by Bobby K. Thompson
Jesus said: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). This passage became more conspicuous due to a statement made by one of the presidential candidates several years ago. In this publicized interview, he was quoted as saying, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’m committed adultery in my heart many times.” In defense of his confession and the sins committed by others in high positions, there are those who are quick to say: “Why, every man does this. He is no different than any other man.” I beg to differ with such a statement offered in the justifying of their deeds. I challenge a person making such a statement that every man does it. The political overtones do not bother me. I have no ax to grind there. What always bothers me is when I hear individuals misuse and misapply God’s word. I believe it is an obvious misunderstanding of Matthew 5:28 when anyone makes a blanket charge that every man commits adultery through lust.
What does the passage mean? What is it to look upon a woman to lust after her in the heart? Brother Gene Frost has some good observations on this passage and some timely comments from reputable Bible scholars. Consider:
“First, it needs to be noted that the ‘looketh on’ is literally a ‘seeing with a view to,’ i.e. it is ‘not …the casual evil thought which is checked by holy watchfulness, but the gazing with a view to feed that desire….’ [Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, vol. I, p. 42]. God created the woman to be attractive to man, and it is not the attraction that is sinful. Sin results when the attraction becomes a viewing with an intent to inflaming the passions and contemplating adultery. ‘The intent is strongly marked in the Greek. It is not the passing glance, not even the momentary impulse of desire, but the continued gaze by which the impulse is deliberately cherished until it becomes a passion.’ [Charles John Ellicott, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, page 693]. Thus ‘the look is supposed to be not casual but persistent, the desire not involuntary or momentary, but cherished with longing.’ [Alexander B. Bruce, The Expositor’s Greek Testament].
Second, the ‘lust’ or ‘desire’ is an intent. The ‘man who can do this – viz. ‘gaze with a view to feed unlawful desire’ - has already in his heart passed the barrier of criminal intent; made up his mind, stifled his conscience; in thought, committed the deed.’ [Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, vol. 1, page 42]. Such a man has already in his mind committed the overt act. Where ‘the lust is dwelt upon and approved, and the wanton desire is rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, it is the commission of the sin, as far as the heart can do it; there wants nothing but a convenient opportunity for the sin itself.’ [Matthew Henry, Commentary, vol. V, page 61]. ‘Whosoever cherishes unchaste desire and intentions, or, as it is expressed in the tenth precept, whosoever covets his neighbor’s wife, is really guilty of adultery, though he never should find an opportunity of committing the act with her.’ [James MacKnight, Harmony of the Gospels, vol. 1, page 435]."
Jesus thus teaches that not only is the overt act of adultery sinful, but the intent of the man who would commit it. The man who would if he could is guilty before God as though he did. And so Jesus very forcefully emphasizes the necessity of our keeping our minds pure. Evil thoughts must be put away, the mind being controlled as to what it will dwell upon. As someone has said, we cannot prevent birds of evil from flying into the mind, but we can keep them from roosting there!
Lust, or desire, in itself is not evil. God created man with physical appetites. And, with every desire, God has ordained legitimate means of satisfaction. For example, man experiences hunger, and this is good, else a man could starve himself without realizing it. God has supplied nutritious foods to satisfy that hunger. However, it is an abuse of the appetite to engage in gluttony or to ingest harmful substances. Even so, the sexual appetite is good, but it is to be satisfied in God’s lawful way. “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2). God has ordained marriage as the answer to satisfying sexual appetites, but fornication and adultery are sinful.
To charge all men with being guilty of adultery by reason of lusting is unfounded. It assumes that every man has intended to commit adultery – those who have not have only lacked the opportunity. And that is not so! We cannot accept as fact the proposition that all husbands either have already or will plan to be unfaithful. This is to say that no man can be godly and that all Christians are hypocrites. Are you ready to accept such reasoning? We should all be careful as to how we use any passage of Scripture. A perversion of Scripture is a poor defense for any man, whether he is the president of the United States or the poorest of street people. Be careful.