Loving God and Honoring Marriage
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.”
Christians get a little embarrassed when it comes to discussing human sexuality. In fact, if we took a poll here it might be interesting to see how many of your parents talked to you at any length about anything having to do with sex. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you never had that talk at all.
And that’s a shame—because everybody else is talking about it, aren’t they? Our society, our televisions shows, our advertisements—they are all obsessed with sex. For Christians to ignore that and fail to present what God has to say about our sexuality is to leave an open door for the devil. So today, we will examine God’s holy will for us in the area of human sexuality.
Let’s start with the basics—marriage and family. “God sets the lonely in families,” says the psalmist (68:6). It was not good for the man to be alone, according to Genesis; so God made him a woman from his very flesh, instituted marriage, and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1-2).
Marriage is a vocation—a calling—from God. This was a major issue in the Reformation. Our Lutheran forefathers had to battle the notion that those who wished to be highly spiritual would have to join a monastery or abbey, take a vow of celibacy, promising never to marry or have children. Pointing to the biblical texts on marriage and the family, the Reformers insisted that there is no higher or holier calling than marriage, and that everything that accompanies marriage, including sexual relations, is a gift from God.
Indeed, Scripture makes clear that the intimacies and relationships of human marriage have profound spiritual significance. Throughout the Old Testament, God describes His relationship to His people as a marriage—He is the Husband and His people are His bride. When they stray away from Him or fall into idolatry, God pictures their betrayal as spiritual adultery. The Book of Revelation emphasizes how the Church will be revealed as the Bride of Christ at the end of time (21:2, 9).
The Song of Solomon with its longing and its sensuality, is certainly about marriage. But it has always been interpreted also to speak of the relationship between Christ and the Church, His people. That is to say, Christ is hidden in marriage. Not that marriage is a sacrament as such, since even non-Christians get married. No, marriage is a natural state, common to the whole human race, instituted by God at creation. It has to do with God’s earthly kingdom and thus is licensed and regulated by civil laws. Nevertheless, marriage is a tangible manifestation of the relationship between Christ and the Church, though only Christian couples, through the eyes of faith, will be able to glimpse how this is so.
St. Paul explains: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:28-32).
Far from denigrating the body, as Christians are often accused of doing, the Bible affirms our physical nature. Moreover, this text speaks of Christ’s unity with His people, not in vague “spiritual” terms, but in terms of the “body.” The Church is the Body of Christ. Furthermore, Christ has given His body, broken on the cross, for His Church. In the ongoing institution of the Lord’s Supper, He says, “This is My body, which is given for you.”
At the outset of creation when God established marriage, He ordained that the husband and wife become “one flesh.” This is indeed “a profound mystery.” The nature of Christ’s unity with the Church, what it means that we are the Body of Christ on earth, and what it means that He gives us His body opens up depths of theological inquiry. But it is here applied to marriage in a very down-to-earth way.
A husband should love his wife just like he loves his own body. He should never mistreat or harm her any more than he would hurt himself physically.
Nor does St. Paul draw away from the sexual implications of the mutual body that the man and woman share. In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, he is more explicit: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
This passage is rather astonishing in how far it goes in affirming the sexual dimension of marriage. The husband and the wife are to satisfy each other sexually. Their bodies do not belong just to themselves but to the other person. They should not “deprive one another” of sex accept when both agree to devote themselves to prayer, but this should only be “for a limited time,” and after that they should “come together again.”
This sexual freedom within marriage is very different—and far more liberating—than today’s secular attitudes toward sex. There is none of this “It’s my body, and I can do with it what I want.” No, it is not your body—it is your spouse’s, and it is God’s. There is certainly no sexual permissiveness here. Sex is to find full expression in marriage, lest Satan tempt the man and woman through their lack of self-control into infidelity or other kinds of sexual immorality.
This illustrates an important principle of vocation: Something may be good when done inside a vocation, but sin when it is done outside of that vocation. Sex outside of marriage is wrong, but not because there is anything wrong with sex. Within the vocation of marriage, it is a great good. Outside the vocation of marriage, though, it is evil. You are not called to have sex with anyone other than your spouse. You have no authority to have this positive physical relationship with someone you are not married to.
Like observing the Sabbath and honoring parents, the Sixth Commandment originally was social legislation intended to protect those most vulnerable in the society—in this case, women. In other societies at the time, men could grab any woman they wanted and treat her as property. Among God’s people, it would not be this way. Like the Fourth and Fifth Commandments, the Sixth Commandment carried the severest penalty—death. As with the Fourth Commandment, it protected one of the “orders of creation” on which society stands. Honoring parents protected the family. Prohibiting adultery protected marriage. Without stable families and marriages, society disintegrates and self-destructs. True of the once great Greek and Roman civilizations, it will be true of our American society.
The Sixth Commandment is about more than just “cheating on your spouse.” “Adultery” is having sex with anyone other than your spouse. I tell confirmation students: “Even now you are called to be faithful to your spouse—even though you’d don’t know yet who he or she is.”
Obviously, sexuality immorality is rampant. This moral decay will doom our society, as it has every sexually decadent society before us. Anthropologists, however, have pointed out one peculiarity of our society. Never before has a society had cultural leaders who sought to treat decadence as normal and to have it recognized as legal. Despite rampant homosexuality, adultery, and promiscuity, the Greeks and Romans always considered such things perversions. The laws against them were never removed, no matter how much they were flaunted. Why? They recognized that an order of creation was at stake. The elite wanted to flaunt accepted morality for the sake of their own pleasures, but they sure hoped others wouldn’t or the order of creation would be undermined, society would collapse.
So how did we get here? I would suggest an over-correction of a false view of sex—the ascetic view—has brought us to this point. In this view, bodily drives are considered bad because they divert from the real nature of man—which is spiritual. Sex is bad because it satisfies a basic drive of the body. This view of sex shows up in many religions: (1) in the requirement that “holy men” be celibate,(2) in the opinion that sex shouldn’t be talked about in church, or (3) the idea that a truly spiritual person will suppress all sexual feelings.
Obviously, this is disrespect for a creation of God. In the beginning, God created them male and female, capable of having sex. Sex is a beautiful gift of God. It was not good for man to be alone. God intends for us to be joyful. He created us to rejoice before Him. He created us to rest in His love and to share that love with others. He wants you to enjoy the body He gave you. He wants you to enjoy your sexuality within its proper context.
But the current view of sex over-corrects the ascetic view. This naturalist view proclaims that we were created to enjoy sex, so let’s do it. The Christian view is that the sex drive need not be denied. The naturalist view is that it must not be denied. A person’s feelings are the judge of what is right and wrong. Anything that frustrates a person’s drives and fulfillment must be rejected. A person should be free to have sex anytime, anywhere, and any way—as long as he or she feels good afterward and no one gets hurt. That is what our rebellious, sinful heart tells us. And it’s not peculiar to our age or society. David gave in to this naturalist philosophy when he took Uriah’s wife. Satan says, “It’s just a one-night stand. I want it. She wants it. Nobody’s going to get hurt.”
But that’s a lie! There is no such thing as safe sex outside of marriage! Someone will be hurt—whether the consequence are readily noticeable or not.
For one: God will be hurt. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul reminds us: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:13-17).
For another: You will be hurt. “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sexual sin not only increases the chances of physical ailments; it harms you psychologically and spiritually.
Also: The other person will be hurt. How can you lead him or her into sin and the harmful consequences of such sin? Is that really loving your neighbor?
But the devastating effects of sexual sin don’t end there. Others will be hurt as well. Society and homes are littered with the carnage left in the wake of sexual sin: broken homes, skyrocketing divorce rates, abortion, the demeaning of women, the abuse of children, the redefinition of marriage, and pornography,
In describing marriage as a “one flesh” union, God makes it clear that sexual intercourse is far from just a physical encounter. He established in that union a oneness of body and soul in which all barriers are down. By its very nature that one flesh cannot tolerate a third party. Someone has said, “Adultery is like putting your tongue on a frozen pipe. You can tear it off, but not without leaving some of your tongue on the pipe.” You don’t ever walk away unscathed. You don’t ever walk away without leaving a piece of yourself behind.
In addition, the heart hardens with sexual sin. It goes from one defiance of God’s commandments to another. David’s fall started with it lustful look at beautiful Bathsheba. He coveted Uriah’s wife. He abused his authority and had Bathsheba brought to him. He committed adultery. To cover up his sin, He lied and schemed. David finally had Uriah killed, and took Bathsheba to be his wife. In one short episode, David ended up violating practically all Ten Commandments.
The prophet Nathan boldly confronted David with his sin. David loved his Lord and confessed his sin. He prayed, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love… Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me… Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:1, 4, 10, 12).
That’s the assurance for you as well. Sexual sin—no matter what it is—is not the unforgivable sin. Sexual problems do not make you unacceptable to God. They, too, are part of your fallen nature. The homosexual, the sexually immoral, and the unfaithful spouse are among those for whom Christ shed His holy, precious blood. Jesus is the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).
To be sure, there will be consequences, as with all sin—in your body, in your heart, in your self-respect, in your relationships. As St. Paul noted with Roman society in his time, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions… receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27). A spouse may not be able to forgive or to trust again. Children may not be able to forgive. The marriage may end in divorce. You may find it difficult to forgive yourself. But if you turn it over to God, He will take it as He has time and time again—whatever your sin. When you repent as King David did and pray for a new heart, you will receive it. Your sweet Savior took that sin with Him to the cross. You may still suffer earthly consequences of your sin, but the eternal consequences were absorbed by our Lord. You are forgiven.
Dear Christians, God did not give the Ten Commandments to cramp your style, to curb your fun, or because He’s a puritanical prude. God gave the Ten Commandments as a means of protecting and blessing you. The real issue here, as with all the commandments, is this: Are you willing to bring this part of your lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Will you confess your sin, and receive God’s gift of forgiveness and new life? Will you repent and live in the true freedom that comes in walking in the Lord’s way and according to His will and Word?
We live in a sinful and broken world, burdened by the weight of our own shameful sins and lusts. But the whole Biblical record is full of examples of God working through sinners, forgiving, redeeming broken lives, and making great things happen when all things seem shattered and lost. He still does this for you today. No matter what your sin.
Christ has paid for all of your sins—even your most shameful secret sins—with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. In Baptism, He has made you His own, and covered your shame and sin with His perfect robe of righteousness. In His Supper, He feed His very and body and blood, a foretaste of the great marriage feast of the Lamb, where He will come to take you, His Church, to be His eternal Bride. Through these means of grace, and the voice of His called and ordained servant, He steadfastly loves you and continues to bring you this Good News: “You are forgiven of all of your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.