“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Adultery is only one form of sexual sin; it relates specifically to married persons. There are other sins in which God’s gift of sexuality is also corrupted, but this article will focus on the sanctity of the marriage relationship. Marriage was intended not only to enrich a husband and a wife, but also to bring blessing to others and glory to God. God’s plan for His creatures is so wonderful that the devil has never ceased in his efforts to destroy the institution of marriage in general, and Christian marriages in particular. What is meant to be pure can so easily be defiled; what is meant to be a joyful and wholesome relationship can so quickly become painful and troublesome.
The Battle for the Mind and Heart
Adultery begins in the mind and heart, a heart that has become selfish and a mind that is unrestrained as far as lustful thoughts are concerned. Today, the world of media entertainment deliberately promotes overtly sexual content that can so easily ensnare men and women of all ages. Unless we are walking humbly with God and enjoying an intimate and growing fellowship with Him day by day, we become vulnerable to the persistent attacks of the devil.
A man or woman is especially vulnerable when he or she is separated from his or her spouse, or away from the family. People are also vulnerable to sin when they have had “a high.” Triumphant mountaintop experiences can quickly be followed by defeat in the valley. Consider a man away from home on a business trip; he has had a successful day and sealed a lucrative deal for his company. He is alone in the evening and is feeling pleased with himself. He becomes careless and drops his guard. One commendable feature in the life of Billy Graham was a policy, established early in his widening international ministry, that he would never spend time alone with a woman other than his wife. This was to avoid any appearance of impropriety that might compromise his testimony.
King David’s Fall
At this point in our series of studies on the ten commandments, we will introduce King David, one who was renowned as “a man after his [God’s] own heart” (1Sa 13:14). As far as loving God was concerned, his many psalms of praise were proof of his devotion to the Lord. They could be said to reflect the first three of the ten commandments that ascribe honour to God alone. However, this man who rose so high fell so low.
In quick succession, David broke every commandment relating to one’s neighbor (from the sixth to the tenth commandment). He coveted another man’s wife; he stole her and committed adultery with her; and finally, he lied to conceal his sin by devising a murderous plot that sent Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to his death. David’s treachery is almost too painful to contemplate.
The prophet Nathan exposed David’s sin, and God judged it but also mercifully forgave the repentant sinner. Would there have been a Psalm 51 had David’s sin remained concealed? His sin had repercussions for him personally, but they also affected his family and the future of the nation. Adultery leaves a trail of sorrow in its wake. Absalom would rebel and usurp the throne, publicly claiming his father’s concubines as his own. Solomon would succeed David but end his reign in a backslidden state, mainly because of his love for many women who followed after idols. Their influence on him was much stronger than his influence on them: “His wives turned away his heart after other gods” (1Ki 11:4).
In Old Testament times, the sin of idolatry was often linked with immorality. Similarly, in New Testament times, the erroneous doctrines propagated by false teachers were associated with their sinful lifestyle. Timothy speaks of their illicit relationships as they were “led away by various lusts” (2Ti 3:6 NKJV), and Peter refers to them as “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin” (2Pe 2:14).
New Testament Teaching
The teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning adultery elevated the standard beyond that of committing a sinful act: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat 5:27-28). Christ’s words revealed that the thought life of a person is known to God and indicates both focus and desire. On a practical note, walking down any street in any city presents a challenge: the immodest dress of some is meant to be deliberately attention-grabbing and provocative. Unless one is blind, one sees. The problem is the lingering or second look.
Our minds can be trained. That is why Paul exhorts us to consciously think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report (Php 4:8). This training is lifelong and requires uncommon resolve to guard the eyes, ears, mind and heart. Everything in the world militates against our succeeding. Only by God’s grace can we make any progress.
The Beauty of Christian Marriage
Christian marriage is to symbolize the love between Christ and His Church. This sets marriage on a very high plain. The husband is to love his wife sacrificially, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it (Eph 5:25-29). The wife is to submit to her husband, even as the Church is submissive to Christ (Eph 5:22-24). A high regard for these truths will assist us in our relationship with our spouse.
We should take care to avoid orthodoxy without reality. Some Christian marriages and families appear on the surface to be strong and happy. Those who are more discerning can sometimes detect signs of coldness and strain, involving either the parents or the children. We need to be burdened to pray for married couples we know personally and be quick to encourage or even enquire if all is well. Our natural reluctance to “interfere” can become a snare. Too often, the telltale signs are ignored until tragedy strikes. Prevention is better than cure.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.