficult. In fact he has another song called Dancing in the Minefields, where he talks about marriage being harder than he dreamed. Marriage is often harder than you ever thought it would be, yet there’s a potential depth to a relationship with one human soul through good times and hard times, that’s not possible if you just move from one superficial relationship to another. It can be profoundly enjoyable to be in a relationship, where you’re committed to growing to know and understand and bring pleasure to each other more are more deeply for the rest of your life.
What if you’re not married? Can there be joy in sexual purity if you’re single? Is it depriving you of joy to say you should wait till marriage to enjoy sex, and abstain completely if you never marry? The answer to that question depends on what you think life’s ultimate source of joy is. Is it sex? Sex is a good gift from God, it can be a great source of joy, yet it is not life’s only source of joy, like any of God’s gifts it is not an ultimate thing. You can have great joy in life with sex or without it.
Some commentators treat Song of Solomon like a Christian sex manual, they say it’s aim is to help Christians see the physical, and spiritual joy between a husband and wife. Other commentators say no, the true lover in the book is Christ, the book is really about the love Christ has for his people. Which group is right? There is actually truth in both: Song of Solomon does obviously celebrate the physical and emotional intimacy of a husband and wife, but like all Scripture it points us ultimately to Jesus, and the love he has for his people. Whether you are single or married, if you’re a Christian your ultimate marriage is to Christ, your ultimate delight is in him, your ultimate security is in his love for you.
There’s a famous quote in a novel by Bruce Marshall “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.“ I think there’s something to that. That’s why pornography or any sort of sexual immorality, will always we unsatisfying. As much as you are running from God in sexual immorality you are also looking for a delight, and intimacy that ultimately only God can provide.
The famous hymn Rock of Ages says: Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to your cross I cling, naked look to you for dress. We come to God naked – bringing nothing that can contribute to our salvation, hiding nothing from him, he sees us and knows all our sin, yet through Jesus he forgives us and loves us completely. There is a joy in being naked and without shame before God – fully known, yet fully loved by him. Knowing God and being loved by him makes it a delight to live his way.
2. The benefit of purity
Some people criticize monogamy as being oppressive, or even unnatural. They say you often see animals having more than one sexual partner, and claim that humans should be the same. Yet should we really get our ethics by copying animals? There are species of spiders like the red back where the female spider kills the male, after sex, or during it, and sometimes eats them, should we think of that as something natural we should all do? I hope not.
Is it oppressive and unnatural to restrain your sexual passion? Shouldn’t you just give in to your desires? I have a strong desire to eat ice cream and chocolate should I just give into that desire whenever I want and eat them 3 meals a day? I’d soon have big problems if I did. We may experience desires to have sex with someone we’re not married to, or a desire to look at the pornography that’s so easily available on your computer or phone, or a desire to read erotic novels, or desire to dwell on a sexual fantasy about someone we’re not married to, but these actions will lead to all sorts of problems in our lives.
One of the Anglican orders of service for marriage says: Marriage is given, that husband and wife may…through the joy of their bodily union, …strengthen the union of their hearts and lives. The joy of the physical, bodily union can bring a married couple closer together, strengthen the union of hearts that exists through the covenant they’ve made.
In speaking to a group that contained many non-Christians, Tim Keller said: If you’ve started having sex and it wasn’t in the context of marriage, don’t you remember how strange it felt when the person you’d given yourself too was now available to other people? You may have chalked it up to jealousy, but that’s the way God made you. Sex is a way of committing yourself to someone else…Sex is designed to celebrate a union that is there, and to revitalise the union continually, by softening you towards that person and getting you to trust them more and more deeply. If you don’t use it in a place where you can trust that person, it works against you. (Tim Keller)
Aiming for purity and faithfulness within a marriage, will continue to strengthen your marriage, as your love and trust of each other grows. Aiming for purity if you’re single, is saving yourself for that sort of relationship if you do get married, and saving yourself from all sorts of pain if you never get married.
When David committed adultery with Bathsheba he harmed all sorts of people. His own family, Bathsheba’s family, the people he served as king, many suffered, the consequences were ongoing, but he also harmed himself, and as he says in Psalm 51, he recognised that ultimately his sin was against God.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). When we sin sexually we harm others but also ourselves, physically, psychologically and spiritually. A common analogy is that getting involved in sex outside of marriage is like sniffing glue. The purpose of glue is to bind things together, it works very well if you use it for what it was made for, but if you use glue for your own purposes, like sniffing it to get high, you are perverting the purpose for which it was made and damaging yourself. Aiming for sexually purity will save you from much harm.
3. The purpose of purity
Paul, in a context where he’s considered issues like sexual immorality, and eating food sacrificed to idols says: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31). The ultimate purpose of sex and purity is to bring glory to the God who made us. A marriage is meant to model the love between Christ and his church. A husband who loves his wife faithfully, serves her, gives himself up for her, models the love of Christ who loves and gives himself up for his church, a wife who faithfully loves her husband, models the love all Christians are to have for Christ. Sexual purity within a marriage brings glory to God, by modelling his faithful, sacrificing love. Adultery lies about who God is and what he is like.
If you’re single and with God’s help choose a life of sexual purity, you bring glory to God. Some people live as though there’s nothing better in life than sex. By living God’s way you demonstrate that though sex is good, God is better. You demonstrate how great and desirable God is. You demonstrate Asaph’s words to God: Whom have I in heaven but you, and earth has nothing I desire besides you? (Psalm 73:25). Sexually pure lives, show God to be what he really is: more desirable than anything else.
4. The seriousness of purity
Paul commands Timothy, the young pastor: Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:1b-2) We don’t have to be cold or distant towards people we’re not married to, there can be a genuine warmth and love, and respect between Christian brothers and sisters, yet there is a standard there – absolute purity. The same standard is seen in: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3). It isn’t something we should even dabble in.
Genesis 39 says that Potiphar’s wife noticed how attractive Joseph was, and asked him to sleep with her. It may have been easy for Joseph to give in with Potiphar not around, especially when she kept asking him day after day, but he said to her: How then, could I do such a wicked thing, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9). He kept from sinning through the knowledge that he wouldn’t just be betraying his master, he’d be sinning against God. If you love God, you won’t want to sin against him, you’ll hate what he hates, and take it seriously.
Matthew 5 shows us how seriously Jesus takes the issue of lust: 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, 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 sin, 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. (Matthew 5:29-30).
It’s very vivid imagery. He leaves us in no doubt of the grave danger of giving in to lust. You can become enslaved, it can lead you to hell. It’s worth taking extreme measures as we fight against it. It’s worth giving up TV shows or movies or books that you find tempt you to impure thoughts, it’s worth putting some accountability software on your computer or phone if you’re struggling with pornography, it’s worth being honest about your struggle with a trusted Christian friend.
5. The power for purity
You may be listening to this and thinking: I know this, but it’s hard to be sexually pure. I’m struggling to say no to sex, or masturbation or pornography, or erotic novels or fantasies, I want to change, but I can’t it’s too hard.
A friend of mine began struggling with same-sex attraction when he was in high school. He became involved in the gay community, but eventually became a Christian, and through reading the Bible realised his homosexual lifestyle was wrong. With God’s help he began to make significant changes. Eventually he was married, he and his wife now have children. God is changing him, yet he still struggles. He told me one of the reasons he is still a Christian is these verses: For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)
Actor Woody Allen was once asked why he’d made some of the sexual choices he’d made which were questionable at that time even by Hollywoods standards. He said: – the heart wants, what the heart wants. He believes there’s no hope for humans to show self-control or change, but the Bible says there is. The power for sexual purity is in the grace of God, which comes to us in Jesus. Whatever our struggle, his grace can teach us, and empower us to say no to ungodliness, and yes to godliness.
Jesus says we’ve broken this 7th commandment, if we’ve even looked at someone lustfully. We’ve all broken this commandment in some way, all of us are in need of God’s forgiveness. God offers forgiveness through the one person who perfectly kept this commandment. Because Jesus was perfect he was able to die on the cross as the substitute for our sin. He offers forgiveness to all who repent and trust in his death.
It’s hard to imagine a pain more acute than that of a man or woman whose spouse has been unfaithful. If your spouse has used pornography, become involved in an affair, or engaged in some other area of sexual sin, then…one person faces the challenge of repenting, and another person faces the challenge of forgiving. (Colin Smith)
The power to both be repenting, and forgiving comes through the cross of Jesus. In a famous sermon, Thomas Chalmers tells us: the only way to dispossess [the heart] of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one. (Thomas Chalmers)
The power for making progress in sexual purity, is for a love to take hold of our heart that overpowers the love for anything else. We find that love in Jesus, we find that love at the cross. In the cross we find the love that your pornography, or adultery or fantasies will never give you. Jesus loved us in a way greater than anyone ever has or will. In the cross we find forgiveness for our failures, the power to change, and the power to forgive others. Making progress against impurity is a battle. Temptations can keep coming back till the day you die, yet by God’s grace, real progress, real change is possible, as we become captivated by the love God has shown us in Jesus.
(Edited transcript of sermon preached at MEC 23 June 2013. You can listen to or download the sermon here )
 Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as they really were, 40-41.
 The Expulsive Power of a New Affection A Sermon by Thomas Chalmers, 8.