You shall not commit adultery. (Exod. 20:14; Duet. 5:18)
When people hear the word adultery, they immediately think of engaging in physical sex outside of marriage. On one level they would be correct. However, physical sex outside of marriage is not the only context in which people can commit the sin of adultery. Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28, “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.” Thus, the sin of adultery can be committed both internally (in the heart) and externally (with someone else). Both are grievous in the eyes of God and both stem from the sins of discontentment, covetousness, and lack of self-control. Discontentment in that we are often unhappy with where God has placed us, with our station in life, with what or whom he has given us. Whether married or unmarried, we wrongly believe we deserve something more, something better. Covetousness in that we engage in the sin of adultery because we desire that which God has not given to us. The sin of covetousness stems from the false notion that God owes us something. And lack of self-control in that the sin of adultery is always the failure to control our mind and to control our sexual passions. It is for this reason we read in scripture, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:1-5). Sex was created by God not only as a means of procreation but as a means of pleasure, release, and protection from temptation. While it is never the fault of the innocent person when his or her spouse is unfaithful, we can play a contributing factor by neglecting intimacy in our marriage. Wives can often be too tired at the end of the day for their husbands, and husbands can often be too focused on work to pay attention to their wives. Yet scripture commands: “Do not deprive one another…so that Satan may not tempt you…” For the unmarried this can be difficult as God wired us with sexual desires. For this reason, God encourages those who burn with sexual passions to seek to be married “for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:8-9). In the end, adultery is a sin which can be committed with or without the sexual act, but God has provided a remedy and means of protection through the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, spending time in God’s word, and through the institution of marriage.
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