Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:27-28

Matthew 5:27-28

You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

At these words, all men flinch!

In a highly sexualized society, many things that we consider to be normal actually offend God. So, television offers the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and the annual Victorias Secret fashion show in prime time. Some specialized channels have even worse content.

Perhaps you think all is well because you do not participate in those exact media events. Yet lust is a daily temptation that confronts all of us.

Few verses cause more doubt about self-control than the two we consider today. The problem centers in our hearts where we have uncritically internalized cultural values about lust. We are much like the men of the ancient Mediterranean area who — Keener[1] tells us — thought lust was a healthy and normal practice.

First, we will take a closer look at what Jesus said. As before, he quotes the Ten Commandments by citing the prohibition against adultery (Exod. 20:14). But, starting in 5:28, Jesus gives this text a powerful interpretation. The phrase whoever looks at a woman (5:28) expresses the underlying Greek present participle, which usually conveys an ongoing action. This probably implies more than a glance; this is a long, lingering look.

But what may we say about the woman (5:28)? In the context of the original commandment, this was someones wife, and that is confirmed by the reference to adultery. But the whole tenor of Jesus teaching is not such as to encourage limiting the scope of his words. Along with Turner[2], I believe Jesus is speaking about looking at any woman, not merely someones wife.

The nature of the look is important. The key phrase looks at a woman to desire her (5:28, NET) is more commonly translated looks at a woman to lust for her (HCSB; joined by NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, and KJV with slight variations). Desire can imply simple sexual attraction, which is biological, whereas lust for suggests greater intensity, imagining and especially planning for sexual activity.

The influential church father John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) tellingly described the one experiencing this lust: he who gathers in lust unto himself; he who, when nothing compels him, brings in the wild beast upon his thoughts when they are calm. For this comes no longer of nature, but of self-indulgence.[3] The church fathers knew human nature as well as we do!

We can summarize the danger point using a six-word epigram: The move from Wow! to How? R.T. France says the sin comes in the desire for (and perhaps the planning of) an illicit sexual liaison.[4]

Jesus evidently demands more of his disciples than mere obedience to the commandment (You will not commit adultery); he requires that you not want to do so either![5] That will be so much easier if your mind is focused on what Christ has done for you, what you can pray about, and who you might tell about the gospel. The battleground is the mind, and focusing your attention on Jesus will allow you to survive many struggles with lust.

Planning for a pure heart

We have to conclude that Jesus does not look with favor on a world full of pornography, sexual slavery and a casual attitude toward marriage. Though you may be an independent-minded American, a disciple of Jesus is not free to do anything they like.

Remember that many disciples before you have had to live in sex-saturated cultures. Jesus does not command you to do anything that he will not also empower you to do. A pure heart is something you have to want and also seek every single day.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 186.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 170.

[3] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, Ed. (New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887-94) 113.

[4] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 204.

[5] Keener, Matthew, 187.


Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

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