Adultery Of The Heart

By Linus Chua, adapted from message delivered on 4h May 2008 in PCC Morning Worship Service

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and castit 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. And 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).

As in the first antithesis, the problem with the Rabbis and scribes was not that they misquoted God’s Law but that they limited and restricted it to the mere outward and physical act. They stopped short of giving a full and complete interpretation of the commandment. To them, a person was guilty of breaking the Seventh Commandment only when he actually engaged in the physical act of adultery.

The Bible strongly condemns the physical act but it does not stop there. Even in the Old Testament, we read that lustful thoughts are condemned. For example, Proverbs 6:25 says, “Lust not after her beauty in thy heart…” Again in Job 31:1, Job said, “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” Then in the Tenth Commandment, which is the most inward of all the commandments, we read, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.” And finally Genesis 6:5 tells us that evil comes from the thoughts of a man’s heart.

Once again, we see that Christ was not teaching something new here. He was simply correcting the error of the Rabbis and drawing out the full implications of the law based on what the Old Testament itself has revealed. Far from abolishing or doing away with the law, Christ shows us what the law meant right from the very beginning.

Verse 28, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in her heart.” It is clear that Christ is not talking about an incidental or unintentional glance. The Greek verb translated “look” is in the present tense, which speaks of a continuous action. Christ is referring to intentional and repeated gazing with the purposing of lusting and satisfying one’s evil desire.

We need to realize that the lustful looking at a person is but the expression of an evil heart. The eye is but the instrument of the desire. It is not lustful looking that causes the sin in the heart but the sin in the heart that causes the lustful looking. Adultery in the heart can occur even when the physical eye does not see anything. Nevertheless, it is true that temptation often comes through the things that confront our eyes. We live in a day of unparalleled sexual temptation. People propagate, promote and exploit sexual passions through the most powerful and pervasive media ever known to man. You don’t need to go very far or wait very long to be tempted!

Now Christ does not condemn the often unexpected and unavoidable exposure to temptation. But He does condemn the continual looking in order to satisfy lust. David was not at fault when he first saw Bathsheba bathing while he was walking on the palace roof. He could have immediately looked away but he did not. His sin was in dwelling on what he saw, which eventually led him to the physical act of adultery.

Before we move on, we should note that although the Lord directly addresses men, this passage applies equally to women as well, and it applies not just to the married person but to the unmarried as well. Furthermore, all of us have the responsibility of not acting or behaving in a way that would become a source of temptation for other people. 

In its proper setting and context, the martial union of a man and a woman is a wonderful gift of God. But sadly with the entrance of sin, it has often been abused, debased and corrupted. Christ calls His people to purity of heart and life, and to unbending faithfulness in their marriages.

Then in verse 29, He gives us a very important instruction with respect to dealing with sin in the heart. “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.” Then in the next verse, He repeats exactly the same instruction with respect to the right hand that offends. But what is Christ teaching?

Some have taken these words in a wooden, literal way and have gone so far as to physically mutilate themselves. Now I do not deny that there are some very extreme circumstances in which these verses may, in some ways, be applied literally; yet in general, they are not to be taken so but should be understood as a figure of speech. 

In Jewish culture, the right eye represents a person’s best vision while the right hand represents his best skill. Together they represent the most cherished things that we possess. The word “offend” means to stumble or trap. The main truth that Christ is teaching us is that we should be willing to give up whatever is necessary, even the most cherished things we possess, if they trap us morally and spiritually, and cause us to fall into sin or to stay in sin. Drastic actions should be taken in order to get rid of sin and temptation in our lives.

There are three things that we can learn from these two verses. Firstly, we learn that this present life is not our only life. All of us, whether we are Christians or not, are headed for eternity. The only question is where we will spend it. Christ says, “for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish (that is, perish in this life), than for your whole body to be cast into hell (that is, cast into hell after you leave this world).”

Secondly, we are reminded that there is nothing, no matter how precious it may seem to us at the moment, that should be allowed to turn us aside from our glorious destiny. Are we shortsighted when it comes to evaluating the worth of something? Do we place a lot of emphasis on things of the moment, of the here and now, rather than things of eternity? Christ is teaching us that no matter how precious or valuable an object might be, even if it be our very own hand and eye, it must never be allowed to hinder us from our heavenly home.

Thirdly, we learn that sin is a very destructive force and must not be indulged in or treated lightly. Temptation should be flung aside decisively and immediately. We should not play the fool or dillydally with it. The surgery must be radical if the life is to be saved. Half-way or half-hearted measures will not do.  

Some years back, I read about a climber who went out one day on a day hike all by himself. Along the way, he accidentally dislodged a huge boulder which then somehow pinned down his right hand and forearm. He was trapped in that position for 5 days, by which time all his food and water supplies had been used up. There was virtually no chance of anyone coming to his rescue, and unless he did something drastic, he would not make it out alive. So in the end, he decided to use what tools he had to cut off his own right hand in order to free himself and save his own life. I cannot begin to imagine the tremendous amount of pain and agony, both mentally and physically, he must have gone through while doing it! But then again, what was the alternative but certain death?

The Bible uses very strong terms when it comes to the Christian’s relationship to sin. Romans 13:12, 14 says, “Cast off the works of darkness…make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” Colossians 3:5 says, “Mortify (that is put to death) therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Now we need to understand that the words of our Lord need not be restricted to sins against the Seventh Commandment. Rather, they should be applied to all other sins as well.

All of us have our particular temptations and weaknesses. It might be a particular book or magazine or comic or clothing or website or movie or music or sport or recreation or computer game or relationship or possession or position or ability or goal or desire or ambition or plan or habit or action or…and so on. It is not the same for everyone. But everyone needs to do the same thing when it comes to sin and temptation in their lives – cut it off before it is too late!

If we do not consciously and purposefully control and discipline ourselves in these things, then they will inevitably control us and what we cannot control or discipline, we should discard without hesitation. “all things are lawful unto me…but I will not be brought under the power of any. (1 Cor 6:12)”

But before we move on to the next antithesis, I will like to point out an interesting connection between these verses and the concept of martyrdom. John Murray, commenting on this text, says, “Nothing of earthly possession is too precious to dispense with if sin is for us the inevitable cost of retention. This is the principle that alone explains and warrants martyrdom. The martyr sacrifices life itself and therefore all of temporal possession rather than commit the sin of betrayal…there is absolutely nothing of earthly possession, including life itself, that must not be surrendered rather than fall into sin” (Murray, 167). And so in the case of martyrdom or dying for one’s faith, we have an extreme example of applying the words of Christ in a very literal way.