“You shall not commit adultery.”
We’ve all heard the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Actually, that’s a myth. First, in no way does that mean your particular marriage only has a 50% chance of lasting a lifetime. It simply means that at one point in our nation’s history (a couple decades ago now) for every 2 marriages in a given year, there was 1 divorce. The divorce rate was half that of the marriage rate.
This phenomenon occurred on the heels of court rulings that gave women more authority and control in filing for divorce proceedings. When women were given the chance, they were finally able to end a bad marriage. Imagine being stuck in an abusive marriage, or knowing your spouse is sleeping around, and not being able to do anything about it.
In reality, however, the divorce rate has been on the decline – dropping around 18% over the past decade? Why? Because newly married young people are staying together longer. True, fewer young adults are currently married than ever before (functioning under the mindset of ‘if it’s just going to end in divorce, then why bother?’). But those who do choose to get married are remaining more faithful to each other than comparative couples of previous generations.
This may come as no surprise, but infidelity is still listed as the top specific reason for divorce at nearly 30%. Unfortunately those statistics are not much different for couples inside the church.
The positive intention behind the prohibition is to uphold and honor the covenant of marriage. God railed against the apathetic treatment of wedding vows in the prophetic book of Malachi.
Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
Did you catch that line? The man who hates and divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect. This is where we need to speak wisdom into the subject of adultery, unfaithfulness, and divorce. Adultery does not JUST mean sexual immorality. Adultery is not JUST about sex. Adultery is about breaking a covenant. Israel was often called an “adulterous” nation for breaking their covenant with God by worshiping other gods, mistreating the poor, abusing the sacrificial system, taking advantage of people through unbalanced weights and measures, etc.
Israel was in a covenant with God. They broke that covenant and were labeled “adulterers.” Marriage is not just a financial or social institution. It’s a covenantal arrangement between a man, a woman, and God. To break that covenant is to commit adultery – by sleeping around, by abusing your spouse, by neglecting them, and by “doing violence against the one you should protect.” Marriage is so much more than sex. So is adultery.
In the days of Jesus there was a great debate on this issue. Some took the side of Rabbi Hillel who taught that a man could divorce his wife for basically any reason. He emphasized the phrase “who becomes displeasing to him.” Others took the side of Rabbi Shammai who taught that marital unfaithfulness was the only legal grounds for divorce. Whose side did Jesus take?
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “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 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.”
Even though Jesus wasn’t married, he upheld the importance of marriage. Faithfulness to one’s spouse goes hand in hand with one’s faithfulness to God. That’s why Jesus said such radical things as this:
“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. 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.”
In other words, don’t even think about cheating on your wife. Don’t even think about sleeping around with men who aren’t your husband. Because eventually thoughts will become actions. People often leave their partners in the head long before they leave them in the bed.
You can see why these commandments are so important. God wanted to ensure a thriving society for his people. When cultures fail to honor their family commitments, when they treat human life as expendable, and when they cease to uphold their wedding vows, society begins to break down. Life, marriage, family – these things should be honored and kept sacred for our own good and the good of society. This is why I try to live up to Jesus’ standard and put into practice the words of Paul in Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Have you heard people toss around the “50%” statistic in relation to marriage and divorce? How does it make you feel about marriage? Is it worth fighting for? Or is it not worth bothering?
Do you think that healthy marriages are a vital part of a healthy society? Why or why not?
In what specific ways can you embody Christ’s sacrificial love in your marriage?