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. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 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.– Matthew 5:27-32
In his insightful little book on the Sermon on the Mount, Clarence Jordan makes the following observation:
Life in the Christian fellowship calls for a much higher standard of righteousness than an external code of “dos” and “don’ts.” With Jesus, the way a person did a thing and why were as important as what that person did. The motive and the deed were inseparable. He knew that human beings would never solve the problem of moral behavior by changing outward rules; the human heart would have to change.
As with the previous teaching on anger, Jesus hones in here on the insidious nature of lust in the human heart. Jesus speaks a word that cuts deeper than surface level barometers of cultural spirituality. Simply keeping oneself from adulterous physical activity, although commendable, is simply not the point; one may never engage in a sexual act with another person’s spouse and yet harbor strong feelings of lust and passion for that individual for years. Jesus refuses to be content with this standard. Instead, he delves deeper into our interior life, our thought world, and begins to tidy things up.
Jesus also speaks a word about divorce, a seemingly hard word in our culture, yet it was probably every bit as counter-cultural in his own day. Jesus acknowledges the Mosaic teaching on divorce, yet he restores to the forefront of our minds the original intention for marriage, a recognition that we were created for one other.
At the heart of Jesus’ teaching is a strong word about faithfulness in relationship. It has been well documented that our society — at least 21st century Western culture — seems too preoccupied with other things to honor our commitments. In fact, we’re often guilty of co-opting God and hiding behind His “will” as a mask to act out our own carnal desires. (I’m thinking of the individual who leaves spouse and family for the arms of another lover, all under the pretense that “God wants me to be happy” or “God brought us together”.) Unfaithfulness takes many forms, both in the first century and today, and Jesus implores us back to an understanding of faithfulness to each other as an extension of faithfulness to God. The interior life is every bit as important as the exterior for disciples of Jesus.
Glen Stassen puts it succinctly:
In the Bible, adultery is not only sexual behavior; the emphasis is on rupture of covenant relationship – for example, violation of a marriage relationship.
Jesus, faithful to the Father and to us, is uniquely qualified to give us this teaching. He who has ears, let him hear.