The Sixth Commandment
September 12, 2010
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God that we may
lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed,
and each love and honor his spouse.
“You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14
The reason it is called adultery is because it adulterates something that is pure. Marriage is pure because God is pure and God made marriage. If we evolved from the animals, then marriage must have evolved, too. In that case, marriage would not be an institution of God. It isn’t surprising to see that when people are taught that they descended from animals they should act like animals, especially when it comes to sexual behavior. There is nothing wrong with a tomcat acting like a tomcat. He isn’t made in God’s image, after all, and is not capable of sin. We don’t insist that cats or dogs or rabbits get married or remain faithful to their mates. They are animals.
But we are not. We are made in the image of God. The Sixth Commandment applies to us. “You shall not commit adultery.”
God gave the Sixth Commandment for the purpose of defending, supporting, and encouraging marriage. Marriage is a life-long union of one man and one woman. The two shall become one flesh, God said. Jesus gave strict instructions against divorce precisely because it is God who joins the husband and the wife together to make them one flesh. The reason adultery is grounds for divorce is not because it causes pain and suffering (which it does), but because it breaks the bond that God himself established. While marriage is a legal contract that obligates each party of the contract, it isn’t like buying a car that you might want to test drive beforehand and then sell when it no longer pleases you. God marries the woman to the man and the man to the woman and God thereby makes something that did not exist before.
Marriage is not a sacrament. A sacrament is a sacred act, instituted by God, given to Christ’s church here on earth, through which God gives us his grace and eternal life. You will search in vain through the New Testament to see where Jesus gave to his church the authority to marry people.
Furthermore, while marriage certainly requires God’s grace, it doesn’t give it. Marriage is one of those blessings for which we pray when we pray for our daily bread. Included under this petition, the Catechism lists “a pious spouse.” I have officiated at dozens of weddings over the years, but the Church did not give me the authority to do so. The state did.
The government has the duty to regulate marriage. Now obviously, no government can change a divine institution. Just as the church has no authority to change the elements of the Lord’s Supper and still retain the Lord’s Supper, likewise the state had no right to say, for example, that a man can marry a man or a woman can marry a woman. If the state said so, it wouldn’t make it so. It’s like when churches presume to put women in the pulpit to preach. That doesn’t make them pastors, because God instituted the office of the ministry and he excludes women from this office.
The institution of God determines what it is. Whether we are talking about an institution within the church, like the sacraments or the ministry, or an institution within the state, like marriage, if it is a divine institution it is God who determines what it is, how it is to be used, and what benefits it gives. God determines this. We don’t. If we could learn that simple lesson, life would be so much easier and happier.
God has determined when and where sexual relations are to be enjoyed: only within the marriage bond. Whether or not the couple is “in love” is beside the point. The Bible doesn’t tell a man to marry the woman he loves. It tells him to love the woman he has married.
God doesn’t command romantic love. He doesn’t demand that husbands and wives feel tingly inside when they look at each other. The love that God commands is set forth clearly in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians where he tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her. It is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love. This is a love that does. It doesn’t just feel. It is a love that puts the needs of the beloved above any other consideration.
The love celebrated in countless love songs is different. We call it romantic love. It is unreasonable. It is blind. It brings euphoric joy with no rhyme or reason to it. It is the most irrational of all human emotions, though it parades itself as “true” and “faithful”. In fact it is as transient as the grass of the field. It is here one day and it is gone the next.
And it’s not something that you can command anyone to have or do. You either have it or you don’t. Mom says to her daughter, “Why don’t you go out with so and so, he’s from a very nice family.” But her daughter simply has no interest in so and so. There’s no spark at all. That spark or romance is often called “love” and this is what confuses so many people, including Christians. They think that this kind of love is what will make their marriage a success. But this kind of love is not and cannot be the foundation for a happy marriage. This kind of love asks what the lover can give me. That is the wrong question. Christian love, the love commanded in God’s Word, asks what I can give for the one I love. That is the right question.
Willful and stubborn people presume to change God’s definition of love. They want love to serve them. God defines love to serve the neighbor, not the self. The popular view of love defines love precisely in the opposite way. We want what we want when we want it and so we will rebel against anyone who says no to us. That, of course, is idolatry, because God alone is the One to whom we must never say no. The new morality or the old immorality rejects the authority of God. The disciples of this religion see something and they want it so they take it. They deny the obvious fact that they are simply using someone else to pleasure themselves. They cover up their selfishness by redefining it as a meaningful relationship.
But it is meaningless. When the pleasure is gone there is nothing to show for it but a vague sense of bitterness that it is gone. Those addicted to the sins of the flesh are constantly looking for what they cannot have.
God knew what he was doing when he joined the intimacy of marriage to the conceiving and bearing of children. Marriage is the foundation for the family and the family is the foundation for all civil authority, peace, and wellbeing. God knew what he was doing when he invented marriage for us. He gave us something uniquely beautiful. In fact, only a Christian who has been ushered into the holy mysteries of the faith by the Holy Ghost can really understand the full beauty of marriage.
Christ Jesus gave his life for his church. She was homely – ugly, in fact – and a faithless woman without any virtue at all. But his love covered all of her sin. Not just emotionally, not just somewhere in the hidden recesses of his heart, but openly, there in public, before the whole world. There as he was extended up for public shame and ridicule as a criminal nailed to the cross, there it was that he bore his bride’s shame, guilt, and sin, taking it away. There it was that he gave his life for his church.
In Holy Baptism he sprinkled his holy, precious blood upon her to wash away her sin. He who gave himself for her now gives himself to her. There in that washing, the Church, the bride of Christ, is born. She is born anew, and she is so very beautiful. She has no sin. Her unfaithfulness is forgotten. Her ugliness is no more, replaced by a beauty that far transcends the beauty of the most beautiful women in the world.
He cherishes her and serves her in love. She submits to him by trusting him implicitly and completely. She trusts in the One who gave her her identity. She receives the One who gave her his name. She is the Holy Christian Church! She is the bride of Christ! She lives to serve him who gave his life for her and to her.
This beautiful mystery is the pattern that God has established for the Christian marriage. Can you imagine Jesus divorcing his wife that he purchased with his own blood? Impossible! Can you imagine the Church leaving Jesus for another man? Impossible! No, this union of Christ with the Church he loves is the union that now sanctifies every single Christian in the world. And it most surely sanctifies our marriages.
Christian wives: Your husband will not love you as Jesus does, but you submit to him because you have Jesus and it is for Jesus’ sake that you receive your husband as your head. He may not deserve it, but Christ surely does. Christian husbands: Your wife will not be in your eyes nearly so precious as she is in God’s eyes, so you must see her as God sees her. She is holy and blameless.
Only one thing will make us what we must be. That is the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. This is why we treasure it so. It tells us that our sins are forgiven because Jesus bore them. It empowers us to forgive one another. And that is power, dear friends in Christ. That is real power. To forgive your spouse is to claim him or her for yourself, just as Jesus has done for us. It is a power that you have only when you have first received it from God. God gives us forgiveness in his gospel and sacraments. We receive this forgiveness through faith and through faith alone. We can give this forgiveness to one another in our homes where we so sorely need it. Amen.