[This sermon was delivered on Sunday, October 25, 2015]
This morning, as we continue our journey through the Ten Commandments, I’d like to once again invite you to open your bibles to Exodus 20. Exodus 20, beginning in verse 14. Exodus is the second book of the bible. Exodus 20, verse 14.
Before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule,
Your Holy Spirit our teacher,
And the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
Hear the word of the Lord from Exodus 20:14
“You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)
These are the very words of God. Thanks be to God.
Throughout our series, we’ve been using the questions and answers in the Heidelberg Catechism to illumine our text as well. I’d like to invite you to join me in reading responsively these portions from the Heidelberg Catechism.
Q108. What does the seventh commandment teach us?
A. That God condemns all unchastity, and that therefore we should thoroughly detest it and live decent and chaste lives, within or outside of the holy state of marriage.
Q109. Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?
A. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy. That is why God forbids all unchaste actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires, and whatever may incite someone to them.
Say these words after me:
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not commit adultery.
I want to tell you a story about a man who struggled with this commandment. He was one of Israel’s leaders. You can find his story in the book of Judges. His name was Samson. He has a sad story, but there is a lot we can learn from it. I’m only going to read portions of it, but if you’d like to read the whole thing for yourself you can find it in Judges 13-16.
Now, Samson was born a Nazarite. His life was specially dedicated to God from the womb. God had plans for him to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines, one of Israel’s enemies. God also gave Samson the gift of incredible strength. Samson had a lot of potential, but he had a problem. Listen carefully, and see if you can hear it.
Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. Then he came up, and told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among your kin, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.” His father and mother did not know that this was from the Lord; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel. (Judges 14:1-4)
Skipping ahead to chapter 16…
Once Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute and went in to her. The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here.” So they circled around and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They kept quiet all night, thinking, “Let us wait until the light of the morning; then we will kill him.” But Samson lay only until midnight. Then at midnight he rose up, took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. The lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, “Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great, and how we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him; and we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” (Judges 16:1-5)
Moving to verse 16…
Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he [that is, Samson] was tired to death. So he told her his whole secret, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him. Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. (Judges 16:16-22)
Did you catch what Samson’s problem was? Any thoughts?
If you’re thinking women, you are not necessarily wrong. Samson does have a problem with women, but the problem lies fundamentally with Samson himself. Samson has a problem with his eyes.
Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman.
Once Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute and went in to her.
And he saw. And he saw. He sees, and he wants, and he gets into trouble. His eyes lead him astray.
That is a huge part of this commandment. You shall not commit adultery has a lot to do with seeing vs. hearing. Will we chase after what our eyes see and want, whether we act on it or not, OR will we stop and listen to the voice of the Lord? Our eyes can so easily lead us astray.
Our ears, on the other hand, help us obey. In the Bible, God places a whole lot of emphasis on hearing. The surrounding nations of Egypt and Canaan were filled with religions of the eye. The primary organ for relationship with god was the eye. Big temples, Big idols, everything the eye could see. And connected with all these eye-centered religions was sexual indulgence, promiscuity, and various forms of immorality. By contrast, the people of Israel, as the people of the one true God were to be people of the ear. It was by hearing, listening that the people entered into faithful relationship with God. Listen to one of the fundamental creeds of Biblical faith, from Deuteronomy 6:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Hear, O Israel. Listen, Israel. Listen. Obey. Hearing is intimately connected with obedience. Listening implies active listening.
Faith in the one true God calls for us to be people who trust our ears more than our eyes. Hear, O Israel.
Later, in his sermon on the mount, Jesus likens hearing and obedience to a man who built his house on the rock. When the rains came, the streams rose, and the winds blew, his house stayed firm because of its foundation. But whoever hears and does not obey is like a man who built his house on sand. His house fell with a great crash when those same rains and floods came.
Hearing implies obedience. Hearing without obedience leads to disaster.
We’ll come back to this understanding of hearing and obedience, but let’s go back to our story of Samson. At the end of the story so far, we heard that Samson was seized by the Philistines and had his eyes gouged out. As awful as that is, it may actually have been a blessing for Samson. Again and again, his eyes had led him away from obedience to God. What change do we see when he’s lost his eyes? Let’s listen to the end of the story.
Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, and to rejoice; for they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” And when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, and let him entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. They made him stand between the pillars; and Samson said to the attendant who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them.” Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson performed.Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. (Judges 16:23-30)
Samson was different without his eyes. He finally looked to the Lord God for his strength. God’s plan for Samson, before he was even born, was for him to deliver Israel from the Philistines. At the end of his life, without his eyes, he was finally ready to obey.
In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus says,
“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. (Matthew 5:27-30)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. Didn’t we just hear this story? Could it be that Jesus is referencing the story of Samson here? Samson’s eyes caused him to stumble, but after they were literally gouged out – torn out and thrown away – he was able to hear and obey God. If he had lost his eyes earlier, he might have been a very different man.
Repeat after me: You shall not commit adultery.
Once more. You shall not commit adultery.
Jesus confirms what we learned from the story of Samson. The command against adultery is as much about our eyes as about our hands. The people of God are called to ‘hear’, to be people of the ear. Hear, O Israel.
What do we need to hear in this commandment specifically? How do we actually keep the seventh commandment?
In explaining God’s will for us in this commandment, the Heidelberg Catechism speaks about ‘living chaste lives.’ Chastity is a fairly old word, but I think it’s very helpful in living out the seventh commandment.
Samson’s story tells us a lot about our relationship to God in general, but also specifically about chastity. We know this, because of what Jesus says in Matthew 5.
In our culture, we often hear a command such as You shall not commit adultery, and want to know how close to the line we can get without crossing it. We want to know at what point we would be crossing the line and sinning.
Lauren Winner, author and professor at Duke Divinity school, says that we like to ask the question, “At what point, precisely, did I sin?” Instead, she says, what we may want to be asking is if our behaviour is prudent, loving, or wise. You may want to ask at what point you loved your neighbour.
A commitment to chastity asks a different question. Instead of wondering, ‘how far can I go before I go too far?’ The question is whether we are loving and honoring God and our neighbor through our thoughts, desires, and actions. Is having sex with someone other than our spouse a sin? Yes, but Jesus reminds us that chastity, truly living into the seventh commandment, also speaks to our hearts, our very way of living in the world.
Chastity is a way of life. Winner writes,
“Chastity is a spiritual discipline. Chastity is something you do, it is something you practice. It is not only a state, but a disciplined, active undertaking that we do as part of the Body. It is an active conforming of one’s body to the arc of the gospel.” (Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, Lauren Winner, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005. p. 104)
Practicing chastity also helps us to remember that God desires our person, our body, more than any man or woman ever will. This is important for each of us to hear. Chastity is something we can all live into, whether we’re single or married, young or old, male or female. The call to chastity is a call for all of us.
When it comes to hearing and obedience in the seventh commandment, what we need to remember is this:
Trust your ears over your eyes.
Trust God’s promise over what our eyes want.
One more thing. We can learn a second lesson from the story of Samson as well. Chastity happens better in community. Samson was alone. He didn’t have community. His lack of community made it all the more easy for him to be led astray with his eyes. The same is true for us.
If we don’t have the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is very difficult for us to live in obedience to God. For us to live chaste lives requires help from others. God created us in a way that it is not good for us to be alone. Let us look to God, and to one another, in helping us to hear and obey God’s word. Amen.