27"You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."
In this section, we continue the portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus teaches us the full meaning of God's Law. As we mentioned in the last issue, the Law, as given in the first five books of the Old Testament, for the most part consists of commandments regulating external behavior. The reason for this is that the Law was given specifically to the nation of Israel for enforcement. Men, of course, can only enforce laws that regulate external behavior. The full intent of the Law of God, as given here by God's Son Jesus Christ, does regulate the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God has commanded His people: "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy" (Lev. 19:2), and true holiness deals with thoughts and attitudes, as well as external actions. Given this, we should not be surprised that the Law of God has such a far reach.
Jesus teaches: "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" (vss. 27-28). Jesus is saying essentially that the crime is in not only the act, but the intent is enough to make one guilty of breaking God's law. As the LORD Himself told us: "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Sam. 16:7).
These days, in the world, adultery is taken very lightly. For the most part, modern society does not treat the sin of adultery with proper gravity. In most societies, adultery is not even a crime. Many people of the world consider the sin of adultery a private matter between the husband and wife affected by it. Many people even would say that adultery is not a sin as long as the husband and wife allow the adultery. Recently, here in America, we have seen the President of our nation accused of adultery by many women. The attitude of the public toward such accusations can be summarized as follows: "Well, as long as his wife accepts these things, everything is all right. This is a personal matter between them." This attitude is not a godly view of adultery, or marriage (for that matter). In God's law, marriage is a sacred institution, a vow before God, and so, adultery is a very serious crime, a capital offense, every bit as serious as murder. In fact, adultery is like murder in this respect: adultery murders the one person created from the union of marriage. As it is written: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Adultery rips apart the "one flesh" that has been joined together through marriage. As no one would tolerate a mad man tearing apart a body with an ax, so no one should tolerate the tearing apart by adultery the "one" body united through marriage.
Given the seriousness of adultery, we can also understand the seriousness of the sin of lust. Lust is the first step on the road towards adultery. There has never been an instance of adultery where there was not first the sin of lust. Thus Jesus teaches concerning lust: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (vs. 28). As the godly man is properly expected to flee from adultery, so he should also flee from lust. As the godly man is properly expected to confess to God and repent from the sin of adultery, so he should also ask forgiveness from God the sin of lust and treat the sin of lust with the seriousness that Jesus here treats it.
And in fact, Jesus speaks very seriously of the sin of lust. He goes on to say: "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (vs. 29). This is a radical saying. With it, Jesus is trying to communicate the seriousness of the sin of lust. He goes on to speak of the seriousness of sin in general: "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell" (Matt. 5:30). Complete and utter righteousness is required for salvation from being "thrown into hell." If the loss of an eye or hand could lead to righteousness and, thus, salvation, it would be worth gouging it out or cutting it off. Of course, sin comes from the heart of man, as Jesus later teaches: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (Matt. 15:19). And so, the cutting off of the hand of a sinner would leave a handless sinner, and the gouging out of the eye of a sinner would leave an eyeless sinner. There is a much better way to achieve righteousness, a way that was not yet available when Jesus spoke these words. Later, Jesus Himself did a far more radical thing for our righteousness than the cutting off of a hand or the gouging out of an eye. He gave His life for us that we may be righteous. As Peter teaches: "He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed" (I Peter 2:24). Thus, it is not necessary for us to gouge an eye out or cut a hand off. To be righteous, we must accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the punishment of our sins, turn our lives over to Him as our Redeemer, put the confidence of our salvation upon Him as our Savior. In this way, we do far more for our righteousness than cutting off our hand would do. We say as Paul said: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
31"It has been said, `Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."
Given the preceding teaching on the seriousness of the sin of adultery, we can understand more clearly the teachings of the Bible on divorce. Jesus teaches: "It has been said, `Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (vss. 31-32). To begin, Jesus cites a passage from the law that was being greatly abused at the time. Here is the entire context of that passage:
"If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance" (Deut. 24:1-4).
Note that the thrust of this passage, rather than being to explicitly allow divorce, was to forbid remarriage of a husband to his original wife after they had been divorced. As Stonehouse comments: "Whatever grounds for divorce the Mosaic enactment may have had in view, the thrust of the passage in its original setting is not to establish grounds for divorce, but presupposing the practice of divorce on various grounds, to provide some protection for the woman from the harshness of her husband. The aim of the legislation is not to condone divorce as such, but to mitigate its evil consequences." God never approved divorce. He explicitly stated: "I hate divorce" (Mal. 2:16). Jesus tells us that it was "Moses [who] permitted you to divorce because your hearts were hard" (Matt. 19:8). There were those in Israel who would use Moses' permission of divorce as a way to present themselves as being guiltless before the law, while being unfaithful to their wives. For example, a man would divorce his wife (yet keep her in his house), marry a mistress and, when he tired of his new wife, divorce her, then remarry his first wife again. By going through the legal formalities, the man would use the law to bless his dalliances, and get around being accused of committing adultery. This passage in Deuteronomy forbids such manipulation of the law. It places three restrictions on divorce: there must be something "indecent" in the wife; the husband must give his wife a certificate; remarriage to each other is forbidden. These restrictions discourage hasty divorce. Getting the certificate was a legal proceeding. The "indecent" thing he has found must be significant enough for the certificate to be granted. The prohibition of remarriage forces the husband to think about whether he is really sure that he wants the divorce, because it is irrevocable.
In the time that Jesus spoke, just as in our time, divorce had become far too common. Moses' allowance for divorce was still being abused. Jesus here is reestablishing the importance and sacredness of marriage, and God's abhorrence of divorce. In this passage, Jesus is laying guilt upon the man who divorces his wife. The man who divorces his wife is leading her into adultery; he is, in effect, prostituting his wife. As Calvin points out: "As it was the object of the bill of divorce that a woman released from her first husband should go on to a new match, he is well condemned as an enticer, who prostitutes his wife to others, against all right and religion, when she has been given him in holy matrimony." The only case in which the man is not guilty of leading his divorced wife into adultery is when she has already been unfaithful.
Read this passage carefully. Do not read too much into it. Note well this: Jesus is not here allowing divorce in cases of marital unfaithfulness (God, in all cases, "hates divorce"). Rather, He is merely saying that in those cases, the man is not guilty of causing the divorced wife to commit adultery. Again, Jesus is not here allowing or in any way approving of divorce in any case, including cases of marital unfaithfulness. This is consistent with another passage in which Jesus speaks on divorce: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." (Mark 10:11-12). Here, Jesus gives no qualification. He states that "anyone" who divorces and remarries is guilty of adultery. This all supports the sacredness of marriage in God's eyes. In God's eyes, a man and a woman who marry are literally one person. Moreover, they are one person that God Himself has joined together. And so, as Jesus our Lord stated unequivocally: "What God has joined together, let man not separate" (Mark 10:9).