1 HOW TO AVOID ADULTERY Sermon preached by Pastor C. John Steer

Sermon preached by Pastor C. John Steer
Autumn Ridge Church, Rochester, MN
JULY 27-28, 2013
No. 5:
Kingdom Living
Matthew 5:27-32
People sometimes tell me that they don’t read the Bible because it is not relevant to
daily life. I can only assume they are not familiar with the Sermon on the Mount.
For it is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s headlines.
That is why we are studying it this summer.
Last week we saw how Jesus addressed the very practical subject of anger.
Today Jesus talks about HOW TO AVOID ADULTERY.
It is hard to think of anything more helpful to family happiness as a recent survey
by the National Opinion Research Center revealed. 15 percent of married women
acknowledge having had an affair. 21 percent of married men make the same
claim. And that is just those admitting adultery.
The numbers are probably far higher.
Behind those dry statistics are a flood of painful emotions. There is betrayal,
disappointment and hurt.
For adultery results in miserable marriages and fragmented families. So this should
not be a message we sleep through but rather one where we hang on to every word
that Jesus has to say.
To appreciate the importance of what Jesus is teaching about adultery we need to
step back and consider the wider perspective of scripture on the subject of
For Jesus’ concern here is not primarily with adultery but with wanting us to have a
great marriage.
So we start by marvelling at THE MAJESTY OF MARRIAGE.
Marriage is one of God’s greatest gifts.
This is brought out wonderfully in the creation story.
God first makes every part of his world and declares it good. But then God made
the first family and he said it is great. It is the peak of his perfection.
That is why God wants to bless our marriage and make our homes happy.
He wants us to experience the total delight and joy that Adam and Eve originally
had in each other.
A young couple will be married at Autumn Ridge this afternoon. They will arrive
single and leave married.
What brings about the change?
It is not love for they already love each other.
Rather it is the vows they will publically make to God and each other during their
They will make a lifelong commitment to be faithful to each other irrespective of
their feelings or circumstances.
Biblical marriage is all about commitment.
That is why trial marriages are a bad idea.
A couple who are living together are saying, “I am not committed to you. I am not
sure this is going to work.
So I am going to keep my options open to bail out. “
Relationships can’t thrive in that uncertainty.
Children can’t grow up without security.
Families today are in trouble because we have the wrong idea of love and marriage.
Love has become a mixture of physical desire and vague sentimentality.
Marriage has become a provisional sexual union to be terminated when our feelings
But God’s intentions for marriage are much higher.
He shows that marriage and love are for the tough minded.
Marriage is a covenant commitment and far from backing out when the going gets
rough, marriage partners are to sort out their difficulties in the light of scripture.
They are to press on, improving their relationship, working away at it, precisely
because they vowed before God to love each for better for worse, for richer or
poorer, in sickness and in health, until death separates them.
It is out of God’s desire to give us a marvelous marriage that gets stronger and
better over the years that Jesus gives this us teaching on adultery.
The second big principle we must grasp in coming to this passage is THE
When two people get married something extraordinary happens. Two becomes one.
They become one flesh and one person. That means each of them is now a half.
We husbands like to refer to our wives as our better half.
But that arrangement is destroyed by adultery because adultery adds a foreign
body to the marriage.
Adultery messes up the math. There are no longer two halves but three and that
breaks the union of marriage.
Now where does this spirituality of sex come from.
We find the explanation in Genesis where God declares,
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness . . . so God created
mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and
female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
God is Spirit and yet mysteriously male and female are made in his likeness.
In other words our sexuality illustrates spiritual truth. That is why in the middle of
the Bible there is an erotic love song. It is called “The Song of Solomon”.
It is there because it describes something spiritual.
Christians down through the years have found in that sexy poem helpful ways to
describe their relationship with God.
Paul does the same thing in Ephesians chapter 5 when he tells us that marriage is a
picture of the relationship between Christ and his bride the church.
So sex is not merely a physical appetite.
It includes the whole person body, mind and spirit.
When we make love with another person we are giving ourselves psychologically
and emotionally to them.
We will never be the same again.
That is why sex needs to be reserved for the marriage bed. It is not to be casual
but a statement of our commitment.
When we treat sex as only physical we rob it of its true value and sooner or later
we will spoil it.
The tragedy is that our culture is spoiling the joy and beauty of physical intimacy.
Movies and TV shows depict adultery in an exciting and positive light.
Social commentators justify adultery if there is love.
But Jesus wants to rescue our sexuality and restore it to its rightful place in a
passionate marriage where it is cherished and safe and is a practical expression of
our wedding vows.
It is against this background of the majesty of marriage and the spirituality of sex
that Jesus’ next words in the Sermon on the Mount make sense.
For now he goes on to talk about THE PAIN OF PROTECTION.
Now you don’t bother to protect something unless it’s immensely valuable.
Marriage meets that criteria and that is why it is worth protecting even at
considerable cost.
So Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit
adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has
already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (v27-28)
Jesus is referring to the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”
We saw last week that each of Jesus’ six illustrations of Kingdom Living are
introduced with this phrase, “You have heard that it was said.”
Jesus is referring to the faulty interpretation of the commandment given by the
Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They understood “You shall not commit
adultery” in the narrow sense of the physical act of unfaithfulness.
But Jesus wants us to go deeper.
He longs to protect our marriage, so he desires that we understand the root cause
of adultery.
In the previous section of his sermon Jesus did the same with murder showing us
that anger is the emotion that leads to murder.
Here he shows that lust is the emotion that leads to adultery. So if we are going to
protect the marvelous marriage that God has given us we need to be on the lookout
for lust.
This expands “do not commit adultery” to all of us.
Lust is not just the prerogative of married people.
It applies to single people too.
What is lust?
Lust is when we use our God given imagination to create a movie in our mind
involving sexual fantasy.
This makes lust particularly dangerous.
For lust is easy to do and initially it is invisible to others.
There are respectable people who would never dream of committing adultery but
who enjoy sinning in their imagination.
Let us understand that Jesus is not forbidding men to look at women. That is one of
the great joys of life.
Men are simply forbidden to look lustfully and the same applies to women looking
at men.
We all know the difference between looking and lusting.
Now in graphic terms Jesus tells us what we need to do to protect our marriage and
prevent lust from leading to adultery.
He says “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it
away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole
body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble,
cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your
body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (v29-30)
Some Christians, whose zeal greatly exceeded their wisdom, have
taken Jesus literally.
The best known example is the third century scholar Origen of
He looks miserable because he went to extremes of asceticism,
renouncing possessions, food and even sleep and in an overly literal
interpretation of this passage he actually made himself a eunuch.
Soon afterwards in AD 325 the Council of Nicea, which gave us the Nicean Creed,
outlawed this barbarous practice.
What Jesus is advocating is not a literal physical self-maiming but a ruthless moral
He is saying if your eye causes you to sin because temptation comes to you
through your eyes then pluck out your eyes. That is don’t look. Behave as if you
had actually removed your eyes and flung them away.
If your hand or foot causes you to sin because temptation comes to you through
your hand or your feet then cut them off.
That is don’t do it. Don’t go there. Behave as if you had actually cut off your hands
and feet.
Jesus is showing us that to have victory over lust and to avoid adultery we have to
cut out certain things from our life.
Certainly this means all pornography.
But there may be books we can’t read or films we can’t see or websites we can’t
visit because they are going to cause our mind to go down a certain path which left
unchecked can result in adultery. Others may laugh at us and call us old fashioned.
That does not matter. That is the cost of being pure and protecting our marriage.
There are things we cannot look at with our eyes, places we cannot go with our feet
and activities we cannot do with our hands because we want to preserve this
marvelous gift of marriage that God has given us.
Jesus is telling us that we must deal drastically with sin. We mustn’t pamper it, flirt
with it, enjoy nibbling a little of it around the edges.
Rather are to hate it, crush it and dig it out.
This is what the old theologians called “the mortification of the flesh.”
Paul explains it this way, “Put to death, whatever belongs to your earthly
nature, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire . . . which is idolatry.”
(Colossians 3:5)
Teens and students, this is particularly relevant to you.
For you live in a sex-saturated society which makes it immensely easy to lust and
immensely hard to be pure.
One day you will be married and God wants that to be a great sexual adventure.
But it won’t be if you bring to your honeymoon many different sexual experiences
with multiple partners.
So learn to put to death sexual immorality.
When you get married you will be so glad you did.
Because our body, mind and soul are all connected there are spiritual ramifications
to lust and adultery.
Twice in this passage Jesus talks about our body being thrown, “into hell”.
This is a reminder that the most important thing we have to do in this world is to
prepare ourselves for eternity. This isn’t to diminish the importance of life in this
After all this is God’s world and we are to live a full life here.
What Jesus is saying is that it is better to be maimed in this world so that we can
one day stand in the presence of God with great joy. This concern for our soul
might mean we don’t get a promotion in our work.
We don’t do as well as somebody else.
But what should it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul.
So we are to do everything we can to protect our soul and mind and body. It may
involve pain and struggle but it is worth it for the rewards are tremendous.
Those rewards include a happy home with a God glorifying marriage and children
being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
That is why a good marriage begins with surrendering our lives to Christ. The same
is true if we are single and we want to win the battle with lust and keep ourselves
pure. We ask God to renew our mind with his spirit.
Finally Jesus presents us with the DISCOURAGEMENT TO DIVORCE.
He declares, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her
a certificate of divorce. But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife,
except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery’.” (v31-32)
The Jews of Jesus’ day had it heard it said that if a man wanted to divorce his wife
he must give her a certificate of divorce. Actually they were hearing something not
quite true. The relevant Old Testament passage was Deuteronomy 24 which begins
“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he
finds something indecent about her and he writes her a certificate of
divorce . . . then her first husband who divorced her is not allowed to
marry again.” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
The main thrust of this Deuteronomy passage is that if a husband found something
indecent in his wife and divorced her giving her a certificate of divorce he can’t later
remarry her.
However, by Jesus’ day this main principle was overlooked in favor of concentrating
on what “Something indecent about her” really meant.
The historian Josephus tells us that in the first century there was a great debate
between two Rabbis called Hillel and Shammai.
Rabbi Shammai took a strong line and taught from Deuteronomy 24 that the only
ground for divorce was some great matrimonial offense.
Rabbi Hillel had a very lax view of Deuteronomy 24.
He said a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever, like burning the
Later in Matthew’s gospel these two groups come to Jesus with this question, “Is it
lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
(Matthew 19:3)
In reply Jesus said, “Haven’t you read,” “that at the beginning the Creator
made them male and female; and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his
father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become
one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God
has joined together, let no one separate.
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a
certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your
hearts were hard.
But it was not this way from the beginning.
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality,
and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:4-9)
Jesus here is giving us a biblical history of divorce.
When God created marriage, divorce was inconceivable so no allowance was made
for it.
But then selfishness entered the world and men started divorcing their wife for
trivial reasons and women were being thrown out of their house without any
They did not want a divorce.
It was forced on them.
Some of you have experienced that painful reality.
You were willing to work on your marriage but your spouse walked away. Perhaps
you wondered if God cared. Well he does.
That is why God gave Moses gave a new command to limit the damage of divorce.
Now men had to give their wife a certificate of divorce to explain why she was free.
Moses did this because their hearts were hard towards God.
But Jesus explains that even this permission to divorce was limited to sexual
The word he uses for sexual immorality is porneia.
It is where we get our word “pornography.”
It refers to adultery, fornication and unnatural vice.
So Jesus is explaining you can’t divorce your spouse because you are bored or you
have met someone else or you have outgrown them.
The only possible reason for divorce is adultery.
That is because adultery destroys the trust of marriage and sometimes it is
impossible to recover that trust.
However this permission to divorce because of adultery is not a command to do so.
Indeed we see here that Jesus is discouraging us thinking about divorce at all.
Rather he encourages forgiveness and the desire to try again helped by the Spirit of
God and the grace of Christ.
Many Christians have found that God has honored their desire to rebuild their
marriage, even after unfaithfulness, and they have gone on to have an exceptional
We have two examples of this forgiving spirit in scripture. The first is where the
Prophet Hosea marries a woman called Gomer.
She is promiscuous and sleeps with every man she meets but Hosea takes her back
again and again.
And God commends him for it.
The second example is God himself who repeatedly forgives the spiritual adultery of
his people.
He does not cast us off.
He restores us and takes us back.
When a man is able to do that with his wife or a woman with her husband they are
acting in a God-like way.
Now let’s be honest this is immensely difficult and sometimes it is impossible. It
takes a couple who are equally committed to making this work and that is not
always the case. And that is why Jesus does permit divorce in the case of adultery.
But for couples brave enough to try their can be great rewards. I have witnessed it
many times. With a lot of work and usually professional help, marriage has been
saved, it has recovered and sometimes it is stronger than before.
These words from Jesus convict us. They find us out.
For with Jesus’ wider definition we have all committed adultery.
For some of us it has been physical adultery.
For others of us it has been mental adultery.
It is sobering to think that in the Bible the penalty for adultery was death by
But Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our adultery. So we must go to
the cross.
We must confess our sin.
We can take great comfort that in the Old Testament God forgave David for his
In the New Testament Jesus rescued a woman caught in the very act of adultery
who was about to be stoned.
He said to her, “Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of
sin.” (John 8:11)
This is not all the Bible has to say about divorce. For those interested I have
attached our church’s statement on divorce at the end of this manuscript.
But this is all that Jesus has to say here.
His message is, “Fight for your marriage. It’s precious and worth protecting and
Let me close with some practical suggestions for how we can do that.
First, express your love
When eight of us from Autumn Ridge were walking the Cleveland trail in England
earlier this month we came to the village of Osmotherley.
Back in the 18th century John Wesley stopped at that village. In the village square
there is a stone table.
Wesley stood on that table and preached a sermon.
I was encouraged to reenact the scene.
So I jumped on this stone table and read Wesley’s sermon. It talked
about the importance of telling people that we love them.
That act builds up relationships and tears downs lust.
Second join a small group.
You can join as a couple or separately.
I am in a group with other men. It keeps me honest.
We study together and pray together.
Next month many of our small groups start up again.
If you are not part of one, do join.
There is a box on your Welcome Card where you can indicate your interest or you
call the church office.
Third, use a marriage mentor.
We have some couples in our church who have strong marriages. They would love
to share their secret with you. Perhaps you are going through a difficult time in
your marriage and you would benefit from meeting with another couple who can
pray with you and give you some godly counsel. If you would like to take advantage
of this do call the church office.
Fourth, depend on the Spirit.
It would be completely wrong to draw the conclusion that Jesus is telling us to just
be better people. He is not.
Willpower on its own will never be enough to avoid lust and adultery.
We need the Holy Spirit’s power.
The good news is we are not on our own in this struggle. Paul writes, “Live by the
Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
(Galatians 5:16)
Autumn Ridge Church
Position on Divorce and Remarriage
November 18, 2004
God’s plan for marriage
Marriage was the first human institution that God ordained. Jesus, when speaking to the
Pharisees said, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and
female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his
wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what
God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4). When a man and a woman are
joined in marriage they become one physically and spiritually. We therefore uphold the sanctity
of marriage in a lost and fallen world.
Divorce, the result of “hardened hearts”
Becoming a Christian does not erase the earthly consequences of sin. Although we are
becoming more like Christ, we may still suffer from emotional pain, personality defects, and
sinful habits that are linked to our fallen nature. As a result, our marriages can be stressed and
badly wounded, even to the point of being destroyed.
Divorce was not part of God's original plan (Matt. 19:8). Although the Law of Moses
permitted a man to divorce his wife when she was found "displeasing to him because he finds
something indecent about her" (Deut. 24:1), Jesus taught that divorce was allowed only
because our "hearts were hard". God knows we are sinful and that is the only reason He
allowed divorce. . The prophet Malachi tells us that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).
Therefore, as Christians, we should have the same attitude toward divorce as God does and as
a church we must strive to strengthen marriages.
The Bible allows Christians to divorce only under certain circumstances
Believers are to strive for unity in their marriage even when there are differences of
opinions and desires. Divorce rarely solves a problem and is always destructive to families and
relationships. There are certain conditions under which Christians are allowed to divorce. One is
when a spouse is guilty of porneia. Porneia refers to a variety of sexual activity including
adultery, homosexuality, beastiality and incest (Matthew 5:32, 19:9, I Corinthians 5:1). The
Apostle Paul taught that when a non-believer refuses to live with their believing spouse,
particularly because of his or her Christian faith, divorce is allowable) but a believer should not
initiate a divorce from an unbelieving spouse who is willing to continue their marriage
relationship (I Corinthians 7:12-16.
If two believers have divorced and the one initiating the divorce subsequently repents, it
is assumed that both parties will seek reconciliation. With appropriate forgiveness, they can
once again enjoy their God ordained union. But, if one has remarried before reconciliation can
occur, the first marriage cannot be reinstated. Fortunately, the grace of God becomes operative
when there is repentance and confession regardless of the circumstances.
Many issues surrounding divorce are not specifically addressed in scripture. At times
circumstances are complex and involve physical and emotional abuse, marital rape or emotional
neglect or abandonment. If considering divorce because of situations such as these, a person
should seek counsel from pastoral staff who can help them apply the wisdom and intent of
scripture to their specific circumstances.
Divorce before becoming a Christian
When we accept Christ as our savior and turn our life over to him, we become a new
creation and God’s grace and forgiveness covers all sin, including a prior divorce. From the
point of our conversion forward, we are to live a life pleasing to God. If divorced and remarried
before accepting Christ, God expects us to make our current marriage pleasing to him, just as if
we had never been married before. Our conversion does not erase the consequences of our
past actions though, and a previous divorce may have significant physically and emotional
effects on one’s current marriage.
Divorce and leadership
All members in the church are subject to evaluation before being considered for a
leadership position. If divorce is part of a Christian’s past, they are not disqualified from
leadership. But, if considered for leadership they must be truly repentant of all past sins,
including those associated with divorce. If divorced and remarried, their current marriage must
be pleasing to God, as is required of any person being considered for a leadership position.
Remarriage after divorce
The Bible makes provisions for remarriage after divorce. Nonetheless, there may be
restrictions on remarriage depending on the circumstances. The Apostle Paul infers that if a
Christian has been divorced and feels they can remain unmarried they should do so (I
Corinthians 7:11). Christians who are unmarried and satisfied remaining that way have a unique
opportunity to serve in God’s kingdom. But please take note, a divorced person who is no longer
in a marriage relationship must maintain sexual purity, just as anyone else not married. Any
sexual relationship outside of marriage is sin.
Marrying a divorced person
Divorced persons are not “second class Christians.” Many of us have past sins that
affect our present lives, even though we have been forgiven because of Christ’s death and
resurrection. But, the Bible cautions Christians who are considering marriage to someone who
has been divorced. Strictly speaking, if the divorce was not on biblical grounds, they will commit
adultery by marrying the divorced person (Matthew 5:32, Mark 10:11-12). If a Christian is
considering marrying someone who has been divorced, they should seek counsel with pastoral
staff to discuss their specific circumstances. A pastor can help them understand what the Bible
has to say about their decision. Be aware that there may be practical considerations of marrying
a person who has been divorced; it is likely that their previous marriage will affect the new
marriage relationship in some way.
God intends for those of us called to marriage to work on our marriage and remain
married. In some circumstances divorce is allowed. If a Christian is divorced but it is not
possible for them to reconcile with their spouse, remarriage may be acceptable, depending on
the circumstances. Having been divorced and/or remarried does not preclude one from
leadership positions at Autumn Ridge Church provided any sins associated with the divorce and
remarriage have been repented of and appropriately dealt with.