Top Ten Words: Covenant Sex – Exodus 20:14

Top Ten Words: Covenant Sex – Exodus 20:14

Jan 22, 2016

Sermon Series by Pastor Dusty Mackintosh

Next Step Christian Church, Thornton, CO


Adultery, Pain and Brokenness

When there is a passage of Scripture on my mind, I dwell on it. I think about it all the time. I am wondering about it, I am listening, waiting for God to open up new paths and new questions about it.

This was a hard week. I spent this week thinking about adultery.

That was especially difficult coming off the high of the marriage enrichment retreat. I felt enriched. I felt connected to my brothers and sisters. I was praying for the health and faithfulness of their marriages. Then God has this next verse for us.

There are some sins we wink at and there are some that just break our heart. This one hurts me; it burdens me; it breaks my heart. I have seen friends devastated by it. Broken by it.

Now that is kind of heavy and is a hard way to start a sermon. But I am being honest — this was a heavy and hard sermon for me. Everything is not all wrapped up here, but I can share with you what I have learned so far.

Why does adultery feel like having one’s heart ripped out? Even when it’s not me…when it is someone I love…why does this sin strike so deep?

Now, a whole lot of this is going to be focused towards those in our fellowship who are married. You can file some of this under the “later” file…but if you hold tight, by the end you may see that we are really after the heart of God. That’s ultimately what all of us are about.


The Ten Commandments



Exodus 20:14

“You shall not commit adultery.”

Adultery vs. Fornication

Now I am not going to preach about how lust, generically, is wrong. It is. We could take that as a generalization of this word, but God had me consumed this week, really focused on the word “adultery.”

There is more than one word for sexual immorality in Hebrew. This one, the one used in the seventh word of the Ten Words, is specific. It is specific to marriage. Because God chose the specific word for sexual immorality in marriage, it puts the focus — not on the lust or the general sense of sexual immorality — but on the specific breaking of the marriage covenant through sexual immorality.

Adultery puts the focus on the breaking of covenant.

For example, if I say “murder” instead of “kill,” I am putting the emphasis on what makes the two distinct: the hate and contempt that accompanies murder. It is specific.

If I say, “I hate prairie dogs,” you might just agree. They are generally a nuisance. If I say, “I hate that prairie dog with the three spots on his head and the clipped tail,” you might start to suspect that that prairie dog and I have a history. There’s a story there. It is specific.

The seventh commandment puts the focus on the breaking of the marriage covenant.


Other sexual sins are wrong too

There are other laws about all kinds of sexual immorality. The specificity of some of them is bizarre. Like, clearly some really specific cases came up. But there are civil and ceremonial laws dealing with degrees of sexual immorality and appropriate penalties and arrangements, ranging in severity. The New Testament is absolutely clear that we should flee all sexual immorality, using the generic term, then lists adultery as one form of sexual immorality that we should flee.

So let me be absolutely clear. Dusty is not saying “only adultery is a sin, sex outside of marriage is all good.” Neither am I saying “adultery is a felony, extra-marital sex is a misdemeanor or minor infraction.” This command, right here, is very focused. The words are not accidental. The focus is not happenstance and we should not gloss over it:

The emphasis, the focus, the distinctive of the

seventh commandment is the marriage covenant.

In the Top Ten

So, I have previously pointed out that God only calls out two specific human relationships, three if you count neighbor. Parents were the first. Here, with this focus on covenant marriage, God calls out the second: your spouse.

Top Ten Words, from God to His people, are how to live in Righteousness. Take that marriage stuff seriously. Take marital fidelity, this inter-personal covenant, the thing where you leave your family and cleave to your spouse, forsaking all others…take it seriously. Don’t break your marriage covenant.

Be faithful.

God created man and woman, and He created marriage before the Fall. He never quite tells us why…but I think we can make an informed guess:

Marriage intends to create one human relationship where intimacy and trust can grow and we can experience love most profoundly.

Adultery wounds the intimacy and trust in marriage.

It doesn’t kill it. It wounds it. It gets real hard to love when you can’t trust. You can’t be intimate any more because you can’t be vulnerable any more.

Adultery wounds the intimacy and trust in marriage.

Jesus on Adultery

Jesus had some words to say on Adultery, following immediately on His exposition on Murder, the sixth commandment.

Matthew 5:27-28

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit

adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

There is more than one word in the Greek for sexual immorality and one specific to adultery. Jesus uses the word very specific to the marriage context. Then, perhaps to make it even more clear that it is the sanctity of the marital covenant He has in mind, He explains another aspect of covenant breaking: divorce. But the context, once again, here and in the following verses, is very clearly on marriage — the marriage covenant.

Then Jesus calls our attention to the matter of the heart. It is at the moment of lust, looking at a woman, or more specifically, looking at a woman for the purpose of lust, that is the heart of adultery.

Just as Jesus did with murder, going deeper than the outward action to the hate and contempt at the heart, so Jesus goes deeper than the outward act of adultery to the heart. The inner, willful act, of looking at a woman, at a person, for the purpose of lust.

I heard it said “it’s the second look that gets you in trouble…so make the first look a good one!” Jesus says. “No.” The moment in the heart — the moment that flirts with the idea, that dwells on the image, visual, imagination, whatever it is, at the moment — adultery has begun.

He calls us to absolute faithfulness in the marriage covenant.

Absolute faithfulness: not just in the strict outward actions, but in the eyes, in the way that we look at people, which is to say, in the heart and mind, in the seat of our will and our decision making. Absolute faithfulness.

Radically Unrealistic

It begins to sound unrealistic. Impossible. Maybe as impossible as what Jesus said earlier about reconciling with all those around you; about being the kind of person who reconciles with people you hate; people you despise, and anyone who might have reason to hate you.

Jesus holds up a standard of absolute faithfulness in the marriage covenant. How important does He hold it? He gives some practical application here:

Matthew 5:29-30

29 “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. 30 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.”

That escalated quickly. If something is causing you to sin, cut it off, gouge it out, throw it away. That is how important this is.

Jesus is not giving advice here and His close disciples did not immediately maim themselves. We hear the subtext: “if that would help, do it!” But the truth is that wouldn’t help. A guy named Origen tried cutting everything “down there” off in

the second century so he could tutor young women without suspicion and without lust. Full Ken-doll mode. He said it didn’t really work.

Jesus’ point seems to be that if these things did help, you would do them, that is how important this is…but they don’t help. We have a whole host of ways and rules and structures and programs towards helping men and women “make a covenant with their eyes” to sexual faithfulness. Anything that works, absolutely use it.

But I believe Jesus’ main point is that, once again, this is a heart issue. The adultery has taken place in the heart. Ultimately, it wasn’t about the eyes, the ears, or the imagination. The sin took place in the heart.

And love requires absolute faithfulness.

So what is needed? New hearts! Even as Jesus is announcing the Kingdom news in Matthew 5, the full solution to adultery of the heart isn’t there.

This absolute faithfulness looks impossible…

He can call us to faithfulness, because He is faithful. He can course that faithfulness through us, pour that faithfulness through us, such that it redeems our eyes, redeems our hands, redeems our sex life, redeems our marriage and redeems our heart.

It is in Matthew 27 — in forsakenness as Jesus took on your

sin, your covenantal unfaithfulness, your adultery, your lust.

He carried it down into death.

And He made possible absolute faithfulness, for it rests on His absolute faithfulness:

Absolute faithfulness in our marriage covenant.

Absolute faithfulness in our covenant with Him.

Covenant Faithfulness

Why the switch to our covenant with God? It is the start of the Ten Words: I am the Lord, your God. We see this pattern in His commands: they teach us how to live with each other; they teach us how to discover and love God; that we might love our neighbor as ourselves; that we might love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength.

Sabbath invites us into God’s holiness.

Honoring father and mother teaches us to honor and love God.

Marital covenant faithfulness teaches us covenant faithfulness and intimate love.

When we are dealing with the Creator of the Universe, Creator of our relationship with Him, and Creator of marriage, we should never go “Huh! That made a really good metaphor. Fancy that!” What if the purpose of marriage and the sexual

intimacy designed for marriage is all about teaching us absolute faithfulness…and the kind of intimate love absolute faithfulness enables?

Love requires absolute faithfulness. That is the soil in which it grows. That is the only environment in which it can grow. So marriage is then a greenhouse in which to nurture and protect and see what love, covenant love, faithful love looks like.

Love requires absolute faithfulness.

Intimate Love

This brings us to the “sex” part of adultery. Sex is created for marriage, designed for marriage, reserved for marriage. It is impossibly intimate. It is ridiculously risky. It is vulnerable.It is the dropping of all barriers to experience shared joy. It is no accident that new human beings, procreation, is the fruit of a consummate act of love. Past all the brokenness of sin, the hijacking of sex, the sinful nature and immorality upon immorality…we still respond to this beautiful picture of what God created.

Now, what does it mean if the marriage covenant is a reflection of divine covenant? Uncomfortable. We reject that level of intimacy because we are uncomfortable, we are afraid, we are nervous, and so internally I react like a sixth grade boy. “Ewww… gross!”

Whatever expression of joy, intimacy, love and faithfulness we find in marriage, it is a shadow of what we find in God.

Jesus says in heaven we will be neither male nor female. There is no marriage in the resurrection. Whatever it is that marriage gets at, even among human beings, must be fulfilled, must be completed. What if the sweetest perfection of unity, of love, of faithfulness, of commitment, of vulnerability and acceptance, of joy — all of that — what if all of that were made complete between all the children of God!

For now, we see only a reflection in a dim and

dingy mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now

I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I

am fully known.

The Heart of God

God called one of his prophets, a man named Hosea, to walk an incredibly painful path. He was to marry a “promiscuous woman” knowing this would subject him to adultery. He had children with her. Over and over again, she betrayed their marriage covenant. She was sexually unfaithful, both in heart and in action. Hosea, again and again, sought to restore her.

And God said it was His broken heart for His people. We have seen the wreckage in the wake of adultery, in the lives of our friends and families, and maybe in our lives. We have seen the cancer of adultery of the heart eating away at relationships, eating away at promise, eating away at faithfulness.

And we have all fallen short of the absolute faithfulness Jesus calls us to.

Maybe, just maybe, we have seen the heart of God, broken for you and me, desiring a covenant with us of absolute faithfulness — that we might truly love Him and be for Him.

Through Hosea, speaking of His people, God says this:

Hosea 2:16-20

16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,“you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ 17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;

no longer will their names be invoked. 18 In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. 19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. 20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.”

And “that day” is the Day of our Lord Jesus: Who picks us up out of adultery; cleanses us from all unrighteousness; cleanses our hearts from lust and idolatry alike. Our sinful nature was crucified with him. And he calls us to…and creates within us absolute faithfulness — to our spouse, to our God.

See Him, on His knees with the ring out, asking us, all of us, to be the Bride of Christ, to be absolutely faithful to Him. This is what love requires. We practice that in our marriages. That is our life forever.

God, prepare our hearts now to be clean, to be faithful, to be Yours.

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