27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
A few thoughts for meditation:
In this next application of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus moved to the next commandment, “you shall not commit adultery.” What does true obedience look like to this commandment? The common misunderstanding at the time was that so long as you don’t commit physical adultery, you have kept the commandment. But Jesus explained the command applies to the secret desires of the heart as well. To look at someone beside your spouse “with lustful intent” was already committing adultery in his heart, and therefore guilty before God and worthy of judgment in “hell”. Jesus said earlier in the sermon, only the “pure in heart” will see God. The marriage bond applies to your thoughts and affections as well as your bodies. Your sexual, romantic, and intimate desires are to be focused and fulfilled only with your own spouse. This was God’s design when he created marriage in the beginning, binding sexual passion and energy within the security of marriage, to promote human flourishing and provide a stable loving home within which to raise children. Lust creates a crack in that marriage commitment and if nurtured or pursued it will deteriorate into a failed marriage and a broken family.
Since great dangers are rooted in lust, you must combat against it vigilantly. Jesus used graphic language to describe this spiritual struggle, plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand, to gain heaven maimed rather than going to hell intact. Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically. Otherwise he would have contradicted what he just said, that the true danger was lust in the heart. But that mentality of mortal combat against lust is the mindset required by the commandment, “you shall not commit adultery.” Lust is not a “little harmless sin” but one that leads to self-destruction. At the very least, it means aggressively turning your eyes from that other person and refusing to “look” at them in a lustful way. The “hand” likely conveyed the idea that lust and adultery are also acts of theft, taking what does not belong to you, and so you must mentally (and physically) keep your hands off. That aggressive mindset is difficult to grasp when immersed in a culture where lust is promoted in almost every commercial or show. We can get desensitized to how sinful it is. Jesus’ words here still shock people even today, and they should. Our lives are to be lived before the face of God. He sees all our thoughts and desires and how we respond to them. He gave us the gift of the imagination and we must use it to glorify him just as much as our bodies. Imagine how much marriages would improve if each partner invested their imagination to think of ways to nurture their marriages rather than wasting time lusting after others?
Finally, Jesus applied the seventh commandment to the problem of divorce. Even though the Pharisees of that day loudly denounced adultery, at the same time they made divorce extremely easy, at least for men. If husbands were displeased with their wives, they could give them a certificate of divorce and send them away, and then were free to marry another. It’s fairly easier to see how easy lust would flourish under such a scheme. This low view of divorce was based on a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There, Moses commanded that if a man was displeased with his wife for a reason other than adultery he must make a public certificate of divorce if he sends her away. If she marries another he may never marry her again. The intent was to restrain a hardhearted husband and protect the dignity of the wife. It was common in the ancient pagan world for husbands to mistreat their wives by throwing them out as a means of manipulation or even to swap wives with others temporarily. Moses basically said “you won’t treat your wife that way anymore. If you throw her out then she is free of you forever.” But the Pharisees had twisted this passage around and used it to satisfy their adulterous desires by making divorce and remarriage easy, so that they were not “technically” committing adultery. Jesus explained this more fully in Matthew 19. But here, Jesus confronted that popular misunderstanding by explaining that divorce was only permissible in the case of actual “sexual immorality”, a broader term referring to any sexual act with another person outside of the bounds of marriage. Paul would later add desertion as a ground for divorce too (1 Cor 7:15).
But the point of Jesus was clear, true obedience to this commandment applies to the heart not just to the body. Any desire for lust or divorce (apart from Christ’s exception here) is committing adultery in the heart. And no technical loopholes you create in the public laws to make lust or divorce easier will make it any less sinful in the eyes of God. True obedience to God here means our hearts as well as our bodies are committed to the flourishing of our marriages. As with all these commands, Jesus explained this so that we will see our sin and our need for his redemption. He came to save sinners and change them into people who keep the law from the heart again. If you find yourself falling short, then go to him for forgiveness and grace to change.