Promises, Promises

The Sixth Commandment

You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors their spouse.


While the “honor your parents” commandment is the one confirmation teachers delight in teaching to middle school students, this one often feels like a doozy. How on earth can anybody expect to teach a group of adolescents about adultery? We don’t even use the word in our everyday lives. The very first time I tried to teach this commandment, it went something like this:

Pastor Beth: “Okay, who can read the sixth commandment for us?”

Student 1, enthusiastic then confused: “I will! ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ What’s adultery?”

Student 2, immediately: “It means cheating on somebody.”

Student 3, melodramatically: “Well, at least being forever alone means I can’t break this commandment.”

Other students: laughter.

Pastor Beth, grasping to regain order: “Let’s go back to the catechism and read the explanation…”


Those middle schoolers were asking good questions, though. “What does this mean [for me]?” is the question Martin Luther asked and answered. It is, however, a difficult question for an eleven-year-old (and maybe for older Christians, too!). Middle schoolers aren’t married. How does this apply to them?

In the next part of the story I shared earlier, after we got the giggles under control, I asked the students if they had ever experienced someone they trusted breaking a promise to them. Every hand went up. I asked if they had ever been the one to break a promise. Every hand stayed up.

Faithfulness is, at its core, the capacity to keep promises. This is why we so adamantly speak about God’s faithfulness to us, rather than our faithfulness to God. We know that God keeps God’s promises, even though we may not keep ours.

The closer a relationship is, the more painful it is to experience broken promises. A neighbor who keeps blowing snow onto your sidewalk after promising to stop is annoying. A partner who promises to be exclusive but seeks intimacy with someone else is devastating. An acquaintance who blows you off is inconvenient. A best friend who doesn’t show up when promised is heart-wrenching.

The sixth commandment calls on us to keep our promises. Why? Because God knows how much it hurts when we don’t. God knows that relationships without trust are no relationships at all. When we break our promises, everyone is hurt. When we keep our promises, we honor our relationships and the people to whom we made the promises. This commandment is for all of us, in marriage, friendship, family, and every other relationship.

Faithful God, help me keep the promises I have made. When I fail, forgive me. When others fail me, heal my hurt. Amen.


*As with the fourth commandment, this one requires a big caveat: there are relationships, including marriages, which are destroyed by broken promises to love, to respect, to honor, to be exclusive. When someone else’s actions break the promises that hold your relationship together, you are not obliged to keep your part of a broken covenant.