by Rev. William M. Cwirla
For this special edition of Dare to be Lutheran, we’re going to take a quantum leap to the sixth commandment, which deals with the gift of marriage, sex, and family.
First, the Catechism: What is the sixth commandment? You shall not commit adultery.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and each love and honor his spouse (Small Catechism, 1943 ed).
Unlike the other commandments, the Small Catechism doesn’t dwell on the negatives—the “shalt nots.” That’s probably because we already know far too many ways to sin against this commandment and there’s no need to put more ideas into our heads than are already floating around in there.
The gift connected with the sixth commandment is the gift of sex, marriage, and family—in that order. Sexual union is what makes Adam and Eve, man and woman, “one flesh” (see 1 Corinthians 6:16). Marriage is a protective fence built around that “one flesh” to keep husband and wife turned toward each other and to keep outsiders away. “What God has joined together let man not separate.” We may take down the fence through divorce, but we can’t undo the “one flesh.” The one-flesh union man and woman within the boundaries of marriage is the foundation of the family and the household. Out of that one-flesh union, children are conceived, born, and nurtured to adulthood.
God elevates our human sexuality far above mere biology. In the animal world, sex is not for union but for procreation. This is the result of the blessing that God speaks to man and beast when He says, “Be fruitful and multiply.” The birds do it, the bees do it, and we do it, but when we do it, there is much more going on than simply being fruitful and multiplying. For us who were made in the image of God, sex is the means to a greater personal union between Man and Woman. They become “one flesh”. The only greater union we have is our baptismal union with Christ through faith. That union is eternal; the one-flesh union of man and woman lasts “until death us do part.”
Now you can understand why the Scripture says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18). All sin is bad, but sexual sin is uniquely destructive. It eats away at your psyche, your soul, and even your faith. It leaves you vulnerable, not only to dangerous diseases, but also to serious psychological and spiritual consequences. God isn’t trying to spoil our “fun” when He says, “You shall not commit adultery.” He wants to protect us against the dangers of misusing His good gift of sex.
Sex is good and pleasurable. God made it that way and declared it “very good” along with everything else. He was pleased to make Eve from Adam and bring her to him. He was delighted in Adam’s delight in receiving Eve as “bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.” Sin corrupts God’s good and turns it into something perverse and selfish. Ultimately, sin turns sex into an idol.
The Greeks had a word for sexual desire: eros. While eros is a gift from God, eros corrupted by sin is a wild beast that must be tamed. Marriage confines eros inside a fence of commitment, fidelity, and covenant and brings it under a higher form of love—agape— a self-sacrificing covenantal love, the kind of love that God has for us in Christ.
One of the devil’s great lies is to tempt us to confuse eros for “true love.” When two people “fall in love,” what this usually means is that she finds him attractive and vice versa. Sometimes we dress up eros and call it “romance,” but it’s still the same thing. There is nothing wrong with romantic love. Romantic love often brings us to the threshold of marriage, but it can’t sustain marriage. Eros is a fleeting pleasure that easily becomes bored and distracted. Think of all the celebrity marriages between “beautiful people” that have fallen apart simply out of boredom.
A marriage is a unique partnership—part friendship, part business partnership, part something completely different—male and female as “one flesh.” When you look for a husband or wife, you need to look beyond “romance” and eros and not simply “follow your heart.” You need to follow your head guided by the Word and your parents and family. Sure, it’s important that you be attracted to your future husband or wife, but can you spend an exclusive lifetime with this person? Is this person a good father or mother for your future children? Can you build a home and a life together? Can you respect him as the head of your household? Is she “to die for,” which means, laying down your life for her?
God calls us to chastity—to keep the “one flesh” union of male and female safely within the confines of marriage, whether we are married or single. The devil, the world (especially the advertising world), and our Old Adam will surely tempt us to great shame and vice, to our own destruction and the destruction of others. We daily sin much under this commandment, and truly deserve God’s punishment.
Jesus lived chastely and decently. Though He wasn’t married, Jesus upheld and affirmed the gift of marriage as the will of His Father. In becoming sin for us, Jesus took the sum total of our unchastities to the Cross in His own chaste body. He became the Adulterer in our place in order to present us to His Father chaste, pure, and holy, washed by water and Word in Holy Baptism. He gives us His chastity as our own, so that we may lead chaste and decent lives in all that we say and do, and, as husbands and wives, we may love and honor one another. You were bought with the price of Jesus’ body and blood, therefore glorify God with your bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California.