I’m very sorry if you find the subject a bit vulgar, but it’s an important subject and one I feel the text requires. You won’t find many commentaries dealing with this subject but given the context I believe this is what is being referred to. The M word is masturbation.
Jesus has just been talking about adultery and lust and in the preceding verse talked about lusting with your eyes. What happens after looking, often results in masturbation (which to be honest is the whole point of pornography). This makes much more sense than Jesus suddenly making a crunching gear change and talking about stealing or some other sin you might commit with your hands.
The question is; “is masturbation a sin?”
Well, the bible doesn’t say anything about it, so technically one would have to say “no”, however it is nearly impossible to separate it from lust, which is a sin.
Some people would point to the story of Onan in the bible. The specific verse is Genesis 38:9 “And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother”
This is not about masturbation. It is about the failure of Onan to give children to Tamar, the widow of his brother and fulfill his duty to raise offspring in his brother’s name. By refusing this obligation, he sinned, because he was effectively making Tamar destitute with no means of support through having children. This was why Childlessness in the bible was considered a curse from God.
There are a few instances where masturbation might be acceptable, for instance when someone is away from their spouse for a length of time and the object of their masturbation is only their spouse. However the majority of instances of masturbation would in all probability be lusting and fantasizing after someone who wasn’t a person’s marriage partner and so would therefore be sin. Again, a large cause of this is the viewing of pornography.
The main problems with masturbation is that it is extremely habit forming and also very selfish and lazy. It can be a cheap alternative to a commitment to another person that takes time, effort and energy. The building of a relationship takes hard work and sacrifice. It is an honourable thing to seek a marriage partner and deny oneself to making that relationship work. It is a worthy effort. Masturbation on the other hand is instant gratification with no obligation.
Even though masturbation is not specifically condemned in the bible, we can apply some principles and wisdom from many verses in the bible. Here are a few;
In Ephesians 5:3 it says But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Is it proper? Is it pure? It’s hard to see how masturbation fits in with that. Also we have 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you cannot give God glory for something, you should not do it. If a person is not fully convinced that an activity is pleasing to God, then it is a sin: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Also, we need to remember that our bodies have been redeemed and belong to God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). These to my mind are quite compelling arguments.
It is very important we see sex as a positive thing. God made it and he made it very good, but he made it for the marriage covenant only to be enjoyed by a man and a woman in a loving committed relationship. Any other sexual activity is a distortion of that goodness. That’s why such activities as adultery, casual sex and all manner of other sexual activity are condemned.
I mentioned earlier that masturbation can be habit forming. The ‘high’ comes from a flood of chemicals that are released into the brain during orgasm. As the mind becomes accustomed to the release of these chemicals, it searches out for continued sources of that high and a highly addictive habit is formed which is extremely difficult to break. It has the potential to ruin enjoyable sexual intercourse with a partner for years to come.
The easiest way to tell if you have an addiction to masturbation would be to stop. Try to abstain from masturbation for 30 days. If you are able to go this long without masturbating on your first try, you are probably not addicted. However you may want to consider quitting anyway for the sake of your relationships and for a pure and guilt-free relationship with God.
As this is such a private sin done in secret, it will take a lot of bravery to deal with it, especially as it is considered such a shameful habit. Know that God is willing and able to help you. Know too that He has provided friends and others in your church to help you and stand alongside you. You need to become accountable to somebody, a person you can trust to not gossip, but to be a true friend and help you through. A person who will challenge you on a daily basis and ask you how you are getting on. It is possible to break free from this sin and live a life of freedom. I pray that if this is your burden, you will find freedom in Jesus name.