Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-30
God calls us to be faithful in our relationships with Him and with each other.
Before we have language to describe it, we desire faithfulness in our relationships. Young children make pinky promises, pledging undying friendship. Adolescents exchange gifts, like friendship bracelets or personal treasures, to symbolize the strength of their promise to one another.
o What is your earliest memory of making a promise?
o What did it feel like to be a part of a promise, however small or insignificant it might seem now?
As we mature, our trust in the undying power of a promise fades as we are betrayed by friends, loved ones, leaders, and politicians. Promises are made and all too easily broken when they become inconvenient or cumbersome.
o Reflect on your early experiences of unfaithfulness or betrayal. How did those promises, disappointments and hurts impact your perception of faithfulness?
Adultery is a topic discussed in many places in the Bible. It is often used as a description for Israel’s unfaithfulness to covenantal relationship with God. In the passages selected for this lesson, we can see a move from the basic command in the Ten Commandments to the inner motive of the heart in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Since the Old Testament command is simply stated, it could be argued that only the actual act of committing adultery is the sin, that even if one indulges in fantasies, as long as one doesn’t act them out, then no sin has been committed. Jesus, however, leaves no room for such excuses but calls for action to deal with the deeper causes of this sin. Jesus is not satisfied with a superficial adherence to the letter of the law. True Christian faithfulness begins in the heart.
Connect to the Word
A. The Simple Command (Read Exodus 20:14)
Adultery violates God’s design for marriage and threatens the family unit. Family was the glue that held Israelite society together. When the bond of marriage is destroyed because of unfaithfulness, society also suffers. Adultery creates jealousy and bitter feelings among all parties involved. Adultery betrays the intimacy shared between a husband and wife.
The command against adultery codifies into law what was well-known: God intended that intimate human relationships be marked by fidelity. Spouses were to be bound exclusively to one another for life. The sacred marriage covenant was one way that human relationships were to reflect the exclusive intimacy God desired to share with humankind.
o Why do you think God commanded the people to not commit adultery? (Adultery became a symbol for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God by worshiping other gods which is Idolatry, the first commandment.)
o How can fidelity in marriage be a reflection of the relationship God desires to have with us?
Our lesson writer, David A. Ackerman, writes: Behind each of the Ten Commandments that express a negative prohibition is an implied positive response. In this case, the Israelites were to honor marriage by staying committed to their spouses. Although the only word in this command for sexual sin is adultery, it is implied that any sexual relationship outside of marriage is against God’s will. In a culture where intimacy in a monogamous relationship was threatened with the acceptance of polygamy and having concubines, adultery may have been an easy temptation and compromise, as shown by King David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). Adultery became a symbol for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God by worshiping other gods. The prophets called Israel back to the covenant and exclusive worship of God (Isa. 57:3; Jer. 3:8; Ezek. 16:38; Hos. 2:2). The marriage relationship was a visible reminder of the commitment God required of Israel.
B. The Heart Principle (Read Matthew 5:27-28)
These verses come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7). They follow a common pattern called the “six antitheses” found in this part of the Sermon in 5:21-48. The first part quotes a statement from the Old Testament that the listeners knew, using the phrase, you have heard that it was said. In the second part, Jesus gets deeper to the heart motive behind the command with the words, but I tell you. The significant feature of these verses is Jesus’ authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament command.
Jesus quotes the command against adultery and refuses to acknowledge the legal loopholes some teachers of the law had created. In addition, Jesus forces the conversation beyond physical acts and probes into the hearts of His listeners. Clean hands but an unclean heart and mind cannot coexist in the believer.
o How might a stringent commitment to the letter of law but negligence in matters of the heart produce self-righteousness? (We ignore the inward self.)
o What unforeseen consequences might our relationships suffer from this inner disparity? (Our outward actions might look we are living right, but our inward self is corrupt. Our outward appears pure at the same time our inward thoughts and feelings are impure.)
o Why is it important for God to have full control of both our outward self and our inward self? (It is not just about what we do or not do, but also what we think.)
Anyone, man or woman, who looks lustfully at someone else has already committed adultery. The desire and the deed are the same. Sin begins with wrong desire (James 1:14). Lust is a secret sin because it takes place in the heart. Lust is a sin of the heart where the seeds of adultery are planted and grown. Sin in the flesh begins with the problem of sin within the heart. This command is not simply a prohibition against adultery but a protection against temptation. Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17) by dealing with the problem of the sinful heart by purifying it (v. 8) through the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
C. The Protective Barrier (Read Matthew 5:29-30)
Jesus’ shocking directive to gouge out one’s eye or chop off one’s hand is one of His most well-known teachings. Jesus clearly doesn’t expect His followers to maim themselves, as if such behavior could prevent temptation. However, He is instructing His followers to “cut off” that which leads them into temptation.
o What might this “cutting off” look like in our lives? (We can stay away from lust by removing how it comes to us. The phrase it is better comes from a word meaning advantageous and beneficial.)
o In what ways does God help us in removing those things that cause us to “stumble”?
Connect to My Life and the World
It is not enough to merely “keep the rules.” We cannot hide self-righteously behind the letter of the law. We are invited beyond the passive avoidance of adultery and into the active pursuit of fidelity.
Fidelity is an invitation to practice the values of the kingdom of God and, ultimately, to reflect the character of God to God’s beloved world.
Instead of dismissing Jesus’ command to “gouge out an eye” or “cut off a hand” that leads us astray, we are called to examine our lives honestly and remove those things that lead us astray.
While the command to faithfulness within marriage is directed toward married couples, the call to model the faithfulness of God extends to all Jesus’ followers, married and single alike.
Insight: Imagination is a divine gift but, left unchecked, it can create fertile soil in which sinful desires can take root and bear poisonous fruit. God must be God of our thought life.
Think About It: “. . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
John Wesley’s mother, Susanna, offered this still sound insight: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself” (Letter, June 8, 1725).