Matthew 5:27-30

Setting and Overview
From the sixth commandment (Do not murder), Jesus now moves on to the seventh: Do not commit adultery. Similar to the command to not murder, adultery rightly received a lot of attention as a sin with very serious consequences for breaking. It would have been unthinkable to Jesus’ audience for someone to be guilty of committing adultery and to then hold themselves out as righteous. Far less attention, however, was given to the root causes of adultery, and so Jesus now calls them, and us, to widen our gaze from the simply act of adultery to the underlying desire that is so prevalent and destructive.  
The people were familiar with the sixth commandment (Exodus 21;14, Deuteronomy 5:18) and were aware that it was punishable by death under the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 20:10.) Technically, adultery was sex by any man (married or unmarried) with a married or engaged woman (Deuteronomy 22:22-24.) It was distinguished from fornication, which is any sex outside of marriage and was also punishable under the Mosaic Law, but less severely (Deuteronomy 22:28-29.) Adultery was associated with death since a married or engaged woman belonged to her husband (Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 5:21.) Those who knew the Old Testament well also knew that marriage was supposed to represent the relationship that God desires to have with His people (Ephesians 5:25, 31-32, Ezekiel 6:19, Genesis 39:9, Psalm 51:4), which increased the seriousness of any act that would violate the sanctity of marriage. Despite that, traditions at that time tended toward excusing extramarital sex, and condoning lust even as they condemned adultery.
Jesus declares that lusting after a woman with the intent to commit adultery with her was just as wrong as adultery itself. This parallels with His teaching in verses 21-26 on murder and anger, but it also connects the seventh commandment to the tenth. While His language here seems to refer specifically the situation where a man wants to commit adultery with a woman (as opposed to lustful thoughts in general), we shouldn’t see the specificity of His language as an opportunity to condone lust or other sexual sins as those are clearly condemned through the New Testament (Matthew 15:18-20, I Corinthians 5:9-11, Hebrews 13:4, I Thessalonians 4:3, Ephesians 5:3-5 and many others.) Rather, we should acknowledge those specific lest we misunderstand this passage and up downplaying the severity of adultery. Following this declaration, Jesus gives what at first would seem to be a path to avoiding that sin: cutting an eye out and/or a hand off. While His caveat, “if they cause you to sin,” should prevent us from literally taking those steps in pursuit of holiness (since they aren’t actually what cause us to sin), we should still stop ourselves from ignoring the literal interpretation. We should, literally, desire holiness more than our hand or eye, and we should, literally, be willing to take any steps necessary to pursue holiness.

Examination and Application
Jesus paints a very vivid picture of how serious our pursuit of holiness should be and how seriously we should view the horror of sin. He also challenges us to not interpret sin too narrowly, to examine our hearts and thoughts as well as our actions. While these principles apply in far more areas than just lust and adultery, we should still make sure that we apply them there as well. Ultimately, those are sins of discontent. Whether we are married or not, we are called to be content where, and with whom, God has placed us. If we find contentment in those blessings (Proverbs 5:15-20, I Corinthians 7:2-7) and ultimately in God Himself (I Corinthians 7:8, II Corinthians 11:1-3, Psalm 119:1-2, 9-10) then lust should not be a part of our lives, and adultery will remain far removed from our actions and our thoughts.
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