In our Bible Reading Plan today we read Matthew 5-7.
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
Here’s a bit of history for you. President Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States. He was elected in November 1976 when I was almost 16. He served one term until I was 20 years old.
He was an active Christian, the first one I’d had any ‘contact’ with. In my personal life growing up, religion didn’t play a role at all. I knew no Christians. Because Carter was a public figure, President, his beliefs were public and often passed before my eyes in TV interviews and newscasts as he was interviewed about them.
During Carter’s campaign he was interviewed by a freelance writer for an article to be published in Playboy Magazine. Carter offered unprompted,
“I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”
Time Magazine’s opinion of the incident was put this way:
The decision to do an interview with Playboy magazine was possibly not the best call of President Carter’s tenure. Yet, it was all going pretty well until he started talking about the Bible and adultery. Now, Carter’s not actually admitting anything shocking. Most men would probably say, “Yep, been there.” But presidents rarely (and for good reason) venture into the land of “too much information”: Ideally, they should exist on a higher plane than the rest of us. It was an uncomfortable moment for America.
I agree with the secular view of offering too much unprompted information. We all want to dwell in a fiction of our leaders being above reproach. But since Carter said it, and I heard it, I was left with the problem of trying to figure out what it meant. Having no knowledge of the Bible, I was strenuously trying to reconcile my own knowledge of sin, which I called immorality. I didn’t understand that sin came from a completely depraved heart. Being unsaved, I thought sin was a private matter, nobody’s business. Adultery I well understood, having two parents who both indulged in it. It seemed wrong to me but I was too young to have any firm basis for saying so. However I believed that thoughts about adultery were one’s own and thus a private matter.
I learned after salvation that God reads the heart and knows the intentions of man. Sin actually springs from the heart and mind. All sins, even the unacted-upon sins, even thoughts only, are just as damaging. But back then, it was perplexing to me that a man should feel ashamed of his ‘normal’ thoughts. As long as he didn’t act on it, I thought he should be termed “a good man.” I thought Carter was silly for saying anything about it.
The Matthew verse today shows me that I was the silly one. Carter might have made a political faux pas, but he was biblically correct. It’s wrong to commit adultery in your thoughts. What a radical thought. It was to me then, and the reactions of the listeners of the sermon on the mount and others later thought so too. (Matthew 7:28-29; John 6:60). Guard your thought life.