The Jews understood that God condemned “physical adultery,” but Jesus told them that “mental adultery” and “legalized adultery” are also sinful and He teaches us how to protect our hearts so that we can avoid committing this sin!
I. Watch your thoughts
Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
To avoid adultery, you first need to protect your heart. The word translated “commit adultery” is the word “moichos,” which generally refers to one “who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another.” The text later uses a more comprehensive word for sexual sin – “porneia.” We should probably think of the seventh commandment as condemning all sexual sin: “any sexual intercourse between two people outside a God-approved marriage.”
The seventh commandment was primarily given to protect marriage, and the penalty for disobeying it was severe:
Leviticus 20:10 - “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”
Deuteronomy 22:22 – “If a man is discovered committing adultery, both he and the woman must die. In this way, you will purge Israel of such evil.”
The tenth commandment condemned coveting a neighbor’s wife (Exodus 20:17 – “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor”).
Jewish teachers evidently only taught that the actual act of adultery was wrong. However, Jesus said that the “thought” that produces adultery is as sinful as the “act” itself (Matthew 15:19 – “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander”). To control your actions, you must first control your thoughts.
Jesus was not talking about merely “looking” at someone of the opposite sex. The strictest of the Pharisees were called the “Bleeding Pharisees.” They were called this because they went around with their eyes on the ground so they wouldn’t look at a woman. They had a tendency to constantly bump into trees, posts, and walls—resulting in bleeding foreheads. Jesus was not advocating bloody foreheads. He did not say, “Everyone who looks at a woman has committed adultery with her in his heart.” Rather, He said that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” John R. W. Stott wrote, “We all know the difference between looking and lusting,” and he is probably right.
Some protest, “But that’s too difficult. Lustful thoughts just pop into my head. I have no real control over that.” I agree that it is a difficult challenge – always has been. Those of us who live in the Western world are surrounded by immoral entertainment and seductive advertising. The media has little sympathy for Christian values, and the internet is filled with pornography. It takes a lot of effort for a person to keep their heart pure—but it can be done if an individual is serious about following Jesus. When ungodly thoughts come into your mind, don’t dwell on them. Turn the mind to healthier topics and get busy with useful activities. Philippians 4:8-9: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
II. Radical surgery
Matthew 5:29-30: “So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, 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 hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, 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 be thrown into hell.”
Jesus probably used the “eye” in His illustration because the “eye” is often associated with “lust.” John wrote of “…the lust of the eyes…” (1 John 2:16). The “hand” may have been included to indicate going beyond “looking” to “acting.”
Jesus said that if you’re right eye or your right hand causes you to be ensnared in mental adultery, you need to get rid of it. History records that some early Christians took Jesus’ words literally and gouged out their eyes, had their hands cut off, or had other surgery performed in an effort to avoid lust! But is that what Jesus meant?
Jesus’ teaching is not to be taken literally—for at least three reasons:
1) A literal interpretation would be ineffective. Removing an eye or a hand would not remove lust from the heart.
2) A literal interpretation would be illogical. If one had his right eye and right hand removed, he would still have his left eye and his left hand. He would still be capable of lustful looks and lustful action.
3) A literal interpretation would be inconsistent with teaching in the New Testament that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and is not to be abused or misused.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”
1 Corinthians 6:18-20: “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”
Jesus’ words are not to be taken literally—but that does not mean they are not to be taken seriously. His analogy is based on a well-known medical principle: remove a diseased part of the body in order to save the life of the body as a whole. Sometimes the diseased member has to be removed in order to preserve life. If it is not, then gangrene can spread to the entire body, resulting in death.
Jesus was, in effect, saying that if anything in your life contributes to your committing “mental adultery,” you need serious “spiritual surgery” – remove it from your life before spiritual death occurs! Romans 8:12-13: “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.”
We are to “put to death” anything that causes us to have impure thoughts. “But what if that thing is precious to me?” The right hand and the right eye were considered very important in Jesus’ day—and are still vital today. Even if something is as precious to you as your right eye or right hand, if it encourages you to have impure thoughts, get rid of it or avoid it.
Jesus asked, in effect, “Which is more important to you: your eye and your hand, or going to heaven?” Jesus said, “It is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” He said it twice so we could not miss it.
As Christians, we are to flee or run from sexual immorality, which includes running from impure thoughts and words as well as actions! 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Run from sexual sin!” 2 Timothy 2:22 – “Flee youthful lusts…”
What makes you stumble? What causes you to have impure thoughts? It could be certain television programs or movies or books or magazines or other publications or conversations. It could be the internet. It may be your association with a certain individual or a group of individuals (1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals”). Whatever it is, Jesus said to rip it from your life and throw it far away. Jesus did not tell us to taper off; He said to cut it off!
I do not want to go to hell; I will do anything I must to avoid going there! Don’t you feel the same way? Isn’t any sacrifice worthwhile if it is necessary to ensure that you do not go to hell and that you do go to heaven?
Romans 13:11-14: “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”
1 Peter 2:11 – “…I ask you to keep away from all the sinful desires of the flesh. These things fight to get hold of your soul.”