27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Again, Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 5:27-30 for two reasons. We will discuss the first here and the second in the following two verses below (verses 29-30). The words, “You have heard that it was said,” are a reference to the seventh command in the ten commandments found in Exodus 20:14. Jesus proceeded to correct the misapplication and teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees who taught that adultery consisted only of physical, sexual intercourse with another man or woman outside of a marriage relationship. However, Jesus corrected this twisting of the command by showing that a man (this teaching applies to both sexes) can commit adultery simply by looking at a woman’s body and lusting after it in his heart (covetousness).
The word “looks” in Greek has connotations of a purposeful gaze (regardless of how long one chooses to look at the person in question) with intentions that go beyond simply admiring the appearance of a woman’s body. A person who lusts looks at the physical body of another and covets (fantasizes) after it as if they were an object and not another human created in the image and likeness of God (mental adultery can also occur at any time and any place with or without the presence of someone else). We must also realize that consistent staring is not necessary to commit lust. A person may only get a quick but good enough glimpse of someone else while taking the image formed in their head and craving after it. We do not have to limit the word “looks” to an intense gaze. The point is that if you see someone (however long you looked at them is irrelevant) and lust after them in your heart, you have committed adultery.
Considering how many pastors and scholars have dangerously twisted the meaning of these verses over the years, it is necessary to clear up a few false conclusions concocted by those who wish to teach that EVERYTHING is mental adultery (many misguided pastors want to complicate the subject by adding their own set of unbiblical rules and standards). The Scribes and Pharisees in Christ’s day took one bad extreme by saying it only consisted of sleeping with another man or woman one was not married to. That, as we have seen, is obviously false. Sadly, many within the church have exchanged that extreme for another that claims that simply dallying with sexual thoughts constitutes sinful behavior.
Firstly, finding someone else physically attractive through a simple observation is not sinful. Likewise, all human beings (especially men with higher sex drives and greater levels of testosterone) possess God-given hormones designed to draw them to a member of the opposite sex for marital and reproductive purposes (sex is only pure within marriage). Without hormones, most people would unlikely want to marry and have children. Therefore, experiencing sexual excitement over the sight of an attractive person is natural and something we humans don’t always have control over. Sexual desire and arousal (the body’s natural response to stimulations) are not sinful. However, it is wrong to self-stimulate with the intent of sexually gratifying oneself through lust. Purposefully doing certain things, going to specific places, or viewing particular things for the simple reason of arousing oneself will inevitably lead to the sin of lust.
Another common misunderstanding is that dallying with a sexual temptation is a sin. It is not a sin to hesitate to say no by itself. However, the person who pushes the situation by seeing how far they can go is not being as serious as they should be in trying to overcome this deadly sin. It is not as if thinking about the thought for a few seconds or what have you is an automatic guarantee for failure, but that is often the case. Continuous dallying almost always leads to giving in. So, all believers must resist the urge to play with the thought by dealing with the problem immediately and saying no to it. There must be a no-tolerance policy! We must always strive to give a no answer as quickly as possible because the longer we wait, the stronger the pull and urge to give in becomes. The more the antelope continues to drink the water despite knowing the crocodile is slowly approaching, the more impending it’s death becomes. It’s better to flee as soon as possible before the jaws of death snap shut, and it’s too late. Like Joseph (Genesis 39:6-18), we must learn to flee from all such dangerous situations once our internal spiritual alarm bells go off and we realize we are under spiritual attack.
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil (and keep resisting), and he will flee from you.
14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
To finish what we’ve touched on above, we believers don’t always catch every sin we commit daily (which means there are plenty we forget to confess) because we are imperfect, fallible human beings. But we know what sin (lust in this particular instance) is, and we should know when we have committed it most times. We must be aware that we can never overcome it perfectly (1 John 1:8) but still strive to do our best to reach that goal (Matthew 5:48).
29 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. 30 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.
Once again (as He did in His message on murder), Jesus indirectly revealed the only way to heaven through Himself. He did not come out and tell the people that He was the Messiah they needed to believe in for salvation. He spoke of Himself indirectly (for the same reason He spoke in parables) to avoid premature interference with His purpose and ministry. Therefore, He used extreme sarcasm to get the Israelites to see the futility of trying to work their way to heaven by keeping the Law. No one could keep the Law perfectly (not even close). Again, Jesus alluded to the fact that we would all be lost and eternally condemned even over one sin (better to self-mutilate than to be thrown alive into Hell over one act of lust) absent the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus pointed to Himself and the work He would accomplish on the cross to get the people to see their need for a Savior who would pay for all their past, present, and future transgressions (Isaiah 53).
It was absurd to suggest that a person should cut off a hand or gouge out an eye to overcome sexual sin (or any sin, for that matter), and that was the whole point (it is doubtful anyone has ever done this since our Lord spoke these words). The people should have known that Jesus wasn’t serious and that they could have done nothing to save themselves in the power of the Law and their flesh absent faith in the person and work of Christ. In other words, no act of the flesh through human righteousness can save anyone (nor can any believer fix an inner spiritual problem through the power of their flesh if they ever want to overcome sin and avoid possibly giving into apostasy). Therefore, there must be only one final solution: the sacrifice of the Messiah (and one’s faith in it) who stood right in the people’s midst (hint, hint, the solution was standing before them). Jesus spoke these words to direct the people’s attention toward Himself. The works and rituals the Scribes and Pharisees heavily advocated had no power to save. Israel’s leaders were setting a terrible example and were keeping people out of the Kingdom in so doing (Matthew 23:13-14).
We must remember that the Law was good and righteous even though it had no power to save (Romans 7:12). True, many (if not most) of the rituals and practices prescribed in the Pentateuch are no longer for any believer today. But many of the commands (such as the Ten Commandments) and other moral teachings still apply.
The “eye” referenced in verse twenty-nine of our passage refers to a person’s ability to look at something and lust after it (or sin in any other way). Likewise, the hand can also be used to commit fornication (and carry out any other sins one could do with that part of the body). But no person needs either (they can still sin with the other eye or hand) because they can still sin in their mind (as but just one example) through what they think by channeling their thoughts in sinful ways. Jesus’s words here also confirm again that adultery starts in the mind and then goes down to the heart. Once again, this tells us that no one can be perfect and avoid sin entirely. Since that is the case, all should have thought, “Then who and how can anyone be saved?” Since there is no other way, Jesus must be the only way Himself. This truth should have led the believers listening to Him (and should fulfill the same purpose for us today) to be even more thankful through glorifying God with their bodies, knowing He bought them at a price. They (and we today) need to remember that we all deserved and would have suffered a terrible eternal fate had Christ not loved and given Himself for us (John 3:16). The exhortation to us is to keep relying on Jesus Christ by faith through grace alone. The kindness of God in offering up His Son on our behalf should lead all to repentance, the unbeliever to faith in Christ, and the believer from any sinful pattern they may have fallen into. Again, the unbeliever should have taken these words as a call to stop trusting in themselves and get saved by believing in Jesus Christ instead.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”