The Ten Commandments: The Seventh
Anyone who might still hold to the classical liberal perspective that the God of the Old Testament was this angry, vengeful, “bad-hair-day” deity that frankly hated everyone and everything ,while the New Testament Jesus was a veritable hippie, spouting free love and holding forth no judgment of any kind, has obviously not read (or has read and does not believe!) texts like Matthew 5. Most of us can get through the day without actually ending someone else’s life or fornicating with someone-not-our-spouse. But who can stop anger or lust dead in their tracts? Jesus tightens the heart screws and makes clear that those inner thoughts are legitimate violations of God’s Law. Whew. Jesus isn’t loosey-goosey. He makes the truth of God’s holiness an even heavier matter in applying it to how we should live.
It’s this type of Christlike exposition, driving toward true, heart-focused, practical application, that the Westminster theologians sought to emulate when tying together all the texts that spoke to particular laws, applying it from and toward every direction they could biblically. As they brought together the positive Scriptural duties of the Seventh Commandment, in the Larger Catechism’s Question 138, many are plain: chastity in body, mind, affections, [and] words; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; modesty in apparel; living and loving together. Yes. Check. We understand these things. The “sins forbidden,” found under the Larger Catechism’s Question 139 seem almost more obvious! And, it should be noted, yet again, how helpful the Larger and Shorter Catechisms are in how they divide each command positively and negatively. Begin separated, in such a way, helps us to better process how to honor God proactively and avoid sin definitely in accord with each of the “Ten Words.”
However, tucked away, almost unnoticeably, toward the end of Answer 138 is a phrase that, if our mind’s eye is weary from the list, might be missed altogether, if we are not careful. The overlooking of this phrase could be a massive detriment to one’s soul if he does not heed it carefully. And, like Christ, it ratchets down the importance of the “little things,” for, in the end, they are not that little. Lest my words be seen as hyperbole, we should let our eyes focus on an introductory statement to one of the most infamous sins of all human history. In fact, it was so overwhelmingly sinful that one can point to how all Ten Commandments were violated in the story we know as “David and Bathsheba.” The nearly ignored phrase comes in the first verse of 1 Chronicles 20, where the stage for David’s sin is set:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, Joab led out the army and ravaged the country of the Ammonites and came and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. And Joab struck down Rabbah and overthrew it.
How does 1 Chronicles 20:1 connect to the resulting sin of Adultery by David with Bathsheba? Isn’t it just an environmental statement? An establishing of the atmosphere and story line? This is when it happened and this is what was going on around the time it happened. Absolutely not. This opening verse is nearly the most important phrase in the entire story and that truth rears its head in Answer 138 by reminding us that part of fending off temptation to sexual unfaithfulness is to work hard at what we SHOULD be doing or “diligent labor in all our callings”. Footnotes for this point focus on Proverbs 31, but of the few verses given, 27 sticks out: She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. I often remind counselees of the double whammy of sin. When we sin, we’re not just investing in wickedness, we’ve also ceased investing in righteousness. Not only are we doing what we shouldn’t, we’re not doing what we should. When one considers the lengthy road that might end in an affair, rarely is punching in on time considered or guarding the parameters of the lunch break to be back when one should. Now, working hard on the project at hand, rather than being distracted by the coworker, THAT we get! It’s a bit more obvious. Often, simply being where one should be when one should be there doing what one should be doing while there is the greatest weapon we wield against sin. It’s the little things. In his introductory lectures to Biblical Counseling, Jim Newheiser notes the peripheral aspects of marital unfaithfulness in the wasting of time and money. He says that part of rebuilding the relationship is accountability in every moment and every dollar. He states it to this effect: “It’s hard to have an affair when you have no extra time or money to do anything. A mistress won’t put up with that.”
It was the time when kings went out to war. But David stayed home. The rest, as they say, is history. Very painful, very dark history. We live in an era of celebrated darkness where infidelity and violations of the Seventh Command are lauded; a time when, even if the obvious, outward violations of God’s character are shied from, the internal sexuality of the heart and mind are ignored, left to themselves, and given free reign to run amuck. If you want to uphold sexual faithfulness, combat marital affairs, and build godly families in our day, start with the little things. Work hard at what you’ve been called to do, in all your callings: employee, husband, father, wife, mother. In doing so, you’ll have no time (or energy, even!) to wander from that one who shares your marriage certificate with you. Work hard. Go home. Share a drink. Enjoy a laugh. After all, it’s the little things that get you. And it’s the little things that keep you.
Joel Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.