There’s a twofoldness to this commandment that we often miss in considering it. Yes, the commandment, first and foremost, calls us to avoid active infidelity; but it also—though we often times miss it—calls us to actively work in building and nurturing the relationship we are in with our spouse/partner. As I explained to my students, just as we explored sins of omission with regards to the Fifth Commandment (“You shall not murder”) such as not seeking out the care or protection of one’s neighbor; so also the Sixth Commandment includes sins of omission—for instance, passively disregarding one’s marriage when opportunities arise to honor, respect, and trust the other. Martin Luther, in his 1529 Large Catechism, says: “this commandment requires all people not only to live chastely in deed, word, and thought in their particular situation, 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” (Book of Concord, 415.219). This aspect of the commandment proved more difficult for the students to comprehend.
In a manner that can only be described as an enlightenment by the Spirit, an analogy immediately came to mind which I’d like to share with you—to consider, critique if necessary, and perhaps use in your own thinking and discussing this topic. To explain what Luther meant, I used the imagery of a vehicle. One of our students talks about his father’s suburban with exceeding pride as he expects to receive it as a first vehicle in the next couple years. Knowing that, I ran with it. I compared active infidelity—adultery—as if the student were to go out and test drive other newer models or look online or through the newspaper for a different vehicle to replace the one he has at home. Then, to switch gears (pun totally intended) while not fully setting the first part aside; I offered imagery of the student not caring for “his” suburban as being a passive violation of the commandment—a sin of omission. Say this young man never goes searching for a different vehicle, yet he fails to change the oil every 5,000 miles, check the tire tread, or clean and practice basic maintenance on his suburban. Is he caring for the gift which he has been given? No. Is he remaining faithful to it as he promised? Not really. Now, obviously there are flaws in this analogy; but I think it helps us to consider more fully what God is seeking to communicate to us through the Sixth Commandment.
As I’ve said before on social media: if we complain about our sex-crazed media but are unwilling to discuss fidelity with our youth, than we only perpetuate the cycle. The Sixth Commandment is more than some moralistic attempt by the church to scare youth out of premarital sex—which has proven over and again to have failed by those who seek to use it as such. It is rather about faithfulness—how do we think, speak, and live faithfully with one another, our spouse/partner and others, just as we are called to be in right relationship with God by means of the First Commandment (and arguably the Second and Third as well). Youth value honesty and candidness. It may not always seem so when the topic of S-E-X comes up, but we, as parents and grandparents, family and friends, leaders in the community, and sisters and brothers Christ, owe it to our youth to find ways to discuss this and other such tough topics in ways that honestly address our sin and brokenness and still proclaim the good news of God’s abiding love and ceaseless forgiveness for us in Jesus Christ. Even if we blunder through it, any attempt in candidly speaking about adultery and all that surrounds it is a step forward in speaking God’s promises for us in Christ Jesus, acknowledging the expectations we bear as children of God, and considering how we can live more faithfully as the body of Christ in and for the world. As always, thanks for your readership, likes, comments, and shares!