Our Motivation Shapes How We View Reality
The way we apply Biblical scripture is of prime importance. Much evil comes from misapplying scripture, and many would use the Bible to justify what is wrong. Our motivation influences how we view life.
In Jesus’s time on earth, the Jewish teachers wrongly applied many scriptures. One of the ten commandments, 14 “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), was severely distorted. The Jewish teachers had restricted this to the physical act of sex with another. They had also added their own set of practices that undermined this commandment. For example, their stance on divorce often used a means to legalise adultery.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ 28 but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna. 30 If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.Matthew 5:27-32
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,’ 32 but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery.
Adultery starts in the heart. An immoral heart will pollute all said and done (Titus 1:15). Two people can look at the same image of a woman, and one will be looking pornographically at this image while the other will not. An innocent conversation can have things read into it by someone unclean in mind and heart. Jesus states very clear that adultery is much more than the sexual act with someone who is not their spouse. Therefore, we are taught in the Bible to avoid all unclean conversation and suggestion of immorality (Ephesians 5:3-5). The Bible talks about people with eyes full of adultery (Ezekiel 6:9).
When we look at scripture, we need to look at it in its context and not disconnect it from other teachings in scripture. Jesus talks about cutting off right hands and plucking out eyes. Jesus is not encouraging people to injure themselves, and self-flagellation is not a godly practice. The Bible encourages us to look after our bodies and not abuse them. The second greatest commandment tells us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Matthew 19:19). We should treat our wives well in the same way we would care for our bodies (Ephesians 5:28).
The context of what Jesus is saying is to cut off all the things that lead people to the physical act of adultery. In other words, we do those things that help us do what is right and avoid the things that create problems for us. The foolish man in the book of Proverbs was wandering around the district where the adulteress lived when led astray (Proverbs 7:6-10). Fleeing youthful lusts means we keep as far away from them as possible and not get as near to them as we think is safe (2 Timothy 2:22).
We need to judge the words of Jesus in the context of His teaching here on divorce. The background is that of divorce as a means of legalising adultery. Thus, if someone wanted to have sex with a woman who was not his wife, the lax view taught on divorce meant that he could divorce his wife and then marry the other woman and fulfil his desires. In this instance, Jesus says that this is adultery.
We cannot generalise from this that if a husband has abandoned a wife and divorced her that she is wrong to remarry. Again, if someone divorces because of physical abuse and later finds a new marriage partner, this does not mean they have committed adultery. There are genuine reasons for divorce, and those who find themselves in these situations can marry again. The fact that Jesus says that divorce can be for fornication and that the wronged person can marry another indicates that there are exceptions to the prohibition about committing adultery if remarrying (Matthew 19:9).
We are biased in our judgement on issues by the condition of our hearts. Right attitudes and choices help us to apply Biblical principles to our lives and situations correctly. The Bible encourages us to keep our hearts right (Proverbs 4:23). As we repeatedly choose to do what we know God has said, our hearts are orientated to apply and respond to more of what God has said in the Bible. We would do well to keep filling our hearts with good things and truth (Philippians 4:8, 9).