Have Regard For Your Neighbor's Marriage
HAVE REGARD FOR YOUR NEIGHBOR’S MARRIAGE
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: May 8, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
God created human beings to exist and flourish in covenantal union with Himself and with one another. But alas, the history of mankind has to be characterized as a history of covenant-breaking. We have broken faith, and are in breach of covenant, with the Lord of creation and with each other. Solomon asked out loud, “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)
The covenantal structure of life is especially on display in the beautiful reality of marriage. And not surprisingly, human unfaithfulness and infidelity are also especially on display in the frequent breakdown of marriage. Sinners like the freedom to opt out of any and all binding obligations, for any reason or no reason at all. Consider this passage:
“And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce to send here away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”” (Matthew 19:3-9)
Marriage is a God-ordained institution in which He sovereignly unites a man and a woman into a one flesh union. This one flesh union ought to be characterized by holding fast and staying true to the “joined together [by God]” reality of the marriage covenant.
Healthy, intact, and mutually edifying marriages generate healthy, intact, and mutually edifying homes; and healthy, intact, and mutually edifying homes generate healthy, intact, and mutually edifying neighborhoods and nations. But if we cannot practice covenantal love and loyalty in our domestic relationships, then why would expect things to be better in the wider society? A morally impoverished society such as ours can be traced back to morally impoverished families, which of course can and must be traced back to spiritually impoverished souls. If our relationship with God is broken, then we spread brokenness wherever we go.
In the Matthew 19:3-9 passage, Jesus refers to sins that are contrary to the marriage covenant: unlawful divorce, sexual immorality (which establishes grounds for a lawful divorce), and adultery. In fact, Jesus says that unlawful divorce followed by remarriage actually constitutes adultery. Beneath these sinful actions lies the “hardness of heart” that puts one’s selfish interests first, without proper reverence for the Lord and without proper regard for our neighbor’s good.
As we continue our journey through the Ten Commandments, we come now to the seventh commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) “You shall not commit adultery” means ‘love your neighbor by having regard for your neighbor’s marriage’.
WHAT IS ADULTERY?
We need to be clear that adultery is a sin against the marriage covenant. Adultery happens when a married person ‘breaks covenant’ with his or her spouse by having sexual relations with someone else, thus sinning against his or her own marriage covenant and covenant partner. Adultery also happens when someone has sexual relations with someone else’s spouse, thus sinning against your neighbor’s marriage covenant. So adultery involves sinning against your own spouse, or against your neighbor’s spouse, or both. Adultery also involves sinning against the person with whom you are committing adultery – instead of helping your neighbor live a holy life, you have made it very easy for your neighbor to indulge his or her sinful desires. We also understand that adultery spills over as a sin against the children, the extended families, and the wider social relations. Most significantly, adultery is a sin against the Lord.
While all sexual immorality is sinful, it is important to understand that adultery is especially heinous because it is an act of treachery against the marriage covenant. Remember, there is a covenantal structure to life, because God designed it this way. The covenantal structure of life means that we are to live as those who are bound together in the Lord, who are bound together to honor and serve the Lord, and who are bound together to seek our neighbor’s good. And while this covenantal structure ought to be get worked out throughout society, it must get worked in a concentrated way within the home, and within the bond of holy matrimony.
Non-adulterous sexual immoralities are sinful, of course, but they aren’t an explicit violation of an existing marriage covenant. So notice the grace extended to non-adulterous fornicators in Exodus 22:16-17. Scripture says,
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.” (Exodus 22:16-17)
In this case, the man shouldn’t have slept with the woman – it was wrong and it shouldn’t have happened. But it did happen, and the important thing to point out is that the woman is neither married nor pledged to be married. The grace extended to them is that instead of being crushed by their sin, they are told to go ahead and get married, subject to the approval of the woman’s father.
The case is very different, however, when adultery happens: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10) Which means that the penalty for adultery is the same as the penalty for premeditated murder. The murderer has no regard for his neighbor’s life – a life that had been created by God and in God’s image – and so the murderer must be executed. The adulterer has no regard for his neighbor’s marriage (including that nearest neighbor known as a spouse) – a marriage that had been created by God for a holy purpose – and so the adulterer must be executed.
If you want to know how great America has fallen, just look at our lack of seriousness over the sin of adultery. And why? Because our society doesn’t believe in the covenantal structure of life as designed and defined by God. Instead our society believes in the unfettered rights of the individual to pursue his or her own happiness, according to the individual’s own designs and definitions, as long as whatever you do with someone else includes that someone else’s consent. But there is no concern for upholding the covenantal reality of the one flesh union in which a man and a woman were “joined together” by the creative act of Almighty God. With the true beauty and holiness of marriage trampled underfoot by modern individualists, it is no wonder that our modern individualistic society is as broken as it is.
THE SIN BENEATH THE SIN
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us about ‘the sin beneath the sin’. Jesus taught us that it is not only the physical act of adultery that makes us guilty of breaking the seventh commandment, but the underlying heart attitude – prior to and apart from any physical act – renders us guilty. Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose of one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
If my heart lusts after any woman other than my wife, then my heart is adulterous, lawless, and unfaithful. If I am going to truly keep covenant with my own wife, and if I am going to truly honor every other human being’s present or future marriage, then I must learn to ‘keep covenant’ with gladness in my heart, enjoying and being thankful for the wife gifted to me from the hand of God, and not craving anyone or anything that God hasn’t seen fit to give me.
UNLAWFUL DIVORCE IS A RECIPE FOR ADULTERY
Earlier I said that adultery happens a married person has sexual relations with someone other than his or her spouse, or when an unmarried person has sexual relations with someone else’s spouse. But as Jesus teaches us in Matthew 19:9 passage (which I read earlier, and see below) and in Matthew 5:31-32 (see below), adultery also frequently happens on the other side of unlawful divorce. When people play fast and loose with divorce, and when divorces happen for illegitimate reasons, then what happens is the multiplication of adultery. Let these verses sink in:
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever married a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)
“And I say to you: whoever divorce his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
Many of today’s evangelical Christians have not taken these instructions with due seriousness. Too many people assume that you can get divorced for any reason, as long as a judge will approve it, and once it is approved you therefore have the right to remarry. The state, however, often gets it wrong. And as Christians, we are called to live under the rule of Scripture.
What does Jesus say? He essentially says that for a lot of people, unlawful divorce is a recipe for adultery. If you are the husband, and you don’t have justification to divorce your wife, but you divorce her simply because that’s what you want to do, then you are paving the way for yourself and three others to be found guilty of adultery. If you unlawfully divorce your wife and marry someone else, you commit adultery (Matthew 19:9) – and by application of Matthew 5:32, the person you marry commits adultery. Further, if you unlawfully divorce your wife and your wife marries someone else, she commits adultery (Matthew 5:31) – and the person who marries her commits adultery (Matthew 5:32).
So let’s be honest: the world is full of adulterers and adulteresses. Many are adulterers and adulteresses because of overt acts of marital infidelity. Many are adulterers and adulteresses because of their involvement in subsequent marriages after unlawful divorce. Many more are adulterers because they have adulterous hearts who indulge in lust. And last and worst, all are adulterers because we have spiritually adulterous hearts who have sinned grievously against the Lord. When the prophet Hosea describes Israel’s sin, he describes it in terms of adultery, of playing the whore, of going after other lovers (Hosea 2:2-5). It’s all very simple, really: the first commandment is fundamentally a call to covenant faithfulness to God: “I am the LORD your God…. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3) To worship other gods is essentially an act of spiritual adultery against the Lord.
THE BEAUTY OF THE GOSPEL
And this brings us to the beauty of the gospel: God extends His love to sin-sick adulterers like you and like me. The Lord gave the prophet a special opportunity to exemplify His kind of love: “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods….” (Hosea 3:1) In the gospel, the true Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ, laid down His life in order to turn spiritual and moral adulterers into a holy bride:
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Christ’s sacrificial and sanctifying love for His bride is the pattern that Christian husbands must follow in their own marriages:
“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.” (Ephesians 5:28-32)
So we see that the ultimate marriage in the entire universe is the marriage between Christ and His church. Herein we learn that salvation involves that covenantal structure of life in which the church is joined in spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is not an adulterer: He is utterly and always faithful, always giving of Himself for the good of His bride. Our only sensible response is “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
Our earthly marriages are an opportunity to reflect the ultimate marriage: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:24-25). By the grace of Christ, spiritual adulterers become truehearted worshipers. By the grace of Christ, lustful cravings are replaced by holy desires. By the grace of Christ, covenant breakers become covenant keepers who learn to keep covenant in marriage. And faithful, covenant-keeping marriages between a Christian man and a Christian woman proclaim the beauty of the gospel to our adulterous world.
KEEPING THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT
To conclude, we simply call attention to the fact that keeping the seventh commandment is so much more than the avoidance of physical adultery, and it is even so much more than the avoidance of lustful desires. The seventh commandment, understood in the big picture reality of the whole Bible, calls us to learn faithfulness, to learn loyalty, to learn steadfast love, and – if we are married – to practice these things in the context of the marriage covenant.
We ought to value and prioritize marriage, not as a social contract that we make or break according to human will, but as a divinely established covenant that testifies to God’s design for human life and Christ’s love for the church.
We ought to encourage strong marriages.
We ought to insist that church leaders have and demonstrate strong marriages.
We ought to practice wisdom in all our relationships, always pursuing purity and seeking to avoid compromising situations.
The world is casual about sexual immorality, adultery, and divorce. And, not surprisingly, the world is casual about marriage. But we ought to esteem marriage highly! Scripture says: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)
In all this, let us teach the truth about marriage, and model it by the way we live.
And let us look forward to the promised celebration:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”–
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.””