Keeping Your Vows

Exodus 20:14

August 5, 2012 | Brian Bill

Note: The subject matter this morning deals with sexual purity.  I will be careful with my words but I want parents to be aware that this message may lead to some good conversations with your children…if they…and you are ready for it.  If you sense that your child is not ready for this, you may want to have them go upstairs now.

I want to begin by asking you to imagine that I’m an older man (not hard to do) giving some counsel to my sons and daughters.  My name is Solomon.  The content that I’m going to share comes right out of the Book of Proverbs, chapters 4 through 9.

Listen, my children to what I’m about to say.  Pay attention and don’t forsake my teaching.  My dad taught me some of this same stuff.  He kept telling me that doing what God commands leads to life and I want to pass the same on to you.

Whatever you do, get wisdom and then guard it when you get it.  Don’t turn away from what you know to be true, like so many do when they get older.  You see, there are two paths you can take.  One is the path of wisdom and the other is the path of the wicked.  Be attentive and avoid wrong choices.  The only way to do that is to “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Keep your heart tender before God, my children and choose faith, not folly.  Keep an eye on things because it’s a slow fade.

You will be tempted in this world.  The allure of illicit sex is everywhere.  What may seem to be sweeter than honey will turn out to be more bitter than taking a bite out of rotten wood.  Set up some boundaries or you will end up giving your heart away…and then your body will want to go all the way.  Wait for marriage or you will become ensnared and held fast by the cords of your sin.  My son, do no lust in your heart after a young woman.  My daughter, don’t get swept off your feet by empty promises meant to entice you.  Can you scoop up fire onto your lap and not be burned?  Can you walk on hot coals without scorching your feet?

Let me tell you what I saw one time when I looked outside.  I saw a young man headed to where he should not have been going.  In the dark of the night a woman dressed skimpily came out to meet him.  She grabbed him and gave him a kiss and told him to come to her house because she had been looking just for him.  She had a full refrigerator and an empty bed, promising the man that her husband was gone on a long business trip.  Do you know what he did?

Let me quote from what I wrote: “All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.  Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say.  Do not let your heart turn to her ways…her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.” (Proverbs 7:22-27)

Children, you may think you can get away with it, that somehow “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” but that leads only to danger and even death.  Guard your heart, my sons and daughters.

I want to say right up front that this is a tough sermon to preach.  While it was difficult to prepare, the biggest challenge is that most people think that Commandment #7 is too old-fashioned or irrelevant today.  Here it is, stated in simple yet strong words: “Do not commit adultery.”  

There’s an adultery epidemic in our culture, and in the church

Let’s be honest: There’s an adultery epidemic in our culture, and in the church.  According to a Reader’s Digest survey, 50% of all husbands and 35% of wives have broken their marriage vows.  Another study reported that up to 60% cheat on their spouses over the course of marriage.  Just this week, a well-known pastor from Indiana was fired for an immorally inappropriate relationship.

Accurate stats are difficult to find because most people don’t tell the truth about this part of their lives.  Many teens, including Christian kids, throw their faith away just to have physical intimacy.  Casual or recreational sex is on the rise as the phrase “friends with benefits” defines and describes many relationships today.

How many of you are watching the Olympic Games?  Are you aware that Olympic Officials have distributed 150,000 free condoms to the athletes?  Are you ready for this?  There are about 11,000 athletes in London for the games.  I’ll let you do the math.  Some say that this is a preventative against disease and pregnancy; I say that it promotes immorality.  What say you?

The pain and agony that comes from infidelity has rocked many of you.  Maybe you’ve had a parent or other relative let you down, or your spouse committed adultery or a sibling or maybe even a child.  Others of you have been sexually abused.  Some of you feel so addicted to immorality that you don’t think there’s any way out.  A number of you are so gutted by guilt and shame that you’ve lost all spiritual vitality.  I pray that God will minister His healing to you and restore your hope through His Word today

Let’s review the Commandments we’ve been learning in consecutive order.   Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says that these commands are to be inscribed on our hearts so that we can impress them upon our children.  

1: Hold up one pointer finger – point to the sky (one God; no other gods)

2: Hold up two pointer fingers – have one bow before the other (no idols)

3: Hold up three fingers – place over mouth (don’t take God’s name in vain)

4: Hold up four fingers – place on cheek as if to nap (Sabbath rest)

5: Hold up five fingers – place hand over heart (honor parents)

6: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun”  and aim at the other hand (don’t murder)

7: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer and middle finger on the other – intertwine them by putting the middle one over the pointer to show that they are bonded together (no adultery)

8: Hold up four fingers on one hand and four on the other – using one hand grab the other four fingers (no stealing)

9: Hold up four fingers on one hand and five on the other – move the four up and down as they face the five to show that they are lying or bearing false witness about others (no lying)

10: Hold up five fingers on each hand – pull fingers toward you (no coveting)

Since we’ve been watching the Olympics, we’ve become used to “Spoiler Alerts.”  At the risk of telling you too much, I think it’s good for you to know where we’re headed… 

  • The principle behind the command
  • The prohibitions of the command
  • The prescriptions to help us keep the command
  • The pathway back to purity

1. The principle behind the command. 

Last week we established that the principle behind the sixth commandment against murder is this: Because people matter to God, they must matter to us.  The standard behind the seventh command is that marital faithfulness is the building block of society.  Faithfulness to the covenant of marriage is the foundation of the family.  The New Testament teaches that marriage mirrors the relationship Christ has with the church.  The main point I want us to get today is this: The practice of purity protects marriage.

Let’s go back to the beginning to see how God set everything up.  Turn to Genesis 2:18-25: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.’…But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.  The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

To help us remember the essence of marriage I think of three words…

  • Leave 
  • Cleave
  • Weave

Marriage is designed by God to be a permanent bond.  God’s standard is this: One man with one woman pledged in a public covenant-commitment to live together as husband and wife for life.  The Bible is filled with Scriptures that hold up the value of monogamous marriage and the importance of keeping our vows.  Here’s just one verse from the New Testament found in Hebrews 13:5: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”  The keeping of the seventh commandment guards the integrity of every marriage.

2. The prohibitions of the command. 

God has the right to decide and define the parameters of our sexual activity.  Let’s look now at what this command prohibits.

  • Adultery.  Technically, adultery is a sexual relationship between a married individual with someone other than their spouse.  The word “adulterate” means to make impure by adding extraneous, improper, or inferior ingredients.  I think of two words: Add and alter.  When you add someone or something else to marriage you alter it for ill.
  • Fornication.  The heart of this command applies to other sins that are related to it.  Fornication is any sexual expression outside the bonds of the marital relationship, including premarital sex.  From the biblical standpoint all sex outside the bounds of marriage is disloyalty to God and to your future marriage partner.
  • Lust.  Let’s go to what Jesus said about this command.  Last week we learned that He expanded the command to not murder to include our angry thoughts and venomous verbs.  In a similar way, he applies the seventh command to not commit adultery in ways that make us all squirm in Matthew 5:27-28: “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.”

One pastor writes: “Adultery is the fruit of which lust is the root…You may remain outwardly faithful to your spouse while inwardly lusting after someone else…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.”

  • Pornography.  I won’t go through all the stats again but I do want to say that 25% of all web searches are for pornography.  The revenues of the porn industry in the U.S. are bigger than the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball combined.  
  • Homosexuality.  The practice of homosexuality is a sin.  There’s no way around that if you are someone who believes the Scriptures.  

Friend, you will swim against the cultural current if you come out in favor of God’s design for marriage.  Just ask Dan Cathay from Chick-fil-A who said this recently: “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.  We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.  We give God thanks for that…we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

There’s been a lot of clucking going on ever since…I watched a news report out of Chicago on Wednesday and they referred to Cathay as “anti-gay” several times and ended up interviewing those who have a different view.  Can I just say that to be pro-family and pro-marriage does not make one an anti-gay bigot?  As Christians we must not equivocate – the Bible is clear in its definition of marriage.  We must not only define it the same way but also defend it.  Homosexuals matter to God and they must matter to us as well.  Having said that, we are mandated to communicate what the Bible says about marriage and homosexuality.  

3. The prescriptions to help us keep the command. 

Let’s take the prohibitions seriously but let’s make sure we’re also following God’s prescriptions.  Listen.  If you’re not serious about pursuing purity, you won’t be pure.  If you don’t put up boundaries, chances are good that you will break your vows.  Unless we are radical in our approach and vigilant in our commitment, we will become one of the sexual statistics.  

Did you hear this week about the four Olympic badminton teams who were disqualified for trying to lose their matches?  Apparently, they wanted to be defeated so that they could have a better chance of winning in the future.  Friends, some of you are playing to lose.  

Jesus used some very powerful words to shake us out of our unguarded approach to purity.  Check out Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, 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 sin, 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.”

Sin is so serious that we must take any measure required.  Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point.  Our eyes are the gateway to visual images that can lead to immorality.  Our hands do the touching that can lead to the breaking of this command.  One pastor writes: “When we are willing to do whatever it takes to avoid a sin, we will likely take the steps necessary to avoid it.”  Some of you are experiencing a slow fade that can lead to disastrous results.  Listen up as we go through these.

Be faithful to your spouse before and after you marry

Incidentally, all this applies to singles as well. Be faithful to your spouse before and after you marry.  I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: Sin will take you further than you were planning to go and keep you longer than you were planning to stay.  I wrote down 11 prescriptions.

  • Guard what you put in your mind and heart.  We live in an over-sexualized society that seems obsessed with the topic.  I read this week that 90% of all sexual encounters in the media are between unmarried people.  Before the average American turns 18, he or she has witnessed more than 70,000 images of sexual situations (Lee Strobel).  Related to this, and I’ve mentioned this before, keep away from the trilogy of books called, “Shades of Grey,” or as secular writers call it, “Mommy Porn.”  Forbes reports that Damson Dene Hotel in England has made the bold decision to replace the Gideon Bible in each room with this book.  The Innkeeper explained that the world is a more secular place and no one reads the Bible anymore.
  • Memorize ScripturePsalm 119:9, 11: “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
  • Avoid spiritual mismatches.  I see a lot of Christians compromise their values and morals when they settle for dating or marrying someone who is not a Christ-follower.  2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
  • Refrain from provocative behavior.  This includes flirting, how you dress and inappropriate touch.
  • Make a covenant with your eyes.  Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”  If you don’t have a web-blocker on your computer, you need to get one.
  • Be careful about emotional affairsIf you feel that your feelings are starting to transfer to someone other than your spouse, stop spending time with that person immediately.  Martin Luther said, “I cannot keep a bird from flying over my head.  But I can certainly keep it from nesting in my hair or from biting my nose off.”
  • Magnify the consequencesImagine what will happen when you have to tell your spouse about your sexual sin.  How will your daughter look at you?  What will your son have to model?  Proverbs 6:26 says that sexual sin will “reduce you to a crust of bread.”  Satan never shows you the consequences or the humiliation – only the thrill and the excitement.
  • Maintain your marriage responsibilities1 Corinthians 7:3: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.”  Remember that your marriage is designed to give glory to God, for you to grow in holiness (not necessarily happiness) and you are designed to minister together.  It’s less about you and much more about God.
  • Find an accountability partner.  Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  I meet with another guy on a regular basis.  We just met two days ago and asked each other some tough questions.
  • Avoid temptation.  1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”   Randy Alcorn in his book, “The Purity Principle,” says that we keep pushing the boundaries and yet we pray that God takes the temptation away: “We make small incremental immoral choices that inch us closer and closer to moral catastrophes… purity is always smart; impurity is always stupid.” Let me illustrate by pushing this book closer and closer to the edge of this chair.
  • Run from sexual immorality.  1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”   

I want to amplify the importance of this last one by having us briefly consider Joseph.  He was sold by his brothers and got a really bad deal.  He ends up with a great job with a lot of power in the government of Egypt.   But then the wife of his boss starts putting the moves on Joseph and said to him day after day: “Come to bed with me!”  Not just once but every day.  He could have compromised by thinking that no one would ever know.  Instead he answered her in Genesis 39:9: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”  He held strong because the next verse says he “refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.”  He paid the price for his integrity but he didn’t sell out sexually.  He stood firmly on the fidelity of marriage and ran from temptation.

David on the other hand, ran toward temptation when he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  He had stopped serving, sacrificing and giving and was home doing nothing when he glanced and then gazed and then gawked at a woman who was taking a bath.  His lust led him to commit adultery and then he lied and then he committed murder by having her husband killed.  We read in 2 Samuel 11:27: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”  One night of passion sparked years of family pain – a son died, there was rape and incest in his family, the kingdom was divided, another son rebelled, committing immorality with his dad’s wives.

We’ve looked at the principle behind the command, the prohibitions, as well as some practical prescriptions.  Let’s look now at the pathway back to purity.

4. The pathway back to purity. 

God’s will is wrapped up in our purity.  Our sanctification is linked to controlling our sexual impulses.  1 Thessalonians 4:3-5: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.”

God used a prophet to get David back on track spiritually.  Let’s look at a few verses from Psalm 32, a song David wrote to describe how his sin had decimated him.  Check out the very first word of Psalm 32: “blessed.”  This has a very rich meaning.  We could say, “How happy!” or “Congratulations to.” 

David provides a threefold description of sin in these first two verses.  Charles Spurgeon calls this the three-headed dog barking at the gates of hell.  “Transgression” depicts a defiant disobedience toward God, a revolt against the Almighty.  “Sin” means to miss the mark of God’s perfection either through acts of commission or omission.  The word translated “sin” in verse 2 is actually the word “iniquity,” which represents a crookedness, deformity, or perversion.  The image is of a tree that is gnarled and twisted.  

David also uses a triad of words to express the fullness of our forgiveness.  The word “forgiven” means, “to lift a heavy burden and carry it away.”  The word “covered” refers to that which is concealed.  What is offensive to God is put out of sight.  The idea is that our sins are so covered that they will never appear again.  

The third phrase, “not count against” is rich in meaning.  We get the words “reckon” or “impute” from this term.  This is the same word used in Genesis 15:6, where God “reckoned” righteousness to Abraham.  God does not count our sins against us and in their place he has imputed the righteousness of another.  

Look at verse 3: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” David is reflecting upon those times when he chose to keep quiet about his sins.  When he tried to ignore his iniquities his bones felt like they were decaying.  The word “groaning” was used to describe the roar of a wounded animal, or the growl of a bear in Isaiah 59:11.  David tells us that his groaning went on all day long, or continuously, without intermission.  

The secret you want most to conceal is the one you most need to reveal.  Friend, what have you been concealing?  What is it that you’ve been hiding?  It’s time to come clean.

Verse 4 continues, “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.”  Even at night David could not rest from the cries of his conscience and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  The word “heavy” means, “to grievously afflict.”  God’s hand can bring blessings but can also bear down on us.  It’s because He cares so much for us.  He loves us just the way we are but loves us too much to let us keep living the way we are.  As Hebrews 12:10 says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”  

Verse 5 gives us the right approach.  When David could find relief in no other way, he said, “Then, I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ — and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  Instead of concealing, David is now confessing.  He first acknowledged his sin by stating the obvious.  Then he stopped trying to cover it up.  By the way, we can’t expect God to cover what we’re not willing to uncover.  

Notice that he takes personal responsibility by the use of personal pronouns – my sin, my iniquity, my transgressions.  Notice that he doesn’t deny, minimize, or blame someone else.  He simply calls his sin, “sin.”  It’s not an error, a mistake, or a lapse in judgment.  He doesn’t argue about what the meaning of “is” is.  The greatest holdout to the healing of my hang-ups is me.

Some of you are experiencing a slow fade right now.  You’re not burning as brightly for the Lord as you once did.  You’re starting to compromise.  It’s time to come clean. 

We don’t have to beg God to forgive us because He wants to forgive more than we want to be forgiven.  We don’t have to bargain with Him and we don’t have to bribe Him by promising to do a bunch of good things, and we don’t have to do penance for the bad things we’ve done.  

We don’t have to stay how we once were.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

It’s not so much what Jesus wants from you (rule-keeping) but what He wants for you.  Guard your heart, my sons and daughters.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?