Adultery in My Heart
July 12, 1992
This is easily the most difficult sermon to preach in this series. It is also the hardest Commandment to deal with fairly. Perhaps I can illustrate. A few years ago a writer introduced a chapter entitled “The Devil and Sex” with these words: “To the adolescents among my readers who have turned to this chapter first.” And there one is, young or old, caught red-handed, eyes riveted … Sure, you turned to that chapter first … imagination stirred, mind working overtime, hoping for fresh rivulets of forbidden knowledge.
No doubt that is what Jesus had in mind when he offered his interpretation of the Seventh Commandment: “You have heard that it was said, ’Do not commit adultery,’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) Adultery is much more than the physical act, or perhaps we should say it is much less than the physi-cal act. It is the lustful look, the leering glance, the furtive thought, the imagined act.
Of all the sins we may talk about, lust is the most slippery. In the very act of preaching about it, I may well cause it to happen. It’s not that way with other sins. I do not cause you to be angry by preaching on anger or greedy by preaching on greed … but lust is such a tricky subject that the very mention of the word may cause you to do the very thing I am warning against.
So I proceed with caution.
Nothing Good About Adultery
Let’s begin at the beginning. The Seventh Commandment reads, “You shall not commit adultery.” That’s very simple and clear, isn’t it? The dictionary defines it as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful husband or wife.” Again, very clear. On one level, adultery is simply the act of physical unfaithfulness to the marriage vows. That clearly is prohibited. And by inference, this Commandment is establishing the value of marital faithfulness.
To understand what God is saying, we should remember what marriage is supposed to be: One man with one woman pledged in a public commitment to live together as husband and wife for life. One man with one woman for life! That’s what marriage is supposed to be. Anything less falls short of the Scriptural ideal.
How, then, does God feel about adultery? God forever classifies adultery among the worst sins a person can commit. Surely it deserves its bad reputation. Name one good thing adultery ever accomplished. Name one home made stronger by unfaithfulness. Point out the children made happier because someone broke his vows. Search the pages of history and see if you can find one good thing to say about adultery—even one positive benefit of unfaithfulness. I submit it cannot be done. There is nothing good to be said about adultery.
It wrecks homes, destroys lives, harms children and ruins reputations.
A Problem of the Heart
But to say all that is only to touch the tip of the iceberg. Jesus made it clear that adultery is the fruit of which lust is the root. If in our thinking we focus only on the physical act itself, we will miss the greater lesson of the Seventh Commandment. Jesus’ whole point is that it is quite possible to commit adultery in the heart without ever physically touching anyone else.
Which, by the way, is the point former president Jimmy Carter was trying to make when he gave his infamous interview to Playboy magazine. When he said he had committed adultery in his heart many times, he was speaking in thoroughly biblical terms. It is a sad commentary on our times that so many people did not know what he meant—and many of those who did know thought he was making a joke.
But his point is quite correct. You may outwardly remain faithful to your spouse while inwardly lusting after someone else. That inward lusting—though it remains hidden for years—is “adultery in the heart” and is a way of breaking the Seventh Commandment—quietly, silently, repeatedly.
So what are we talking about? Lust is the irresponsible pursuit of sexual enjoyment. Like all other sins, lust begins on the inside and eventually works its way out. It’s a problem of the heart … a very powerful problem … a very real problem.
Lust is a battle fought first and foremost in the mind. One may be lustfully occupied while listening to a sermon or driving a car or even while praying. Because of its unseen character, it is never safe to say of another person, “He could never have that problem.” In the theater of the mind many things take place that would never be mentioned in public.
I. How a Godly Man Falls II Samuel 11
With that as background, we turn to examine a case study in lust and what it brought about in one man’s life. I call your attention to the most shocking example in all the Bible—the sordid tale of David and Bathsheba. The story is found in II Samuel 11.
You remember David … the greatest king Israel ever had … the writer of the 23rd Psalm. David was called a man after God’s own heart.” He was a shepherd, a singer, a writer, a warrior and a ruler. No greater man ever ruled over Israel. He was greatness and godliness wrapped up in one human personality.
After all is said about David—heap up all the adjectives and praises as you will—one fact remains. David—great godly King David fell victim to the oldest sin of all—the sin of lust.
II Samuel 11 reveals the 5 steps that led to his own self-destruction.
Step # 1: He wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
The story begins with a very matter of fact statement: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.” David wasn’t where he was supposed to be—out with his soldiers going into battle. In the spring the rains ended, making it an ideal time to go to war. But where was David? He was back in Jerusalem.
What’s going on here? He’s 50 years old now, he’s on top of the world, he’s been fighting one battle after another for years. Perhaps he felt that he had nothing more to prove. Previously he had always led the army himself. Now he entrusts it to Joab—his number one general.
It’s a classic case, isn’t it? You fight and scrap to get to the top of the heap, thinking to yourself about how good it will be once you accomplish your goals. Then when you get there, there’s nothing left to do. It is said that Alexander the Great wept at the age of 32 because there were no more worlds no conquer.
When speaking of David, Matthew Henry said it well. “If he had been at the front, he wouldn’t have been on the wall. When we are out of the way of duty, we are in the way of temptation.”
David is now an accident waiting to happen.
—He’s the king
—He’s accountable to no one.
He’s got too much time on his hands so he stays busy doing nothing. “Idle hands are the Devil’s tools.” In this case the Devil didn’t have to try too hard. David was sitting around taking it easy.
How true this is today. Much of our struggle with lust comes because we stay in Jerusalem taking it easy when we ought to be on the front lines with the bullets whizzing overhead.
Step # 2: He looked at something he shouldn’t have seen.
The plot thickens in verse 2. “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of his palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beauti-ful.” It happened late one evening that David was taking a walk in the cool of the day. Why? He was the king and he had nothing better to do.
You can imagine the scene. David is walking slowly, casually, thinking about this and that. The night is warm, with a slight breeze. Up above the stars twinkle in the sky. Suddenly he notices something out of the corner of his eye. He sees a beautiful woman bathing herself. Perhaps he was close enough to hear the gurgling of the water; perhaps he also smelled her perfume. No doubt her form was accented by the shadows playing off the walls.
The Hebrew emphasizes the point that Bathsheba was a truly beautiful woman. David sees her, stops, considers the scene, and perhaps even says to himself, “You have no right to look at her.”
Then he looks again. Now he is hooked. For Bathsheba truly is beautiful. And the night is young. And he is all alone. No one is around. Her husband is off with the army. And after all, David is the king. He can have any woman he wants.
The story now moves to another level.
Step # 3: He asked a question he had no business asking.
Verse 3 says, “David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ’Is that Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’” On the surface this appears to be an innocent act. Note that the lust is well hidden at this point. No adultery has taken place. In fact, no one seeing his actions would have condemned him. Outwardly he has done nothing wrong. But inside … in his mind… he has already slept with her. The deed is done in his imagination before she even knows he has seen her.
At this point it’s not difficult to understand David’s thinking. Oh, how the mind can rationalize lust!
“I’m alone. She’s alone.”
“God wants me to be happy.”
“My marriage to Michal was never God’s will in the first place.”
“No one will ever know.”
“It’s as much her fault as my fault.”
Lust has done its evil work. Though no outward sin has taken place, David has already broken the Seventh Commandment.
Step # 4: He sought something that wasn’t his to have.
His lust now leads him into deliberate sin. “Then David sent messengers to get her.” This is a clear abuse of power. It happens all the time with men who think they are beyond the law. David now thinks to himself, “I can do anything I want.” The unstated premise is, “Not even God can stop me.”
—He knows Bathsheba is married.
—He knows her husband is away.
—He knows that adultery is wrong.
—He knows he shouldn’t do it.
This is the man who wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” That same man now deliberately sins against God. And it was his lust that made him do it.
Step # 5: He did something he never should have done.
The deed happens quickly. “She came to him and he slept with her.” It probably started about sun-down and was over by nine or ten o’clock. Just a short one-night stand. Bathsheba comes to David, the deed is done, and she goes back home.
At first it appears that David has gotten away with adultery. A short time later Bathsheba sends a message that will change his life forever: “I am pregnant.”
That’s impossible. How could it be? They were together only one time. One can only imagine the look on David’s face when he hears the news.
Two Crucial Observations
The rest of the story is well-known. David is nothing if not resourceful. His first plan is to lure Uriah into sleeping with Bathsheba so that he will think that he is the father. When that doesn’t work, he orders Uriah sent into battle and the soldiers around him withdrawn, leading to his certain death. Once Uriah is dead, David is free to marry Bathsheba, thus making everything “legal.”
For awhile his plan works. As you read through II Samuel 11 you can only admire David’s tenacity in attempt-ing to cover up his sin. On the other hand, you can only pity the twisted logic.
At the very end of II Samuel 11, we read these words: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”
—First there was lust.
—Then there was adultery.
—Then there was deceit.
—Then there was murder.
—Then there was a deceitful marriage.
In the end, David didn’t get away with anything. His sin found him out.
That leads me to make two crucial observations:
1. David’s cover-up failed miserably.
2. The punishment far outweighed the pleasure of adultery.
There is more to the story but let us draw this obvious point. David never said to himself, “I think I’m going to commit adultery today.” It didn’t happen that way. In fact, if you had suggested to David at 2 P.M. that he would commit adultery at 8 P.M. he would either have laughed at such a foolish thought or he would have had you thrown in jail for slandering his reputation.
But it happened!
Consider how many of the Ten Commandments he broke by his lust:
He coveted another man’s wife—breaking the Tenth Commandment.
He stole Bathsheba from Uriah—breaking the Eighth Commandment.
He committed adultery—breaking the Seventh Commandment.
He bore false witness against Uriah—breaking the Ninth Commandment.
He had Uriah murdered on the battlefield—breaking the Sixth Commandment.
He dishonered his parents by his adultery—breaking the Fifth Commandment.
He dishonored God by his adultery—thus breaking Commandments One-Four.
In his rush to sin, David managed to overtly and covertly break all Ten Commandments!
Love in the Ruins
Lust is the worst of all the sins in that it promises you everything … but delivers nothing at all. I remind you that in Dante’s Inferno the lustful are seen in hell blown about by the strong winds of passion and desire. What a picture! The more you lust … the less satisfying it becomes.
It seems harmless to take a second look … or to luxuriate in a Forbidden Thought. Or to buy a certain poster or to listen to a certain album or to dress in a seductive way. But it is never enough. Lust never satisfies. It promises more than it can ever deliver. You always come back for more.
Lust is love in the ruins. It leads only to endless vagrancy … a cheap motel room … a seedy theater … an airport newsstand … a late-night television show … a rock concert … a furtive glance out the window … a shady cocktail lounge … the back seat of a car.
In a sense lust is like gluttony and greed. The greedy man is obsessed by his money. The glutton is possessed by his appetite. The lustful man is obsessed by sex. It controls him … masters him. It is his God.
II. Four Decisions That Lead to Life
In light of this sad story, only one question remains: How shall we free ourselves from this gripping sin—the beast in the loins?
I offer the following four decisions that every believer needs to make.
A. I Must Purposely Avoid Lust-Producing Situations.
This is an extremely personal matter. Each one must know his own limits. And each of us is different. What produces lust in my life may bore you. What makes you think impure thoughts may put me to sleep. That’s why it’s hard to draw absolute limits. But there is a line you must not cross. Make sure you know where that line is for you … and then make sure you don’t cross it!
—That means there are some TV shows I must not watch.
—There are some radio stations I must not listen to.
—In my entertainment, I must not go to places where the only purpose is to excite me sexually.
—There are some books I simply should not read. It matters not if everyone else is reading those books. If that book produces lust in my life, I must not read it.
Beyond that, in my daily life, I must be conscious of my own conversations. I must be aware of where I am and what I am doing and to whom I am speaking.
—To be more specific, there are some relationships that will do me no good.
—There are some smiles I simply must not return.
—There are times when I must choose to appear unfriendly—not because I dislike a person but because I know I am beginning to cross the line.
—For our young people, this means there are some parties you should not attend, some dates you should not accept, some music you should choose not to listen to, some movies that you should not watch.
This is very personal! And it is also very profound. Know yourself! Know your limits! Don’t cross the line!
B. I Must Purposely Avoid Provoking Lust in Other People.
This is another very sensitive area. Sometimes we Christians act as if freedom in Christ means we no longer need to worry about how other people think or feel.
Let me be blunt about this:
—There are some sisters who don’t help the brothers by the way they dress. Some Christian women seem to delight in dressing as seductively as possible—and then acting surprised when someone has a problem with it.
—There are some brothers who don’t help the sisters by the way they dress. In our visually-oriented society, it’s so easy to mislead by the way we wear our clothes or by the way we carry ourselves. Sometimes we men send out mixed messages about our intentions.
Now I know that some people just seem to have impure minds and will misconstrue anything you say or do to somehow come up with a sexual implication. Some people are so sex-saturated that that’s all they think about. (Even some church people fall into this category.) The best thing you can do is avoid them altogether.
—This certainly touches the way we dress.
—It also covers our language and our casual physical contact.
—It includes our facial language—the smile, the glance, the wink, the knowing look.
Do you know what the Bible says the sin of defrauding is? Defrauding occurs when you create a desire in someone else that cannot be righteously fulfilled. It happens when casual conversation turns the corner into flirtation. You “feel” it, you know it when it happens, you have crossed the line into forbidden territory.
This is so important for our young people to grasp. Sometimes girls can lead boys on and create thoughts and desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled. But boys can do the same thing with their girl friends. Sometimes it only takes a word or a glance or a furtive smile.
Don’t lead other people on! Don’t be a tease! Don’t be a flirt! Even if “nothing” happens, you have defrauded the other person.
C. I Must Purposely Choose Purity.
Over the years I have come to view one thing above everything else as the mark of personal purity. It is the blush. Some of us lost the ability to blush long ago. We’ve become so immune to immorality that nothing shocks us anymore. We’ve seen it all, heard it all, experienced it all.
To me, there is nothing more beautiful in a Christian gal or more handsome in a Christian guy than the ability to blush. It sends a message: “I have chosen innocence over the knowledge of sin.”
The decision to choose purity must be:
Made in advance
Based on a daily walk with God
Grounded in a life of healthy activity
So many people think Christianity is prudish. Far from it. Christianity is not prudish, but it is modest and clean. This week I ran across a striking sentence: “The way to clean out a stable is not with a shovel but with the Mississippi River.” Nothing will clean out the corners of your life like a commitment to a life filled with wholesome activity. When the “Dos” outweigh the “Don’ts,” then you will begin to experience the joy of purity and the thrill of victory.
But you must make the choice! Not just once … but every single day … and often you must make the choice many times a day.
D. I Must Come Clean with My Christian Brothers and Sisters About My Personal Struggles.
A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have included this point. Now I see it as perhaps the most important point of all. Lust is such a tricky matter that you will never win the victory on your own. Let me say that again: You will never win the victory over lust simply by praying by yourself.
God never intended you to fight this battle alone!
He gave you brothers and sisters so you could come clean about your struggles. Please note: I’m not recom-mending that you share your struggles with everyone. That’s foolish and dangerous. By the same token, I don’t think you should struggle alone.
Find a friend or a small group of friends and ask them to hold you accountable. Tell them you want them to ask you hard questions. Tell them not to let you off easily. Ask them to be tough enough so that you can’t get by with sin.
I’ve done that. In fact, I’ve got a friend who regularly asks me some very hard questions. The fact that I know he will hold me accountable helps keep me on the straight and narrow.
The worst thing about lust is that it makes you live in the shadows. You hide your sin because you are ashamed to admit the truth. But when you dare to come clean with some trusted friends, suddenly the light streams in and the sun begins to shine again.
What Does It All Mean?
What does it all mean and where do we go from here?
If you are single, it means choosing to obey God rather than following the temptations of the world. It means choosing to be pure in a world that urges you to live it up. It means choosing holiness in a world that urges you to “go for the gusto.” It isn’t easy being single today. The world is certainly not going to encourage faithfulness to God. But it is possible, and the choice is worth making. If this is any consolation, meditate on the fact that the Founder of the Christian faith was himself a single person.
If you are married, it means paying the price of faithfulness over the long haul. It means turning away from some trips and some relationships that lead down the wrong path. It means cultivating your love life over the years. It means saying “No” to some things so you can say “Yes” to that which is a million times better.
Finally, let me say something about what all this means to me personally. My goal is to be pure and clean and faithful to my wife to the end of my days. I want to focus my thoughts and dreams on her … and on no one else. I want to live so that when I die I will be able to say that I have known one woman… and known her fully… and she has known me fully. In the depth of my heart I want to be faithful to her in body and soul and spirit. I want us to be so close together, so committed so that no one could be closer than we were. To that end I intend to be faithful to my wife.
It has always been true that the best defense against adultery is a happy marriage. To our young people I say… that is worth waiting for. To those who are married … it is worth working for.
To Those Who Feel Unclean
I am keenly aware that my words may be difficult for some to read. Perhaps you already feel unclean and impure. Perhaps you have already learned through bitter experience that lust promises everything but delivers nothing.
—You may feel guilty about something that happened years ago.
—Or it may have happened this week.
—Or it may have happened last night.
Maybe the memories pour in from the past, rising up to condemn you: “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!”
—Were you tempted this week, and did you give in?
—Do you feel trapped by your own sin?
That’s not bad. It’s good. Only the guilty can ever find forgiveness!
Only the one who admits his hands are dirty ever goes to the sink to wash the grime away.
If you feel unclean, there’s a story in the Bible just for you. The story of King David. After his cover-up was exposed, David at last came to his senses.
—Could God forgive an adulterer?
Can the stain be removed, the memories healed, is there anything that can wash away the Scarlet Sin? Can the tormented soul find relief?
Read Psalm 51. It’s the story of David’s confession and prayer for forgiveness. What he prayed is the answer for all those who feel unclean. He said, “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Those who are unclean need not despair. Turn to Jesus and cry out for mercy. When you take the dirt and filth of your life and hand it over to him, he will wash you whiter than snow.
Don’t delay and don’t despair. Jesus is waiting to wash you clean from the inside out.
All you have to do is ask.