Adultery in His Heart (Matthew 5.27–28)


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In Matthew 5.27–28, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

If adultery begins in the heart, then a lot of us are adulterers.

But we don’t like to think of ourselves as adulterers. We usually rationalize our lust—what a strong word!—with the phrase, “I was only looking,” as if looking were a morally harmless activity. Looking is not always so innocent, however. A man who peers through your bedroom window late at night is hardly innocent, even though he hasn’t “done” anything to you. He’s a “peeping Tom.” A woman who cases a mall in order to see which stores are easiest to shoplift isn’t innocent; she’s a thief in the making. Whether by itself or linked to a consequent action, looking is charged with moral significance.

So, Jesus warns us against looking lustfully at a woman other than your wife. Obviously, the same warning applies to you women looking lustfully at men other than your husbands. Call it the “Desperate Housewives” Rule (after the show on ABC). But if looking is not always innocent, not looking is almost always difficult. It’s hard not to look when sex is always on display.

Is it just me, or does is seem like sex is everywhere in our visual media? A few years back, Abercrombie & Fitch raised a ruckus when it included naked pictures of twenty-something models in its clothing catalogue. Usually models wear the clothes they’re selling, but A&F knew it would sell clothing if it marketed sex. The same is true of other products. When was the last time you saw an ad in which the guy who uses the product ends up with an ugly woman in frumpy clothing? Sex sells, sales drive profits, and profits motivate corporate officers. So, those same officers sign off on marketing campaigns saturated with sex.

Consequently, we find ourselves in a bind: Jesus tells us not to look, but our culture is taking off its clothes everywhere we look. What should we do?

Martin Luther once said that you can’t stop a bird from flying overhead, but you can stop it from building a nest in your hair. In that spirit, I say, turn off the TV. Stop looking at those magazines (Maxim if you’re male, Cosmo if you’re female.) Avoid movies with gratuitous sex and nudity. And—here’s the important part—cultivate intimacy with your spouse.

You see, the main point of Jesus’ teaching isn’t just negative. Sure, he prohibits adultery and lust. But the prohibition is a negative means to a positive end, and that end is marriage. Jesus wants us to have spiritually, emotionally, and physically satisfying marriages that last our whole lives’ long. The beginning step is to stop looking at other women and start paying more attention to your wife. (And ladies, the “Desperate Housewives” Rule still applies.)

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