History records that George Washington, our first American President, was passionately attracted to Mrs. Sally Fairfax. Most historians believe that they maintained a proper relationship and were never guilty of adultery.

In Genesis 39:6-12 we find that Potiphar's wife was sexually attracted to Joseph and attempted to entice him to sin.

Today's sermon is based on a recent discussion with my wife.

The subject is very personal -- we don't ever talk about these things.
It is sort of a well kept secret between the sexes.

We have had a few sermons by Vernon not too long ago about divorce.
You probably think there is nothing new to tell. You have heard it all.

There are only two reasons that I know of that marriages end in divorce:

  1. "I can't stand to live the rest of my life in the same bed with my spouse."
  2. "I can't stand to live the rest of my life without someone else in my bed."

There are lots of books in the religious and secular world that deal with improving marriage relationships. Indeed, the Church has spent much time dealing with how to make your marriage happier.

The sermons I preached on strengthening your family also relate to the first issue of feeling that it would be unbearable and humanly impossible to live the rest of one's life with the spouse that one is "stuck with."

The Church has all but ignored the second reason for divorce. "I can't stand to live the rest of my life without someone else." How do we deal with this? Ignoring it is not the answer.

While in medical school and residency I worked with many people who were sure they needed to leave their current spouse for someone they found more attractive at the moment.
This is a problem for physicians as well as patients. I'm sure we all know someone who has been tempted by this problem.

The Bible is not silent on the second issue. This morning let us examine the scriptures to help us have a complete understanding.

More is found in the Old Testament on this subject than in the New. The principles are unchanged over the centuries. There was little need to repeat God's advice on this subject for the New Testament.

Ecclesiastes 9:9, "Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life which he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun."

Romans 7:2-3, "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man."

Malachi 2:13-16 teaches that God is very displeased with the man who deals treacherously with his companion and "wife by covenant" because God made them "one."

Romans 1:31-32 indicates in the King James Version that covenant breakers deserve to die.

Of course we cannot forget the 7th commandment found in Exodus 20:14 -- "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

I have said all these things for review of what is usually said about divorce. Now let us discuss things too often left unsaid.

Many Christians come across with the attitude that, if one is a Christian, there will be no chance of my second reason for divorce ever occuring. ("I can't stand to live the rest of my life without someone else in my bed.") This is nonsense. It is wrong that we have been led to believe this. What does the Bible really say?

Matthew 5:27-28, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

This is a verse that most of us can quote from heart because it has been thrown at us so many times. Does it really say what we have been led to believe it does? What does "lust" in this verse really mean? I will give you the answer in a little while.

By the way, this verse is meant to apply to men and women. Though I believe it is more a problem of men, women also can be guilty of this sin.

James 1:14, "But each one is TEMPTED when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."

Where is the promise that after marriage we will magically not be attracted to the opposite sex?

We learn in I Corinthians 7:2 that there is a temptation to sexual immorality

Let me mention here that the current term "new morality" in use in America is nothing more than a different name for the old immorality.

We can be tempted to adultery.
The temptation is not the sin.
"Lust," as used in Matthew 5:28, does not refer to the temptation.

Now let me shock you with the obvious conclusion I can not avoid from Hebrews 4:15 which says, "For we have not a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."

I can only conclude that even Jesus Christ was tempted to sexual immorality just as are we. But sin only comes with lust and adultery.

Well, let's start talking about how we can avoid "lust" and adultery. How can we protect our Christian marriages from breaking up over the temptation to immorality?

I Corinthians 7:1-5
It is the responsibility of each spouse to provide sexual fulfillment to their mate. (Conjugal rights.) This does not prevent the temptation of immorality for every marriage, but it certainly helps the self-control.

Proverbs 5:15, "Drink water from your own cistern, And running water from your own well."

Proverbs 5:18-19, "Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love."

There are many stories in the Old Testament about sexual immorality.

In the book of Genesis alone we can find the stories of Lot & his daughters (chapter 19), Shechem & Dinah (chapter 34), Judah & Tamar (chapter 38), and Joseph & Potiphar's wife (chapter 39).

One of the best known stories of adultery is that of David and Bathsheba, recorded for us in II Samuel 11:2-3:

Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king's house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?"

The Bible is clear that this episode and its consequences make up the worst sin in King David's life.

David and Bathsheba were the ancestors of Jesus Christ.
If Christ's ancestors had such problems, are we so naive to believe that His children cannot?

By God's design, men are attracted to women and women are attracted to men.

If Jesus Christ was 100% man, then He, by design, had to be attracted to women.

There is no SIN in being attracted, even after marriage. Attraction is merely the temptation.

Obviously, adultery is sin.
"Lust" as used by Christ in Matthew 5:28 is also sin.

In spite of what many of us have been taught about Matthew 5:28 since we were teenagers, we can be attracted to the opposite sex without committing sin.

The word translated "lust" is the Greek word "epithumeo." It appears only four times in the New Testament. Only in Matthew 5:28 is it used specifically in the context of sexual desire. [The other three are in I Corinthians 10:6, Galatians 5:17, James 4:2.]

In Greek, "epithumeo" means "to desire greatly."

To desire only a tiny bit, as occurs with "attraction," is not lust.

Even my Webster's dictionary defines lust as "usually meaning an intense sexual desire or craving."

Let's talk more about how to avoid this sin. How do we avoid lust? We can find much practical information in Proverbs. Though this is written from a father to a son, it applies equally to women and how they, too, can avoid sexual immorality.

Proverbs 2:1, 16-19

My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, ... To deliver you from the immoral woman, From the seductress who flatters with her words, Who forsakes the companion of her youth, And forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, And her paths to the dead; None who go to her return, Nor do they regain the paths of life;
[Also read changing the gender.]
My daughter, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, ... To deliver you from the immoral man, From the seducer who flatters with his words, Who forsakes the companion of his youth, And forgets the covenant of his God. For his house leads down to death, And his paths to the dead; None who go to him return, Nor do they regain the paths of life;

Proverbs 5:1-8, 20-23

My son, pay attention to my wisdom; Lend your ear to my understanding, That you may preserve discretion, And your lips may keep knowledge. For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, And her mouth is smoother than oil; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, Her steps lay hold of hell. Lest you ponder her path of life; Her ways are unstable; You do not know them. Therefore hear me now, my children, And do not depart from the words of my mouth. Remove your way far from her, And do not go near the door of her house, ... For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, And be embraced in the arms of a seductress? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, And He ponders all his paths. His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, And he is caught in the cords of his sin. He shall die for lack of instruction, And in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.

Proverbs 6:23-33

For the commandment is a lamp, And the law a light; Reproofs of instruction are the way of life, To keep you from the evil woman, From the flattering tongue of a seductress. Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, Nor let her allure you with her eyelids. For by means of a harlot A man is reduced to a crust of bread; And an adulteress will prey upon his precious life. Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; Whoever touches her shall not be innocent. People do not despise a thief If he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; He may have to give up all the substance of his house. Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away.

Proverbs 7:6-27

For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, And saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, A young man devoid of understanding, Passing along the street near her corner; And he took the path to her house In the twilight, in the evening, In the black and dark night. And there a woman met him, With the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, Her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, Lurking at every corner. So she caught him and kissed him; With an impudent face she said to him: "I have peace offerings with me; Today I have paid my vows. So I came out to meet you, Diligently to seek your face, And I have found you. I have spread my bed with tapestry, Colored coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; Let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; He has gone on a long journey; He has taken a bag of money with him, And will come home on the appointed day." With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, With her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, Till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, He did not know it would cost his life. Now therefore, listen to me, my children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths; For she has cast down many wounded, And all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death.

A fleeting sinful thought is not sin.

Lust is intense desire. It is mentally dwelling on sexual fantasies.

Time given to preoccupation with

where can we meet?
how can I attract attention? and
daydreaming about what we will do
can be perfectly innocent before getting married.

However, the same thoughts after marriage about someone other than your spouse cannot be innocent, because they invariably lead to sinful lust.

Speaking to those who are married --
When you are attracted to someone other than your wife or husband (and you will be):

Don't feel guilty about a fleeting thought.
You should feel guilty if you permit attraction to evolve to lust.

Consider that Joseph did not give in to someone else's attraction.
Also remember that George Washington did not give in to his own passions.

Let us live in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:25).

Keep yourself pure (I Timothy 5:22).

If your life has not been pure and you need the help of the church, ...

Michael S. Cole, M.D.

Church of Christ, Naples, Italy
Morning Sermon, 8 September 1985