Questions From Readers
● My wife, who is not a servant of God, loves another man. Would it be fitting for me to divorce her since she likely has ‘committed adultery in her heart,’ as Jesus mentioned in Matthew 5:28?
In what he said at Matthew 5:28 Jesus did not give “spiritual adultery,” as some have called it, as a basis for divorce.
Note Jesus’ words: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”—Matt. 5:27, 28.
Here Christ was explaining that the seventh of the Ten Commandments should have meant more to his Jewish listeners than simply avoiding the physical act of adultery. (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18) He traced the crime to a person’s heart. As James later explained, wrong desires in the heart can, and often do, lead to acts of sin. (Jas. 1:14, 15; Prov. 6:25) That occurred with David, who looked on and became aroused toward another man’s wife, leading to his sin of adultery. (2 Sam. 11:2-4) So Jesus urged his listeners to avoid, not just a sinful act in itself, but the sinful lust that can lead to sinful acts.
If someone, male or female, cultivates such lustful desire (“keeps on looking at a woman”), God knows it for He “sees what the heart is.” (1 Sam. 16:7; Prov. 24:12; Heb. 4:13) God realizes that the person who fully desires to commit immorality may simply not yet have had the opportunity to turn his desire into action. So that person is already reprehensible in God’s eyes.
But does that adulterous desire of itself constitute a Scriptural basis for that person’s mate getting a divorce and then being free to remarry? No. Jesus did not authorize humans to determine matters on the basis of desires that a person may have in the heart. For example, the apostle John wrote that “everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer.” (1 John 3:15) However, the Christian elders in a congregation are not authorized to expel as a murderer someone who they think may have a degree of hatred in his heart. They cannot accurately read and judge hearts as God can.
Accordingly, when Jesus said that the only Scriptural ground for divorce was “fornication” (Greek, porneia, meaning sexual immorality), he meant physical acts of immorality.—Matt. 19:9.
If your wife is willing to reason, you might be able to discuss this fact: Our Creator God knows what is best for humans, and so he assures us that engaging in immorality does not bring lasting happiness. That is borne out by an honest appraisal of how immorality has affected the lives of most who have shared in it. Thus it is the course of wisdom to take prompt corrective action to put away immoral desires before they lead to immoral deeds and resulting grief. Even “romantic fantasies” of immoral love interfere with a person’s working to achieve happiness in his or her real situation.
When problems exist in marriage, there are usually things that both parties can do to strengthen the marriage relationship and rekindle the mutual love that led to marriage. In this connection, perhaps you and your wife can consider together the material in the series of articles “Handling Family Problems Successfully” in Awake! of April 22, 1974.