Jesus said, Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, 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 is about lust, and it applies to both men and women. It’s sin. It’s adultery in the heart.
Let’s look at another passage about sin in the heart: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:21-22).
Is anger the same as actual murder? I don’t believe so.
Today, more than ever, there’s temptation for lustful thoughts. Men and women view music videos, pornography, and suggestive (or explicit) movies. Men might fantasize about a woman who provocatively walks by, and women might think the same kinds of thoughts about a man in a novel or movie. It’s wrong to lust. Period. Jesus says it’s adultery in the heart. (For the record, I believe we should refrain from watching or reading anything that provokes sinful, lustful thinking.)
A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery (Matthew 5:31-32a). The “exception clause,” saving for the cause of fornication, is repeated in Matthew 19:9.
So, if a man or woman has lusted in his mind and his or her spouse finds out, does this mean they have grounds for divorce?
The plan for marriage is permanence. The Bible says that God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:16) Jesus said that Moses only permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. Let’s read the passage to understand the context: The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matthew 19:3-9).
From the beginning, God’s plan is for marriage to be a permanent bond between a husband and wife. It’s plain that Jesus advocates keeping the marriage together. Again, the only exception, the only permissible reason for divorce is fornication. This doesn’t mean that if a partner cheats on his spouse the other spouse needs to divorce the unfaithful partner. No! It means that the only reason God gives for divorce is the sexual infidelity of the spouse. It would be better to forgive and begin again to build trust and love.
This brings us back to the first question: is it fornication if it’s only lusting in the mind?
Of course not!
I’m sure Christian people would hate to admit they had ever once sinned by committing adultery in their minds. But, they have! I would venture to say that the great majority of human beings have had wrong, lustful thoughts at one time or another—and that includes good, Christian people. They’ve entertained thoughts about someone other than their spouse in their minds. Are you shocked? Somehow I doubt it.
So, let’s assume for illustration’s sake that 90% of Christians have committed this sin one time in their hearts. Does that give 90% of Christians the “right” to divorce their spouses, claiming “adultery in the heart”? I think you know the answer; it's absurd!
The exception clause in Matthew 5 and 19 is about actual physical unfaithfulness. And even then, God would love for the wronged spouse to be able to forgive and the marriage to be saved.
Here's some practical help:
- Keep a clean mind. Saturate your mind with the Scripture and don’t set seductive images or written descriptions before your eyes. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (Psalm 119:11). I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me (Psalm 101:3).
- Be dedicated to maintaining a good marriage relationship. Don’t go to bed angry. Be willing to forgive and to ask forgiveness. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath (Ephesians 4:26). Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Colossians 3:13).
- Be positive, and think about the good in your mate. Encourage. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).
What therefore God hath joined together,
let not man put asunder.