This is lightly-edited version of a sermon I delivered at my home church in October, 2016, based on the Bible reading: Proverbs 5:1-23
Why is adultery wrong?
To answer that, let’s look for a while at what the Bible has to say about sex. I think we will find simplicity in our current cultural context of diverse and confusing views—even within the church of Jesus Christ.
I must say I find western civilisation confusing and complex when it comes to sex and sexuality. We used to talk of a person’s sex—male and female— now of a person’s gender. It’s all about what one feels about oneself rather than biological realities. What was forbidden and hidden when I was young is now protected, promoted and even celebrated.
Couplings and decouplings, betrothals and betrayals, these are often the core of drama. At least there is recognition that sex is one of life’s most powerful forces.
Some foundation stones
Would you agree with these statements?
- God created everything, so everything belongs to God.
- As creator God knows what is best for us.
- God is love; God loves us; God has no favourites.
- So, when God speaks to us; he wants everybody to understand him.
- Lastly, God inspired the writing of the scriptures. so when we read the Bible, we should expect God to speak to us as we are. God does not make the highly academic his favourite. What is plain and straightforward is what we should understand.
Going Back to the Beginning
So, back to the beginning, Genesis. Lay aside the disputes over these chapters; rather, ask what is the plain and straightforward message you read about God and about people
The creation story starts with a planet in chaos; God brings order, such that the diverse forms of life he creates can thrive: plants, animals, sea creatures, birds. Lastly, God makes a man, Adam, breathing life into a body made of earth’s dust.
Adam is both lord and steward of all other earthly living creatures. But, among all those creatures no suitable companion is found for him. So, God makes a woman, a fit companion, a helpmeet, a co-steward. Man and woman are unashamed in their nakedness. They are told to be fruitful and to multiply. And God says they are made in his image.
Further, God declares (Gen.2:24), “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
This plain, simple story tells us that God created sex to be the means whereby the human race was to grow and multiply. God defined marriage between one man and one woman as the context for sexual activity and expression. Sex brings physical, emotional and spiritual bonding.
In Adam and Eve we have the pinnacle of God’s creation; no other creature bears God’s image. The union of a man and a woman is God’s design, it brings the best for each other.
Affirmed by Jesus
Jesus affirms this when in Matthew19:5, he quotes the verse about a man leaving his parents and cleaving to his wife.
This description of marriage, then, precedes the formation of the Jewish race and religion. It comes before the formation of the Christian church. Marriage is a creation ordinance. So, it applies to all of the human race, no matter where they live, what religion they follow. God the creator defines marriage in this way.
I want to put it this way: marriage between one man and one woman for life is God’s ideal context for sexual activity. Anything else, of whatever kind, is less than the ideal, falling short of God’s glory, dishonouring God.
Now, let’s look at how this “ideal” gets on. Back to Genesis.
The next part of the story is the malicious question of the serpent to Eve, “Did God really say…?” The question lingered in Eve’s mind, grew into mistrust and led to sin, to the fall and to broken humanity—and now to a creation that groans under the weight of the consequences.
Immediately shame comes in. Adam and Eve know they are naked and try to cover themselves. Child-bearing will be painful, says God. The marriage relationship becomes imbalanced.
Yet, God’s grace is evident. He clothes Adam and Eve; he sends them out of the garden so they would not live in their fallenness for ever. That brings us to the end of chapter 3.
In Genesis chapter 4, we read of Cain murdering his brother Abel. Six generations later, Lamech has married two women. Not only is he a bigamist, defying God’s desires for marriage, Lamech is boastful and vengeful. We see the effect of fallenness on sex and marriage.
After the flood, God blesses the survivors, Noah & his wife, his three sons and their wives, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” God restates the place of sex inside marriage.
This strong force in our lives, designed by God, his invention, has to be constrained. The safest place, the best place, God’s intended place is within marriage: one man, one woman for life. That marriage is the intended place to bring children into the world and to raise them.
And after that? Later than Genesis…
After that there is a sobering set of stories about the abuse of God’s gift of sex and marriage, even by the patriarchs, by great kings.
Abraham sired a son by his wife’s handmaid. The family’s division and strife flow down to today’s Middle East.
Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom—a bad choice because a mob wanted to rape Lot’s two male guests, heavenly emissaries.
Lot’s daughters got him drunk so they could get pregnant by him. Moab and Ammon—the two boys conceived—were the ancestors of lasting enemies of the children of Israel.
Jacob’s deceitful uncle Laban got Jacob married to both his daughters. The rivalry between the two women led to Jacob siring children by the women’s servants—twelve sons and one daughter. The twelve tribes of Israel descended from the sons of one man by four women. Favouritism by Jacob led to jealousy and strife among the sons.
King David had several wives but snatched another man’s wife, Bathsheba. His guilt led to murder and discord among his sons.
David’s son, Amnon, raped his half-sister; David did not give the girl justice; he failed her, possibly calloused by his own sin. That failure led to division and rebellion by Absalom, Tamar’s brother.
Every time there is a Bible record of a person ignoring God’s ideal about sex and marriage, trouble follows.
Some people argue that because David’s heart was fully devoted to the LORD his God, God is not so interested in David’s polygamy. We should loosen up, they argue, about this century’s attitudes and practice towards sex and sexuality. But they forget the devastating consequences when God’s ideal is ignored.
Instead of that deduction, I would say how gracious God is. How gracious to honour David, to use him for God’s own glory, even though David patently did not achieve God’s ideal in sex and marriage. How gracious that the nation of Israel emerged from such a dysfunctional family! How gracious that Abraham is held up as a great example of faith!
Historical reality is that the human race has done pretty badly; God’s ideal remains ideal, but it’s achieved by few.
The Plain Meaning?
Where have we got to?
God invented sex. God’s ideal is for sex to be between one man and one woman who are married. This is where children should be brought into the world and should be raised in love and safety.
Last week a picture came into my mind. It was of a mountain peak clear in the sky but the lower slopes and valleys around were deep in mist.
Today’s confusing, contradictory world when it comes to sex and marriage is in the mist. As hearers and doers of God’s word, we should look to that mountain peak above the mist, above the confusion. God’s ideal for sex and marriage is what helps us decide whether or not an idea, a behaviour, a cultural pressure comes from God or not.
That ancient serpent’s voice can be heard in our generation—Did God really say….?
Back to the text
Proverbs 5 focuses our attention on adultery. And the Bible is honest: honeyed lips, smooth words from a woman seeking pleasure outside her marriage. And pleasure there is—as former vows are laid aside and the strong force of sex is unleashed. A new partner, new thrills, all hidden away and with the frisson of the forbidden. But, v22, new bonding turns into cords that bind; it’s tough to give it up.
This chapter’s advice is that prevention is better than a cure:
Your potential partner in adultery, says God, doesn’t think. At heart is not love and kindness, but cruelty. The path he or she has chosen leads to death of reputation, of relationship, of strength.
So, keep away, don’t go near the door of their house. Take a long-term view; remember the public shame, the fights, the losses.
The proper path, the pure way, is to remember the vows you took; drink clean water at home; keep your sexual energies within your marriage under the blessing of God. Remember how lovely your spouse was—and is—and stick to the path that does not end in death.
And remember: v21 God sees it all. God will hold to account.
It happens today
In the last bulletin from the Worthing Churches Homeless Project, I read the story of one man they helped. —— His wife’s new job brought her new friends. Things changed and the wife told him she had been sleeping with someone else. A single violent lashing out and he was banished from the family home. Depression, inability to hold down a job. An ASBO and being told to keep away. “The worst bit was when I saw my little boy and he was so sad and told me ‘now I don’t have a Dad.’”
The Guardian’s weekend supplements published an anonymous letter by an adult woman who had observed 15 years of unfaithfulness by her mother. What is often the strongest of family ties—mother to daughter—was shattered. Instead of love, there was contempt.
A Premature Bereavement
Jilly Cooper is a well known author. In 2013 her husband of 52 years died. She misses him all the time….but he wasn’t a perfect husband. At one point, he had an affair. The tabloids found out, and the other woman wrote a tell-all piece about it. It was, admits Cooper, an excruciating time.
“But in a way, she did me a very good turn, because if he’d died untarnished, it would have absolutely crucified me. But after her, nothing would ever hurt so much [again], because I’d already been through that hurt.”
Afterwards, she says, “although I loved him, I didn’t love him that completely. The Garden of Eden had been deserted. It was merciful of God, really.” (The Week 10 September 2016)
Those three stories really spell out for us today the same message as Proverbs 5.
One last thing: When that group of men dragged the woman before Jesus and told him she’d been caught in the act of adultery, Jesus finally spoke out, ““If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”” (John 8:7) And one by one they crept away. Jesus asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus did not say, “…without sexual sin…” The Greek word does not bear that connotation. “…without sin…”
We will rub shoulders with people moving around in the mist of current public opinion, we will do well to remember Jesus’s response to the crowd and to the woman—go and sin no more. It is not ours to condemn, to cast stones. It is ours to point to the mountain, to be channels of God’s love and grace to those seduced by honeyed lips; those discovering the bitterness and emptiness of living with less than the ideal God has so clearly and simply revealed to us.