Matthew5v27to30: LUST AND ADULTERY

(A) Introduction.

I find this a very difficult passage and I am not sure what it means. As one who has done more than his fair share of lusting I find the Scripture disappointing because it provides little help on how to overcome lust. The only merit of the exposition to follow is its honesty.

(1) A realistic approach to sexual desire.

I listened to a radio program recently in which a group of former hostages of Islamic extremists discussed their experience. They all agreed that such was their hunger that they spent a lot of time fantasising about food and talking about what they would like to eat. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote much the same thing in his account of life in the Gulag. Prisoners who spent daylight hours doing manual work in sub-zero temperatures returned to an evening meal of soup and bread. They were permanently hungry and food was their obsession. In another book on Nazi occupied Europe I read of a famished Jew who used to stand, stare and salivate at the slabs of meat in the butcher's shop.

No-one condemns these men for longing after food and fantasising about it. I daresay if they had pictures of meals such as are found in today's glossy magazines they would have drooled over them.

Just as the body desires food so it also desires sexual gratification. Why is it that we do not condemn hungry men for lusting after food yet condemn single men and women for lusting after sex?

There are, of course, sins with regard to food - like gluttony. Some men and women have an obsession with sex - akin to gluttony. However, much lust is akin to a hungry man's intense desire and understandable longing for food.

(2) Paul's realism.

Paul acknowledged that people burn with sexual desire. So he wrote to the Corinthians: Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1Cor7v8and9. Paul also advised married couples to satisfy the sexual desires of each other. He wrote: Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self control. 1Cor7v5. Paul does not say marry for love - but marry for sex!

Paul's recipe for dealing with lust was to marry and have regular sex within marriage. He does not advocate cold baths or filling your mind with holy thoughts or working to the point of exhaustion. Paul's advice is sensible and realistic. I think preachers could make more of it - especially when addressing the young. It is pity my godly parents did not tell me to find a Christian wife when I attended University College. I should have gone away on the Christian Union weekend retreats instead of playing hockey! Perhaps, my parent's advice would have fallen on deaf ears! I was very keen on hockey!!

(3) Two Problems.

Today there are many unmarried Christians. They are either hoping to eventually fall in love and marry or they are resigned to the single life. This means Paul's way of coping legitimately with burning passion is closed to many Christians who are left hungering for sexual intercourse - both its pleasure and release.

Now there is a very real difference between hunger for food and desire for sex. The desire for sex can always be satisfied. The means is at hand. Masturbation can give relief from sexual desire. This is facilitated by images of the opposite sex in the imagination, on paper or the screen. The lust is not for anyone in particular. It is a means to an orgasm.

(4) To what extent is masturbation sinful?

Masturbation is sinful because it is God's intent for sexual intercourse to occur between a man and a woman in marriage for pleasure and procreation. That is the ideal and masturbation falls short of it.

However it is a way for a single person to satisfy sexual desire and to be free from lust for a significant time.

It is undoubtedly God's will for some Christians to remain single. In my own case I believe God wanted me to provide and care for my parents. God does not necessarily take away sexual desire in these circumstances. I just hope that God forgives a single person the short term relief achieved through masturbation. It ill behoves a happily married man who regularly enjoys sex with his loving wife to upbraid me for my lack of self-control. Let him try living with his wife for a month and abstaining from sex!

(5) Is Jesus referring to lust in general or lust in particular?

Jesus said, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

This seems unfair on men! The implication is that women do not look at men lustfully.

We need to remember that adultery involves having sexual intercourse with a person who is married to someone else or having sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. So, I take it that Jesus is referring to a man lusting after a married woman or a married man lusting after a woman who is not his wife. Therefore Jesus is speaking about lust in particular rather than lust in general. For simplicities sake I will continue by referring to a man lusting after a married woman.

I feel a lot more confident dealing with this issue because although I have used sexual images for short term gratification I have never knowingly lusted after a married woman. I certainly have not coveted another man's wife. I may have admired a friend's wife and there are Christian wives I am fond of but I am not guilty of covetousness. To be honest, I have not even been tempted to lust after another man's wife. I think this may be because I have no intention of stealing a man's wife even if I had the opportunity. I would never be party to breaking up a marriage.

(6) Why did Jesus consider lusting after another man's wife to be so bad?

If I coveted a friend's wife it would:

  • Show lack of respect for the wife.

  • Be disloyal to my friend.

  • Likely affect my relationship with my friend. Covetousness is not easy to hide.

  • Be a first step toward committing adultery.

It is possible from a study of the Greek that Jesus actually said: "But I tell you, anyone who incites a woman to lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Sometimes flirting is a second step leading to adultery. A man can flirt with a pretty, married woman and by so doing make himself increasingly attractive to her. Flirting can lead to adultery and adultery spawns many other sins. One only has to consider David's seduction of Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite. This led to Uriah's murder and David's loss of authority over his family. It contributed to Absalom's revolt against his father.

Perhaps Jesus was so severe against lust, covetousness and flirting because of their evil consequences.

(7) Jesus' advice.

Jesus said: "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. ..... If your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away."

I don't really know what Jesus means by this. Some people in the past took drastic action to deal with lust in general and were castrated. This was never a popular remedy! Certainly testicles are more at fault than the eye or hand. I think, possibly, Jesus is saying something simple, like: "Don't contemplate it .... ; Don't even begin to think about it." Just as we wouldn't contemplate cutting off a hand or gouging out an eye so we shouldn't contemplate lusting after our neighbour's wife. She is off limits - even to our thoughts.

Although I have never been able to conquer sexual desire in general I have found it a lot easier to resist lusting after another man's wife - because of my horror of destroying a marriage.

(8) Jesus' warning.

Jesus said, "It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna - the Jewish rubbish tip." I don't believe that Jesus is warning that if you covet a married man's wife you will inevitably be eternally destroyed. David lusted after Bathsheba and this gave rise to a whole rafter of sins including deceit and hypocrisy. However, he repented and was largely forgiven although he couldn't escape some long term evil consequences of his wickedness.

It is not easy for me to be sure of what Jesus intended by his warning. Jesus may be warning against coveting another man's wife because it could easily lead to actual adultery and divorce. Lust leads to sins that are not readily repented of. There are grave consequences for the spiritual well-being of an actual adulterer. It may leave a person unrepentant and as such estranged from God and doomed to destruction. So, it is better by far not to contemplate sexual intercourse with someone who is not your wife.

If I, who am prone to casual lust in general, find it easy to refrain from lust for a married woman then so could anyone!


I do not usually lack confidence in my expositions. Sadly, I am not sure that on this occasion I have been true to Jesus' intent. I have probably been rather too eager to find excuses for myself. If I have misrepresented Jesus I can but apologise. Nor is this exposition one I would willingly deliver from the pulpit!