Words of Love: Hold Your Marriage Sacred (Horizons 6)

Love Carved in Stone:A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments
Lesson 6:
 EXODUS 20:14; GENESIS 2:18-25; JOHN 8:1-11

Many years ago, a large group of us gathered at a church to watch the black and white movie, “It Happened One Night,” on a large screen. It starred Clark Gable as a reporter looking for a story, and Claudette Colbert as a runaway heiress. The characters were well developed and there was not a risqué moment in the film. There was almost a kiss, but the couple’s moment was interrupted. In disappointment, the audience said, “Aw.”

Today, we would be hard pressed to find a television show or movie as innocent as the film we viewed. Instead we are exposed to dating couples who move from a passionate kiss to intercourse almost immediately. Sex is portrayed as casual and adultery as common. In actuality, infidelity is common to about 20% of Americans. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reported: “National surveys indicate that 15 percent of married women and 25 percent of married men have had extramarital affairs.” If we used Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5: 27-28 that those who lust in their hearts commit adultery, the percentages would be much, much higher.

Eugenia Gamble states that adultery is never just a personal matter and it is not just about sexuality infidelity. Adultery hurts many more people than the spouses involved. Something precious is ripped apart in the lives of the children, parents, grandparents, friends and the church community. Gamble says that the commandment against adultery was “about making sure that no selfish, self-serving or other disregarding behavior was allowed to threaten the fabric, stability and longevity of the community.”

In one church that I served, several couples ended up in divorce because of the adultery of the wife or husband, some of whom were church officers. Gossip and judgments erupted with people taking sides. We felt deep sorrow for the adults, their children and extended families. Some people felt betrayed. One family left the church because they were so disillusioned.

In another church, the former pastor had had an affair with the wife of an elder. The pastor’s infidelity to his wife and his ordination vows violated the congregation’s trust. It made my work as the next pastor much more difficult.

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, the seventh commandment requires that we preserve our own and our neighbor’s chastity in “body, mind, affections, words and behavior.”

We are to think and act in ways that promote healthy relationships that respect women and men and honor the boundaries of marriage. Sadly, we are all too aware of those who demean, threaten, intimidate or force women to meet their sexual demands. Since 2017, several prominent men have been accused and convicted of multiple instances of sexual harassment, coerced sexual activity and rape of women and girls.

For centuries, marriage was understood as an alliance between families and an economic arrangement with the wife becoming a man’s property. Love was not required. Therefore, it is amazing that in Genesis 2:18-25 there is a lovely description of who Eve and Adam are to each other. Adam cries out with joy that at last God has created a fitting partner who is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” denotes someone who is equal in status and Adam’s joy frames a picture of delight in his partner. I had an older female professor who talked about this portion of Genesis 2. She said that when she did marry, she would be at the front of the church and when her husband came in, she would cry out with gusto, “Here he comes, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” She did marry and this petite, well-dressed woman was seen about town riding a motorcycle with her husband, laughing. She had found a partner who brought joy to her.

Ideally marriage is to be a stable relationship in which we and our children can safely flourish, grow and experience gladness in one another and in God.

rosalind-banburyROSALIND BANBURY lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is a pastor in the Presbytery of the James.