The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I Corinthians 7:3-5
Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss I Thessalonians 5:26 (see also I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12; Romans 16:16).
Point by Point
- Familiarity breeds contempt, but must it?
- God, on the other hand, looked at the naked human form and said tov meod! (very good!)
- Could adultery just be a step on the way to divorce? Is it often so?
- Even “pretty” adultery breaks something that should not ever be broken
- When they asked ‘why?’ God gave Israel an answer:
- Proverbs 5: ‘Because adultery gets you Ruined! Penniless! In Trouble with the Law Courts…’
- I used to think this proverb was exaggerating until I met a sexual addict who was ruined, penniless and in trouble with the law courts…
- Proverbs 5: God, who is pro-sex, says, “Go for it! Have great, intoxicating, lusty fun in your marriage!”
- To make a marriage fresh and refreshing takes work by two people who have submitted themselves to Jesus
- King Jesus loves and wants us to love mightily in all our relationships, in all of our redeemed lives
7. “You shall not commit adultery.” We live in a culture which has never been fond of this “suggestion.” It’s not hard to find serious rationalizations, some with evidence taken from observed behaviors of other species, asserting that humans are not capable of marital fidelity, that such rigor is not natural nor healthy for any “animal.”
It is not hard to see why we push back against this boundary. It is clearly an element of human perversity to disparage what we know well: “familiarity breeds contempt” is the motto in one of Aesop’s Fables, “The Story of the Fox and the Lion.” On the Quotable Quips blog, the author of the comment on this fable even concluded his remarks by saying,
…it’s hard for me to comprehend how people can get married. Or as a matter of fact, I can see how and why people would want to get married, but what’s harder to understand is how they can stay happily married. I guess the ridiculously high divorce rate suggests that in general, they don’t stay happily married. And I’m not surprised.
People want to get married because another person is attractive and interesting at a distance, but once they have been together for a while, well, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Of course, many people choose a method of separation from their partner short of divorce. They choose adultery. Indeed, adultery is probably a first tentative step toward divorce; I wonder how many people who have eventually divorced “stepped out” on their partner for a while first?
Where does it all come from, all the contempt and separation and dissolution and sadness and lonely despair? Working from the supposition that the writers of the Bible, being true tightwads who would never dream of wasting anything as costly as parchment, I have often noted that no word in the Bible is a casual accident and that the miserly bible writers never wasted space on random words. Which suggests that way back in the original story of human rebellion against God’s plan for his human servants (Genesis chapter 3) the little, seemingly incidental comment that after they ate fruit which would give them a forbidden view of all knowledge, they came to know that they were naked and they were ashamed. Imagine that. The first humanoids to be brought up by God to the full status of knowing, learning, growingly creative beings, became suddenly self-reflective in a way which devastated God’s entire plan for them. And the very thing which God had declared was tov meod! (very good!) their own bodies, became, to those original humans (the parents of all humanity!) the object of their shame. Their familiarity with their suddenly shattered hearts bred sudden, physical contempt. I have always taken that single cogent comment as a part for the whole on just how twisted human perspective became the moment they stole from God. For me that miserly little bit of information, taking up less than half an inch of precious parchment, was the author’s way of saying,
‘Yes, and they no-longer saw anything as God saw it; they instantly lost perspective on themselves, on each other, on the rest of creation and on God. They no-longer knew who they were or where they belonged or why. Without even moving from the spot, they became hopelessly lost.’
While I will take nothing away from this part-for-the-whole unpacking of the reading, an even more central, whole for the whole reading of this passage zeros in on self-loathing and a loathing of all that is familiar. Familiar. Notice the root: family. I am attracted to what is not my family but my family is known and is at least boring to me if not downright embarrassing. Anyone who has gone through puberty with a son or daughter knows all about an extreme form of this story; the 13-year-old girl who wants to be dropped off blocks before the door to school, lest anyone see her with her parent and know that she is the child of such an embarrassing person. Right while the child is struggling with her own changing body, those who most closely surround her become contemptible. Go figure…
And so to adultery: can we make the jump? There is some connection – I do not pretend to understand it – between my own shame and my familiar attitude toward the one I have sworn by oath to love and cherish “‘til death do us part.” Of course, there is not much short of suicide I can do to separate myself from my own body, but I can dump the other half of my own flesh, the one I have married. And if I am not ready to do that permanently, then perhaps some greener grass on another lawn is in order. That, it seems, is the modern drift. When we are out of sorts with our very own flesh, we notice that very greener grass!
Of course, in God’s world view, adultery is not in order when we are out of sorts, not ever; not lovely, lonely, desperate adultery in Dr. Zhivago, not languid, whispered adultery in Bridges of Madison County. No matter how prettily one tries to dress it up, adultery breaks what should never be broken; it wounds and scars and coarsens what should be whole and silky-soft. So, when Israel was young and very stupid, God yelled, “Don’t ever do this!” and if young Israel asked, “Why not?” then God thundered, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt!” I always think of that line, oft-repeated in the Law, as the ancient equivalent of my more prosaic, “Because I said so!” Then Israel matured and at a certain point, “Because I said so!” just did not cut it any longer (try it on your thirteen-year old and see how far it gets you). So later, when God had stopped yelling so much at Israel and had begun to discuss matters in a more God to adult manner, a Spirit-driven writer penned what we call Proverbs 5, wise words about adultery, and about why not:
My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
turn your ear to my words of insight,
that you may maintain discretion
and your lips may preserve knowledge.
For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as gall,
sharp as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps lead straight to the grave.
She gives no thought to the way of life;
her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.
Now then, my sons, listen to me;
do not turn aside from what I say.
Keep to a path far from her,
do not go near the door of her house,
lest you lose your honor to others
and your dignity to one who is cruel,
lest strangers feast on your wealth
and your toil enrich the house of another.
At the end of your life you will groan,
when your flesh and body are spent.
You will say, “How I hated discipline!
How my heart spurned correction!
I would not obey my teachers
or turn my ear to my instructors.
And I was soon in serious trouble
in the assembly of God’s people.” Proverbs 5:1-14
You see, God gave actual answers to Israel’s ‘why?’ questions in Proverbs 5: ‘Why not? Because although she looks good and sounds good, the woman who will do adultery with you has no sense and she will drag you down until you are ruined and penniless and in trouble with the law courts!’
I used to think Proverbs 5 was a bit propagandistic and was surely well over the top. Ruined? Penniless? Catching it in the public assembly? Come on! That’s a bit much!
I no-longer think like that. Someone I know well has become, at middle age, a walking, talking, visual aid for Proverbs 5. An admitted and recovering sexual addict, this Christian man has lost his marriage, his family, his good name, his home, his wealth and he is in trouble with many creditors and with the law courts. Marriage is a structure with real walls, true boundaries. If one breaks one’s vows as regard marriage, one does not break marriage but one can break oneself by banging one’s head, hands, feet and whatever, on the bounds and limits of God’s good creation-law for marriage. It hurts.
Can we turn this law around, positive, power-side-out? What does “love God with all you’ve got and your neighbor like yourself ” look like for law-word #7? Actually, Proverbs 5 points the way in the next few verses:
Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? Proverbs 5:15-20
Do we forget sometimes, that God is pro-sex? Do we forget that God created sex, its heat and its ecstasy and God called into being persons with all the parts and passions to enjoy sex regularly and with great gusto, tov meod!? God’s writer in Proverbs 5 makes the point:
‘Have a great time! Be passionate, intoxicated, even! But have all that great, whooping, hilarious, fun inside of your marriage. View the God-breathed boundaries of marriage as there to help you stay inside for the sake of joy; not as walls that keep the “real fun” out.’
Which means, doesn’t it, dealing with that familiarity thing, that ‘I know you too well’ thing. The fact is, a healthy, lusty marriage, one that renews itself when things get familiar or dull and keeps the table clear of slimy, leftover resentment and week-old, moldy conflict, takes work. It takes reconciling good work on the part of two people who, as Paul says in Ephesians, have submitted themselves to each other out of reverence for the King (Ephesians 5:21). Is there another way that leads to joy? Is there some other easier, more convenient, less extravagant expenditure of time and energy, without all the plodding effort that leads to such refreshment of our spirits? Nope.
So, what if I am not married? I believe this law and its proverbial backup can be read with all sorts of love and affection in mind. What about the celebration of true friendship? What about the deep respect and admiration we have for all sorts of people we know and love? When the boundaries of marriage are observed so that all questions of motive and action are taken off the table, then we are actually free to really touch each other outside of marriage, to hug, to hold hands, even to kiss, in ways which say everything about our passionate life in Christ, ways which hold sacred the vows and bonds of our marriages: free from miscommunication. Then, as Paul says, we can greet one another with a holy kiss and nothing and no one need be threatened. Such life is possible when we learn to put things in the places they belong, also in reverence for the King.
Of course, not everyone is ready for the sort of Minnesota recovery group-style hug fest I have in mind. Not everyone’s soul is healed up and ready for such expressive, carefree might. That we are all in different places when it comes to love and sex and passion should be fine with everyone if we will be honest with each other. If we really have begun the repair job toward healthy boundaries then the passion which we share in Christ is important, not its specific expression. If I am not sure how and where you are at on these issues, then in love and because of love, I should ask before I touch. In the Charis prison ministry we used to be able to hug each other at certain times, insiders (inmates) and outsiders (volunteers) alike. Then some people with serious boundary problems –people with boundary problems in a prison? No! – spoiled it for us all and so the prisons and the ministry agreed: no more hugging in prison. Shortly thereafter, Julie, a happily married woman from the outside, was in the prison and found herself about to shake hands with Michael, an insider she had embraced many times over the years and without sin. Michael extended his hand with a warm smile and as Julie took it, he beamed and said, “Feel the hug!”
Of course! There is Holy Spirit-driven passion in Jesus’ kingdom. It cannot be damped down by either sin or fear of sin. Love is stronger than fear. Grace is stronger than any curse. God, after all, is love!
Holy Lover of all you created, Risky One who involved yourself at tremendous cost in the world of those you love, help us to repair love and loving in our lives. Help us devote ourselves to exciting marriages, warm friendships and committed families. Please help us to discover your appropriate passions in and for every relationship with everyone and every thing. You who knew creation’s design from the beginning, help us to glimpse, even in this fallen and frustrated world, a bit of the joy which comes to those who submit, to those who do not snatch, to those who wait and work patiently because of love. You who prayed for your family on the earth, you who could not know until the very end whether your closest kin would be citizens of your kingdom, teach us to ditch pride and forget about being right. Teach us to have faith in you and patience for those you have put into our lives. O, Jesus! When the world thinks of Christians it thinks of Qur’an-burners and “‘fag’-haters!” Have mercy on us Jesus! Truly, Lord, let the way we love become again a way the world comes to know you. Please save us again, King Jesus! Amen.