Monday, November 08, 2010

Sermon: Matthew 5: 27-32 No Adultery

To misquote the old Wet Wet Wet song, adultery is all around. You only have to turn on the television, read a newspaper, or maybe even watch your neighbours. Adultery is all around. Whether it’s reports of the latest celebrity marriage going down the pan (most recently, Wayne Rooney and his wife Colleen), or your favourite soap stars who seem to be playing musical beds, you just can’t get away from it.

As we come to the seventh commandment, we read the five words: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ Those words are plain and clear, but in order to hear their full force, first we need to take a step back to consider the context. To think about adultery and unfaithfulness, first, we should remind ourselves of God’s good gift of sex within marriage.

We go right back to Genesis 2, where those familiar words from the marriage service are found. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ (Gen 2:24). This is the pattern of God’s good gift: one man, one woman in covenant faithfulness, the right and proper place for intimacy and the enjoyment of sex. It’s important to remind ourselves of this, because often Christians can appear to be anti-sex. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must affirm what God has affirmed, that sex is good, in its proper context of marriage.

So it’s no surprise, then, when we come to Mount Sinai, after the children of Israel have been rescued from Egypt, and God is giving them the law, the ten commandments, that we find no adultery as one of the ten. our duty to our neighbour includes not committing adultery.

What is adultery? Simply put, it is to have sex with someone who is not your husband or wife. To deny the marriage vow, and to rip apart what God has joined together. The law is a reflection of God’s character, and so, just as God keeps his promise, keeps his covenant, he calls us to do the same. To be faithful in our covenant promises to our husband or wife (which is why Jesus prohibits divorce except in particular circumstances in verse 31 - the marriage commitment is for life, not just while it suits us, unless our partner has broken it already).

Why does God need to include it in the ten? Because, just as with all God’s good gifts to us, we are quick to exploit and abuse his gift of sex. While most people think that sexual immorality only came about through the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s, ever since sin entered the world sex has been twisted by sin. Tonight we’re going to think about two particular ways in which God’s good gift has been destroyed - through the adultery of the body; and adultery of the heart. Then we’ll briefly think about how to enjoy God’s good gift.

In verse 27, we find the first way God’s good gift is destroyed - the adultery of the body. Here, Jesus quotes the seventh commandment, and you can imagine the pious self-righteous Pharisees puffing themselves up, thinking to themselves ‘I’ve never done that...’ Perhaps we can think the same - that’s another one off the list, check.

Is this commandment just an opportunity for us to look down on others? Are we a step nearer heaven if we avoid sexual relations with someone who isn’t our husband or wife? Can we breathe easy and concentrate on trying to keep the next commandment (and snooze during the rest of the sermon)?

We will all agree (hopefully!) that adultery is wrong, but before we go congratulating ourselves on being perfect in this regard, we need to hear Jesus as he continues to speak. As we’ve seen with some of the other commandments, Jesus moves from the outward conformity to the inner attitude. And it’s here that we find the second way God’s good gift is destroyed - by adultery of the heart.

‘You have heard that it was said... But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Now, ladies, just because Jesus addresses men here doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook. The same principle applies for you as well.

Suddenly we move from congratulation to conviction. Adultery in the heart is still adultery. It may be unseen by anyone else, with no dangerous deeds and illicit liaisons risking being caught, but adultery in the heart is still adultery. So those ‘at least I didn’t...’ just don’t count.

Sometimes when I’m driving, I’ll have Radio Ulster on, and if it’s early afternoon, I’ll realise that I’ve got Hugo Duncan on, and swiftly turn over! But a few weeks back I left it on, and heard the following lyrics: ‘I can say I’ve never been unfaithful, but I can’t say it’s never crossed my mind.’ I don’t know who was singing, but those words immediately stuck with me - it’s precisely what Jesus is saying about adultery of the heart. Adultery in the heart is still adultery. Adultery in the mind is still adultery.

Or if Hugo Duncan isn’t your generation, what about Jason Derulo? One of his first songs said this: ‘In my head I see you all over me, in my head you fulfil my fantasy...’ and so on. Adultery, sex outside of the marriage commitment, in the head is still adultery.

So what is it that you think of? Or perhaps to phrase it more directly, who is it that you think of? They may be someone you know, or they may be a celebrity. Are you committing adultery in your heart, by unfaithfulness to your marriage partner; or if you’re not married, by unfaithfulness to your future husband or wife, or by unfaithfulness to your current single state of chastity.

But you may have noticed that Jesus went even further than just the heart - by specifically mentioning the eyes. ‘I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent...’ Jesus seems to be saying that adultery in the heart begins with this lustful look.

Remember King David’s affair with Bathsheba? How did it begin? ‘It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman... So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.’ (2 Sam 11:2-4). David saw (with lustful intent) and then sent for her.

Looking with lust is adultery in the heart. Yet you don’t have to exist for very long before you realise that our society is obsessed with sex, and with providing and promoting material for the eyes. The advertisers know that sex sells, everything from fast cars to potato crisps (recent ads in Belfast); so-called Mens Magazines are full of scantily clad (if even), airbrushed models in more graphic poses than extreme pornographic publications from twenty years ago are on sale in newsagents and supermarkets in plain view of children and anyone else. Tim Chester, in his very helpful book ‘Captured by a Better Vision’ talks about the pornified culture. Then there’s the unnecessary sex scenes in a wide range of movies and TV programmes, both after the watershed and before; and porn is just a mouse click away on the internet. Millions of images and opportunities for lustful thoughts. And that’s not to mention the people we know, work with, go to school with, or pass on the street.

Jesus is not saying that men should not look at women at all - or that women should cover up in a burkha like Muslim women. As John Stott says, we all know the difference between looking and lusting. And because we know the difference, we recognise the sin in our life. Conviction, rather than congratulation. Adultery in the heart is still adultery.

So what can we do about it? Jesus proposes a radical remedy, which sounds shocking. ‘If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell...’ Your eye and your hand - if they’re the cause of sin, get rid of them.

Jesus is not demanding to be taken literally here - after all, to remove your right eye will still leave your left for lustful looks, and even if both eyes are removed, you can still lust in your heart... Rather, he is saying that we need to be firm with sin in our life. It’s mortification, not mutilation that Jesus is teaching. Tough on sin, tough on the causes of sin. So if you use your eyes to glimpse the magazine covers in the newsagents, act as if you were blind and look away at something else. Avoid them completely! If you hand is clicking on those websites, then stop clicking there! Cut it right out of your life. Don’t play with temptation; don’t toy with sin - you’re more vulnerable and weak than you imagine.

As Job says, ‘I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin.?’ (Job 31:1) If you’re struggling with this, make that covenant with your eyes. Stop looking lustfully - for the sake of your marriage, and for your own sake! Get help - ask a Christian friend to ask those difficult questions; to come alongside and help you through. Get Tim Chester’s book and resolve to change, and do it!

There’s one last thing to say, and this is a very important thing to say. Sometimes the church can appear to suggest that the worst type of sin is sexual sin, as if there’s a league table of respectable sins and notorious sins. The truth is that all of us are sinners, and all of us need to know that the Gospel is a message of grace. Christ Jesus came into the world to do what? To save sinners. It’s not that Jesus died for every other type of sin apart from sexual sin. So whether it’s the obvious adultery plain to all, or the hidden but still sinful adultery of the heart, the good news is that Jesus died for your sin. No sin is too bad to be forgiven.

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 6:9. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth which was in a mess. All sorts of immorality and quarrelling; in a city with all sorts of immorality going on. If you’ve been convicted tonight, then you might find yourself in this list:

‘Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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 Cor 6:9-11)

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 7th November 2010 in a series on the Ten Commandments.

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