I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Adultery More than a Physical Act
Statistics on the infidelity rate show that 22% of married men have committed an adulterous act at least once in their life and 14 percent of married women have had affairs at least once during their married lives. It is in the younger generation where these statistics are considerably higher and the numbers of both sexes are closer together.
In the ancient pagan world apart from the God of the Bible this would not have been something considered bad or strange. For example, it was the Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes who wrote:
"We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; and we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of our homes."
In that time there was no shame at all attached to extra-marital affairs as long as a man provided for his wife and family.
However, that is not the view of the God of the Bible. We can see plainly in the 10 Commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai that the seventh commandment is:
"You shall no commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14).
It makes it very clear that having sexual relations with someone other than your wife or husband is a sin.
Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount also addresses this issue. And in Matthew 5:27-30 He is correcting the flawed views of His day as to what actually constitutes the sin of adultery. Adultery, like every other sin doesn't begin with the act. It may even start months or years before the physical act ever takes place. It starts with lusting after someone in your heart.
The following illustration by Dean Guptill comes from the Sermon Central website. He states:
"Listen to the words of a pastor who ended up with a ruined marriage and a ruined ministry after a one night stand: He said:
'Adultery isn’t something that happens with the act – it happens months beforehand. It’s an attitude. You disconnect yourself from the person you’ve said you’re spending the rest of your life with.”
That means that the words that Jesus spoke to the people of His day are just as important as they were over 2000 years ago. Not to listen to them will destroy your life, your marriage and your family. And ultimately, if enough people do not heed Christ's warnings, they will tear apart the very society in which we all live.
Before we look more deeply into the words that our Lord has said in this part of His sermon, we need to get a clearer understanding of what the Bible has to say about marriage.
I. Biblical View of Marriage and Adultery
Marriage and family is the basis for all of society. All stable and thriving societies have an abundance of stable and thriving marriages from which come children who ideally will themselves grow up to start stable families of their own. As marriage and family breaks down, so does the society in which those families live.
We see in Genesis 1 that God created man as male and female. The Scripture states:
"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves over the earth." (Genesis 1:27,28).
God had just created the universe, including the earth. And He now has named his representatives to fill the earth and oversee its operation. Later in the Genesis narrative we see how the Lord wanted marriage and family to form.
In Genesis 2 God forms Eve from one of Adam's ribs and brought the newly-formed woman before him. Then Adam jubilantly exclaims:
"This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man." (23)
And these are the words that directly follow Adam's exclamation:
"For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (2:24-25).
So marriage was established as the first institution. The man leaving his family of origin and being united with his wife then forms another family unit. And although it doesn't mean that he no longer honors his father and mother, it does mean that the man's primary relationship should now be with his wife.
The word 'joined' carries with it the sense of a permanent and indissoluble union.. The idea of "one flesh" speaks of a complete unity of parts which makes a whole. It also implies their sexual completeness. The one man and one woman constitute a pair that will reproduce and form other men and women created in God's image.
So permanent monogamy was, and continues to be to this day, the design for mankind to follow.
Later in the book of Matthew Jesus responds to the Pharisees that were testing Him. The Pharisees ask the Lord:
"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason."
His answer comes straight out of the book of Genesis. He tells them:
Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).
And later we see the marriage relationship between one man and one woman compared by the Apostle Paul to Jesus' loving and permanent relationship with His Church, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 5:25). Also, in I Corinthians 6:16,17 we see Paul using Genesis 2:24 to warn the people of Corinth against sexual immorality.
So marriage in the Bible is a sacred institution. It is a covenant relationship between the husband, his wife who are united for a lifetime by the God of the universe.
This brings us to the biblical understanding of adultery, based upon the Bible's teaching of the marriage bond. The biblical meaning of adultery, according to Easton's Bible Dictionary, is marital infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress. Intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman was called fornication. And, of course fornication is a word which also covers all sexual acts outside the marriage bond.
However, this is only a partial definition if we are to rightly understand Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Because, once again, adultery is not just a physical issue. It begins in the thought life.
II. Jesus' Teaching on Adultery (5:27-28)
Now let's examine Jesus teaching in His sermon. We have to remember that His instruction is how the law should have been interpreted in the first place. He is not altering the Old Testament teaching in any way. In fact He came to fulfill it completely (5:17). Rather He is correcting the rabbinical understanding that the people had heard. Here is what He said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (27-28)
The rabbis of Jesus' day looked only at the outward appearance and dealt with it. They simply told the people:
"You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). They were speaking of the physical act.
And as long as nobody actually committed the act, it was all right with them. However, as the Scriptures tell us in I Samuel 6:7 that:
"..man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
In God's eyes, a person can go his or her whole life without actually having sex with someone other than his or her spouse and still be guilty of this sin.
Further, it's not the temptation to cheat on your spouse that is adultery. Jesus Himself was tempted yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). It was Martin Luther who said:
“You cannot prevent the birds from flying in the air over your head, but you can certainly prevent them from building a nest in your hair.”
The truth is that temptation is only sinful if we give in to it. However, giving in to it happens way before the act actually happens. It begins with a decision. It is when one starts to plot how they might get away with it. It is the thinking that one might try it if they could do it without the spouse finding out. It may be envying your single friend who is dating a woman that you now may find more attractive than your wife, or who is dating 'the one that got away' from you.
Jesus only talks about the man here and tells us that if he merely looks at a woman with lust for her he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Men are more visual creatures and the sight of a beautiful woman can be very tempting, especially if she is dressed a certain way and there are problems at home.
However, sexual temptation to adultery is not just a male issue. Women must also guard against it. To be loved is one of the strongest desires of the human heart. And a woman who doesn't feel loved anymore by her husband could be tempted to search elsewhere for what she isn't getting at home. Here is what Sharon Jaynes, a Christian blogger who writes a blog called 'Girlfriends in God', has said in a post on temptation:
"A woman is enticed by a syrupy word from a co-worker, an e-mail from an old boyfriend, an invitation on Facebook, or an alluring smile at a neighborhood gathering. Loneliness fills the room and passion comes knocking at the door. But when the smoke clears, loneliness returns with new hunger pangs laced with regret."
All this is to say that, by the time you get to the physical act it is often too late. A person has made a decision that is like a snowball going down a snow-covered hill. It gets bigger as well as heavier and less likely to be stopped. Eventually, it gets so big that it will roll right over the person trying to keep it from moving further.
III. Jesus' Drastic Solution (5:29-30)
In order to stop temptation from going too far Jesus offers what might be considered a radical and drastic solution. He tells us:
"If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (29-30).
Sadly, some throughout history have misunderstood what Jesus was saying here and taken Him literally, gouging out eyes and cutting off hands. Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation here. That wouldn't stop lust, evil desire and adultery from happening anyway. As we said, it begins in the heart.
What our Lord is pointing out is the seriousness of these sins and he was using hyperbole in order to demonstrate it. Hyperbole, for those who don't know is defined as:
"Exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally, in order to make a point."
What Jesus was telling us is that it would be better to lose a member of one's own body than to bear the eternal consequences of the guilt from such a sin.
Sin must always be dealt with drastically. Paul tells Timothy in II Timothy 2:22 that he was to:
"Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
That is literally what young Joseph did in Genesis 39 when Potiphar's wife asked him to lie with her. (Genesis 39:7). He fled the scene as quickly as he could.
The truth is that sexual temptation to adultery is nothing to fool around with. Because, if it is allowed to get out of hand and move toward the physical act, it will do more than destroy your body, It will destroy your relationships, your family, your testimony, your church, your society, your nation, your life and, apart from the grace of God, will lead your soul into hell.
When all is said and done, we are all vulnerable to this sin of fornication and adultery as long as we occupy these sin-cursed bodies. And we cannot get lazy or complacent about it no matter how old we might be. This sin can ruin everything that we have worked a lifetime to achieve for the Lord. A true Christian will not lose his or her salvation over it. For salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. However, it can cause us untold misery and loss on this earth and a loss of rewards in heaven.
The sin of adultery takes sex, which is a good and beautiful gift of God given to a husband and wife and turns it into an ugly and perverse thing.
In many ways, sexuality is like a river. A river within its boundaries is wonderful and useful for all sorts of things like providing fresh water for animals and people to drink, fishing for food, boating for recreation and for travel and swimming to cool you and give you exercise. It is also like a fire, that one can cook with, use to keep ones self warm at night, sing around, and use as a nightlight, among other things.
But these same useful things, outside of any boundaries, can destroy property, animals and human lives, not to mention the cost that comes from cleaning up after the devastation and mess they make.
We are living in a society that metaphorically brakes holes in damns and plays with matches every day. Sexuality is being let out of its boundaries in all sorts of ways in our world and we are reaping a whirlwind of destruction. It is happening because men and women are living out in their lives the sin that is already in their hearts.
We, as God's people must be counter-cultural. We are the lights of this dark world who show forth the glory of God to a people that disowned Him long ago.
We must take what Jesus says about adultery and all other sexual sins very seriously and rid them from our lives. And we must be careful not to allow ourselves to go into situations or places that will lead us into their temptation.
It is my prayer that we use the gifts that God has given us as He intends for us to use them and not pervert them into something ugly.
May the sins of adultery and fornication be totally eradicated from among us. For if we allow them to remain, we will become the next casualties in their destructive paths. Our Lord in His sermon has warned us. May we heed that warning.
© 2021 Jeff Shirley
KC McGee from Where I belong on May 23, 2021:
I agree with much of what you have writen here on this subject of Matthew 5:27-30. But I also believe there is a much deeper perspective that should not be left out. When Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 5:27-30 it was from the view based on the higher standards of the Kingdom of heaven. Which, if understood in it's context is what the entire Sermon of the Mount was all about. We seem to believe the 10 Commandments are the highest standard of law that God has set for man. But in this Sermon, Jesus was setting a much higher standard Law. Matthew 5:2-30 was just one of a number of them He mentions in this sermon. And these laws that Jesus state (commands) are what is expected of us as Kingdom citizens.
We must remmeber when Jesus fulfilled the law He not only fulfiled the 10 Commandments , but even greater He fulfiled the Laws of the Kingdom of Heaven. This point is brought out later in Matthew 5:19-20 NKJV which states:19 Who ever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Note in these to verses I just quoted, Jesus is not talking about the 10 Commandments, He's talking about Kingdom of Heaven Laws
It should be noted the Scribes and Pharisees where under the 10 Commandment Law. But Jesus then follows up after verse 30 with higher standards of LAW. Which basicly are Kingdom Laws. He does so by stating" You heard it said" then He states one of the 10 Commandments; then goes on to say;"But I say to you" and commands a higher standard of Kingdom law on each example. In these cases Jesus raises the standard of Law. What is expected as a Kingdom standard. What He expects of us as Kingdom citizens. Should we succeed in following His; But I say to you" Laws. Then we too can far exceed the fulfillment of the 10 Commandments. Just as Christ did. However, His standard of Law is so high for us to fulfill that we NEED Jesus Christ as our saviour, because we will clearly fail on our own.
As you explained in this article. It's a heart issue when it comes to Matthew 5: 27-30. But I believe all of the "But I say to you" statements He makes is Kingdom laws He places in our hearts that we are to try and follow. As Jesus Himself was the absolute best example.
The Sermon on the Mount was focused on the Kingdom and It's standards of Law, not so much on the 10 Commandments although parts of them are stated. This is what Jesus was trying to explain to us as His citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Thank you for sharing this article with us.