“Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery,” Christ said in his Sermon on the Mount.
Some have interpreted this statement to mean that, outside of marriage, any acknowledgment of feminine beauty by a man is adultery— the assumption being that noticing a woman’s attractiveness automatically coincides with sexual desire. As a result, they often demand that women are responsible to prevent men from being tempted to sin over their bodies, perhaps by covering themselves physically from neck to foot (and sometimes veiling faces), by refusing to wear make-up, by avoiding modern clothing styles deemed “revealing,” and so on.
Though popular in some circles, that perspective seems to be a mistake in thinking of Pharisaical proportions.
The Greek word translated as “lustfully” in the NIV is a variation on the term, epithymia, which means “strong desire.” In this context it clearly refers to a thought-life that goes well beyond simple appreciation or acknowledgment of God-given beauty in a feminine form.
Epithymia here refers to a strong desire to consume God’s beautiful creation through intentional, inappropriate action at the expense of that creation. Or, as theologian Larry Richards explains it, “A sexual desire stimulated by the sin nature—a desire that seeks to possess and use persons who are not rightly objects of desire.”
In other words, if your imagination is using a woman as a pornographic tool for mental sexual stimulation, that’s “looking at a woman lustfully”—and is adultery. Acknowledging and appreciating God-given beauty in a woman, however, is not.
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