The Seventh Commandment for Everyone: Holiness

 

Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-32; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (text)
October 7 & 14, 2012 • Download PDF sermon

Some of you might have watched the first debate of the current American presidential election campaign between President Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney. The focus of the debate was about the very important issue of the American economy. During the 1976 presidential election campaign, candidate Jimmy Carter, an evangelical Christian, stated in an interview: “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” His unabashed honesty was astonishing to many people because it’s uncommon even for Christians to say this out loud.

I squirm at the thought of preaching this sermon, which can be uncomfortable at times. Though I have no knowledge of anyone here that outwardly violates this command, when we listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-32, we become uncomfortable, especially us men. We know that President Carter is right on in his honest assessment of his sinful heart. In the churches, many pastors and members have been involved in sexual scandals. In the States, but not so much in the Philippines, many people in high places have resigned or elected out of office because of adulterous relationships.

And then we read in the Heidelberg Catechism an expansion of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “God forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may tempt us to unchastity.” We may not be committing outright physical adultery, but even looking at a woman “with lustful intent” is already adultery.

The Holy Scripture is full of warnings against all forms of sexual immorality. Adultery is only one form of sexual immorality, and we will mention other forms as we go along our study today. Our text summarizes God’s will for us: “our sanctification” or holiness. In this regard, the Catechism says we are to “live chastely and modestly, whether in holy marriage or single life.”

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, Benjamin West

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, Benjamin West

So the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” was given to Israel at Mount Sinai, but it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. God created human beings male and female, and Adam and Eve were married by God himself, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Jesus affirms this creation mandate, that in marriage, “[man and woman] are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:6).

But this Commandment is not only for men—although men are more prone to violate this commandment—but also for women, for young and old, for married or unmarried. In short, this commandment demands holiness for everyone, especially in light of the redemption from sin that Christ has given to his people.

Today, we meditate on the theme “The Seventh Commandment for Everyone: Holiness” in three headings: (1) Duties Required of Men; (2) Duties Required of Women; and (3) The Gospel That Gives Holiness.

Duties Required of Men

Although Jesus’ injunctions in Matthew 5:27-32 are directed to men, they can be made principles for living a holy life for both men and women. Paul wrote these words to the believers in Thessalonica as a call to live in sexual holiness. Because they were former pagan unbelievers, they did not know God, having “turned to God from idols” (1:9). In Thessalonica, there were pagan temples where cult prostitution and sexual immorality are part of their religious practices.

Particularly in Acts 15:19-20, 29 and 21:25, there were a few things mentioned that Gentile believers must abstain from practicing. All Gentile Christians were commanded by the Jerusalem council “to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality [porneia], and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). These things were all part of pagan worship. So Paul knew that some of the Thessalonians were struggling with fleeing sexual immorality and other pagan practices.

In Chapter 4, Paul begins with an exhortation to them, “how you ought to walk and to please God” (4:1). So in verse 3, Paul tells them that God’s will for them is their “sanctification” or holiness. God’s will (commanding will, not decretive will, because they can “disregard” them). “Holiness” is an important word, used twice more (4:4, 7). This word summarizes the whole passage: that “abstaining” from sexual immorality is part of being holy before God, set apart by God from the unclean and from sin (Rom 6:19-22; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Thess 2:13-16). The verb “to abstain”means “to be far from” something. So Paul says in his concluding commands, “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:22). In the next verse, Paul prays a benediction, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The word “sexual immorality” refers not only to adultery, but to every kind of sexual sin, whether fornication between unmarried people, homosexuality, prostitution, incest, etc (Lev 20:10-21). All Christians must abstain from unlawful sexual relationships.

But as we read in the Catechism, the Seventh Commandment not only forbids actual, physical immorality, but also “all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may tempt us to unchastity.” So Paul has a second command, that each one “know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (verse 4). [or “possess his own vessel,” not participating in sexual immorality with our own bodies]. We are to exercise sexual self-control, behaving in holiness before God and neighbor. In this way, they give honor, respect and value to both God and neighbor. When we commit sexual sins, we dishonor both our own and our neighbor’s body (Rom 1:24).

This self-control includes controlling one’s passions. Elsewhere, Paul lumps this word in connection with sexual passions and desires (Rom 1:26 “dishonorable passions”; Col 3:5 “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness”).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns men, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). “Lustful intent” is the same word for “lust” in our text. Is looking at and admiring the beauty of a woman a sin in itself? Jesus here means not merely “to look,” but “to have sexual interest in” or to have “a strong desire for” a woman. Also, “to have a strong desire to do or secure something.” 1

Nathan Rebukes David by James Tissot, 1886-94

Nathan Rebukes David by James Tissot, 1886-94

An example is King David. He did not just look and admire the beauty of Bathsheba. He looked… and looked… and looked, and thought… and thought… and thought. He then developed a desire to have an intimate relationship with her. Finally, he executed his plan to accomplish his immoral desire. This is very difficult for men. James tells us the thought process leading to action: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (Jas 1:14-15). This is why Job says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1) Job makes a personal vow that he would not look at a woman with a sexual desire or intention.

If you noticed, Jesus’ words of warning against adultery is followed by warnings against unlawful divorce, “everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt 5:28). Jesus is not abolishing Moses’ law about divorce, but is contradicting the Pharisees’ additions to the law. The Jews added the law that a man could divorce a woman for any reason, for example, if he didn’t like her cooking or if he didn’t like his mother-in-law. But Jesus says the only lawful reason for divorce is adultery. (Paul adds desertion. And then the one who is wronged can remarry.) Why?

In the Old Testament, the law says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Lev 20:10). Other sexual sins, such as incest and homosexuality, were also punishable by death (Lev 20:10-21). Since the death penalty was not being administered anymore during the time of Jesus, if a husband or wife commits adultery, he or she is symbolically written off as dead, and the wronged party can then remarry. Paul makes it clear that when a spouse dies, the survivor is released from the bond of marriage (Rom 7:2-3). This is what the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith refers to in its article about divorce and remarriage, based on the above Scriptures:

Adultery or fornication committed after engagement, if detected before marriage, gives valid reason to the innocent party to break the engagement. In the case of adultery after marriage it is lawful for the innocent party to seek a divorce and after the divorce to remarry just as if the offending party were dead (WCF 24:5).

Although there is no legal divorce in the Philippines, this issue has come up at various times in Congress, and surely, it will be debated again. Biblical divorce is where Christians should start when considering whether to support or oppose legalizing divorce in this country. 2

Adultery and sexual immorality is not only a sin against God (David says so), but a sin against our neighbor. The sinner offends his wife, his children, and other family and friends. It leads to the destruction of his family. So in verse 6, Paul says that a sexually immoral person “wrongs” (exploits, takes advantage, or takes something from others through fraud and deception) his brother. He says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 6:8, “But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” In the next two verses, he then includes the sexually immoral, the adulterer, those who practice homosexuality, among those who are excluded from the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10). Notice that these are included among thieves, the greedy, and swindlers—those who defrauds, exploits and takes advantage of others.

This is exactly what King David did in his sexual sin. Sexual immorality violates not only the Seventh Commandment, but several of the Ten Commandments. Bathsheba practically became his idol. In the Old Testament, idolatry is spiritual adultery. Israel was God’s beloved wife, but “they whored after other gods and bowed down to them” (Jgs 2:17), and he was jealous because of Israel’s adulterous lust for idol-gods. Thus, both Israel and King David violated the First and Second Commandments.

In addition, David violated most of the other commandments. He dishonored God’s name among the people (Third Commandment). He ordered the death of Bathsheba’s husband (Sixth Commandment). He lied to and defrauded (Eighth and Ninth Commandments) Bathsheba’s husband. He schemed all of these thingsbecause he coveted in his heart something that was not his own (Tenth Commandment).

Since sexually immoral people are excluded from God’s kingdom, they will be under God’s wrath on Judgment Day, “because the Lord is an avenger in all these things” (verse 6). But in many cases, men who commit sexual sins already experience punishment even in this life: broken families and relationships, sexually transmitted diseases, loss of job, and loss of respect among peers and friends.

So Paul calls all of you men—young and old— to holiness and purity. Holiness—to be separate and distinct from unbelievers. Purity—within marriage and even in singleness. Purity begins in your minds and hearts. So Paul exhorts you to fill your hearts and minds with these things:

whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8).

In other words, fill your minds with the pure Word of God!

Duties Required of Women

As I mentioned, those things that Paul commands men regarding sexual holiness and purity also apply to women.

Women can also have lack of self-control over their minds and emotions. They can also be passionate, and even desire other men. More and more Filipino women are tempted to practice sexual immorality, especially those who are separated geographically from their husbands. Teen pregnancies are on the rise. Therefore, there are many broken families and broken teenage girls who need good Christian counseling.

Our Catechism mentions two things regarding sexual purity that are more appropriate to women: living chastely and modestly. Chastity is also about abstaining from unlawful sexual relationship. Living differently from unbelievers. Living pure and holy lives. Paul mentions “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness” as things that believers are not to do (Eph 5:3-5). Chastity means holiness and purity.

What about modesty? Paul mentions in that “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Tim 2:9-10). Does Paul prohibit wearing nice clothes and jewelry? No, not at all. Paul is not prohibiting dressing up and doing your hair nicely and wearing makeup and jewelry. But the principle is not flaunting their riches with “costly attire” and jewelry. Peter also warns against excessive “external adorning” (1 Pet 3:3-4).

Peter says that in contrast to the extravagant, pompous display of riches, Christian women are to set their minds on the inner beauty of the heart. What does God regard more: outward physical beauty or the hidden, inner, imperishable beauty of a “gentle and quiet spirit.” When women are so thoroughly preoccupied with beautiful looks, spending an inordinate portion of her time, money, and thoughts on these things, it is self-worship!

This is why the law against sexual immorality and gazing at others with lustful desire goes both ways. What is normally the biggest reason why men are attracted to certain women? It is physical beauty. And when women flaunt their bodies with seductive dress, jewelry, and swimsuit, they are enticing men’s normal sinful passions. The role models of today’s teenagers are those celebrities on TV and movies, who expose so much skin and body that they make a pure and holy life difficult for men. This is why Paul commands women to wear “respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” Not only is honorable before God, but respectable before sinful men. Modesty and propriety are two of the most important principles for women.

As well, both Paul and Peter also mention a second thing in relation to women’s duties in relation to sexual holiness. And this is submission. After exhorting women to be modest and respectable, doing good works, Paul says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness” (1 Tim 2:11). Peter says the same thing after encouraging women to have inner beauty, “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands” (1 Pet 3:5).

This goes back to the creation account, when God made woman as a companion, a help-meet for Adam. So the woman was not to become a seductress of men by displaying her outer beauty without modesty and self-control. She is to exercise her role in support of her husband, not enticing other men to have passionate thoughts and intentions because of the body she displays.

The Gospel That Gives Holiness

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are all adulterers. Spiritual adulterers. Jesus calls us “an evil and adulterous generation” because just like the Pharisees, we are unfaithful to God and are motivated by selfish ambition (Matt 12:39). James convicts us when our priorities are skewed by worldly passions and pleasures: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas 4:4). When we add our idols of the heart to the worship of the true God, we are no better than Israel who lusted after the idol-gods of their pagan neighbors.

These are difficult commands for all men and women, young and old alike. How are we freed from this spiritual adultery? Paul ends these words by saying, “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (verse 8). It is not Paul, but God, who gives this command, so that anyone who violates it brings the discipline of the church upon himself (1 Cor 5:9).

But God himself is the one who gives you his Spirit to obey God’s law. The Holy Spirit writes not only the Seventh Commandment, but his whole law, not only in your mind to inform you, but on your hearts to purify you from all uncleannesses and idolatry (Ezek 36:25-27). After God justifies you who were formerly unholy and disobedient, the Spirit enables you to live holy and obedient lives.

Before the world was created, God chose you to be “holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4). He created you in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you should walk in them (Eph 2:10). In the fullness of time, Jesus came down from heaven to fulfill the law perfectly to free you from your sinful condition by dying on the cross for your sin. Because he died for your sin, you are able to put to death sexual sin in your life. Because he rose from the dead, he justifies you, even while your heart was still sexually impure. With your justification before God also comes the indwelling of the Spirit, uniting you to Christ. In this, you are able to “seek the things that are above,” things that are holy and pure (Col 3:1).

Therefore, when Jesus returns, he will present you to his Father as his holy and pure bride, “without spot or wrinkle… that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

 


Notes:

  1. Walter Bauer, Frederick Danker, William Arndt, William, F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., (Chicago, Ill: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 371-2.
  2. For Biblical grounds in support of lawful divorce, see “No Divorce: Only in the Philippines”
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