Through Jesus' eyes: adultery’s roots in mind and heart

Posted Oct 10, 2019

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This week we are memorizing:

Do not commit adultery.

Daily Scripture

Matthew 5:27-30

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.

Reflection Questions

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (as recorded in Matthew’s gospel) gave much insight into how he saw the 10 Commandments. He made it plain that he took adultery seriously. But as with the 6th commandment, he made it plain that he saw the commandment as reaching far beyond just physical actions. He followed the lead of Israel’s prophets in teaching that faithless hearts (as much or more as faithless bodies) deeply hurt relationships.

  • Jesus expanded the idea of betrayal (as he did for several other parts of life). He said a person’s heart (emotions and thoughts) can be faithless to a spouse’s needs, even without any overt act. How might it be possible to commit that kind of “adultery” with your career, a favorite hobby, or even your children if you gave them a higher priority than loving your spouse? How might a deep commitment to be faithful to your spouse call for changes in you at the heart level?
  • Jesus was talking about your heart and mind, more than your body, so it should be clear he wasn’t really telling you to mutilate your body in verses 29-30. After all, “cutting off an offending member would not necessarily end one’s sin. Jesus here uses hyperbole, or rhetorical overstatement, to graphically underline his point: one must do whatever is necessary to evade destruction.”* What do you believe Jesus wanted his vivid images to teach you about your inner life? What changes might you consider in your reading, viewing or other habits to take Jesus seriously?


Lord Jesus, I live in a world full of all kinds of images and messages that tug my thoughts away from your way of life. Give me the courage to “tear out and chop off” any habits or interests that keep me from a faithful life. Amen.

* Zondervan, NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 219197-219198). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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Darrell Holtz

Darrell Holtz

Darrell Holtz serves as Program Director for Adult Curriculum and Writing at Church of the Resurrection. He has two adult children, and two smart, handsome grandsons.

Let's get one clear application of today's Scripture quickly out of the way: internet pornography completely violates Jesus' view of the 7th commandment. I find disappointing and troubling the way that much banter today, especially in channels like sports talk radio, assumes that it's just normal for people (especially men) to watch "porn" with no more thought than if they choose to watch a ball game. If you do that, stop.

Similarly, most readers can see that Jesus used hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) in his comments about tearing out eyes or cutting off hands. Since he was talking about what goes on in our mind, literal physical mutilation wouldn't solve the problem. But it's worth noticing that the word "sexy" is almost always a compliment in a review of a film, TV show, play or musical performance. And sometimes giving up any of those that lead our mind to places where we shouldn't want it to go can be almost as painful as a physical amputation.

Now two things that may not be as obvious. From scholar N. T. Wright, who is both a better Bible student and writer than I am: "Don’t suppose that Jesus means you must never feel the impulse of lust when you look at someone attractive. That would be impossible, and is not in any case what the words mean. What he commands us to avoid is the gaze, and the lustful imagination, that follow the initial impulse." * Please don't think I'm quoting this from some sparkling pure height in which I have no idea what Dr. Wright is talking about but imagine that you need to hear and apply it. I know all too well, and with sadness, about times when my imagination has lingered on feelings and actions that I know perfectly well are not what Jesus wants for my life.

But Wright also pointed to the big picture, the positive importance of what Jesus taught: "Jesus certainly didn’t want his hearers, or the later church, to get embroiled in endless debates about what precisely was allowed. Far, far more important to think about how to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth! And in the area of sexual behaviour, the answer is clear, bracing and just as challenging today as it was to the wider pagan world of the first century. Sexual desire, though itself good and God-given, is like the fire of Gehenna, which needs firmly keeping in place. Saying ‘no’ to desire when it strikes inappropriately—in other words, outside the context of marriage—is part of the most basic Christian discipline. This is not ‘repression,’ as people sometimes suggest. It is more like the pruning of a rose, cutting off some healthy buds so that the plant may grow stronger and produce better flowers." *

"How to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth." I sometimes think, "Shouldn't one of our dreams be that because of Resurrection's presence, a demographer studying our communities would think, 'Why is the divorce rate and the child abuse rate in that part of Kansas City so much lower? Why is the use of pornography so much lower than in other parts of the city or state?'" Jesus didn't want, doesn't want, to rob us of genuine enjoyment, in the area of sex any more than in other areas of life. But he longs to guide us in avoiding the hurtful, destructive results of using sex as a casual source of selfish entertainment, rather than as a powerful, God-given gift that bonds committed loving relationships as we focus on blessing our partners more than ourselves.

* From N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1–15. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, pp. 48-49.

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