The giving of the Ten Commandments is among the most iconic passages in Scripture, and is recognized widely as being guidelines for all people to follow. The Ten Commandments serve as the foundation for Israel being a just and civilized society. It is upon this foundation that the Old Testament law is built.
The seventh command that God gives is “you shall not commit adultery.” This command was given to protect the sanctity of marriage as God had designed it. This was a command for both men and women to be faithful to their spouses. The consequences of breaking this commandment in ancient Israel was death (Leviticus 20:10). Adultery is a serious offense, and it is essential that all Christians understand what it is and how to avoid it.
What Does it Mean to Commit Adultery?
Adultery is when a spouse is unfaithful through an inappropriate emotional or physical relationship with another person. Adultery is devastating for any married couple, regardless of whether the husband or wife is unfaithful. Committing adultery does not necessarily imply a sexual relationship with someone else, but could include an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy with someone of the opposite sex.
Adultery is often the catalyst for divorce, and can completely break the bond of trust between spouses. It is included here in the Ten Commandments among the command to not murder and not steal. These three commandments simply serve as a bare minimum for a just society. The command to not commit adultery is not expected to be a special commandment, but is rather the expectation for a culture of people who are following God.
Unfortunately, adultery has become shockingly common in the modern day due to a variety of factors including the prevalence of pornography, social media, and dating apps, as well as the general sexualization of western culture. Adultery is often the norm these days, and this commandment from God feels antiquated to many. However, these days it is all the more important for Christians to live lives of holiness through demonstrating faithfulness in marriage.
Marriage and the Gospel
Marriage was instituted by God as a means of relationship for His people, as well as a way to populate Earth. God designed marriage to be a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, and adultery undermines His intention for marriage. Through faithfulness in marriage, Christians demonstrate aspects of God’s nature to the rest of the world, and God designed it this way. According to Paul, marriage serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the Church.
“Husbands, love your wives, as 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. 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 5:25-32)
God designed marriage to represent Christ’s relationship of faithfulness and devotion with the Church. Infidelity betrays the faithfulness that Jesus shows to His Church, and fails to represent this relationship to the world.
Christians are called to be holy, set apart from the world, clearly recognized as God’s people. Tragically, adultery does not seem to be much less common in the Church compared to non-Christian couples. This failure in holiness prevents unbelievers from recognizing the love of Christ among His people, and hurts the Church’s ability to spread the gospel throughout the world.
Jesus’ Teaching on Adultery
Exodus 20:14 is not the only time in Scripture in which adultery is rebuked. Jesus taught specifically on adultery. In fact, Jesus’ teaching on adultery is even more specific and targeted than Exodus 20:14.
Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount,
“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 one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
While the commandment in Exodus implies only adultery via an inappropriate sexual affair, Jesus radically changes the meaning of adultery. Jesus declares that even looking lustfully at someone of the opposite sex is considered adultery by God, and deserves to be rebuked as such.
Jesus identifies adultery as beginning with mere lustful thoughts. It is not enough for God’s people to guard against sexual affairs. Jesus commands His followers to cut off adultery at the source. God has always considered adultery to be a serious offense, and Jesus continues this same emphasis. There is no tolerance for lust or adultery among God’s people, and Jesus ensures that His followers understand just how serious it is. So how do those who desire to follow Jesus guard their hearts and their relationships against adultery?
3 Ways to Protect Your Marriage from Adultery
In order to protect one’s marriage from adultery, strategy and intentionality are required. It is through apathy and a lack of preparation that leads to tragedy in the marriage relationship. Here are three foundational ways to protect one’s marriage from infidelity.
1. Avoid Intimate Friendship with the Opposite Sex
One common factor that leads to adultery is spouses having close relationships with friends of the opposite gender. This is a slippery slope and should be completely avoided in marriage. It is all too easy to grow in emotional intimacy with someone of the opposite sex, and there should be no tolerance for this in marriage.
Focusing on developing friendships with other couples and friends of the same sex is a good habit to prevent opportunities for emotional infidelity.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). As with the pursuit of any good thing, accountability is beneficial, if not necessary. If you struggle with lust or are struggling in your relationship with your spouse, seek help from mentors and friends. Do not fight for your marriage in isolation. It is in isolation and in secret that adultery occurs. By seeking help and exposing your struggles to trustworthy friends, you will be much better equipped to protect your marriage from adultery.
3. Specific Prayer
James teaches that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). God works through the prayers of His people, and it is your responsibility to pray over every area of your life. Given the statistics, Christians need to be more diligent in praying against adultery and sexual temptation.
In the same manner as accountability, do not go about prayer in isolation. Share with those whom you trust, and ask for prayer. There is no such thing as too much prayer, and your marriage is worth it.
Adultery is an epidemic in the Church, and according to Scripture, it is a very serious offense and measures need to be taken to protect marriages from its damage. Jesus is clear in teaching that adultery is more than just a sexual affair. Christians must take action to protect against all forms of sexual temptation. Adultery is not only damaging to marriages, but it hinders the Church’s ability to share the gospel to unbelievers. The world is in desperate need of the love, grace, and faithfulness of Christ. Let us share this good news with the world in the way we conduct ourselves in marriage.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/mictian
Lucas Hagen is a freelance writer, recently graduated from Taylor University with majors in Biblical Literature and Youth Ministries. When he is not writing for Crosswalk, you can find him reading great books, playing guitar, competing in professional disc golf tournaments, and spending quality time with his lovely wife, Natalie, and their fluffy cat, Woodward. You can read more of his writing at habitsofholiness.com.
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