April 16, 2024

Thou Shalt Not Covet

The comments on Twitter relating to our discussion of the command not to covet our neighbor’s wife reminds me of all the conversations that are had in fundamental Christian circles regarding modest clothing. One of the main arguments that are used in attempts to tell women how to dress starts with something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:27-28

From here, women are encouraged to do whatever they can to help men not to lust after them so that they will not be committing adultery in their hearts.

There are all kinds of problems with this, though.


1. It places all the responsibility for the sin on the woman, not the man

Jesus’ intended audience for this command was not women, but men. He looked the men there in the eye and said, “So what that you haven’t committed adultery. If you’ve looked on a woman with a lustful thought you’ve committed adultery in your heart!” and you can almost hear Him add, “Don’t tell me that you haven’t, because I know.” To argue that women are in view here is to argue from silence. There’s no implied command to the woman.

2. It doesn’t help men out

The usual answer to point 1 is that women should want to help out their brothers in Christ by trying to make it so that they won’t lust, but that has different issues. A woman has no ability to stop a man from lusting after her– barring the fact that she looks really bad, and no woman in the modesty movement is proclaiming that all women should make themselves so seriously unattractive as to prevent all lust. Proponents are stuck trying to differentiate beauty from sexy and why one will prevent lust and one will not.

Don’t get me wrong,

Biblical Commands

Obviously Jesus is making a reference to the Ten Commandments, specifically “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” However, there’s another commandment that is equally important here in this topic, and it’s not about women wearing what pertains to a man or wearing godly apparel… it has to do with the man and what he sees and wants.

God gave Moses the commandment that the Israelites were not to covet their neighbor’s wife, land, servants, house, dogs, or lamborghini. True, I made the last one up, but the point is still the same. He wanted us to practice contentment and not to desire or lust after something that was not ours.

It occurs to me that a woman that is not married to us, no matter how she may be dressed, is not ours! Thus by “looking upon a woman to lust after here” as Jesus was saying is actually breaking two commandments– the first is by committing adultery in our heart, and the second is by coveting something that is not ours.

God places the sin for both of these squarely on the man. That’s not to say that women can’t covet another man and therefore someone else’s husband. The point I’m trying to make is that it is purely on the man if he has a trouble with a woman’s choice of clothing.

If men would practice looking away, of being uncomfortable in the presence of someone that is dressed for sexual attention, and treated the temptation as God treats it, then I believe that we’d change how women dressed in public.

Women would not like it. It would feel like being shamed. But God is very clear about the right and wrong ways to deal with this temptation.

  • Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7 that the desire to have physical relations with a member of the opposite sex is a fire.
  • Joseph fled, leaving his garment behind when Potiphar’s wife tested him
  • Proverbs tells us to flee the seductress and the temptress

All of these things tell men that they shouldn’t entertain the mistress, should starve them of attention and not reward them; however, our culture gives them platforms to show off their bodies and drives us to encourage them instead of discourage them.

Immodesty is a problem, but it is only a problem because men are giving in to temptation and allowing themselves to covet. To not be happy with what they have, to desire what they do not have.

You don’t have to be rude, you shouldn’t go around policing people, and you are not holier than they are. You should be uncomfortable around perversion, not comfortable, and you shouldn’t take your baggage into interactions with others, men or women.

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