Matthew 5:27-30 (7)
We saw from Jesus` first example that the root of all sin is the heart, not the pump that takes blood round our bodies, but used in the sense of being the centre of every desire, emotion and action. In His second example, on how the citizen of the kingdom is to let his light shine and exhibit a righteousness beyond that of the Pharisee, Jesus takes us to the core of sexual sin and the radical way that we must deal with it.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
I love the innocent way some children see things. One wrote, ‘Adultery is the sin of saying you`re older than you really are’. Unfortunately that innocence soon goes. A programme about Genghis Khan said that, in those days, about 1170AD, if a man saw a woman he wanted he just took her. We think their ‘raping and pillaging’ terrible but we do the same things, in more subtle ways, and describe it as ‘giving free expression to our feelings’. Amazing isn`t it!
The seventh commandment is quite plain in its restriction and so the Pharisee could feel smug about not having transgressed this command. In Proverbs we are warned of the dangers of adultery. “The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit.” (22:14) “A man can hire a prostitute for the price of a loaf of bread, but adultery will cost him all he has.” (6:26) “The lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.” (5:3-5) Adultery doesn`t just happen, as some would have us believe, but it is as James says, “We are tempted when we are drawn away and trapped by our own evil desires. Then our evil desires conceive and give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (Jam 1:14-15)
Jesus goes right to the root of the problem, the desire of the human heart. As Eve “saw that the fruit looked good to eat” and took it despite God`s restriction so we can sin by looking with lust at what is not ours. The issue is not so much looking but looking with lust. Lust is defined as excessive or unrestrained craving of sexual desire. Now I don`t want you ladies to feel left out and say this does not apply to us. I remember Hilary looking, as we passed a man wearing shorts, riding a bicycle, and saying “Alabaster thighs!” (Pray for her) Jesus is not intending this to be an exclusively male thing but speaking in a culture where a woman was seen as a possession. Remember the story of the ‘woman caught in adultery’ (John 8:1-11). You have to ask, “Where was the man?” Think of King David. He should have been at war, with his army, instead he is at home gazing at Bathsheba another man`s wife. He committed adultery with her and the consequences of this ‘looking with lust’ was: the death of her husband, the death of their child and trouble for the rest of David`s reign. The Law was very clear on what should have been done. “If a man commits adultery with the wife of an Israelite, both he and the woman shall be put to death”. (Lev 20:10)
If we are honest, all of us wrestle with this at some time but men are more susceptible to being inflamed by what they see. Although Job`s three ‘friends’ were certain that some sin had caused all his troubles, perhaps sexual sin, Job could truthfully say, “I have made a solemn promise never to look with lust at a woman”. (Job 31:1) There was no sin of this sort in his life. “If I have been attracted to my neighbour’s wife, and waited, hidden, outside her door, then let my wife cook another man’s food and sleep in another man’s bed.” (Job 31:9-10) Could we say that?
We must remember that Jesus is using this as an example of how our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisee, and so it is reasonable to assume that He is including all sexual sin, all that was judged by the Law. This a heart issue and so no legislation can deal with it. The King of the kingdom, however, knows our hearts better than we do, so He tells us to deal with it before it becomes unstoppable. Jesus method of dealing with what leads to adultery or other sexual sin is very radical as we shall see. It is only when our heart of stone is taken away and a heart of flesh given us that we can respond in the way He says.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Jesus could not have meant that we should literally gouge out an eye or cut off a hand because in both cases there is still another eye or hand which can still cause us to sin. There is a story told of the lady campanologist (bell-ringer to you and me) who got her leg caught in the bell-rope and as the bell swung she was hoisted, upside down, into the air. The vicar said to the verger, “May God strike us blind if we look.” The verger replied, “I`ll risk one eye.” Are we guilty of this risk? Some have taken this literally, Origen of Alexandria, for example, a third-century scholar, castrated himself because of the imperious urge of lust.
We found, from the beatitudes, that the kingdom citizen is ‘pure in heart’ and it is important that this purity is maintained, if necessary, by radical means. The eye and the hand are the main ways by which we are led into sin. We look and desire with the eye and take and have, what is not ours, with the hand. The eye is said to be ‘the window to the soul’ and as such we had better keep it clean. This is no easy matter today where sexual images are constantly placed before us to such an extent that I`m not sure we are always aware of how we are being ‘programmed’ towards sexual sin. What John Stott called ‘a river of filth’ is being pushed at us daily on TV, in films, books and magazines, and now more that ever on the internet, making it very hard for those weak in this area to remain chaste.
How then is the Christian to gouge out the eye or cut of the hand if not literally? If our eye causes us to sin, DO NOT LOOK! Consider ourselves blind to this type of stimulation. We do not need to read about the sexual exploits of the ‘stars.’ We know this is a fallen world because the Bible tells us so and it will get worse. Let us be very selective of the type of newspaper we read and even after finding a ‘suitable’ paper avoid certain articles altogether. ‘Deliberately to foster lust, by erotic books, plays, films, magazines and websites, is to fly in the face of this commandment. For who knows when the bridle of decency or convention will snap under the strain, and the racehorse of our passions break loose?’ (M Green)
If our hand causes us to sin, DO NOT TOUCH! Consider ourselves unable to grasp that which will cause us to sin. We will be seen as odd, prudish and out of touch with the ‘modern’ way and face ridicule but we must decide which world we are living for, this or the next. We are in the world but not of it so we should not be like the world. Rather than looking with lust and taking what is not ours, let us focus on “whatever things are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8) That our heart might remain pure.