The Seventh Commandment – Part 02: Adultery and the New Testament

Last time we began to look at the Seventh of Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20: You shall not commit adultery. Put more positively, you shall pursue sexual and moral purity. The sins of fornication and adultery are not merely physical acts, they can be metaphors for idolatry and the worship of false gods. Human sexuality is very powerful and handled properly is of benefit to the community and beyond; mishandled and it courts disaster.

Let’s look at it now from a New Testament perspective.

NEW TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE

Since Jesus Christ and the New Testament are full of ‘grace and truth,’ you might expect that it would be less severe regarding adultery than the Old Testament. After all, His opponents brought to Him a woman caught in the very act of adultery. They reminded the Lord that Moses commanded that adulterers should be stoned … but what do You say? (Of interest, why was the woman brought for execution and not the man? – John 8:5). Christ’s sterling reply? Whoever is sinless among you can cast the first stone at her (v.7). They all departed without one stone being thrown. The Lord sent the woman away in peace after giving her these final words: Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more (v. 11).

The fact is the New Testament condemns adultery in no uncertain terms, and even broadens to net. Jesus makes these comments straight out of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:27-32 (ESV):

You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

31 It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

These standards make the Old Testament look simple. Some may feel uncomfortable at this point. Relax. The New Testament is still full of ‘grace and truth.’

Let’s unpack this passage.

  • In the heart (5:27): There is a persistent but deceptive thought that if you ‘fool around’ with another person but stop short of physical intercourse, then you are safe from the sins of fornication and/or adultery. According to Jesus, this is not the case at all. Merely looking at a person with ‘lustful intent’ renders the person an adulterer, even if they are ‘hands off.’
  • Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter ran for President of the United States in 1976 under the banner of being a ‘born again’ Christian. Indeed, he was the reason it became a household term. A dedicated and pious Southern Baptist, Sunday school teacher, husband to Rosalynn and father of four, Carter was the model evangelical Christian candidate. Yet, his innocent and honest comments in an interview with Playboy Magazine made instant headlines. What did he say? ‘I’ve looked on many women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me.’[1] If such an upstanding individual confesses such things, where does that leave the rest?
  • Lustful intent: So as to prevent needless anxiety, make sure you discern the difference between temporary fleeting lustful thoughts versus those which are focused, intent, and all-too-regular. Martin Luther (1483-1546) said it so well: You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair’[2] In our sex-saturated society, with sensuous imagery easily accessible, people need the grace of God to prevent the ‘bird’s nest.’
  • Practical Application Though there is only limited space, remember the antidote to lustful thoughts begins with the advice of Romans 12:1-2: Give your body as a living sacrifice and your mind for renewal. The toolbox for the overcomer includes the following:
    1. The cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14),
    2. God’s Word hidden in your heart (Psalm 119:11),
    3. Name of Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11),
    4. Prayer and praise in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20),
    5. If you are really keen to overcome, try fasting – it really works (but make sure you are healthy enough to do it).
  • Other Practical Tips: May we suggest some more? Get off the pornography (ask for help, if necessary), don’t allow yourself in a compromising situation (read about the hapless young man in Proverbs 7), and dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:2-3). Being offensive is not fair on others and can tempt a weak believer; furthermore, Scripture is not kind to those who are deliberately offensive in word, deed, or dress – Matthew 18:7).

Related to Jesus’ statements on adultery are involve divorce and remarriage, cutting off sinful body parts, etc. Our goal, to the best of our God-given ability, is to present an explanation that is Biblically faithful, balanced, practical, and compassionate. There is still ‘grace, truth, and love’ and we want to show the way forward.See you next month.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

[1] Playboy interview, 1976. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jimmy_carter_130252 Accessed 3 February 2021
[2] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/757798-you-cannot-keep-birds-from-flying-over-your-head-but Accessed 4 February 2021
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.
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