Sermon on the Mount Series

Adultery, Divorce, and the Heart

The last 2 Sundays at Avalon we have been talking about marriage, divorce, sex, and adultery. That’s what happens when you are going verse by verse through the Sermon on the Mount and you arrive at Matthew 5:27-32. Alex Ortiz, our Spanish pastor, handled the first few verses, and KPaul Maurer, our lead pastor, handled the last part. There are so many good points in these sermons that I encourage you to listen. You should be aware though that Alex’s is in Spanish and translated to English, so be prepared to pay close attention.

I noticed today the placement of these passages. Matthew places this teaching right after talking about reconciling with your brother. “Reconcile quickly with your adversary, while you are still on your way to court.” And then he places Jesus’ teaching on adultery and divorce. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t divorce. Reconcile with your adversary. And then, he goes straight into keeping your word. Sometimes we read the reconcile passage and we think about all of the people we have problems with that we need to reconcile with, but we forget about the people closest to us. The teaching about reconciling with others includes reconciling with your spouse. If you are angry with your spouse right now, that might be hard for you to hear, but Jesus said it. As his disciples, that is what we are called to do.

So let’s look at the verses. The first few are about redefining adultery. Everyone knew they weren’t supposed to commit adultery, but Jesus says that adultery is about more than the physical act. Jesus’ says that if you look at a person lustfully, that is adultery. Lustfully means with strong sexual desire. Jesus says to save that for your spouse.

Here is what that command doesn’t mean. It does not mean that you can’t look at a person. There are some books out there that teach men to “bounce their eyes” in order to prevent looking at a women lustfully. If a man can’t look at a woman and not think of her in a sexual way, they have heart problems. And if a woman can’t look at a man and not think of him in a sexual way, she has heart problems. Everyone is created in the image of God. We should be able to look at people as people who bear God’s image and not as sexual objects. And Jesus says if you are reducing the people you look at to sexual objects, if you look at them and only think about the ways you could use them, if you look at someone who is not your spouse and desire them and don’t stop that thought, you have a problem.

It’s about the heart not just the physical act. And a heart problem is serious. Jesus uses some hyperbole of cutting off your right arm and cutting out your right eye here, but the point is if your heart is such that you can’t look at someone without thinking about them in a sexual way, you need to deal with your heart issue. Alex had some good thoughts on how we can do that.

The next few verses talk about divorce.

Remember the Scripture that says, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights’? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’ Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you’re responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you’re automatically an adulterer yourself. You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.

Matthew 5:31-32 (The Message)

KPaul did a good job of setting these words of Jesus in their cultural context, Roman, Greek and Jewish. Divorce could be done for little to no reason. Deuteronomy 24:1-5, the Scripture referred to at the beginning of verse 31, uses the words displeasing and indecent, and the Jews had a broad definition of what those words meant. However, Jesus says that marriage is not to be thrown away lightly. Women are not to be treated as objects to be thrown away, but they are to be treated as people who bear the image of God and because of that they are valuable. “(Jesus) was calling out the hard hearts of people who use the law to abuse people.” (KPaul)

Jesus uses talks about divorce and our hard hearts when he talks about divorce again in Matthew 19. The Pharisees question in this passage is literally, “Can we divorce for any and every reason?” Jesus points them back to Genesis. God designed marriage to be a lifelong bond. Just as we always belong to our parents, we should leave them and become united with our spouse, and now we always belong to them. The Pharisees don’t like that. They remind Jesus that Moses gave them permission to divorce their wives for being displeasing or indecent. Jesus says that Moses’ permission for divorce was because of their hard hearts. (Once again, we need to check our hearts.) And in both chapter 5 and in chapter 19, he says if you divorce except for adultery, you become an adulterer.

KPaul used a version of Matthew 19:9 that says “marital unfaithfulness” where many English translations use “sexual immorality.” While I believe that adultery, sexual immorality, is a reason for divorce, I don’t think it makes divorce inevitable. (See the verses about reconciling.) But I also don’t believe that the physical act is the only reason for divorce. You can be unfaithful to your spouse without having sex with another person. Jesus says adultery is a heart issue in the previous verses in Matthew 5, and I think it can be a heart issue in these verses too. Divorce is not God’s plan. Tearing apart marriages that are supposed to be permanent is devastating to people. It is not a simple, easy solution. But marriage is two people. And two people have to be committed to the marriage. Two people have to be faithful to their promises.

When I got married almost 28 years ago, I promised to love my husband. (That’s him in the picture.) To honor him. To serve him in all circumstances (in sickness and in health, rich or poor, etc.). I promised to forsake all others for him. He promised those things to me. God wants us to keep our word (see the next few verses and check out this coming Sunday’s sermon). It takes work, but it takes two people to do that in marriage. And I would say (and Alex and KPaul did say) that to do that well takes God, and that means that we need to have an intimate relationship with Him in order to really have intimacy with our spouses. You can’t display God’s kingdom in your marriage without having a relationship with God. (See Alex’s sermon.)

As KPaul said, we need to talk about our marriages. Marriage is not for everyone. Jesus’ disciples saw that in Matthew 19. If you are single, Paul says you have less distractions from your relationship with God. (1 Corinthians 7) You can have a stronger focus on God’s kingdom, and your singleness is part of your purpose in God’s kingdom. If you are married though, your marriage is sacred. It is part of displaying God’s kingdom to the world. It is part of your purpose. So how are you displaying God’s kingdom through your marriage? Talk about it with your spouse, with your kids, and with others.

If I’ve said something here that you want to talk about more, I would love to do that with you. Send me a note at Also, as KPaul said, don’t feel condemned about your past after reading this blog. Through Jesus we can find grace. Grace for ourselves, and even grace for our spouses.

May you be blessed by God’s word today.

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