Adultery of the Heart

Adultery of the Heart
Matthew 5:27–30 “I say to
you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful
intent has already
committed adultery with her in his heart” (v. 28).

Note that the
antitheses found in the Sermon on the Mount do not say that all
sins are
equal in degree. For example, ungodly anger and the act of murder
violate the intent of Exodus 20:13 (Matt. 5:21–22), but the hot-head and
murderer do not get the same punishment (Num. 35:9–29). Both sins make
guilty before our Creator and bring eternal death if there is no
(Rom. 3:23). Nevertheless, God punishes sinners in hell in
proportion to the
gravity of their sin and what has been revealed to them
(Matt. 11:20–24).

Furthermore, Christ’s teaching on anger also shows us
that we must not only
refrain from forbidden acts, we must do all we can to
encourage their
opposite. It is not enough to keep from being angry unjustly
with a Christian
brother or sister; we must do all we can to ensure that they
have no cause to
be angry with us. We must pursue reconciliation and loving
relationships as
far as we are able (5:23–26). Thus we can see why the
Westminster Larger
Catechism says that “where a duty is commanded, the
contrary sin is forbidden;
and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty
is commanded” (Q. 99).

According to this principle, a thorough exegesis
(interpretation) of today’s
passage tells us we must also encourage chastity
in the church and the world
in addition to refraining from lustful intent in
the heart (Matt. 5:27–28). In
fact, the apostles elsewhere give us this
precise command (1 Tim. 2:8–10; Heb.
13:4). Male and female alike, we violate
the command against adultery and do
not love our brothers and sisters in
Christ if we act and dress in a manner
that might provoke another to stumble
into lust (Rom. 14:13–23; 1 John 4:21).

Jesus is teaching us the end to
which the command against adultery points.
Since, as the church father Jerome
said, “what we conceive in the mind we
might complete with an act”
(Commentary on Matthew, 1.5.29), it is not enough
to refrain from the
physical act of fornication (Matt. 5:27–28). God’s law,
our Savior shows us,
has a pure heart as its final goal. The pursuit of this
purity is to be among
our most urgent tasks, and we must do whatever it takes
to keep our minds
free from lust’s pollution (vv. 29–30).

Coram deo: Living before the face
of God
Unfortunately, lust is
rampant in the church today, and many are in bondage to
pornography and other
sexual sins. If this is a problem for you, cut off your
access to outlets
where you may find temptation. Whether or not lust has a
particularly strong
grip in your life, consider how you dress and act in the
world and in the
church. Are you a stumbling block for others with revealing
clothes or with a
flirtatious personality?

For further study:

2 Samuel 11

Bible in a year:

Numbers 23–25

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