Water from the Well: November 15, 1995

The Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

This past week while reading Tom Clancy's latest book I was dismayed to find that 32 pages were missing from my copy. Everyone makes mistakes, I guess. We often hear that the Bible is the best selling book of all time, yet sometimes mistakes have even crept into the Bible. In 1631 in England one particular printer's mistake became known as the "Wicked Bible." The printers had somehow left the word "not" out of Exodus 20:14, resulting in the command "Thou shalt commit adultery." The printers of the "Wicked Bible" faced a steep fine for their mistake, presumably because the king of England didn't want the Bible to encourage sexual immorality.

Our world would much prefer a Bible which commands sexual immorality to a Bible which forbids it. Rather than unrestrained, unrestricted use of human sexuality, God has a different plan. The Bible puts it this way: "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral" (Hebrews 13:4). Martin Luther explained it this way in his Small Catechism: "We should fear and love God that we lead a pure and decent life in words and actions, and that husband and wife love and honor each other."

Despite debate and objections to the contrary, God's plan for human sexuality is simple and clear. Sex belongs within the bounds of marriage, a lifelong union of a man and a woman. Marriage is the only scriptural environment God allows for sexuality. Trouble arises when that boundary is crossed; sexual immorality is sexual activity outside marriage.

Jesus makes it clear that adultery isn't just an outward act: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." A few years ago Diet Coke ran a TV advertisement which showed several young women in an office looking lustfully at a shirtless male construction worker on the street below as he drank his Diet Coke. My observant wife pointed out that at least one of the women was wearing a wedding ring. Today's world encourages us to disobey the Sixth Commandment in many ways--in thought and in word as well as in action.

Today's world refuses to recognize or obey God's plan for marriage, but that doesn't invalidate his command, "You shall not commit adultery." God expects that command to be kept, just as he expects all his commands to be kept. Disobeying God's Sixth Commandment leads to all sorts of human troubles: disease, unwanted pregnancies, broken marriages. Yet the spiritual consequences are worse: God threatens to punish all who break the Sixth Commandment with an eternity of suffering in hell. Not one of us has kept this commandment perfectly, as God expects. Every one of us deserves God's everlasting punishment for disobeying him.

To keep us from getting what we deserve, Jesus came to rescue us from the punishment for sin. Even though we have broken all of God's commands, Jesus has kept them all for us. He suffered and died in our place to pay for our sins. Through faith in Jesus our Savior, God forgives all our sins and promises us eternity in heaven rather than punishment in hell.

When we recognize that sin is offensive to God, when we see that Jesus had to pay for all our sins, we want to turn away from our sins and stop disobeying God's commands. We want to serve God and obey him to show him our thanks for rescuing us from our punishment. When God saves us, his Ten Commandments become a guide to us, showing us how we can live our lives for God. When we hear the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," we want to pray the words David wrote, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). Obeying the Sixth Commandment is simple: "Flee from sexual immorality" (I Corinthians 6:18). Run away from temptation to sin. "Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires" (Colossians 3:5). Recognize and respect God's purpose for marriage. Through marriage God blesses us with earthly happiness, just as through Jesus God blesses us with eternal life.