Pursuing Pure Relationships

We are living in times of moral upheaval. We have seen a tremendous change in values in our world. This last week I heard a woman ranting and raving about the fact that one of the Presidential candidates had mis-pronounced a couple of words. It reminded me of the upheaval that took place when Dan Quayle misspelled potato! And yet, when our President admits to immoral behavior and perjury, when other leaders are involved with illegal activity . . . people shrug. Has there ever been greater examples of a society that majors on the minors and minors on the majors?

The seventh commandment is easy to remember. It’s only five words: You shall not commit adultery. Yet, most of us know someone who has been involved in one way or another in an adulterous relationship. In fact, it is almost an epidemic. And with the state of the world in which we live, that should not surprise us. Sexual purity has been replaced with recreational sex. Marital commitment has been replaced by throw-a-way relationships.

The seventh commandment speaks an important word to contemporary society. And this morning I want to look at this commandment in three areas: the commandment against infidelity, the implied commandment FOR marriage, and the practical implications for our daily living.

THE COMMANDMENT FORBIDS ADULTERY

Adultery is technically defined as a sexual relationship between a married person with someone other than their spouse. It is a breaking of the promise of fidelity. When a person becomes involved in an adulterous relationship they choose to pursue their selfish desires to the exclusion of the promises they have made to their spouse. They do not see the price tag. The price is high.

Adultery Is a Violation of God’s Order

In the very first book of the Bible we are told that it was God’s plan for a man and a woman to be joined as one. From the first days of creation marriage was designed to permanent. The home was to be the place where children were raised and given godly values. The bond between a man and a woman was to be the greatest union of all. Sex was designed to be something that helped make two people one. In fact, in describing God’s relationship to us God uses the analogy of marriage. Adultery violates God’s design.

Adultery Produces Heartache

Talk to anyone who has been the victim in an adulterous relationship and you will immediately sense a depth of heartache that is oppressive. Richard Foster writes,

Sex is like a great river that is rich and deep and good as long as it stays within it’s proper channel. The moment a river overflows its banks, it becomes destructive, and the moment sex overflows its God-given banks, it too becomes destructive. [Richard Foster, MONEY, SEX, POWER p. 109]

My friend and the Sr. Pastor of the church where I served as Associate Minister in Michigan had an adulterous relationship with a woman who had come with her husband for counseling. Not only was this an ethical breech, it tore his own home and church apart. Those who were married by him (including us) felt somewhat stained, the congregation he served felt that his teaching was less credible. The gospel was compromised.

Sometime later, I had lunch with him. As we tried to break the ice I asked him how he could do such a thing. His response, “You don’t know what life was like for me.” Difficult circumstances do not justify wrong behavior. Adultery is never the right option. It is not a move toward a better relationship, it is a move away from it.

Sexual sin affects more than just the two people involved. For the spouse who is abandoned for another, there is,

  • destruction of trust
  • a feeling of violation and having been used
  • a feeling of abandonment
  • a feeling of failure and inadequacy . . . .because they weren’t “good enough”.
  • Rage
  • humiliation (especially if others knew about the relationship before they did)

For the children there is,

  • the loss of harmony in the home and a tension that is debilitating as parents fight.
  • the threatened loss of security . . . now two incomes may become one.
  • the loss of respect for the offending spouse
  • the undermining of previous moral guidance
  • and the grief that often comes with the loss of one of the parents due to divorce.

Sexual sin messes up many lives beyond your own.

Adultery Involves More than Sex

But lest we sit in smug self-righteousness, we need to hear the words of Jesus,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Mt. 5:27-32]

Jesus is reminding us that adultery begins in the mind and heart. Just like murder, begins with our thoughts, so does immorality. Giving our mind to thoughts about another person is drawing us away from our own spouse. It is the first step away from fidelity. We take a second look, we replay a pleasant encounter, and before long our passions are stirring for another.

But it is not just the thoughts about sex. It is also giving our best to someone else. When we give our best attention, our best efforts, our kind words to someone else we are stealing from our spouse. We build a relationship with another person usually long before sex enters the picture. Any step AWAY from our spouse, is a step TOWARD adultery.

I really appreciate the words of Tony Campolo

Most of us have fantasized sexual experiences. The only difference between us an Don Juan is that he lived out his fantasies, while we usually do not, often more because we lack opportunity or audacity rather than because we are spiritual.

There was a time when I would have pretended that such was not the case. I was sure that the other Christians I knew would be shocked and break fellowship with me if they knew what was on my mind. Those in the church seemed beyond the lustful fantasies which plagued my consciousness. However, I have since learned that I am not the only one in the church who, from time to time, fantasizes about the possible joys of sexual liaisons. In the words of one preacher: “It’s depressing to realize that most of us are like the rest of us.” [Tony Campolo SEVEN DEADLY SINS p. 36-37]

We need to realize that there is not a single spouse among us who can compare with an imagined ideal relationship with someone else. Who can measure up to someone who is perceived to have no (or only minor) faults?

THE COMMANDMENT CELEBRATES MARRIAGE

It’s important that we focus not just on the negative side of the command. As with all these commandments there is a prohibition but there is also an implied prescription. There is a negative but also a positive. For example, the command not to murder is also a command to honor and value life. The command not to commit adultery is also a command to cherish and honor marriage. Hebrews says,

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. [Hebrews 13:8]

Notice three things about marriage,

It is a Great Thing

At the very beginning God ordained the idea that a man and a woman would be joined to become one. Marriage is great because there is an intimacy, wholeness and companionship that comes in marriage that is found in no other relationship.

I don’t think there is anything that I admire more than to see two people who have lived their lives together and have worked to build a good relationship. They have been married for 40, 50, 60 years. They can communicate without words. They care for each other without complaint and without any thought of self. There is a depth in that relationship I covet. That kind of relationship can only come through the commitment of marriage.

It is to be an Enduring Thing

Jesus is pretty clear that divorce is to be something that believers are to stay away from . . . if at all possible. Marriage was meant to be a lifelong commitment. Now, we will concede that this is the ideal and this ideal is not always reached. But we must not forget that the goal is permanence!

Every once in a while I will be talking with a couple who will tell me, “We want our marriage to work, but if it doesn’t, we want to remain friends!” Immediately I tell the couple that this attitude is not only naive it is almost sure to undermine their marriage. We can’t go into marriage looking for an escape clause.

It takes Work

In the book of Proverbs we find lots of wisdom. In chapters 5 and 6 are very direct warnings against adultery. In chapter 5 there is also a very specific prescription,

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and 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 captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife? For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. [Proverbs 5:15-21]

Solomon’s advice is quite simple: put all this energy that feeds lust into your marriage and you will find a much more satisfying relationship than you can with any adulteress or adulterer. If we put as much energy into finding romantic times in our marriage as we do in thinking about an affair, things would be much different. So, there are some simple suggestions,

  • have an “affair” with your spouse
  • focus on the strengths of your mate and trumpet those strengths to others
  • make time to be together
  • look for ways to “keep romance alive”

Often, our relationship grow stale because we grow stale! We stop working at our relationship. And if you stop working at your relationship it will get stale . . . no matter who you are married to. Keep things fresh!

THE COMMANDMENT REQUIRES REAL CHANGE

I hope you can already see that to obey this commandment means to take a radically different approach to life than is usually advocated in today’s world. We can’t just “go with the flow” or “do whatever makes you happy”.
We must instead be intentional in our living.

We Must Guard Our Minds

Our society is giving us a constant stream of junk for our minds. Everywhere we turn we find things that will dull our minds or turn our hearts. A constant exposure to immorality will weaken us. It will erode our convictions and make sin seem “normal”. When this happens we feel that we are “missing something” when we follow God’s commands.

Studies have shown that over 90 percent of all sexual encounters on television and movies are between unmarried people. Before the average American turns eighteen, he or she has witnessed more than seventy thousand images of sex or suggested sexual intercourse between people who aren’t wed to each other. [Strobel, GOD’S OUTRAGEOUS CLAIMS p. 136]

There are of course many things that we must guard our minds from,

  • pornography . . . it makes us think of people as objects rather than individuals.
  • mind numbing exposure to sex on television.
  • suggestive lyrics in songs
  • being fascinated with the details of the sin of another. Sin should not be seen as exciting!

All of these things dull our minds. They erode purity and create an appetite for that which is profane. In addition it creates an illusion that there is a world where sex has no consequences, where people exist only to bring pleasure to us. That world is not real!

But it is not enough to just keep harmful things from our mind . . . we must make sure that we are filling our minds with those things which are profitable and holy. Our times of prayer, study and worship are vital antidotes to the pollution of our society. What we put in our mind will determine the bent of our heart. If we compromise with what we think, we will soon find ourselves compromising in our heart and in our actions.

We Must Refrain from Provocative Behavior

When I talk about provocative behavior I am referring to things that we do that cater to and encourage lust. What I mean are things like this,

  • Flirting. Yes, it may be fun. Sure, we all want to feel that we “still have it”. We want to know that we are still attractive to others. But it is a dangerous practice. We should save our flirting for our spouse.
  • Provocative attire. If you watch any of the awards shows you know that many today wear clothing that doesn’t hide anything. I’ll tell you . . . it is tough to think pure thoughts when we see such tempting attire before us. We (especially men) are geared to respond to the visual . . . but we should only be seeing such things when we are with our spouse! Provocative clothing is designed to provoke lust. That is not only dangerous but it is also wrong.

There is a notion in our society that Beauty has to do with externals. Now, think about this one. All around us there are people who cry out to us that beauty has to do with obtaining certain measurements or having a certain “body” in our hair, or wearing certain clothing. We are led to believe that we will be more “beautiful” if we drive a certain car, drink a certain beverage or engage in certain behaviors. But do you see how superficial this is? Peter says,

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. [1 Peter 3:3,4]

The Bible tells us that true beauty is internal. Now that doesn’t mean that we should pay no attention to our external appearance . . . please don’t draw that conclusion. However, we do need to see that our emphasis should be placed on cultivating a good and godly spirit. The problem we face is that everything in the world calls us in the other direction.

  • Suggestive Comments. This is flirting taken a higher level. We were told when we were kids that we should never play with fire. What our parents told us about fire is also true about temptation.
  • Inappropriate Touch. I know we have a society that is paranoid about touch. There are times when the most loving thing we can do is give someone a hug. There are also times when an arm around a shoulder can say more than words. But it is an area where we must be careful. Beware of that desire to touch for “touch sake”. If you find the touch “exciting” you shouldn’t be doing it.

We Must Be Alert to Dangerous Situations

Another thing we must do is be on guard against compromising situations. It is very easy to “get into trouble” if we are not careful. Men and women must be careful about the kinds of time they spend with those who are not their spouse. I’m not saying it’s never o.k. for two people to have lunch as friends . . . but it must be a situation we are real careful with.

I’ve told the story many times but it made a deep impression on me. When I was a single Associate Minister I had a woman friend. She was married and had three children. We really enjoyed singing together and having fun. She was having some marriage problems. As she shared I tried to be supportive and caring. Before I knew it I knew I was in dangerous territory. She was frustrated. I was lonely. She longed for someone to listen to her. I listened. It was a bad combination. Fortunately, I was able to change my relationship with this woman and refer her for counseling to someone else before something bad happened. I learned at that moment that it CAN happen to anyone! Change a couple of circumstances and I could have been in the same situation the Senior Minister was in a few years later.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

I know many will come out of this message and say that I am being very Puritanical. Perhaps it sounds like God is telling us that we can’t have any fun. But if that is the way you feel, you have missed the point. God is telling us that the best relationship is the one that is lived His way. The best relationship is anchored in a commitment that lasts a lifetime. God is not against our enjoyment of life. He is against our perversion of that enjoyment.

Let me conclude with a word to those who have sexual sin in their past. Some of you, I’m sure, look back on your past with deep regret. You wish you hadn’t done some of the things you did. You wish you would have taken a different course. And some of you cannot escape the sense of guilt and shame you live with.

To you, I have a simple message, “sexual sin can also be forgiven!” But don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, “I’m not saying that you can do what you want and just say, “Sorry, God.” And that’s the end of it. We must repent. That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle any more. It doesn’t mean that we are completely pure in our thoughts . . . it means we really want to be. If you are involved in that sin now . . . you must stop. Some of you may have to apologize to a former spouse. Some of you will have to apologize to someone you treated as an object. Some will have to change the people you hang around with. But if you repent, God will forgive. You can begin again. Broken marriages can often be put back together. But even when they are not, God can help you start over.

And for those who are the victims of sexual sin. For those who have known the deep wounds that come from rejection and the heartache of broken promises. Please know that the Lord sees your pain. Your spouse may have rejected you, but He has not. He will help you survive. If you trust Him you will find a strength you did not know you had. And in time . . . you will laugh again. You may reach a point when you will be able to forgive. And you may even love again. But even if you don’t, life is not over. The joy you crave is not found in a man or a woman. It is found in the arms of God.

The kind of relationships we all want take courage, diligence, and a rigorous attention to our heart, our mind, and our behavior. It means standing against the current of the world. Some will say it is too much work. But God tells us that it is this work that will lead us to a love the world cannot duplicate and a joy the world cannot imagine. Don’t settle for cheap substitutes! Pursue the best and do so with all your heart.