Is Sexual Lust in Matthew 5:27,28 Parallel To Committing Fornication in Matthew 19:9?
Pornography is a prevalent immoral problem in our world. It can be found in magazines (Playboy), videos, movies, and the internet. It is so easily accessible and a person can remain anonymous while engaging in it. It exploits men, women, and children. When you view pornography, you are viewing someone who was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and how you mistreat the creation is how you also will mistreat the Creator since we all resemble His image.
One of the contributing factors that often leads to divorces is the problem of pornography. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just a man's problem, but it is also a woman's problem. It can be a problem for either a husband or wife who is constantly engaging in this sinful activity.
The question has honestly been asked: Is sexual lust in Matthew 5:27, 28 equivalent to committing fornication in Matthew 19:9? Let me pose this question in the form of a scenario. If there is a husband who is constantly only looking at pornography and the wife discovers he is doing so, can that wife from Matthew 19:9 be permitted to divorce her husband for fornication? Is not pornography the equivalent of committing fornication because Jesus stated that if a man lusts after a woman in his heart then he has already committed adultery (fornication) in Matthew 5:31,32; 19:9?
This question must be handled very carefully. We do not wish to defend the husband's constant activity of pornography (Ephesians 5:11; Romans 1:32) but neither do we wish to impose an unauthorized reason for divorce. We will approach this question from several different angles.
1. The spouse must have the desire to keep the marriage intact. Our mindset on divorce has changed us significantly in the Lord's church because of the culture's mistreatment of the Divine institution of marriage. We must allow the Bible - not our culture - to give us the kind of mindset we ought to have about divorce. We must trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding. We must acknowledge His ways (Proverbs 3:5, 6). What does God think about divorce ? He hates it! (Malachi 2:16). We must hate it too. We must have the mindset to keep the scriptural marriage intact because the marriage covenant is for life . Do not separate what God has joined together (Matthew 19:4-6) ! Usually when someone asks us the question about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, we are quick to respond , " You can divorce your spouse for fornication". While th is is true (Matthew 19:9), we would do well to remind them that the God of the old covenant did not give up so easily on His wife, Israel, who constantly engaged in spiritual adultery with idolatrous nations. He suffered long and patiently waited for her to return in faithfulness to Him. Everything ought to be done to save a failing marriage (Titus 2:3-4 admonishes the older women to teach the younger women to "love" their husbands - whether they never loved them before or "fell" out of love with them). At the same time, if the innocent party chooses to put away her spouse because of his fornication, we must respect the fact that Jesus has authorized such an action and not down her or treat her as a second class citizen in the kingdom. Jesus gave the "exception" for a reason (Matthew 19:9).
We must also uphold the answer that Jesus gave to the Pharisees' question in Matthew 19:4-6:
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,' and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
It is possible that the spouse who is not viewing pornography has a heart problem as well, namely, not wanting to save the marriage. This is where true love can shine in a marriage. There are true stories told of spouses who did desire to save their marriage and helped rescue the addicted spouse from the clutches of pornography. Those marriages are stronger than ever now.
2. The spouse needs to confront and help the spouse who is dealing with the issue of pornography. If a spouse loves their addicted spouse, then true love will require trying to help the spouse overcome the problem of pornography. The addicted spouse needs to see the consequences of engaging in pornography. It leads to a destruction of their marriage, harmful changes in the chemistry of the mind, the breakdown of human relationships, and eternal destruction in hell if there is no repentance. If you need to get the computer out of the house, then do that. If you need to install software that will monitor the internet activity, then do that. Make yourself accountable to someone you can trust that will help you to overcome this problem. We need to thank God for the church because the church is a family that can allow brotherly love to flourish in helping those who are dealing with this problem to stir up love and good works in overcoming this powerful addiction. The power of sin can be broken if one is willing to give their heart and soul to the Creator of the universe who is ever willing to give grace that teaches them to deny ungodliness, worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11-14).
3. While we sympathize with the spouse who is constantly being betrayed by their spouse who is bowing before the idol of pornography, there are several reasons that sexual lust cannot be equivalent to the fornication of Matthew 5:31, 32 and 19:9.
a. First, in the immediate context where Jesus speaks about lust and adultery, Jesus spoke about hatred and murder in Matthew 5:21, 22. The Bible states in 1 John 3:12 that having hatred toward a brother in one's heart is linked to murder. If we found out that a brother in Christ hated another brother in Christ, should we not turn that brother over to the legal authorities since he has committed "murder"? Jesus was getting to the heart of the matter by teaching that in the heart is where sinful desires and thoughts originate. If a person guards and controls his heart (Proverbs 4:23), then he will prevent illicit desires from forming and translating into physical acts of illicit sexual intercourse or the murder of human life. There were those who had perverted the law of Moses by their own traditions. The Pharisees knew the commandment "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). They knew that it would be wrong to commit the physical act, but they must have foolishly thought it was alright to stare at a woman with sexual fantasies in their heart. "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10). Only the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8).
b. Second, if the term "adultery" is literal in Matthew 5:28, what about the listed solutions Jesus gives in Matthew 5:29, 30: "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." Are these solutions to be taken literally? Jesus is speaking in the figure of speech known as hyperbole. Jesus is wanting us to count the cost as a disciple and do everything in our power to surrender to Him as Lord so that we may eradicate sin out of our lives. He is getting to the heart of the matter because He knows there is a connection between our heart and the physical acts that are produced from the heart (Mark 7:21-23).
c. Third, in the context of Matthew 19:1-12, Jesus is speaking of literal fornication (the illicit physical act). Previously He spoke of being "one flesh" [which includes the physical sexual union - Matthew 19:4-6] and afterwards He spoke of eunuchs who are physically castrated and unable to commit sexual intercourse. While "viewing pornography " would fall under the category of "uncleanness" (Galatians 5:19) or "lust of the flesh" (1 John 2:16), it would not fall under the category of "fornication". Even though it is a sin, it is not a sin that is able to dissolve the marriage body (1 Corinthians 6:16) as the physical act of fornication is .
If you are involved in the sin of pornography, there is hope to escap e from the clutches of this terrible tyrant. We can have a faithful spouse who is willing to work with us; the constant love and care of fellow brothers in Christ (or sisters if it is a woman struggling with such) willing to act as accountability partners. We must defeat this wretched sin so that the church may remain pure in the sight of God, scriptural marriage s can become what God wanted it to be, and so that a person can enjoy the abundant life that is found in Jesus (John 10:10).
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