The Sixth Commandment
You shall not commit adultery.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God and so we should lead a chaste and pure life in word and deed, each one living and honoring his wife or her husband. (Tappert edition)
[Many thanks to the Rev. Dr. Nathan Yoder for his helpful presentation: "The Orders of Creation in Lutheran Theological Discourse." The forthcoming publication of Dr. Yoder's dissertation will be a gift to thoughtful Christians.]
At the heart of the sixth commandment is God’s good and gracious will for men and women. The marriage of one man and one woman is the fundamental human institution for which people were created and from which new people are intended to originate. Sex is, first and foremost, something very different from gender (a linguistic construct that, in our day, implies that we create ourselves in our own image). God created humans male and female, both created in the image of God, both created to yearn for one another and to be fruitful and multiply. The Lord Jesus reaffirms His Father’s good and gracious will by quoting Genesis 2: “for this reason a man leaves father and mother and a woman her home and the two become one flesh. What God has joined together humans must not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). The normative sexual desire is for the opposite sex. God’s original gift of sexual desire is in order that men are drawn to women and vice versa in marriage – to say, “This one and no other.”
In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes that Christians do not divorce. He reflects the Lord Jesus’ own clarity about His Father’s good and gracious will: divorce is a sin. It violates God’s good and gracious will that one man and one woman live in a lifelong covenant of faithfulness – reflect God’s own faithfulness to His people. So, then, why is there divorce? Why are some marriages so abusive and ungodly? Why do so many governments and courts want to change the meaning of marriage in our day? Why are so many children born out of wedlock and forced to live in poverty? Why are pornography and prostitution and sexual assault so pervasive? Why do so many people engage in sexual acts outside of the marriage of one man and one woman in a lifelong covenant of faithfulness? Why are so many people afraid to commit? And why do some people have desires and longings that are not for the opposite sex?
The answer is sin, our age-old rebellion against God. The traditional reading of Scripture understands that the brokenness of creation even affects the object of our desires and longings. Harry Wendt, author of the Crossways Bible study program, says sin is not so much that we break God’s Law as it is that we break God’s heart! After centuries of post-Enlightenment “progress,” even many that call themselves Christians no longer hold fast to the biblical teaching of God’s good and gracious will for men and women and the families they create. Euphemisms abound. Sexual sins are promoted as “liberation,” “women’s health,” and “human rights.” In our day, many assume that even Christians cannot resist temptation and cannot control what they do with their sexual yearnings and longings. This has lead to biblically indefensible changes to moral theology.
Bible scholar David Instone-Brewer has written two books (“Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible” and “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church”) in which he argues that many Christians do not know how to deal with the sin of divorce. Brewer leads his readers through a careful examination of biblical texts within the context of Judaism and early Christianity and offers some helpful pastoral advice for dealing with Christians that have, for whatever reasons, been divorced. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has also produced a very helpful study on divorce and remarriage with some particular attention given to pastoral divorce (see www.lcms.org). The Catechism of the Catholic Church lends clarity also about marriage as a sacrament and why the Roman church has such an extensive annulment process for divorced Roman Catholics.
Caroline Simon, professor of philosophy at Hope College inMichigan, has written a new book: “Bringing Sex into Focus: The Quest for Sexual Integrity.” In a recent interview in Christianity Today magazine, Simon differentiates between sexual incontinence, continence, and chastity. She says, “In the case of continence, one successfully struggles and does the right thing even in the face of strong temptation. In the case of incontinence, a person might have exactly the same desires as a person who is continent, and struggle just as hard, but lose the struggle with their desires. This element of internal struggle is what differentiates incontinence from the vice of lust. The lustful don’t struggle. They just find using other people for their own purposes and following their own desires so natural and habitual that they don’t even know that there should be some restraint exercised, but the difference between the first two states, continence and incontinence, and full sexual integrity (chastity) is that a virtuous person in any kind of realm, including the sexual realm, is habitually, naturally, and without struggle acting in the right way” (February 2012, 51).
During the Lenten season, the Church reminds us that God’s Son Jesus was like us in every way without sin (Hebrews 4) and is able to help us resist temptation as He did (Mark 1:9-13). The Lord Jesus’ sinless death on the cross means there is forgiveness for those that commit sexual sins of any sort; however, our Baptism into Christ means daily repentance, daily turning from our age-old rebellion against God. The first of Luther’s 95 Theses quotes Mark 1:14, “Repent” (metanoiete – change your heart and mind). When we repent, it is the Holy Spirit’s work in us. We cannot repent on our own without the Holy Spirit’s call working through God’s Word. We cannot be made right before God on our own. Only God’s sinless Son can take our sin and death to His cross and give us His life and righteousness (total obedience) to the Father as a free gift in the washing of Holy Baptism.
So, then, how can our Lenten discipline impact our maleness and femaleness? If married, Christian men and women can practice confession, daily repentance, and forgiveness (the living of their Baptism). Our conversations about marriage and family will be shaped by the biblical narrative: marriage is the primary relationship; it is intended to reflect God’s faithfulness to His people. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians challenges men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church by giving His life for her. Wives are to submit (give themselves completely) to husbands as if to Christ. Children, if a married couple has been blessed with fertility, are gifts from God to be nurtured in faith and faithfulness, schooled in a Christian understanding of sexuality, and taught how to be husbands and wives. As children leave home to form their own families, Christian parents renegotiate the meaning of parenthood as priests (blessing and offering up prayers for them) and as encouragers for their married children. Because of sin our age-old rebellion, Christian spouses and Christian parents are constantly confessing, repenting and forgiving, modeling discipleship, and teaching devotion to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Single persons, whether never married or widowed or divorced, are called to faithfulness to God within the context of their singleness. The discipline of Lent likewise impacts single persons’ maleness and femaleness as bearers and embodiments of the image of God. Paul reminds the Corinthians that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that what we do with our bodies we do to the Lord Jesus precisely because we are members of His body. Daily repentance, the living of our Baptism, entails examining what we do with our desires and longings knowing that Scripture teaches that sexual acts belong within the context of the lifelong faithfulness of one man and one woman to each other. Spiritual friendships (the Greek word is koinonia) are especially helpful for single Christians to encourage one another to faithful stewardship of their bodies and their relationships. If Christians fail to be chaste, there is both forgiveness and the opportunity to learn from failure – particularly when Christians are self-consciously practicing daily Baptism in the Christian community.
When we get to Luther’s teaching on confession, we will notice how he encourages Christians to read through the Ten Commandments and to hear God’s Law afflicting us where we have grown comfortable with our rebellion against God’s good and gracious will. The gift of private confession with a pastor is a right place to deal with appropriate guilt or shame because of sin, a right place to hear God’s Word of forgiveness, and a right place to begin a new accountability and honesty before God and others.
Finally, the witness of Scripture is clear about what is normative behavior for men and women. That polygamy occurs in Scripture is not an affirmation. That all kinds of sexual relationships outside of marriage occur in Scripture is not an affirmation. That all sin and fall short of the glory of God is not a biblical excuse for faithlessness! Men and women are made in God’s image and are precious, lovable, and valuable quite apart from what our brokenness has done to the desires and longings that God originally intended us to have. When we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all else, we disobey God in thought, word, and deed. The rightful response to our knowledge that we have not loved God with heart, soul, and mind or our neighbor as ourselves is to confess our sins, repent of them, and to ask God’s help to amend our sinful lives. That is what Lent is all about.
[Non-Roman Catholic Christians and RC Christians alike may be surprised at how beautifully and thoughtfully both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have written on the gift of the body, the gift of sexuality, and the gift of human love. Look for JPII’s “Theology of the Body” and BXVI’s encyclical on love.]