Adultery Begins in the Heart – Matthew 5:27-30
In this sixth part of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll look at what Jesus has to say about adultery and sexual purity.
Matthew 5:27-30: 27 “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!
Before we dive in, let’s define some of the key terms.
Adultery: In His teachings, Jesus stands firmly in the traditions of the Mosaic law and prophecy by regarding adultery as a sin. But He extends the definition to include any man who lusts in his mind after another woman, whether she is married or not. It is thus unnecessary for any physical contact to take place since the intent is already present. By this teaching, Jesus demonstrates that, under the new covenant, motivation is to be considered just as seriously as the mechanical act of breaking or keeping a particular law. Sexual activity is to be confined to the marriage relationship only, and if a married man or woman has sexual intercourse with someone other than the spouse, that person has committed adultery (Harrison).
Lust: An intense craving or desire, often of a sexual nature. Though used relatively infrequently (twenty-nine times) in Scripture, and a common theme can be seen running through its occurrences. The word is never used in a positive context; rather, it is always seen in a negative light, relating primarily either to a strong desire for sexual immorality or idolatrous worship (Akin).
Hell: In this lake of fire, God punishes the wicked, along with Satan and his followers (Matthew 25:41), bringing an end to evil. There are four features of hell:
- Sinners occupy hell – Revelation 21:8 But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
- Hell exists for the retribution of evil deeds.
- Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.
- 2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless.
- Hell is a final place of bondage and isolation from righteousness.
- Revelation 20:14-15 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
- Matthew 13:42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- Sinners suffer penalties in hell.
- Matthew 8:12 But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Luke 12:48 But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.
As we dive into this passage, there are four main theological principles to keep in mind:
- Adultery: It goes against God’s design for marriage, breaks the marriage covenant, it is often a well-hidden trap, it has consequences.
- Chastity: Sexual purity is commended; chastity is required in the marriage covenant; we shouldn’t associate with the sexually immoral.
- Self-indulgence: Demonstrates a lack of self-restraint, we give in to our sinful desires, we place ourself ahead of God.
- Self-denial: A requirement to follow Jesus, and we do it not only for ourselves but to protect those around us.
Now we’ll break this passage into two sections.
Verses 27-28 27 “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus is defining that the standard of his followers is to be, quite simply, chastity before marriage and fidelity afterward. At the same time, He is not teaching against having normal yearnings and desires for the opposite sex. However, the proper place for this is inside the marriage covenant. Additionally, adultery was considered one of the most serious offenses because it broke the relationship that was a reflection of God and his people. Finally, for the original hearers of this message, Jews, they would understand that this was also a way to describe Israel and their pursuit of false gods. Adultery, in its most basic understanding, is a sin against God.
- Potiphar’s wife, tempting Joseph.
- Genese 39:9 No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?
- David confessing his sin after the affair with Bathsheba.
- Psalm 51:4 Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.
Never in the history of the western world since the death of Greek and Roman paganism has fidelity in marriage been so threatened, or an uncontrolled indulgence of free sexual passions been so encouraged or praised. In the first place, it is threatened by the mass media, which uses the lure of sex to push materialism and to glamorize the pursuit of mere pleasure. This is acute simply because the media have a scope and immediacy in this age that they have possessed in no other. One writer has noted that sex is “the cornerstone of mass persuasion and the symbol par excellence of the life of leisure and consumption.”
The Christian ethic of faithful and monogamous marriage is also threatened in our day, perhaps even more seriously than by the mass media, by a new hedonism symbolized by the so-called “playboy philosophy.” Hedonism is the philosophy that makes pleasure the chief goal in life, and it is as evident in the pursuit of the second home, the third car, and the right and proper friends, as it is in adultery and premarital sex experimentation.
Another issue in marriage is speaking in a disparaging way regarding one’s marriage. To speak disdainfully of married life, to talk about it with an attitude of sarcasm, to speak about it in a manner that exalts the world’s definition and ignores biblical marriage is to blaspheme God. And since God established marriage, we should get our advice about marriage from…the Bible, not from secular books, television, or movies.
Here are a few passages to read:
- Hebrews 13:4
- Proverbs 18:22
- Genesis 2:24
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
- Proverbs 19:14
- 1 Peter 3:7
- Ephesians 5:22-33
- Colossians 3:18-19
- Proverbs 31:10
- Proverbs 12:4
- Mark 10:9
Too often, we base marriage on a narrow or simplified concept. Man has a trinitarian nature in that we possess a body, soul, and spirit. Marriage needs to be approached with this three-part nature taken into consideration.
- Body: Scripture is clear that a husband and wife are not to deny each other sexually.
- 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 2 But because sexual immorality is so common, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. 3 A husband should fulfill his marital responsibility to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. 4 A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another sexually—except when you agree for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- Neither partner should coerce or manipulate their partner by using the above passage. Within marriage, sex should be a mutually satisfying experience that honors God.
- A wife who always has a “headache” or a husband who is always out with the guys is a marriage headed for trouble.
- At the same time, if the marriage is based solely on sex, it is a marriage headed for trouble.
- And while we’re on the subject of the body, we might hear the excuse my husband/wife is no longer attractive; they’ve let their body go, etc. That person needs to take a long look in the mirror. Odds are they aren’t what they used to be either. We should pay more attention to the inside of the person rather than the outside.
- Soul: This refers to the intellectual and emotional aspects of a person. A union of souls is one that shares many of the same interests, both intellectually and emotionally.
- Spirit: A marriage of spirit to spirit is one between two followers of Christ and is the type of marriage that God intended. It is also a marriage that places Jesus first.
- Marrying a non-Christian is a recipe for unhappiness.
- Consider Solomon.
- Blessed by God and renowned for his wisdom.
- He placed geographical alliance above his alliance with God by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter.
- This was not God’s will.
- It led to his downfall.
- Solomon knew his action was wrong, 2 Chronicles 8:11 Solomon brought the daughter of Pharaoh from the city of David to the house he had built for her, for he said, “My wife must not live in the house of David king of Israel because the places the ark of the Lord has come into are holy.”
- A marriage that is solidly built upon these three principles is one that can withstand any storm.
Here Jesus is not limiting the idea of adultery to only sexual relations outside of marriage; He is talking about sexual sin in general. The grammar of verse 28a leads to two possible translations. Jesus could be speaking of one who “looks at a woman with the intention of committing adultery” or to one who “looks at a woman for the purpose of getting her to lust after him.” Either way, the present tense participle blepōn refers to one who continues to look rather than just casting a passing glance, and in either case, the mere viewing or mental imagining of a naked body is not what is being discussed. Instead, Jesus is condemning lustful thoughts and actions—those involving an actual desire (the most literal translation of the verb epithymeō) to have sexual relations with someone.
Verses 29-30 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!
It is important to understand that Jesus is using hyperbole here to make a point. Unfortunately, in church history, there are examples, albeit disputed, of those who took these two verses literally. However, Jesus is saying that we should get rid of anything that may cause us to sin. The eye is often the vehicle through which the temptation stimulates our lust, and the hand represents the way in which the thought is physically carried out. Even the reference to the right eye and right hand have meaning here. In antiquity, the right hand was viewed as more valuable. We are to have a single-eyed and single-handed commitment to our spouse.
Depending on the translation you read, it could say, “causes you to sin” or “causes you to stumble.” Regardless, the Greek word here is skandalon. Skandalon is a form of the word skandalēthron, which means the bait-stick in a trap. It was the stick or arm on which the bait was ﬁxed and which operated the trap to catch the animal lured to its own destruction. So, the word came to mean anything which causes a person’s destruction (Barclay). We are to dig out any of the habits that tempt us down the path of sinful behavior. These could include
- The vast majority of television shows or movies produced today have some type of suggestive behavior, foul language, or revealing clothing.
- Television talk shows that often contain subjects or conversations of a sexual nature.
- Magazines, even those that appear innocent.
Jesus is calling for His followers to remove the poison and protect yourself from such filth. If there is a habit or pleasure that leads us down the path of sinful ruin, we must remove it from our lives.
Have you ever noticed that no matter how hard you try to overcome or remove them, it almost always ends up in failure? There are really only two ways to defeat these forbidden thoughts.
- Christian action
- Fill your life with Christian service
- Think about others before yourself
- This doesn’t mean we neglect our families or responsibilities. There needs to be balance. Growing up, I personally witnessed one family that fell apart because one spouse was always at some church event or activity, totally neglecting the house.
- It does mean filling our idle time with productive Christian service or more time in Bible reading, prayer, and meditation.
- Fill our minds with wholesome thoughts. The way to defeat evil thoughts is to think of wholesome things.
Jesus is clear that there will be judgment for those who wander down this path. The consequences are eternal separation from God in a place Jesus often talks about, hell.
Now let’s consider some application points from this passage.
- Make an honest evaluation of your habits and activities. If your Christian brothers and sister or your pastor knew about your habits and activities, would that make you uncomfortable? If you can answer “yes” to any habits or activities, you should remove them from your life. Share these with your accountability partner for support.
- Once you identify those habits or activities what safeguards can you utilize to keep from venturing over the line? Identify the boundaries or fences that you can put in place to protect yourself.
- Do you give yourself solely to your spouse? Do you treat your spouse with the dignity and respect they deserve as a person created in the image of God? If you are unsure, then have a heart-to-heart talk and be willing to listen to what they say. Often, we are totally unaware of how our actions or words affect our spouse. Anything less demeans your spouse.
I want to close with a word of encouragement. If you struggle in this area, you are not alone. Most of the statistical studies on the use of pornography, as one measure of sexual health, among church attendees, both male and female, show that over 50% view pornography on a somewhat regular basis. Jesus is clear that sexual sin leads to eternal consequences. However, if you truly repent and surrender to Jesus and turn from those harmful habits, you will receive forgiveness.