The Sixth Commandment: From the Pastor’s Desk (July 2022)

This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:

The Sixth Commandment

Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter.  This month we continue by examining the Sixth Commandment.  I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.

The Sixth Commandment

You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed,

and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.

Luther concludes writing in his Large Catechism about the Sixth Commandment by stating:

 ‘Let it be said in conclusion that this commandment requires all people not only to live chastely in deed, word, and thought in their particular situation (that is, especially in marriage as a walk of life), but also to love and cherish the spouse whom God has given them.  Wherever marital chastity is to be maintained, above all it is essential that husband and wife live together in love and harmony, cherishing each other wholeheartedly and with perfect fidelity.  This is one of the chief ways to make chastity attractive and desirable.  Under such conditions chastity always follows spontaneously without any command.  This is why St. Paul so urgently admonishes married couple to love and honor each other.  Here again you have a precious good work—indeed, many great works—in which you can happily boast over against all ‘spiritual walks of life’ that are chosen without God’s Word and commandment.’ (The Book of Concord, p. 415-416)

Luther sees this commandment as an extension of how we love neighbor—in this case our closest and dearest neighbor (our spouse).  We should love them in thought, word and deed so that we may not dishonor them or lead to a tearing apart of the promise that they made before God to live as husband and wife.  In many ways this echoes Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-30); where Jesus says that it we look at another with lust we have already committed adultery in our heart.  Keeping this commandment is not just about the physical act of adultery but also goes to how we cherish our spouse wholeheartedly.

While Luther focuses upon the relationship between spouses, I think that when we think and teach about this commandment we need to broaden it out even more.  When I teach on this commandment in confirmation, my focus is upon the proper place of sexuality.  At times, we do not want to talk about sex within the church which can give off the message that sex is bad.  This couldn’t be any further from the truth.  The reality is that sex is good and that God is the one who created this intimate act between people to create a bond and bring people together (as it is said often in marriage liturgies—that the two become one). 

God created sex to be enjoyed by humanity, however God gives us the proper context for this intimate expression and that context is within marriage.  When outside of this context, it can lead to hurt and pain and unexpected consequences.  I think that we need to teach more about this commandment because our world is filled with sexual images.  Just watch the ads on TV, or surf the internet for a while.  Sex is used over and over again to get us to click on a story or a website.  Ads use sex to sell everything from perfume and cars to hamburgers.

Instead of seeing this commandment as another ‘thou shall not,’ the sixth commandment helps us to see sexuality as a gift from God with the prohibition of adultery helping to define where and when it is appropriate to explore this gift from God.  When done within the context of marriage (a committed relationship) it is a marvelous gift that deepens and enriches the relationship.  When sexuality is exploited and goes beyond the intended place of sexuality it more often than not leads to relationships ending as well as causing emotional hurt and pain.

God gives all the commandments not to deprive people of fun, but to help us to understand His desire for our lives.  When we see these commandments as much more than a list of don’t; the truth is that following these commandments ends up freeing us to live an abundant life in God.