Adultery, along with all other sexual sins, begins in the heart and the mind. The message of Jesus was not so much the avoidance of adultery as it was protection against lust. When we are protecting our hearts from lust, the line of adultery is far from us. So how can we practically go about protecting our hearts and minds? While recognizing that it is an entire lifestyle Jesus is calling us to live, there is some practical advice Scripture gives us as a starting point. This advice comes, fittingly enough, from a father to a son, as the son would soon be navigating the world and all its allures on his own. The father begins:
My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. (Proverbs 4:20-22)
Notice this is not a lecture on what sins to avoid – what lines not to cross, but rather wisdom that is to be kept in the heart, and will bring life and health to the entire body – a way of life. This way of life is referred to repeatedly as wisdom, or the path of righteousness. As the father continues, he begins to unfold this path for his son.
Guard your heart
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
First, and foremost, be about protecting your heart! We spoke of the heart previously, but to reiterate, when we are talking about the heart we are encountering the very center of who a person is. The heart encompasses the will, the mind, the emotions, the soul, and the spirit, indeed, the very core of the person. For this reason, Jesus spoke often of the importance of protecting our hearts and minds. You may be familiar with the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out.” So it is with our hearts and minds. What we allow to enter our hearts will eventually surface in our words and our actions.
In our day and age, this may seem like attempting to stand firm against a tidal wave of sound-bites and images that inundates us on a daily basis. From the internet to television to movies, no place seems free from imagery that damages the heart. Aside from living in a cave, how do we navigate these messages that bombard us? I recently ran across an old Buddhist story that I believe can speak to us today:
There were two monks crossing a river when they were accosted by a lady looking for help in crossing the swift flowing stream. The older monk readily carried the woman across the river, put her down, and went about his business. The younger monk, steeped in the tradition and mindful of the Buddhist code of ethics that there shall be no touching between a male and a female, was aghast at the perpetration of the older monk and could not resist confronting the older monk at the next stop on the latter’s impropriety. The older monk’s response? “Yes, I did carry the woman across the river, and have since put her down upon reaching the other side. But it seems you are still carrying her all this while.”
As we sift through the images of our day, we would do well to realize that we may not have a choice about what enters the mind, but we do have a choice about what stays in the mind. At times, we encounter images and temptations and simply set them down. Other times, like the younger monk, we can find ourselves carrying them around for a while. In most cases there is a moment of conscious choice – an act of volition – when we decide whether to let a thought or an image simply pass through our mind or whether we will keep it there and carry it around with us. If we are protecting our hearts, we will be conscientious about what we allow to make its home in our heart and mind.