No less than three of the Ten Commandments—the fifth, seventh, and tenth—directly involve strengthening marriages and families and preserving their unity and sacredness. Of course, all of God's commands, if followed, will work to strengthen man's relationship with God and fellow man, but these three are aimed directly at securing these sacred bonds. When considering any of God's commands, we find that they are broad in scope and ordained, not just to regulate our physical relationships, but also our spiritual one with Christ.
The fifth commandment speaks directly to parents and children, laying the foundation of responsibility that each has to the other. When children submit to their parents, and parents provide a loving environment to nurture their children in lawful living, the children and society directly benefit from this command. Home government is the cornerstone of national government, and when the home is right, the social structure follows. When marriage and family unity are held in high esteem and a fear of violating God's standards is instilled, sin can be held in check. Hebrews 12:11 declares, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
The seventh commandment—forbidding adultery, unfaithfulness by either spouse—stands against anyone who would defile the sanctity of the marriage covenant through sexual sins. Adultery is probably the most dishonest act against the binding contract of the marriage relationship; it is a betrayal of a most sacred trust. Not only is it a sin against one's companion, but as Paul teaches in I Corinthians 6:18, it is a sin against one's own flesh. It has destroyed many marriages and families. A marriage can stand against many adversities from without, but this sin destroys it from within, and few, if any, marriages can truly recover from such infidelity.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 that adultery begins in the heart. It is more than an outward action, but a lust that comes from within. Christ teaches us how broad the law is, and sexual acts outside of the marriage covenant—even just the desire for them—breaks this command. In other words, if the desire is there, yet only lack of opportunity has kept a person from this sin, the law has still been broken.
The tenth commandment—"You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" (Deuteronomy 5:21)—is likely a precursor for warnings against many other sins. It defends against anyone who would come between a man and his wife, and like the seventh, its breaking also begins in the heart. Unlike the seventh commandment, which looks to protect the marriage from within, in the tenth commandment God protects it from without.
Strong marriages can stand up to outside pressures of this sort, but weak marriages that are battling other issues may not. How many marriages have been defiled or destroyed by the coveting of another cannot be known, but since God included it in the Ten Commandments, its potential harm against the sacred bond of marriage must be high.
When he coveted Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, King David assaulted the marriage covenant, and disaster soon followed. Breaking this commandment led to adultery and then to murder. In our society today, similar lusts are leaving destroyed families in their wake.
The Sacredness of Marriage
As far as we know, the crisis of AIDS has been with us since 1981, although blood samples from as early as 1959 show evidence of the HIV virus. Already, tens of thousands have died from it in the United States alone. Although the disease can be spread by other means, the primary vehicle for the contagion is sexual contact.
Before AIDS, sexually transmissible diseases (STDs) like gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and chlamydia—politely called "social" or venereal diseases—raged around the world for centuries. Like AIDS, these are primarily spread by sexual contact, usually of an illicit nature. Today, the Centers for Disease Control reports, 87 percent of all reportable disease is sexually transmitted!
This means, of course, that 87 percent of all disease is preventable—by keeping the seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14), which includes all forms of sexual immorality. Mankind could eliminate nearly nine-tenths of all disease by changing sexual behavior to conform to the standard of God's law! Imagine the health, joy, and peace this would cause!
What a breakthrough, right? Wrong! The medical establishment worldwide—except for a few "radical" countries, most of which are Muslim—utterly rejects behavioral changes in favor of the politically correct "safe sex" procedures. Dr. Ed Payne, a faculty member at the Medical College of Georgia, calls the medical community's attitude of rejection of moral values "deliberate naiveté" (World, November 1, 1997, p. 5). Like children, they believe that if they just shut their eyes to the underlying cause of the problem, it really does not exist.
Dr. Payne writes:
The crisis of American medicine is not tobacco, AIDS, silicone, the Gulf War Syndrome, breast or any other form of cancer. . . . The crisis of American medicine is far greater than any one of these problems; indeed, it is far greater than all of them combined, because the answers to these problems do not come from within them, but from medical ethics. It is the same crisis that faces our culture in every other area: How do we decide ethics? That is, how do we decide what is right and what is wrong? (ibid.)
What is the result? In the case of STDs, the medical establishment actually promotes promiscuity and immorality. Rather than "weigh in" on pre-marital sex, it provides sex education, condoms, and birth-control pills to adolescents. To the majority of "health professionals," homosexuality is not wrong, but unsafe homosexual sex is "at-risk behavior." The risk is not that God will punish for sin but that a person might get a fatal disease.
Wrong becomes right, and if it is so right, their actions say, we should do more of it!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Creator God directly devotes two of His ten great laws to protecting family relationships. In the fifth commandment, we see how important honoring parents is in maintaining a Christian family relationship. God gives the seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," to protect the honor and sanctity of marriage. It is through marriage and the family that we learn how to conduct proper relationships, both with other people and with God. Since it is such an important institution to character development, God does not tolerate its defilement. Within marriage, sex is fully sanctioned by God, but otherwise, its practice causes great harm. In principle, this commandment covers all forms of illicit sex, including fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia.
Martin G. Collins
The Seventh Commandment
"You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14) is not limited to sex outside of marriage. God commands us to abstain from all sexual immorality, including premarital sex (fornication), homosexuality, incest, voyeurism, bestiality, public nudity, and much more (see Leviticus 18 and 20). In the New Testament, Paul adds licentiousness, uncleanness, and lewdness (Ephesians 4:19), which largely deal with liberal attitudes towards sexual matters.
Men seem to "get away" with adultery while unfaithful women are considered tramps. This double standard is ancient. In John 8:3-11, a crowd was ready to stone a woman caught "in the very act," but where was the adulterous man? God's Word, however, deals with both sexes equally.
It does not take sexual sin lightly either. Leviticus 20:10 commands death for both participants for adultery, as well as for sodomy and homosexuality (verse 13). Paul reminds us that God killed twenty-three thousand Israelites in one day for sex sins (I Corinthians 10:8). In Abraham's day God destroyed five entire cities by fire for their aberrant sex practices. God sent the Israelites and Jews into captivity for immorality, among other reasons.
Jesus struck the heart of the matter in His Sermon on the Mount. Christians must not even lust after another—fantasizing or committing sex with them mentally (Matthew 5:27-28). Nowadays, many psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors actually advise people to fantasize, or perhaps even have a "little fling." Advertisements and fashions all play to the lust of the flesh, making it increasingly more difficult to obey Jesus' command. Teens sometimes scorn their peers if they are still virgins by fourteen. This topsy-turvy world has completely lost its understanding of this commandment.
Much like our big cities today, ancient Corinth was filled with sexual temptations. Paul advised the brethren there to "flee sexual immorality" (I Corinthians 6:18). Too often we flee, yet leave a forwarding address! It is unwise to hang around people, places or situations that tempt us into sex sins (Proverbs 5:3-14; Genesis 39:7-12). When we flirt with temptation, we can end up as an ox going to slaughter (Proverbs 7:6-27).
Why should we flee temptations? Revelation 21:8 states that God will sentence the sexually immoral to the Lake of Fire, right along with murderers, idolaters, liars, and other unrepentant sinners. Paul adds
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites . . . will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)
Sex, Sin and Marriage
Men seem to be particularly irresponsible and ambivalent about sex. A July 28, 1978, Woman's Day article reports that somewhere between 50% and 70% of American husbands committed adultery at least once! The Ladies' Home Journal, October 30, 1981, sets the figure at 54%, and the Hite Report claims it is 66%.
Whatever the exact figure, it is extremely high, especially since another survey reveals that 67% of all husbands say adultery is always wrong. What a double standard! Though they feel it is wrong, a large percentage of men are willing to commit it if the opportunity presents itself. This illustrates what God means about our faithlessness.
We are a self-seeking, opportunistic people who are willing to "bend" on principle, standard, tradition, or belief if it means advantage for ourselves. Even if we can see the "advantage" is at best short-term—and may even be very risky—we usually seem to rise to the "bait." An August 1981 McCall's article, "What Men Want From Women," states:
They say they value the same things women do: loyalty, commitment, caring. At the same time, many insist they "need" the novelty and excitement of pursuing other women. Is there any way to make sense of these mixed messages and find new understanding between the sexes?
Yes, it is called sin. The seventh commandment is, "You shall not commit adultery," and the tenth includes, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife."
Such drives are a part of our humanity that we must deal with and overcome. If we do not, they will lead us into many woes. Notice how the story of Amnon, a young man who could not control himself to remain faithful, illustrates the cause and effects of this sin:
Absalom the son of David had a lovely sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. Amnon was so distressed over his sister Tamar that he became sick; for she was a virgin. And it was improper for Amnon to do anything to her. . . . [Tamar protested his advances.] However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, "Arise, be gone!" (II Samuel 13:1-2, 14-15)
Anytime a thing, like sex, becomes an end in itself, it ceases to give the satisfying pleasure God intends when used within the context of love. Instead, because of sin's addictive traits, a person futilely searches for the satisfying fulfillment of his expectations. With it he reaps the guilt associated with a knowledge of sin.
The above Woman's Day article lists reasons men give for remaining faithful, from most to least frequently mentioned:
1. The fear of being caught. Men avoid adultery, not because it is sin, but to avoid the pain of possibly losing everything, socially and/or financially. People fear scandal more than sin because they want others to think well of them.
2. The inability to deal with guilt and deception. The burden is not the adultery and the evil it produces but having to bear something personally that they can no longer hide.
3. The lack of opportunity. Men are open to adultery, but the occasion never arises because their wives are always looming in the background.
4. The belief that husbands should be faithful. This is more conformity to social pressure rather than belief in God.
5. The personal desire to be faithful. Not one of the five mentions God. This may be because it is not fashionable to talk of God, yet it could also be that God is not in their thoughts and they never consider what He thinks.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Exodus 20:14: