Friday, August 8, 2008


The Seventh Commandment says this: "You shall not commit adultery." And most people, whether their actions live up to their beliefs or not, do believe that adultery is wrong. But why? Why is this such a basic and important reality that it has a place in the ten commandments? Why is this such a fundamental issue for us and for God who gave us this commandment?

On the surface, it's easy for us to see that this commandment protects something important to our social fabric. Families can't thrive, or in most cases even survive intact, if there is not a commitment on the part of the married couple to be faithful to each other. The very substance of marriage is that the relationship between a husband and wife is to be exclusive. In a wedding service, the very first words said by the couple come in the form of the words of intent. They stand at the front of the church, with the bride's father between them, and the father doesn't sit down until he hears the groom say "I will" to this question: "Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all others to be faithful only to her, so long as you both shall live?" And then he waits to hear his daughter affirm this vow as well. And then he can sit down--knowing that this new couple is promising to be faithful to each other.

But back to our more fundamental question. Hardwired into us is an understanding that this kind of faithfulness matters. And matters not just because it's good and necessary for the flourishing of society and individual families--which it is--but matters at an even deeper level to us. We know that faithfulness isn't just a good social construct, but a part of the way things are meant to be. The way things should be. In fact, the way God designed things to be. And here's the point--God did in fact design things this way, and he did so not arbitrarily, but as a reflection of himself, of his own character. We are called to faithfulness, and we long for faithfulness, because God himself is faithful. Faithfulness is part of his character, part of who he is. So much so, in fact, that he chooses to be faithful to his people even when they are unfaithful to him.

One of the most graphic and dramatic illustrations of this comes in the book of Hosea. God's people have been unfaithful to him, and he calls Hosea, a prophet, to confront his wayward people. And he uses Hosea's own marriage as an illustration of his own love for his unfaithful people. He tells Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, and to show her enduring, faithful love in spite of her unfaithfulness. After they are married and have children, she is unfaithful to him, commits adultery, and leaves. And God tells Hosea to take her back, to stay faithful in spite of her sin against him. "And the LORD said to me, 'Go again, love a woman who is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods....'"

Why does faithfulness matter? Fundamentally because our God is a faithful God--faithful to his people in spite of their sin. Gracious, in fact. So faithful, in fact, that he sent Jesus, his Son, to live a perfectly faithful life, to be betrayed by his people, to die at the hands of our unfaithful hate, and to rise again for our forgiveness and new life. The fabric of our relationship is woven throughout with the threads of God's faithfulness--and he calls us to respond by being faithful in return, faithful to him, faithful to each other, and coming back up to the surface of the seventh commandment, faithful to our spouses.

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