Adultery in the Heart

“Ye have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Jesus is working through a theme, and it is getting more uncomfortable.

In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus presents the second contrast between “what was heard” and what “I say unto you.” The first such contrast in Matthew 5:21-22 involved murder and hatred, insult, and derision of one’s brother; Jesus extended the principle to discuss the significance of reconciliation and the need to find grace before judgment (Matthew 5:23-26). While He quotes Exodus 20:13 from the Law of Moses in Matthew 5:21, He has no quarrel with the substance of the teaching, but insists that there is greater application and deeper concern than just the surface matter of the actual killing of another human being. The mental and emotional conditions of separation, alienation, judgmentalism, anger, hostility, etc. are just as wrong as the action when committed. Such instruction was in contrast to the standard of righteousness of the Pharisees which is under critique throughout this section (cf. Matthew 5:17-20).

This second contrast involves the next of the Ten Commandments, “thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). As before, Jesus has no quarrel with the command itself; when making His contrast He is not attempting to justify or commend adultery in any way. Yet, as with murder, so with adultery: the final action is but a realization of previous thoughts and desires. Jesus’ declaration means that it is not enough to just not commit adultery: to look at a woman with lustful intent is to commit adultery with her in the heart, and Jesus declares such thinking as its own form of covenant betrayal (Matthew 5:27-28).

Jesus’ theme has become apparent: to observe the letter of the Law and avoid the outwardly sinful behaviors is well and good, but true righteousness demands not just a reformation of behavior but also a reformation of thought and feeling. Under the Law, and certainly in the Pharisaic system of thinking, one might be justified if they did not commit adultery even if they secretly harbored fantasies of doing so; in the Kingdom of God the fantasy is a transgression as well. Since how you think and feel dictates how you act, if you would act righteously, you must also think and feel righteously; if you sin in behavior, you have most likely already sinned in thought and feeling beforehand (Mark 7:14-23, James 1:13-15).

Jesus’ main point is fairly clear and understandable, yet many questions are asked in modern times about how we might apply it. For instance, what about single people? Jesus does not speak in terms of “fornication” in action or in the heart (understood as “sex before marriage” or “sex by unmarried people” in thought or action) since most people, by the age of sexual maturity, would have already been married. Nevertheless, on what basis would this principle not apply to those who are unmarried, who remain just as much under the commands to avoid lascivious behavior and to keep their vessel in sanctification as those who are married (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:2-8)? They must take care to not allow lustful thinking to overtake them. Likewise, many ask whether this means that it is wrong for a man to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of a woman whom they see, or vice versa for females. To this we emphasize what Jesus says: He does not make a blanket statement saying that any man who looks at a woman commits adultery in his heart, but it is those who look at women with lustful intent who commit adultery in their heart (Matthew 5:28). Men well know the moment where the thought process goes from aesthetic appreciation toward something darker; one can have the aesthetic appreciation and then work diligently to keep the mind away from where it might go under such circumstances. These days some are willing to justify divorce on the grounds that a husband has viewed pornography and thus has committed adultery in his heart and thus the wife can divorce him for sexually deviant behavior (Matthew 19:9). While lustful thoughts toward other women and pornography are absolutely sinful and have no place in a marriage such viewing is not actual contact with another person or creature and therefore does not fit the definition of the term porneia and it is dangerous to justify a divorce for such a reason!

Yet we do well to take seriously what Jesus says about the dangers of adultery in the heart. It is its own form of betrayal, either of one’s present spouse or the spouse one intends to have one day. Humans have always yearned for fantasy realms in order to escape the challenges and difficulties of their present reality, and that is also true in terms of relationships. One can always imagine a better relationship with another: for men the focus tends to be on sex and that is why pornography has become such a large business. For women it tends to focus on other aspects of the relationship and such is why romance novels have become such a big business. Such escapism easily leads to separation and alienation in the marriage relationship, and it is a small step from thinking about what it would be like to be with someone else to actually committing the act of adultery. Not for nothing does Solomon say the following:

Drink waters out of thine own cistern, And running waters out of thine own well. Should thy springs be dispersed abroad, And streams of water in the streets? Let them be for thyself alone, And not for strangers with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed; And rejoice in the wife of thy youth. As a loving hind and a pleasant doe, Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; And be thou ravished always with her love. For why shouldest thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, And embrace the bosom of a foreigner? (Proverbs 5:15-20)

Let us take Jesus’ instruction to heart, finding satisfaction in our spouse and not in fantasies about others, maintaining not only our bodies but also our minds and feelings in sanctification and holiness to the glory of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Adultery in the Heart

The Betrayer, Betrayed

Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.”
But they said, “What is that to us? See thou to it.”
And he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
And the chief priests took the pieces of silver, and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood.”
And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, the field of blood, unto this day.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price; and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me” (Matthew 27:3-10).

Judas Iscariot is a good reminder to us that people tend to be more complicated than we often imagine. As the betrayer of Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16), and a greedy man who was known for stealing (cf. John 12:6), it would be easy to just write Judas off as purely evil. It would be easy to have no compassion on him whatsoever; it would be easy, as Dante did, to relegate him to the complete bottom of hell, as one of the most evil people to ever walk the earth.

Yet Judas is not a psychopath. He is not pure evil. Yes, he does terrible and sinful things; yes, he is rightly deemed an adversary, or devil, by Jesus (cf. John 6:70). But when the realization came upon him that Jesus was not getting away this time, that he really had just betrayed an innocent man, Judas acutely felt his guilt. He was deeply sorrowful for his actions (Matthew 27:3). He tried to return the thirty pieces of silver he was given to betray Jesus; to us, this may not seem like a significant act of repentance, considering what he has done, but let us remember that he is known for being covetous and a thief. After being spurned by the religious authorities, he went off and took his own life (Matthew 27:4-5). He perceived what he had done: he had betrayed the Christ of God into the hands of the men who would kill Him. The weight of guilt and pain proved too much for him.

So why did he do it? The text never says. Certain possibilities come to mind. He is most likely called Judas Iscariot because he hails from Kerioth, a village in Judea (Joshua 15:25). Jesus’ Galilean disciples were ready for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, defeat the Romans, and restore Israel’s political fortunes; how much more so would Judas, a native of Judea itself? Perhaps Judas thought that by betraying Jesus he would spur the Lord and Messiah into finally standing up to His adversaries and to establish that Kingdom about which He kept talking. Perhaps he was hurt by Jesus’ rebuke regarding Judas’ criticism of the waste of Mary’s ointment (cf. John 12:1-8), and he wanted to get a little even. Perhaps the money was the motivation: he wanted to know how much the chief priests would give him in order to hand Jesus over (Matthew 26:15), and perhaps he just saw an opportunity to make a quick buck. Perhaps it was just the voice of Satan tempting him and he proved unable to resist (Luke 22:3-6). Or perhaps, as with the rest of Judas’ character issues, it is a mixture of some of all of these reasons.

Regardless of why Judas did it, based on his reaction, it does not seem that Judas really thought that it would lead to Jesus’ death. Judas was there to see Jesus escape from the crowd in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30) and in Jerusalem (John 10:31-39). At least one of these events involved miraculous action. Judas most likely surmised that Jesus would either escape His enemies or defeat them outright. Judas believed, after all, that Jesus was the Christ; he saw the power Jesus manifested; he knew that the soldiers coming to get Jesus were really no match for Him.

But Judas did not know that Jesus was submitting to the plan of God, and that he was the catalyst, however willingly, of the terrible sufferings that Jesus would experience. When that realization came upon him, he saw the horror of what he had done.

Matthew has set up two very intentional parallels regarding Judas in his account of these events. The first is with Simon Peter. In Matthew 26:69-75, Matthew describes how Peter denies Jesus three times. Peter feels immense guilt for doing so; he goes off and wept bitterly. He had let Jesus down. And then, a few verses later, in Matthew 27:3-10, Matthew relates how Judas felt guilt for what he had done. Both Peter and Judas felt guilt. Both proved repentant at their actions– they were both very sorrowful. But Peter’s repentance led him to turn back to Jesus, receive forgiveness, and to change from a denier of the Lord to a full confessor and witness of Jesus before the Jews and the nations (cf. John 21:15-19, Acts 2:14-36, 3:11-4:22). We have little doubt that Peter, despite having denied Jesus, entered into His glory. Judas, however, did not turn to Jesus. He did not wait to see what would happen, to beg for forgiveness before the Risen Lord. Had he done so, is there any doubt that Jesus would have forgiven him if he was truly repentant? Instead, his guilt led him to seek atonement from the very ones who gave him the money, those who also had Jesus’ blood on their hands, and was spurned even by them. Drowning in guilt, Judas kills himself. Despite repenting of what he had done, Judas did not turn back to God in Christ for forgiveness. Crushed by worldly guilt, he takes his own life, and what hope can we have for him in eternity on account of it? Thus Paul will later teach the Corinthians that there are two forms of guilt– worldly guilt that leads to death, and godly guilt that leads to true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).

Yet it is the second parallel that Matthew is making that is often missed if we are only focusing on Judas and his character. Judas is not the only actor here; we also have the example of the chief priests and elders.

We have declared that Judas feels great sorrow for what he has done. This sorrow is very deep because he knows who Jesus is and therefore the enormity of the transgression he has committed. He wants to make good in some small way, and so he takes the money back to the Temple (Matthew 27:3). He desperately seeks atonement for what he has done.

One would think that he has done wisely in heading to the Temple. After all, according to the covenant between God and Israel, the Temple is where God dwells and where sacrifices are to be offered for sin (cf. Leviticus). Atonement and forgiveness of sins are to be found by bringing one’s sacrifice to the Temple and having it offered before God. One of the most important reason for the Temple’s existence is to facilitate this atonement, and the chief priests are the very ones who have been given this task (cf. Leviticus 16).

Yet Judas does not receive any such comfort. Judas confesses to them that he has sinned by betraying innocent blood (Matthew 27:4). What do they tell him? “What is that to us? See thou to it” (Matthew 27:4). The very priests who are to minister to God on behalf of the people, offering the sacrifices brought by contrite Israelites, show complete disinterest in Judas’ problem. They declare that he has to see to his own atonement himself.

As it relates to Judas himself, we see that the betrayer is now betrayed. Jesus put trust in Judas, allowing him to maintain the money bag even though he pilfered from it, establishing him as one of the select Twelve, and Judas betrayed him. Now, the religious authorities to whom Judas entrusted himself, getting their money for handing Jesus over, whose “day job” it is to facilitate atonement for sin, refuse to do anything for him. They do not deny his claim; they “piously” refuse to put the money back into the treasury, for they know it is the price of blood, and that is why they buy a field with it (Matthew 27:6-10). If Judas’ claim of betraying innocent blood is true, than their guilt is not much less than his own. But they are content– regardless of Jesus’ conduct, He was a threat to the “system,” and that threat was being removed. The show would go on. The chief priests and elders maintained their authority and stature among the people.

Yet, in reality, they have just sold themselves out. As this relates to Jesus and the office of the Temple, Matthew is making it clear that the Temple and its authorities are being superseded. The chief priests and elders are more right than they imagine when they cast Judas off, for in reality, their sacrifices and their attempts toward atonement now prove insufficient. Salvation and forgiveness are coming through Jesus who is being crucified; the sad irony is that the cost of Judas’ atonement was being paid for as he was going through these actions. The Temple system, with its corrupted chief priests, was morally bankrupt. Within forty years, the Romans put an end to the whole pretense. Matthew is showing that God’s sentence against them was just.

The betrayer is betrayed; in the process, the whole system proves its own condemnation. At that moment it was hard to imagine that their machinations were really leading to the opportunity for all men to receive salvation through the redemption for which Jesus was paying with His life. The great tragedy is that, as far as we can tell, none of them proved willing to receive true forgiveness. Judas was repentant but directed it wrongly; he took his own life. The chief priests and elders, as a whole, never seemed to humble themselves, and the Romans would do it for them. Let us learn from their examples. Let us repent with godly grief, turning to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness, and changing our ways for the better!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Betrayer, Betrayed

Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery

Thou shalt not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14).

The seventh commandment is one that has been universally upheld in societies throughout the world; nevertheless, it is continually violated. Statistics on rates of adultery are difficult to properly ascertain, but it is believed that somewhere between a third and two thirds of all married people will commit adultery at some point in their lifetimes. That is astoundingly depressing!

The emphasis placed on this commandment by its placement is notable. In terms of the commandments involving one’s relationships with fellow humans, it falls right in the middle, after commands to honor parents and to not murder, and before commands to not steal, bear false witness, or covet. One might think that the latter three commandments would have greater importance, considering that they involve a lot more than just one’s spouse. Thus, what makes adultery such a challenging problem, and why is emphasis placed upon it?

We should first note two things. First, the commandment is specifically against adultery, which demands that at least one, if not both, parties are already married or betrothed. This is probably because people got married rather young in ancient times, and fornication was not as much of a problem as it would become in later generations (nevertheless, see 1 Corinthians 7:1-9). Secondly, one of the significant impulses leading to adultery– coveting the wife (or, for women, the husband) of one’s neighbor– is condemned in the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17). If the impulse that leads to adultery is already condemned, why does God feel compelled to come out and condemn the fruit of that impulse? And why would the command against adultery come before the command against coveting?

The big problem with adultery is the violation of covenant that it represents. The marriage commitment was always intended to be mutual and perpetual (Genesis 2:24). To this day people will vow to love and cherish only their spouse; to commit adultery is to demonstrate that one thinks nothing of that vow, and is unable to maintain a solemn commitment made before God.

Jesus demonstrates the seriousness of adultery in Matthew 19:3-9. He derives a principle from God’s originally stated purpose for marriage: what God has joined man is not to separate (Matthew 19:4-6). Those who would divorce and marry another are condemned as committing adultery, yet an exception is made for those who have divorced their spouse for the latter’s sexually deviant behavior (Matthew 19:9). It is evident that said sexually deviant behavior– adultery by any other name– is itself a way of separating what God has joined. Paul uses this same principle to condemn the use of prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.

In fact, sexual sin constantly makes the top of the list of sins in the New Testament– witness Galatians 5:17-19, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Ephesians 5:3. There are good reasons for this: humans easily fall into sexual temptation and then sexual sin.

And let us be honest– sex is treated differently than most subjects. If we consider many of the consequences of violation of these commandments– adultery, stealing, false witness– people are made to feel violated when these acts are perpetrated. When possessions are stolen, it is easy to feel very violated– something we feel is secure is proven to be rather insecure. When people bear false witness against us, it is easy to feel betrayed.

Yet adultery always reaches very deeply since it represents violation and betrayal on the deepest level. Sexuality is the greatest form of physical intimacy that can be attained in this life, designed to reflect, in some small measure, the connection we are to have with God (cf. Ephesians 5:31-32). The two becoming one flesh is to lead to a very tight bond, one not freely shared with everyone. That is why, of all things, most people understand that sexuality is to remain private. Therefore, when a spouse betrays us by committing adultery, we are deeply betrayed and feel violated– that intimate connection has been made with another, and the severity of that indiscretion sinks deeply.

Such is why adultery ranks so highly in the Ten Commandments; stealing, false witness, and covetousness are sins people might commit against one another, but adultery tends to cause greater hurt and deeper mistrust. A cloud of suspicion hangs over any adulterous spouse, and reconciliation is quite the challenge if it can even be pulled off.

It is little wonder, then, when God wanted to express to Israel the severity of the latter’s idolatry, He used the imagery of adultery, as evidenced in Hosea 1-3 and very graphically in Ezekiel 16, for example. The comparison was apt– just as a man makes a covenant with a woman so as to become husband and wife, so God made a covenant with Israel (cf. Malachi 2:14, Exodus 19-20). Such covenants were designed to be mutual and perpetual– husband and wife for one another and no other, God and Israel for one another, and Israel certainly for no other (cf. Exodus 20:1-4)! But Israel went and served other gods, and in so doing committed spiritual adultery (Hosea 4:9-19).

Adultery is one of those sins that leads to profound regret for most of the people who commit it. Whatever pleasure the fling might provide cannot compare to the pain, guilt, and misery inflicted upon the existing marriage relationship. The same is true in our spiritual relationship with God: no matter how attractive it might be at times to forsake God’s way, such ultimately causes more grief than it is ever worth. Let us all strive to honor the covenants which we have made, both to our spouses and to God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery

Following Afar Off

And they seized [Jesus], and led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed afar off (Luke 22:54).

The night’s confused events were taking place rapidly.

They had all spent the night eating the Passover with Jesus, and they all knew that the time was near. Jesus had indicated that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom had come (Luke 22:18). He had served His disciples and instructed them in many things regarding His imminent departure (John 13-17).

And then, in the garden, Judas had come with the band of soldiers. Peter felt that this was the time to act, and he cut off Malchus’ ear (cf. Luke 22:47-51, John 18:10-11). Jesus censured him for the move, and healed Malchus. All of the disciples then turned and fled while Jesus was led away (Matthew 26:56).

Soon after, Peter remembered exactly what he had told Jesus and what Jesus had said. Peter said that he would go with Jesus both to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). He could not abandon his Master now, and so he followed from afar.

The pieces were then in place. Peter sat with others and warmed himself by the fire (Luke 22:55). It was in this setting that his courage failed him. He had three opportunities to confess Jesus, and he denied Him three times (Luke 22:56-60). Then Jesus turned and looked at him (Luke 22:61). We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

Thus Peter betrayed Jesus. It was really classic Peter, exhibiting the same type of initial brashness and then wavering as seen when he walked on the water and then began to sink (cf. Matthew 14:28-31). Peter as a man of little faith was exposed again.

That exposure was unnecessary as we can see. The disciples had fled, and Peter could have continued to flee. He could have waited out this tempestuous time away from the danger and would not have had the opportunity to deny Jesus. Yet Peter, as impetuous as always, followed Jesus into the danger zone, and, as usual, failed.

But would Jesus have really wanted Peter to flee and not experience the testing of faith? That is a much more difficult question. As much as Peter’s denials must have pierced Jesus’ soul, Peter was at least willing to suffer the danger of being near Him. The abandonment was not entirely complete, as it certainly was for some of the other disciples.

After Pentecost the day would come when Peter would again step forth into the danger zone, but this time he would not fail– he boldly stood before the Sanhedrin and confessed Jesus as the Risen Christ (Acts 4:1-23). Peter would be the one to stand and preach the first Gospel message to Jews (Acts 2:14-36) and Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48), and, according to tradition, follow his Lord and Master to death by crucifixion (John 21:18). All of this was because Peter was not one to flee but to be willing to, if nothing else, at least follow afar off.

There are many times in our lives when confused events take place rapidly. Times of distress and difficulty come upon us; many times we do not expect them. When our faith is tested, and we feel as if we are going to be bereft of our Lord, how will we respond? Will we be as many of the disciples and run away, attempting to avoid all the possible dangers? There is a time and place for that, assuredly, but not always. Or will we be like Peter, willing to follow even if it is afar off, willing to risk our livelihoods and our lives to follow Jesus?

Perhaps we will find ourselves in that kind of situation and we fail like Peter failed. We should then “turn again” and “strengthen our brethren” (cf. Luke 22:32), repenting and seeking to do better. Or maybe we will succeed and stand firm, proclaiming through our word and deed in distress and difficulty that we are servants of Jesus Christ. Then God receives the glory (cf. 1 Peter 4:11).

We have no reason to believe that Peter the Apostle could have been the force for good for the Kingdom that he turned out to be had he not been Simon the disciple who was willing to follow and yet failed. Likewise, we will never be the disciples of Jesus Christ we can be, and we will not be able to be the force for good for the Kingdom that we should be, if we never take the risk of following Jesus in difficult, distressing times. We might very well stumble and perhaps even fail; the flesh is weak even when the spirit is willing. We can learn from our failures and move on. And perhaps we will succeed and God will be glorified and it will be evident how wise it was to follow and not flee. But that day will never come if we always flee, never taking the risk, never being exposed to the danger.

What kind of disciples of Christ are we? Let us seek to follow Jesus, even when the times are difficult, even when the danger is evident, take the risk, and stand firm for Him and His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Following Afar Off

Betrayal

For it was not an enemy that reproached me; Then I could have borne it: Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; Then I would have hid myself from him:
But it was thou, a man mine equal, My companion, and my familiar friend.
We took sweet counsel together; We walked in the house of God with the throng (Psalm 55:12-14).

The Psalmist is in great distress. He cries out to God, hoping that He will hear (Psalm 55:1-2). His pain is great, and his heart is in anguish (Psalm 55:3-5). He wishes that he could fly away and find rest, for in the city there is contention and strife (Psalm 55:6-11).

Yet his heart is not pained by just any old trouble or difficulty– that could be better tolerated. Instead, the Psalmist is feeling the distress that comes from betrayal.

There is always pain when one is spoken evil of, or has injury committed against him or her, but we come to expect it from enemies. Everyone expects their enemies to cause them problems. After all, an enemy that does not act in hostile ways is not much of an enemy.

Yet the pain caused by betrayal is doubly deepened. Not only is there the distress caused by the injury suffered, but the one causing the injury is a trusted friend! That person might be one with whom we share the faith. We may have poured out our soul to that person. We may have confessed our sins to him or her (cf. James 5:16). And now they have turned against us, perhaps even using that information given in confidence against us. Pain, fear, and disappointment surely follow.

The Psalmist knows these feelings well. He wishes for the destruction of the betrayer (Psalm 55:15). Nevertheless, he focuses his energy toward God, knowing that He is faithful and will save him (Psalm 55:16-19). Even if others are deceptive and cruel, we ought to cast our care upon the LORD, and He will sustain us (Psalm 55:20-22). In the end, God will condemn those who are wicked; it is for us to trust in God (Psalm 55:23).

If we live long enough we will experience the pain of the Psalmist. And that is why this Psalm is in the collection– it gives us a voice to express our deep frustration, disappointment, and pain. And yet it is also a reminder that even though our fellow humans will let us down at times and may even betray us, God is faithful. God will save us. We should always have our hope and trust firmly anchored in God. He is able to sustain us.

Whenever we develop close friendships we expose ourselves to the possibility of betrayal. That should not stop us from developing close friendships, but it should lead us to be circumspect and to be close friends with people of high integrity. Yet even if we are betrayed we should still communicate with our fellow man and strive to encourage him. In all of this we must remember that only God is completely trustworthy, and that is why we must always look to Him first and foremost in our lives. We must always confide in Him. We must confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9). Even if man may disappoint and betray, God will not. Let us keep our trust firmly in God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Betrayal