Anyone who has visited one of the National Parks has probably heard some form of the slogan: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” The goal is for each park visitor to leave the park in good condition for future visitors by not leaving graffiti behind or taking the sea shells or wild flowers. The slogan asks people to think beyond immediate gratification to the wellbeing of the park and the future enjoyment of other visitors.
The Sixth Commandment is cut from the same cloth. It is God’s way of teaching us that sexuality is not simply a means for personal satisfaction; it is a gift from him designed to be shared with another. Of all the commandments, the one about God’s gift of sexuality is the most often treated as being only concerned with what people can’t do. More than any other commandment, it is treated as if the only reason it exists is so that God can make life miserable or punish people for being bad.
That is not the case. Like the other commandments, its primary concern is telling us who God created us to be and how we are designed to work. Like the other commandments of the second table, it speaks to the different relationships we are given with others. Rather than getting bogged down in the many ways this commandment could be broken, God’s children are called to embrace the gift and freedom that this commandment brings into our lives and relationships.
Yes, the Sixth Commandment is about sexual freedom. Despite the common view of marriage as limiting sexuality, marriage actually frees God’s gift of sexuality to be what it was created to be. God’s gift of sexuality is designed to be a special way in which a man and a woman give themselves entirely to the other physically as part of a unique relationship unlike any other.
While much of popular culture embraces the notion of “casual sex,” the emotional bond created in a sexual union cannot be denied. Think of the emotional pain that follows not only a divorce, but the ending of any sexual relationship. It is no mere coincidence that even in a sexually permissive culture like our own infidelity is still taboo. Even Hollywood recognizes this bond. How many movies or television shows are based around the premise of two people being “friends with benefits” until one of them recognizes the strong bond between them.
The undeniable bond created by a sexual union may be the source of many problems for those who are trying to live in a promiscuous culture, but it is helpful in its intended context: marriage. Sex is created to be one way that husbands and wives remain committed to each other through the many ups and downs of life together. This “adhesive” quality of sex is its strength, not a necessary evil that must be dealt with as one moves from bed to bed. The very quality our world views as one of the biggest burdens associated with sex is in fact one of its greatest qualities in the eyes and design of God.
This bond is not merely hypothetical. It expresses itself in the birth of children, which is the natural result of a sexual relationship. While humans throughout history have spent countless hours trying to discover new ways to have sexual relationships while avoiding the “risk” of children, the simple fact remains that the birth of children is woven into the fabric of human sexuality. This too this is a good thing! Joining together to raise children draws husbands and wives together. Godly sexuality is designed to help God’s people focus on the needs of others by binding a man and a woman to one another in a unique life-long commitment and by joining them together as they raise the children that result from such a union.
Much more could be said about the way sin has ruined this great gift of God. The resources are certainly out there for men and women who want to discover more fully how sex outside marriage, homosexual sex, pornography, or other sexual sins affect the whole life of a person. Additionally, the effects of the Fall are seen beyond temptations to sexual sins. There are also resources for those whose godly sexual relationships (through no fault of their own) have not resulted in the gift of children, or for those who have never known the gift of marriage.
But sin’s corruption of a gift does not destroy what that gift was first created to be. Sexuality remains a great gift of God designed to bind husband and wife together in a companionship unlike any other human relationship. The Sixth Commandment is not about what you can’t do. It is a gift from God, designed to be part of a lifelong human relationship unlike any other.