Adultery in Your Heart – Matthew 5:27-30

Similar to murder, Jesus addresses not just the sin of adultery but also the internal process behind the act of adultery. It is unlikely many people in his original audience were serial adulterers and no one would have considered adultery to a positive influence on society.

Adultery does not happen by accident. There is a period of temptation that occurs before the actual action itself. But where does that process start? I would suggest one’s view of marriage and relationships between the sexes are shaped from a very young age. If a young man is taught adultery is acceptable in some situations or he observes sexual harassment and mistreatment of women regularly, then it is likely those behaviors will be normative for him.

The source of the problem of adultery seems to be “looking where one ought not look,” a point made in the Second Temple wisdom book Sirach. Sirach is instructing young men and he is certainly not politically correct from a modern perspective. (If his words offend, try switching the pronouns, instead of “Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman” change it to “Turn away your eyes from a shapely man.” It works either way.)

Sirach 9:1–9 (NRSV)  Do not be jealous of the wife of your bosom, or you will teach her an evil lesson to your own hurt. 2 Do not give yourself to a woman and let her trample down your strength. 3 Do not go near a loose woman, or you will fall into her snares. 4 Do not dally with a singing girl, or you will be caught by her tricks. 5 Do not look intently at a virgin, or you may stumble and incur penalties for her. 6 Do not give yourself to prostitutes, or you may lose your inheritance. 7 Do not look around in the streets of a city, or wander about in its deserted sections. 8 Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, and do not gaze at beauty belonging to another; many have been seduced by a woman’s beauty, and by it passion is kindled like a fire. 9 Never dine with another man’s wife, or revel with her at wine; or your heart may turn aside to her, and in blood you may be plunged into destruction.

Just like the previous expansion of “do not murder” to include the mental processes behind murder, Jesus points to the internal thoughts and attitudes which lead to adultery. Rather than “looking where one ought not,” perhaps it should be “thinking what one ought not.” I had a friend in high school who was told by his parents it was okay to look, but not touch. This led to a series of seriously bad choices for him over the years. Jesus is clear: it is impossible to separate thoughts from actions. Internal anger will come out as rage and destructive words. Lust will develop into some external behavior.

For most younger people in the west, sexual attitudes are formed online where pornography is easily discovered. The worldview of pornography is damaging to both men and women and skews a biblical view of sexual relationships and marriage. The Bible celebrates sexual relationships (although that does seem to be the case for some Christian teaching).

What goes on inside someone’s head is impossible to see, we tend to think that no one knows or cares that we have thought impure thoughts. Jesus explodes this by comparing those private thoughts to the act of adultery itself. As with Jesus’s teaching on anger, it is important to at least observe he is teaching all his disciples to control their internal lust, both men and women. Although men are usually the problem, female disciples of Jesus are called to the same high standards as the men.

Jesus uses some very strong language to describe how we are to handle this problem. If this is taken literally all men would have been blinded in junior high school. This verse does not teach self-mutilation as a cure for sin.

Jesus is saying, in effect, “don’t let your eyes make you sin.” Don’t put yourself in a position to look lustfully. Jesus often uses hyperbole to shock his audience, to pluck out an eye is an exaggeration since a blind man can still lust. The prime example of this is David, who saw Bathsheba and then committed adultery.  Should he have “plucked” his eye out?  No, but he should have had the sense not to be in that position to see Bathsheba in the first place.

The problem for the modern reader is how to draw implications of Jesus’s teaching to new situations. As I write this, the #MeToo movement is still developing and the alleged immoral behavior of a Supreme Court candidate is in the headlines.

Is it narrow-minded to apply Jesus’s words to the epidemic of sexual harassment women have faced for generations? A commitment to marital fidelity often results in people calling you a prude, a Puritan, etc. But if Jesus was correct about internal anger, is he also correct about the dangerous effects of internal lustful thoughts?

23 thoughts on “Adultery in Your Heart – Matthew 5:27-30

  1. Adultery, according to Hosea, was “spiritual adultery” or worshiping other gods besides the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    For this cause of “adultery”, God “divorced” His wife, the northern Kingdom of Israel, who were part of the Old Covenant people at Mt. Sinai.

  2. So, according to God’s definition of “adultery”, per Hosea, it is “covenant unfaithfulness”, which may mean “sin” in general!!

  3. There is much to agree with here. But do note that adultery by definition requires at least one married person. One could probably extrapolate this teaching out to anyone regardless of marital status but it is best to state that this is what one is doing.

  4. We as humans struggle to hold ourselves accountable for what is in our hearts and minds because it is not seen by the outside world. It is pretty easy to avoid stealing, because it is easy to get caught and it is a visible act that everyone can see. People don’t think the act of contemplating theft is wrong, as long as a person doesn’t act on it. But it is different to God who knows our hearts. To God, when you think something in your head you are basically shouting. Would you want your every thought broadcasted to everyone around you? To make matters worse God’s standard is perfection. It is not just a matter of acting, but thinking about something wrong or more specifically dwelling on something is outside of the standard of perfection.

    I firmly hold that things in our minds and hearts usually shine through in our actions, so yes, taking the wisdom Jesus gives on lustful thoughts would eliminate a huge portion of the sexual harassment issues. If you struggle with lusting after someone, don’t put yourself in a position to act upon that. It all comes down to just knowing your struggles and then taking the proper steps to stay away from something that might cause you to stumble. The same can be applied to almost any struggle, not just sexual immorality and lust.

  5. It is interesting what sin we can let creep in and take over our thoughts and desires. The point that you made about that fact that someone can pluck out his/her own eye and still be just as lustful is completely true. Lust is something that we can hide from others. It’s not as transparent as other sins. It is our responsibility to keep this in check. It is so often easy though to not recognize that it is a problem because no one is directly there telling you that you are in the wrong because they can directly see the act of sin that you are committing. Jesus says in Matthew 5:28, which the author McKnight of our class text also points out, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. He came back to say this according to McKnight because “Jesus evidently believes Moses’ law is not enough because he thinks sexual relations and purity begin in the heart — or in one’s desires”. (McKnight, Pg. 87). Jesus is trying to get to the point that It all comes back to your heart. He is sort of making lust equivalent to adultery. Lust is in the heart and adultery is the action that has stemmed from that heart desire of lust. We are being urged to keep our hearts and our minds pure. Like you stated above in the original blog post, some people see this whole looking and not touching thing as normal. Mainly because they are not actually committing any wrong outwardly.
    McKnight starts off with the point of “It does not matter how long the person looks. What matters, second, is the directed intention of his or her staring: ‘Lustfully'” (McKnight, pg.88). However, he goes onto to expand later by saying that “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death” (McKnight, Pg.88). The point that I am trying to get at is that we have tabled it normal to look but not touch. The problem with looking is that it stems desire. This desire came from our hearts and has been magnified because of the act of looking. Jesus wants purity in all aspects, especially when talking about the topic of lusting.

  6. Adultery in your heart is one of the sins that we are constantly struggling with as humans. What makes it hard to fight this sin is that Jesus tells us in His word that even if we look at someone lustfully we are committing adultery with them in our hearts, even though we aren’t physically committing any actions. This among many is hard to fight because we are constantly centered around this sin. Just like hating someone is like murdering them in our hearts. As Christians we need to keep heavenly things at the forefront of our minds because if we don’t, sinful thoughts will overcome us.

  7. As I read the Mcknight’s Gospels book, it was mentioned that Jesus felt that lust and adultery starts with the heart first “Jesus evidently believes Moses’ law is not enough because he thinks sexual relations and purity begin in the heart — or in one’s desires”. (McKnight, Pg. 87). I completely agree, but the problem for me is, doe this count for single people. I know majority of the world would like to be married, at the same time there are those who like to remain single for selfish reasons. Should I as a firm believer hold them accountable for such acts if indeed in their hearts are not convicted with the notion that being lustful is committing adultery before the action. According to Matthew 5:27 “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This is something that makes me very concern with those who I associate with because they tell me often that they do not feel that if they are not married or even in a relationship, they shouldn’t be condemned for their lustful actions. Whenever I read this passage and revise the words Mcknight speaks about the topic. I am reminded that it’s not the fact of being in a relationship that makes it wrong, it’s the intentions whenever you look upon a young woman or man for your own sexual gratification. If you can’t handle the pressure of your physically, and sexually urges, get married. I apologize but that the best way I can see you not falling into sin.

  8. Lust is one of the sins that are in our lives today that is somewhat inevitable. I say this in a way that without us truly focusing on Jesus in literally everything that we do, we will fail because we lust for a lot of worldly things. And when we start to look at someone lustfully, Jesus says that this then is becoming adultery. However, McKnight writes that “Adultery in Jesus’ world was sexual relations whit someone other than one’s spouse and, in particular, with someone else’s spouse.” (McKnight, 86) Jesus then looks at some of Mose’s writings and then redefines adulty by looking at someone lustfully. Which is then a heart issue. If we are looking at a case of sexual assault, and we are trying to apply Jesus’ words to this, I wouldn’t consider this an adulteress case. Because it was a “sexual assault” the woman was assaulted and most likely taken advantage of not being able to defend for herself.

    Jesus is asking us to strive for perfection. A lot of us Christians strive daily for perfection, however our sins can sometime overtake our ability to do so. Lust is a heart issue. If you are unable to overcome your lust for something, go to Him for your answers. Just like the article was written about murder, and the mental process behind murder. The internal process of murdering someone doesn’t just happen in one time. It occurs over time. Just like adultery and lustful thinking. It is something that happens internally and over time.

  9. I think that just what you were saying in your blog is true, how today adultery is watered down very, and at the same time, I don’t know what it was like to live when Jesus was on the earth. obviously, adultery must have been bad in those days as well because Jesus addressed it. I think that sometimes we think that it is way worse in today’s day and age but I think in reality it is just easier to commit adultery because it is much easier to get these days. with the comment that was made in the original post about porn, and how today if you wanted to commit adultery you could just look on a screen and commit adultery that way, and to me, that is just so horrible. a quote from the book that was looking at what the Biblical perspectives are on sex is “Sexual relationships are designed to produce offspring, and the relations to this end are good and blessed by God”. In the Bible, sex is meant between one man and one woman.

  10. I definitely believe that adultery and lust is a sin that our generation, and the generations to come will have a big struggle with. We can already see it in this generation. We get tired of our significant others and they find someone else. Then they get a divorce. Yet,when we get married we make a vow to God and to the person. We fall short yet again. Why, must we put such high expectations on finding someone, then when we have them they are not good enough?
    It just does not make sense to me. God created such a beautiful thing where man and woman can become one yet the humans race has corrupted it. We are called to love others and to love God. Show Gods love to others and yet we can not love one person for the rest of our lives? How is that affecting our relationship with the Lord as well as others. Let us be transforms and not conformed.

    • Excellent post! As I mentioned in my post below, we are meant to be devoted to one person for the rest of our lives. So, the question arises; why is it so hard to love one person and be committed to them for the rest of our time on earth? Pornography has become such an accessible form of media that it is commonly viewed. As Dr. Long mentions in his original post, this totally skews our view of marriage. I completely agree. We are not committing to one person, which is what the Bible commands us to do. McKnight says that Jesus does see this happening, but not to think that if you trip up you are going to hell (McKnight, 2013). There are always other options. This could be an accountability partner (McKnight, 2013). I found that past statement very interesting. As Christians, we are taught not to sin. But, we are all broken and we do sin. Jesus’ Grace and Redemption is what saves us from hell. This will affect relationships. That is just the way that life is. You are using sexual pleasure for the wrong reasons. There was a quote in the book that really stuck out to me. Jesus says, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Knowing we are saved by grace is a great feeling. Although, this does not mean it is acceptable to make it a lifestyle.
      I really appreciate your insight on marriage! It is something that I believe should be talked about more, because this is an extremely important topic.

  11. I agree with what you said here in your post. I think that this call to check your thoughts is harder today than it was back then. As you mentioned pornography is so easily accessible that many middle school boys are watching pornography and thinking that it is completely natural way to have sexual relations. While the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:18 to run from sexual immorality. Most people today runs towards it not away from it. They try to from satisfaction from something that morally wrong. The satisfaction only comes from Jesus.

  12. I believe that this post is very influential in many people’s lives. As you mentioned, the Bible celebrates sexual relationships. But, not if pornography or lustful ways are the answer. As we know, a man is to be committed to his wife and a wife committed to her husband. Genesis 2:24 says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. McKnight says that sexual relations begin with the eye (McKnight, 2013). With that being said, lust can begin from a very young age. A comment in a post above backs up this point completely. “Many middle school boys are watching pornography and thinking that it is a completely natural way to have sexual relations (Boes, 2018). I also believe that it is extremely to realize that this is not only a problem for men. Women also struggle with this, as you mentioned in the above post. This goes back to my statement of husbands and wives being devoted to one another.
    All that to say yes to your question. Jesus is completely right about the harmful effects that lust and pornography can have on one. Not only the person that is struggling, but also the people he loves. From personal experience; most negative things harm more than one person. McKnight also mentions that there is a way to help with this if you are struggling. The best being that you get an accountability partner (McKnight, 2013). I also think that this would be a good idea even if lust and pornography are something you aren’t struggling with.

    • I love the fact that you put emphasis on the fact that lust is not only harmful to the person themselves, but also to those they love. I feel so often that people do not understand the effect that lust has on others. So often we are focused on the effects that is has on the person that is lustful that we forget that there are also other people that are effected. McKnight also brings up a good point when he says that “we are personally responsible for protecting our eyes to be sexually redeemed” (McKnight 92). We need to be constantly in the Word and straying from anything that would cause lust.

  13. After reading this, I started to wonder what life today would be like if Jesus had not spoken on this subject. Then I realized that the large majority of the population does not follow Jesus teachings, and if they do, they often hide this sin. As many people have been stating, lust is something that can be easily hidden. At least hidden from other men and women. David tells us in Psalm 139 that God knows our thoughts from afar. I think that it is so important to remember this as we often think we can get away with sin. God will always know our intentions and has made it clear that even lusting after someone is equal to adultery. I love how Jesus goes on to wrack their brains as He mentions that it is better for them to cut off the eye or hand that is causing them to sin. Although this is an analogy, it captures the audiences attention and puts into perspective what God qualifies as sin. I love how McKnight ends his commentary for these verses with Blackburn’s staccatos of comparisons of lust and love. (McKnight 93). It paints a clear picture of the difference of lust and love. Too often we are abusing what God has given to mankind as a gift, and we do not realize the consequences or severity of the sin. I can respond to your question about centuries of sexual harassment saying that I do not believe you have gone to far. Jesus’ commands still apply today, and the fact that we do not allow ourselves to stay accountable with our lustful thoughts and desires eventually lead to actions.

  14. I believe that this problem of sexual harassment as well as pornography is something that is on the rise in today’s society. It has become so easily accessible to anyone and everyone. Since it is so easy to get, it is also easy to hide from others. This brings on the idea of lust. Jesus states that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). McKnight says it well when he says that “Jesus expected his followers to be marked by greater righteousness, that is, by holiness and love” (McKnight 90). We are told to take these words seriously about lust and adultery. With everything that today’s culture and society holds, we need these words more than ever.

  15. Adultery is not something that just randomly happens out of the blue. Rather it appears after many trails of temptations. Now, if a man is brought up being taught that adultery is acceptable and mistreating women is acceptable, then those temptations and behaviors will be normal to him. Individuals are encouraged to turn away their eyes from shapely people. Individuals should be encouraged to not only control their actions but also control their thoughts. Evil thoughts can turn into evil actions.
    A main form of temptation in today’s society is pornography. It is a damaging concept to both men and women. Pornography skews the biblical view of sexual relationship and marriage as a whole. It is important to not let your eyes sin. Do not put yourself in a position to think lustfully against your partner. To reframe from these temptations is to follow and be in a good environment and friends. The people who encourage you and uplift you make a huge impact on how you think about yourself and others. “When a man obviously fails to be the husband that covenant love demands, or when a wife obviously fails to be the wife that covenant love demands, grounds for divorce may be present because the covenant is being broken” (Knight, 107).

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