We continue our exploration of Jesus’ ethics in the Sermon on the Mount. In typical Jesus fashion, he is about to flip the table on what people thought they knew on several subjects. Today we tackle adultery and divorce. (By the way, for those of you who are The Real Housewives of New Jersey fans, please don’t think that Teresa Giudice was the first table-flipper. Oh, no. That accolade belongs to our Lord. But I digress.)
Matthew 5 (New Living Translation)
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
People of a certain age will remember a very controversial comment made by presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in an interview with Playboy magazine where he talked about sex and forgiveness, stating that God had forgiven him for “committing adultery of the heart by lusting.” Suffice it to say that this clear understanding of Jesus’ ethical view on adultery nearly cost him the election. (You can read more about this here.)
Jesus is on the right track. One thing that the “Me, Too” movement exposed was the level of adultery being committed against unwilling participants who were subjected to inappropriate comments, touching, veiled threats, misogyny, and rape. Adultery in Jesus’ ethics is not confined to sexual infidelity between two married people, but rather addresses a wide range of destructive and harmful behavior that undermines society. Jesus’ ethics are more concerned with the purity of the heart than the strict adherence to the law.
29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, 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. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger 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 be thrown into hell.
What can we say about this except Jesus ain’t playing. Many a high positioned leader … from the White House to the local school to the local pulpit … have fallen hard after committing adultery of the heart. It’s Jesus’ way.
Teaching about Divorce
31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.
To put this into perspective, the law of Moses only granted men the right to divorce. It became a freewheeling way for men to get out of a marriage. The simple written notice was all that was required to sever a marriage. Women, of course, had no say in the matter at that time.
Jesus upped the ante with this statement. He reminded the men that there is more to a marriage than a legal contract … there is a heart contract as well. He pressed the issue here by reminding the men that there must be sufficient grounds to divorce, and narrowed the conversation even farther to identify those grounds as unfaithfulness on the wife’s part. Divorce set up a chain of adultery because the heart contract can’t be broken, even though under Moses’ law, the written notice suffices. Jesus explained that adultery resulted when two people are still married in the eyes of God but the wife has been “dismissed with a notice.”
While the divorce laws have obviously drastically changed since then, don’t miss the important part here: what we do, say, feel, and believe in our hearts matters. Matters of the heart trump matters of the law every time. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
1 Corinthians 6 (Amplified Bible)
12 Everything is permissible (allowable and lawful) for me; but not all things are helpful (good for me to do, expedient and profitable when considered with other things).
The application of these passages is clear. What you believe in your heart matters. Every attitude and behavior we have flows from the heart. When the heart is kept pure and in alignment with God’s word, things go well for us and we continue to be centered in God’s will. When the heart is corrupt, the body follows and we risk being “thrown into hell.”
How is your heart today, friend? It’s never too late to change.