“ARE WE STILL COUNTING NUMBER SEVEN?”

EXODUS 20:14; PROVERBS 6:32-33; MATTHEW 5:26-27

Play Audio

                                      

                      Did you hear the story about the end of the world?  People are lined up for miles at the Pearly Gates waiting to see if they qualify for admittance.  The line moves and stops, moves and stops, sort of like the line at Space Mountain at Disneyland.  Then, all of a sudden the people at the back of the line hear a great commotion at the front of the gate.  People are cheering.  People are shouting.  Trumpets are blaring.  Finally, the word filters back to those at the end of the line, “They are not counting adultery.”

            Sometimes it seems as if we aren’t counting it either.  Do I need to mention the names of public figures - athletes, politicians, actors, actresses, televangelists - caught in the sin of adultery?  Do I need to mention the movies and the novels and the television programs that make adultery a common occurrence in life, even glamorizing it?  Do I need to mention the staggering statistics concerning infidelity among married couples? 

            Think about it for a moment.  If the Bible went through a downsizing like most companies have gone through  a downsizing recently, and the ten commandments were streamlined, which of the commandments would be eliminated, downsized?  I bet our culture would eliminate this one.  In fact, one person suggested we already have.  He said, "Eliminate the seventh commandment because nobody is keeping it anyway.”

            That, however, would be ill-advised.  You see, the Ten Commandments have been given to us for our benefit.  They are a fence, a barrier protecting us from all sorts of ills.   Did you see the video this week of the bull in Spain jumping into the crowd at a bullfight and attacking people in the stands, goring two and injuring forty?  That was scary because the fence is there to protect the spectators from the bulls.  That's why it's there. The same goes for the Ten Commandments.  The Commandments are a fence protecting us from things that would destroy us.  I’ve never experienced it, but I’m told the pain associated with finding out that your husband or your wife has been unfaithful is even greater than the pain of death!  I’m told that other than losing a child, that’s as bad as it gets. 

            So, I’m all for keeping the Seventh Commandment.  It protects us from something that would greatly harm us.  Also, I would keep it because it models something for the world to see.  This Seventh Commandment invites us to model fidelity and lifelong commitment in our relationships.  Now that’s something our world needs to hear and take to heart.

            The popular culture of modern America certainly seems to be throwing a lot of its weight against the old-time values of fidelity and commitment—offering us instead a staple of escapades of the women and men of Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy,  a staple of the sexual gymnastics of sports idols too numerous to name.  Even Gail Sheehy the author of Passages has gotten into the act.  In her recently published book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman, she recommends that a "passionate" middle-age woman ought not to hesitate to trade in her tired old hubby for the prospective highs of a new romance.

            In stark contrast to all that, however, the seventh commandment offers us the opportunity to model in our relationships that same quality of faithfulness which God extends to us.  You see, no matter how much we may slip and slide within our relationship with God, God's commitment and fidelity to us, sworn and sealed in the sacrament of baptism, never ends. 

            And let me remind us all of where this faithfulness and fidelity all began.  One of the best moments in the bible comes early on.  Adam is walking around a gigantic garden, picking berries and talking to animals, the original Dr. Doolittle.  And it’s a lovely day, and he’s enjoying the scenery, but as great at it is, he’s feeling a tad bit lonely, and that loneliness did not escape our all-knowing God.

            So God says to Adam, “Hey, Adam, I’m cooking up a little surprise for you.  I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to spring it on you and the time has come.  What I want you to do is take a little nap, and when you wake up, you’re going to have the surprise of your life.  You are going to love it!”

            And you know the story.  While Adam sleeps God takes one of his ribs and, using cloning and genetic engineering, God fashions it into a woman.  Then Adam awakes and what did Adam say?  Did he get cute and say, “Hi, Madam, I’m Adam?”  Did his eyes bulge out and did he say, “Hubba, hubba?”  No, he was polite and said, “At last, this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  In other words, “This is someone with whom I can relate.  This is someone with whom I can commune at the deepest level.  This is someone with whom I can spend a lifetime,” and God said, “Do it.  Enjoy your life together.  Be fruitful and multiply.”

            You see, God is pro-sex.  God gave us sex as a gift of creation, however that gift can be abused so God set up a fence around the exercise of that gift, specifically the seventh commandment, and this morning I want us to look at three ways we can abuse the gift of our sexuality.

            God mentions the first abuse in the seventh commandment: adultery, and the word “adultery” in Jewish law is very clearly and narrowly defined.  The word describes unfaithfulness between marriage partners.  It describes a sin against the marriage bed.  It’s not what the bible refers to as fornication, sex between non-married persons.

            As a quick aside, did you hear the definition of adultery offered by a father to his young son?  The son came home from church. The Ten Commandments had been discussed in the boy’s Sunday School class, and the boy asked his daddy, "What does it mean when the Bible says 'Thou shalt not commit agriculture?'"   Quick as a flash the dad answered, "Son, that means that you are not supposed to plow on somebody else's field."  I like that definition: “Don't go plowing somebody else's field.”

            Anyway, in Jewish law adultery is clearly and narrowly defined.  It’s a sin against the marriage bed, and as such, it differs from what the Bible calls “fornication,” and I like the way C.S. Lewis described the difference between the two, fornication and adultery.  C.S. Lewis divided sexual sin into two categories: hot sins and cold sins.  Lewis described fornication as a “hot sin.”  It’s the highly charged carelessness of people who have strong passions.  They burn with desire and give into their sexual urges.

            Lewis, however, puts adultery into a different category.  For Lewis adultery is not a “hot sin,” but rather a “cold sin.”  To an adulterer, adultery may feel like a “hot sin,” but to Lewis it’s a “cold sin” because the adulterer has coldly turned his or her back on their spouse.  They turned their back on the vow, “until death do us part.”

            The second abuse of sexuality is lust.  Listen to Jesus’ take on the seventh commandment,

 

            You have heard it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

 

            Jesus does here what he does so many times.  He looked beyond the outward expression of sin and saw its inner manifestation.  While an outward expression of sexual sin may be adultery, the inner manifestation is lust. 

            Now, let me remind us of what lust is and what it is not.  Lust is not the first, casual look.  It’s not noticing that certain members of the opposite sex are attractive.  It’s not a glance, it is a stare.  It’s not the appreciation of a muscular physique, a shapely body, or a pretty face.  It’s the second, the third and the fourth look, accompanied by an imagined seduction. 

            Jesus reminds us that the battle is won in the mind.  A mind that persistently dreams and schemes and seduces is a dangerous thing, because our thoughts are the parents of our deeds.  If we think about it long enough, often enough, creatively enough, it won’t be long until we figure out a way to act on those thoughts.  So, Jesus says, “Nip it in the bud.  Regulate your fantasy life.  You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  Well, I say everyone who looks at another person lustfully has committed adultery.”  Just as Jesus expanded the scope of the sixth commandment, he expands the scope of the seventh commandment.

            Then there is the third way we abuse our sexuality, at least according to some prominent theologians, guys like Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin.  As Jesus expanded the seventh commandment to include lust, these pesky theologians, expanded the scope of the seventh commandment to include fornication, sexual relations between persons not married to anyone.  Unlike the HBO series Sex and the City that treated human sexuality as a toy, as something to be used as a mere play thing, these pesky theologians argued that human sexuality is a gift from God.  It’s sacred and it's meant to be reserved to two persons who have committed their lives to one another for the long haul, not just one night or a series of nights.

            And I, for one, believe it's the theologians who've gotten this right and not HBO!  And I may sound like a dinosaur given how accepting our culture has become on this issue, and I don’t want to come off as a T-Rex this morning, but given the cultural shift it’s obvious people have not been wearing out their bibles looking for instruction on sexual relationships.

            You see, the problem with people having sex outside of marriage is not that they have gone too far with one another, it’s that they have not gone far enough.  Sexual intercourse was designed to be celebrated within the context of a life long commitment with another person.  If we have not committed ourselves to another for a lifetime, we have not gone far enough with the other person.

            Did any of you see the moving Indecent Proposal starring Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Trudy’s heart-throb, not lust-mate, but heart-throb Robert Redford?  Demi and Woody play a couple in love with one another and Robert Redford comes along and offers them a million dollars for Demi to spend one night with him.  It’s like that bumper sticker a saw on a car awhile ago, “Wanted: A Meaningful Overnight Relationship.”  Anyway, Demi says to her boyfriend, Woody, “Hey, all I’m going to do is give him my body.  I’m not going to give him my mind or my heart.”

            When she uttered those words, I thought to myself, “Wrong!  Wrong!  It’s not going to work that way,” and shock of shocks, this Hollywood movie came to the same conclusion.  The movie stated what the bible states.  It underscored the fact that we are not easily compartmentalized persons.  Rather our emotional, physical, mental and spiritual selves are intertwined. 

            It’s like that moment in another movie, A Christmas Story, where nine-year-old Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock.  The plot revolves around Ralphie's overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to his owning the precious Red Ryder BB gun.  One of the funnier scenes in the movie involves one of his friends responding to a “triple dog dare,” and getting his tongue stuck on a frozen flag pole.  Well, that’s what happens when we have sex outside of marriage.  We leave a part of ourselves on the flag pole.  We do not walk away cleanly, just as Demi Moore did not walk away cleanly.  She left a part of herself stuck to Redford’s bedpost.  And the more of ourselves we leave behind, the more of ourselves stuck to others’ bedposts, the less of ourselves we eventually bring to our marriage partner.  As a result, God says, “avoid fornication.”

            Three abuses, the original one, adultery; Jesus expansion on it, lust; and a possible third abuse of the seventh commandment, the theologians expansion, sex outside of marriage. 

            Let me close with this.  A young boy was filling out a form for school.  In the box marked “Eyes” he answered “Yes.”  In the box marked “Sex” he wrote, “Give me a break, I’m only a kid.”

            Let’s give ourselves a break by obeying the seventh commandment.