“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30, KJV
Earlier on, I made the point that Jesus’ mission was not to bring anything radical or new to the world, but rather to bring everyone back to the Moral Law that had long since been established, and then establish the New Covenant under that Law. This passage is an example of this. In the book “Jewish Literacy”, Rabbi Telushkin suggests that Jesus had taken the biblical command to abstain from committing adultery and make observance much stricter, thereby turning it into a thought crime. In other words, the Rabbi suggested that Jesus tightened up the regulation regarding adultery, taking it from the realm of physical sin to one involving the mind. The issue is, he was either misinformed, misinterpreting, or seeking to downplay what was really going on. Recall that Jesus had already stated that His intent was the preservation of the Law, and not its destruction. In this case, what Jesus commanded regarding adultery, that simply looking at a woman to lust after her, amounted to committing adultery in one’s heart, which is in accordance with the teachings of the Tanakh.
We will begin by defining terms. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Adultery is defined as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse”. There we have it, quite simple and clear, right? Just avoid bedding someone who is not your spouse, and you are innocent of any crime. If only that were so. According to this definition, the physical act itself is what constitutes adultery, but what about thinking of it, considering it, or even creating the opportunity for it to take place? Does this count as adultery? According to Jesus it does, and it goes much deeper than that. Consider what the Tanakh says regarding thoughts and desires.
In Exodus 20:17, we are forbidden from coveting one’s wife. The word for covet in Hebrew is תַחְמֹ֖ד (tahmod) and means “to desire” or “take pleasure in”. Tahmod refers to things regarded as beautiful, greatly beloved, coveted, a delectable thing, a great delight, desired, and lusted after. Oxford defines lust as, a “very strong sexual desire, especially when love is not involved”, and a “very strong desire for something or pleasure in something”. To be covetous, then, is to overwhelmingly desire something, even if it is something that belongs to someone else. It is the very definition of lust. To lust after, or covet, something is to want it and desire it above anything that may involve love, respect, or decency. The Greek supports this interpretation. The word used in Matthew 5 is ἐπιθυμῆσαι (epithymēsai). This is a compound word that comes from the two words ἐπί (epi) and θυμός (thumos). Epi means “on or upon” and thumos means “desire or lust after”. Epithymēsai then means “to long for, covet, lust after, set the heart upon”. This is a word that embodies the American English saying that someone wants something so bad that they can taste it, and in this case, this is an unbelievably bad thing.
In Exodus 20:17, the prohibition is on coveting anything belonging to your neighbor, including his wife. The reason for this is that all forms of theft, from petty theft all the way up to Grand Larceny, fraud, adultery, and even murder, all begin with covetousness. Why do I include murder in with theft? Because our language does. Consider that murder is the unjust, unwarranted, and unlawful taking of a human life. When you murder someone, you TAKE their life, you STEAL their life. Murder is the THEFT of someone’s life, the TAKING of something that does NOT belong to you, and theft begins with covetousness. At some point, you must conclude that whatever it is that you desire is worth having, no matter the cost, and the moment you reach that conclusion you are guilty of violating the Tenth Commandment. It makes no difference if it is a bauble, your neighbor’s spouse, or someone’s life. If you desire something that much, you are being covetous.
To covet something, one does not need to DO anything. Covetousness begins in the heart, and in the mind. It begins as thought and feeling, and the Tenth Commandment makes entertaining these thoughts and feelings a crime under the Moral Law. When Jesus made the pronouncement in verse 28, He was returning adultery to the place it should have always been, under the category of a thought crime, and related to theft and covetousness. If Commandments Six through Ten were intended to outline how it is that we are to love our neighbors, something that Jesus states is a rather important law, then this makes clear that doing so begins in our hearts and minds, not in our actions or abstentions from action. Never forget that gaining entrance into the Kingdom has NOTHING to do with our actions, or the lack thereof, but rather true faith and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
This becomes even more interesting, and damning for us, considering the implications this has for our daily lives. Lord knows I am just as guilty as just about any of you considering this. If ever you have found yourself admiring the body of an attractive member of the opposite sex, you are guilty. If ever you have watched pornography, you are guilty. No matter HOW you try to rationalize it, you are 100% guilty before the Lord, and this is very much a principle that originates in the Tanakh. Not only is this addressed in the Ten Commandments, but elsewhere in Scripture.
For example, Job makes the statement that he had made an agreement with himself to never look on a virgin,
“I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1)
What exactly is it that he meant by that? To make covenant in those days was a very solemn thing, and usually involved making a sacrifice to mark the occasion. Covenants are absolutely binding and cannot ever be taken lightly as a result, because they are to be held to, even if it meant walking into the jaws of death itself. When people made covenant, death was preferrable to breaking them. In this, Job is saying that he had made an agreement with himself, one that he would rather die than forsake, to not look upon a virgin. Here is the verse in the original Hebrew:
בְּ֭רִית כָּרַ֣תִּי לְעֵינָ֑י וּמָ֥ה אֶ֝תְבֹּונֵ֗ן עַל־בְּתוּלָֽה׃
Berit karati le’einai umah etbovnen betulah.
I placed the first two words, Berit karati, in bold print for a reason. Berit means “a covenant” and karati means “I have made”. Right here, he is saying that he has made a vow with himself, one that is so important that it is a full-on covenant, to never look upon a virgin. The next question one must ask is, why? Why did he feel so strongly about this that he had to make a covenant with himself? It is because he knew that the instant he looked upon a virgin, he would go right down the path of licentiousness. When humans start down this path, it is not long before they commit theft, in the form of sexual sin, by taking something that does not belong to them.
Therefore, Jesus returned adultery to the position of being a thought crime, which is why it is that “checking out” an attractive member of the opposite sex, something our society and culture has long considered trivial and benign, is regarded as adultery. Taking it a step further, this is also why viewing pornography in any form also constitutes adultery. When viewing it, you are participating in the sexual sin occurring right before your very eyes. In effect, you may as well be right there as an active participant, rather than a viewer. Note that Jesus says, “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee” (verse 29). In both cases, what you are doing is creating the opportunity for covetousness and licentiousness, which leads to sexual sin.
Chapter 18 of Leviticus lays down why sexual sin is such a huge topic, and why we must take extra steps to guard against it. In the entire chapter, which not only defines sexual immorality, but also lists many of the crimes that fall under that category, the Lord states that such acts are an abomination (Toebah), and that even the land is defiled by these acts. It is no small thing, then, to commit sexual sin, no matter what our society and culture insists. In this chapter, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest are all clearly marked as sexual sin, and the prohibition is even extended to Gentiles living within the borders of Israel. If the Lord not only uses the strongest of language to define a sin, but also extends the law to include the Gentiles living in the land, then this is something that we must pay extra special attention to. Pay attention, kiddies, because this one will be on the exam, right? Using language, what God has done here is place a giant, flashing, electronic sign over this particular category and say, “Hey, so this is beyond critical. These are the ones you must avoid at all costs, because they are unbelievably bad for you. They will ruin you, your family, your nation, and your land.” In all the things that humans do, it all begins with thought and feeling, the heart and the mind. Therefore, the old saying says that the road to hell begins with good intentions, and this brings us to my next point: avoidance.
Job’s decision to make a covenant with himself brings up the necessary point of how one goes about avoiding the violation of this command from Jesus. It is one thing to avoid looking at someone to lust after them, but it is something else entirely to change your heart on the matter. There was a time when I was mired in sexual sin. I have been guilty of violating this command in a variety of ways, including watching porn and “checking out” women I considered attractive. I have since learned that there is far more to this than just looking somewhere else or staying away from purveyors of pornography. You must willingly give yourself over to the desire to never again be taken in by this form of sin.
The way this can be done is through what I call “tactical avoidance”, which is the idea that one can avoid temptation simply by never being in a place where they might be tempted. One thing I do is I avoid being alone with any female not related to me for any length of time beyond what is necessary. The reason for this is that having any form of intimate contact with someone who is not your spouse, and this includes intimate conversation, counts as adultery. This goes double for any time you discuss something that you have not told anyone else or would not tell your own spouse. It is all too easy to walk right into the realm of adultery, and much of what is truly considered adultery in Scripture is generally regarded as being “no big deal” in our world. Here are a few other references that bear this out:
“Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.” (Proverbs 6:25)
“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15)
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Not to be outdone, even pagans understood the idea that our thought life can and will lead to sin. Roman poet Decimus Junius Juvenalis, also known simply as Juvenal, once wrote,
“Scilus intra se tacitus que cogitat ullum, Fucti crimen habet.”
“Who in his breast a guilty thought doth cherish, He bears the guilt of actions.”
The basic idea is, if you have the thought, then this is just as bad as having done the thing. Bear something in mind. Sexual sin has such a tremendous impact on people that it has been the cause of much struggle and strife in our world. Recall the story of Helen of Troy, and what happened with her. Her adultery was the cause of a major war that ended in the sacking of the City of Troy, and the liquidation of its population. Of course, that is an extra-biblical reference. What of examples within the Bible?
There is David, whose sexual sin led him to commit adultery, murder, and possibly rape. There is Samson, whose sexual sin brought about his own downfall when he was betrayed by Delilah. There was Solomon, whose sexual sin led him into idolatry. As Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr. puts it, the strongest man in the Bible, the wisest man in the Bible, and the godliest man in the Bible all fell into sexual sin. The impact of their decisions was as immense as they were immediate, and therefore God speaks so strongly against the commission of sexual sin to protect us and grow us in our relationship with Him, so that we may not suffer needlessly through the consequences of our own poor decision-making. We cannot grow in our relationship with Him and engage in sexual sin at the same time. It simply cannot be done. We are too weak, and sexual sin is too heinous.
The idea behind tactical avoidance is simply to be aware of your weaknesses, be aware of your surroundings, be aware of the people in those surroundings, be aware of the things that you are saying or doing in those surroundings and using that to prevent the possibility of being in a place where you can possibly fail. It reminds me of a tactical process known as the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is a process developed by an Air Force Fighter Pilot named Col. John Boyd. This is a concept he used while flying, and stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is represented as a loop because each step in the acronym leads to the next one in a continuous circle without beginning or end. This process requires one to constantly be on guard, to constantly assess, reassess, and assess some more.
By this point, I am sure that some of you are wondering what this has to do with honoring Jesus’ command on adultery, and here it is. We. Are. At. War. Our Enemy, Satan, has made it his mission to bring an end to everything that God has made. He desires nothing less than the complete destruction of all that God has made, and our mission is to do all that we can to prevent that. For humanity, the foundational institution that determines the strength and health of a human society is the nuclear family. Marriage is essential to the health of a nuclear family, which is essential to the strength and health of human society. Therefore, adultery and all other forms of sexual sin is called an abomination by God because these sins can literally tear apart the entire foundation of our societies, and this is Satan’s fondest wish.
As we are plainly at war, then war language is required. Hence, OODA Loop and tactical avoidance are appropriate here. We are fighting against more than our own fragile selves; we are also fighting against the enemy who excels at using our weaknesses against us to bring us down. Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”. (2 Cor. 10:3-4) Mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. We do not war after the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. As I said, we are at war, and if we do not spend any time acting as if we are so, we will be lost long before we are aware of it.
This is the point where I would like to bring your attention to an adage that has been around for a long time, “When war is declared, truth is the first casualty.” (attributed to Arthur Ponsonby in 1928). In the case of this war, truth fell as the first casualty to the father of lies in the Garden, and he has sold many big lies to us ever since. One of the biggest is that someone who is married can have opposite-sex friends. This is the lie that has cost a great many people their marriages because we have been told that it is acceptable for married men to have female friends, and for married women to have male friends. Even I was taken in by this lie, and this lie has caused us all a lot of pain and trouble. The truth is that this lie is beyond dangerous, and tactical avoidance dictates that we cannot fall for it.
The reason why this is so dangerous is that human relationships are a minefield of temptation. Guys, you need to consider the following. You have an argument with your wife, and one or both of you feels the need to speak with a friend regarding said argument. Deep down, how would you feel if the friend your wife turned to was male? If the idea unsettles you, as it does me, then you understand why it is that having opposite-sex friends is too dangerous. This is because it creates the opportunity for someone to seek something from someone that they should be finding in you, and vise versa.
One of the things my wife has taught me is that women are relational, a fact that did not settle into my mind for quite some time. I have never made to claim to being overly bright, so no one act surprised to learn that I can be incredibly dumb, especially about the ways of women. In his presentation, “Tale of Two Brains”, Mark Gungor makes the point that everything in a woman’s brain is not only interconnected but is also connected to all their emotions as well. In their minds, all things connect, and the emotional element in that only serves to cement it, and therefore it is dangerous. You turning to a female friend for anything is creating relationship, and human relationships always have an emotional element that cannot be ignored because that is where intimacy lives. If we men are behaving in our characteristically insensitive way, and they turn to a male friend for the sensitivity that they are not getting from us, that creates an open pathway for adultery, even if only in the heart and mind. Remember, simply thinking of it is as bad as doing it, and any form of intimacy with anyone not our spouse is adultery.
Men are not off the hook, either. While we may be insensitive and dense at times (read “most times”), we can still be emotional and sensitive. That emotion and sensitivity can lead to bonding with someone, which in turn leads to intimacy. What happens if your wife does not seem to understand you and it turns into conflict? Turning to a female friend for understanding is exactly the wrong answer because you have now turned to a woman for something that you are ONLY supposed to get from your wife and no other. Folks, this is how dangerous these waters are, and this is the big lie that our entire society has bought, hook, line, and sinker.
Think about popular media. In TV and movies, how many times do you see married men with female friends? How many times do you see married women with male friends? The image painted is that it is entirely acceptable, that one can maintain a purely platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex, while still being married! This is how the lie is sold! Truth be told, you simply cannot get around the fact that friendship involves intimacy, and intimacy with anyone outside of your marriage is a no-go. Whatever you do, keep away from that ledge. Nothing good comes from standing there.
I will make one final point. Some of you may be thinking that you are free and clear because you happen to be single. In some ways, you are right. Having a platonic relationship with someone of the opposite sex is, to a degree, acceptable. However, there are a few things to consider here. Single men, those women you like to check out all the time will one day BE someone’s wife, someone’s mother. Single women, those guys you like to check out will one day be someone’s husband, someone’s father. In that sense, when you look on someone to lust after them, married or not, you are committing adultery in your heart.
Now, I mentioned that it was acceptable to a degree, and here is what I mean. Friendship requires a certain level of intimacy, and if intimacy between a married person and their unmarried friend is adultery and looking at a member of the opposite sex to lust after them is adultery, then such intimacy can only be adultery as well. Again, this is a person who will one day be someone’s wife or husband. This is also why premarital sex, a form of fornication, is unacceptable in the eyes of God. When you are intimate with the wrong person, you commit adultery in your heart. When you commit adultery, regardless of the form it takes, what you are doing is taking something that does not belong to you, and that is theft. Do. Not. Do. It.