There’s an old joke about Moses coming down Mt Sinai with the tablets in hand. He says, “I’ve got good news and bad news. First, the good news, I got the Lord to agree to make it just 10 commandments. Now the bad news, the adultery commandment stays in.” The point is that the seventh commandment, found in Exodus 20:14, “Do not commit adultery.” was somehow designed to make us unhappy, that God was taking away our fun. But the truth is, God was looking out for what is in our best interest.
A few weeks back we began looking at the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” So far we’ve covered six words. Let’s remember them: The first word that we talked about was “believe,” as in believe in the One true God! And the second word was “prioritize,” remember to put the Lord first in everything. The third word was “respect,” treat God’s name seriously. The fourth word was “rest,” we must take a day to rest our bodies and restore our spirits. The fifth word was “parents,” we need to honor our parents, even when we become adults. And last week’s word was “life,” we need to promote and preserve life in every way we can. And the word for this week is, “monogamy.” God intends marriage to be for one man and one woman, for life.
Of course we want to know, what’s so bad about open marriage or infidelity? The book of Proverbs gives a simple answer—unfaithfulness in marriage is destructive. Just read these verses: “Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned? Can a man walk on coals without scorching his feet? So it is with the one who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished . . . The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself” (Prov 6:27-29, 32). So how harmful is adultery? Studies have shown that it demolishes our marriages, it devastates our kids and it destroy our very selves.
Not surprisingly, the Messiah Jesus examined this 7th word in Matthew 5:27-32. His exposition gave it a different spin. In a sense, He said, “You shall commit monogamy” and He gives three keys to a faithful and flourishing marriage.
According to the Lord Jesus, the first key to committing monogamy is sexual faithfulness. In Matt 5:27, Jesus repeats this commandment from Moses, reaffirming its importance. And it’s a good thing. You see, people believe adultery is common. But it’s not. Critics of marital faithfulness frequently call it the monogamy myth. They assert that 60% of men and 40% of women have been unfaithful. But no scientific study supports it. The myth is really about adultery. According to the famous study by the University of Chicago, the statistics are 25% of men and 17% of woman. George Barna’s research group found it to be about 23% of married people in general have been unfaithful, not nearly the 50% commonly asserted. So why do people believe this adultery myth. I think it’s because of tv, where virtually every sexual act is extra-marital. But what the actual scientific studies show is that people commonly commit adultery on tv, but not in real life. In fact, according to the study by the University of Chicago, the people who were engaging in the most satisfying and frequent sexual relations were those who were in a married, monogamous relationship.
The second key to committing monogamy, according to the Lord Jesus, is mental purity. He said, “I tell you everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Lust means desiring sexual pleasure apart from one’s marriage partner. This is even more dangerous today because the internet, cable and on demand tv have brought pornography right into our homes. Who will ever know? The reason Jesus strengthens the command, going even deeper, from physical acts to visual behavior, is because He knows unfaithfulness begins in the heart, at the seat of our intentions. He goes on to say that we must take radical action to deal with this.
According to the Messiah Jesus, the third essential to marital monogamy is permanent commitment. He said, “Everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery” (Matt 5:32). Jesus taught that marriage was to be an exclusive and permanent relationship between a man and a woman and the only exception for divorce was infidelity. We have so normalized divorce today that we have forgotten that it’s not in our best interests.
Here’s two reasons staying married is for our good. First, it safeguards our kids. Judith Wallerstein studied children of divorce for more than 25 years. She found that children of divorced parents are less likely to finish high school or go to college and more likely to get involved in drugs and crime. Conversely, kids whose parents stay together are strengthened both emotionally and spiritually.
Second, staying married is a safeguard for marriage partners. The reason is that the individual problems that cause divorce, are just brought into the second and then the third marriage. That’s the reason for serial divorce. Destroying a marriage doesn’t really fix the problem. That’s why it’s far better to deal with our problems in marriage than to divorce and take the problems with us into the next marriage. Someone once said, when a horse has a broken leg, killing the horse doesn’t really fix the leg. Commitment is really the strongest basis for dealing with marriage problems.
When it comes down to it, the seventh word, monogamy, is not an antiquated and unrealistic ideal. It’s God’s design for a better and happier life.