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. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that 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 that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. —Matthew 5:27-30
These are hard words. But they’re not harmful words. Hard words are not harmful words, when they come from Jesus. Let’s open up to the full impact of what he is saying. He is not out to embarrass us. He is out to help us. We need more than willpower. We need a miracle. That’s why we’re in church today. That’s why God is here today.
Let’s all admit, it’s possible for our hearts to tell Jesus what he should have said. But doing that never works. Jani and I were in Hawaii a few years ago. On one of the islands, we were told it used to be filled with song birds. But then we introduced rats. Then we introduced animals to kill the rats. But the rats and the rat-eaters both ate the eggs of the song birds. So the island’s ecology was disrupted, not only by our problem but also by our remedy. Our hearts have a delicate ecological balance too. Both our sins and our ideas of salvation do us harm. Jesus knows what our inner world needs better than we do. We need assurance. But we also need confrontation. If it comes from Jesus, whatever it is, it’s good. So let’s stay open, even to his hard and freeing words.
Obviously, he is warning us here. When you see someone you love in danger, you warn them. Jesus sees us in danger. He sees the danger more clearly than we do. So he warns us, because he loves us.
As you can see, he is speaking to us men, primarily. He’s speaking to women too, but primarily to us men. And every man here is a sexual sinner. I am a sexual sinner. I have not committed adultery physically. But I have committed adultery mentally, more times than I know. All of us men have. And Jesus is saying that, in the sight of God, the difference between the physical and the mental is morally insignificant.
Why is Jesus saying that to us? Why is he confronting us so boldly? He’s saying, “You’ve been faithful to your wife? Don’t think too well of yourself.” He is grouping faithful husbands who look lustfully at another woman in with compulsive, serial adulterers. Why? Let’s remember his strategy in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. He told us in verse 20, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That is sobering. He meant it to be. He is not hoping we’ll hear verse 20 and think, “I guess I have to out-Pharisee the Pharisees.” No, he wants every man to be thinking, “If verse 20 is true, then I’m toast!” And we all fall to our knees together before the mercy of God. That is where Jesus wants us to go, because that is the place of blessing. Defeat. Impasse. Honesty. Walking in the light. That, and that alone, is where we experience God’s blessing. There is a far worse place to be in than your sin; and that far worse place is not needing a Savior, because we’re not all that bad.
In this part of Matthew 5, the real Jesus is showing us what real righteousness looks like. He is peeling away centuries of incomprehension and explaining what the Ten Commandments were really saying all along. We saw last week that “You shall not murder” shows us the heart of God by showing us the opposite of the heart of God. It is not God’s heart to murder us. It is not God’s heart that we murder each other, not in any sense at all, including the cutting words we might use on each other. It is the heart of God to breathe new life into us, and it is the heart of God that we spread life to one another by our words and our deeds. So, the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” is God’s way of saying, “You shall spread life.” That’s the kingdom of heaven freeing us from our hypocrisy and giving us our humanity back.
The Pharisees didn’t even think in that positive way. They weren’t pressing toward the center, toward the beauty of God. They were reading the Ten Commandments to define the outermost boundaries. They were wondering, “How far can I go, before I start getting into trouble?” They were pushing at the edges, but they were calling it obedience to God. After all, they only came up to the edge of sin and didn’t actually stick their toe over that line. That is the obedience Jesus rejects. That is hypocrisy.
Jesus sees three basic human profiles in this world. We tend to see two human profiles – good people and bad people. We see God as the ally of the good people and the enemy of the bad people. But Jesus sees three kinds of people. First, he sees murderers – the guys on the wanted posters, who shoot and stab and bomb people. Second, he sees murderers, like the Pharisees, who wouldn’t hurt a flea, but they kill each others’ hearts by cruel words, and then they say, “But I’m a good person. I don’t need to repent.” Those two kinds of people – murderers and Pharisees – look different on the outside, but inside they’re the same, and they will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Third, Jesus sees his Beatitudes people who are in repentance. They know they can harm each other, it breaks their hearts, and they’re going to God for forgiveness and new life, he gives it, and they spread it. His people are broken before God, thankful for his love, and it changes how they treat other sinners. They aren’t thinking, “Just tell me what I can’t do.” They’re thinking, “I don’t just want not to do things. I want to live. I want to live for the glory of God. I want to be oxygen to others, as much as I can.” That is real righteousness.
Today the Lord opens up what God really meant by the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” Immediately, a Pharisaical mind starts thinking, “Well, it doesn’t mention premarital sex….” That whole way of thinking, that hair-splitting legalism, is wrong. Even if we don’t cross the line, that is the kind of obedience God rejects. This commandment isn’t about adultery only, as if premarital sex is okay and homosexual sex is okay and all the other creative arrangements we invent. The point of the seventh commandment is our sexual wholeness, because Jesus came to give us our humanity back in the fullest sense. He has a gift for every one of us – sexual integrity – if we’ll receive it. This is wonderful, because some of us have sinned sexually so much by now we doubt that God can save us. We see our sins, especially our sexual sins, as bigger than our Savior.
If that’s how you feel, I’m glad you came to church today. I’m glad to tell you, your Savior is bigger than your sin. I’m thinking of the guy in Mark 5. The Bible says he was out of control. No one could control him, not even with chains. Maybe he asked them to: “Chain me up, guys. I might go crazy tonight.” But then he’d break the chains. Accountability groups are a good idea, but only Jesus saves. That man changed when Jesus came and spoke to him and worked a miracle in him. Then he was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. Your Savior is more powerful than your sins and your chains. Yes, put the right software on your computer. That’s a good idea. But Jesus can heal you deep within. Let’s all open up to him now.
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
Most people today agree that murder is wrong. But with sex, maybe because it’s so personal, our opinions start getting blurry. We start defining this act as bad but that act as not all that bad, and who’s to say anyhow? But let’s cut through all of that. Where did our sexuality come from? God. Where did God say he wanted us to unleash our sexuality? In marriage. Not porn. Not dating. Not even engagement. And not an inner mental themepark of boundless sexual fantasy. God located sexual expression within the commitment of marriage. Why? Because our sexuality retells the story of the committed love of Christ for his Bride. Sex is about the gospel. Sex is about the ultimate romance. That’s why human sexuality is so magnificent. Sex is like an iPhone. Apple Computers created this highly sophisticated communications technology. But if we use our iPhones to hammer nails, and then on top of that we debate with each other about which carpentry jobs are right for an iPhone and which are wrong, the Apple Computer people would rightly say we don’t understand iPhones at all.
The Pharisees didn’t get it at all. They were faithful to their wives, and they didn’t get it. They read the seventh commandment in a way that broadened the range of sexual purity and narrowed the range of sexual sin. For example, if they had watched movies, they would have been thinking, “So what’s wrong with watching that woman undress? It’s not like I’m doing anything.” But real righteousness in men thinks in the opposite way. Men in repentance create shalom and life and safety for others, even in the unseen thoughts of our minds. By the way, as more people come to Immanuel, there will be women who come dressed immodestly. When that happens, gospel women will not resent her or be jealous of her or speak unkindly of her but will move toward her and befriend her. And gospel men will think of her as she is – God’s daughter. And we will all grow together in a gentle environment of grace. That is the kingdom of heaven. That is the heart of God in the seventh commandment. “You shall not commit adultery” is his way of saying “You shall honor and protect every woman and girl.” Even if a woman invites dishonor, still, kingdom men insist on treating her honorably.
But how do we get there? It sounds good. But in our hyper-sexualized world today, how do we men press toward real righteousness? How do we get past hair-splitting Pharisaism and into sexual integrity? It isn’t easy, is it? Jesus knows it isn’t easy. In fact, what he says here might tell us it’s even harder than we thought:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that 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 that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. —Matthew 5:29-30
Every generation has its blind spots. What’s one of our blind spots today? The very thing the Lord is talking about here. Personal holiness. And personal holiness includes doing whatever it takes, to get free from hypocrisy and grow toward real righteousness.
Here is the righteousness of the Pharisees: “I’m going out on a date with a woman. How far can we go, before we get into sin?” That whole way of thinking is offensive to Jesus, even if we don’t cross the line. Here is how he wants us to think: “I’m going out on a date with a woman. How can I honor her? How can I make her life better because she took a risk on me?” That is the kingdom of heaven coming down into a date with a woman. And isn’t that how the Lord treats us? Does the Lord look at us and say, “How far can I go in taking advantage of this unsuspecting sinner before I actually do something wrong?” He is a faithful friend. He’s not out for himself. He’s out for us. It is not true that reality is a dung-heap of cynicism, so it’s every man for himself.
The truth is, reality is our Savior drawing us into something completely new – the kingdom of heaven on earth, even in our sexuality – because he loves us in a completely new way. The Bible says that Jacob’s heart was “bound up in” his son Benjamin’s life. It’s a picture of the love of Christ. His heart is bound up with us. He could not love us more. And in his love for us, he accepts us by the work of his cross. And in that same intense love, he calls us to change, even in hard ways, by the power of the Holy Spirit. If all you can stand hearing is the message of his grace accepting you, and you cannot receive his call to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17), then you are diminishing his love and his provision for you. You are making peace with sins he is able to destroy in you. The good news of God’s grace does not create passive men who make room even in their thoughts for what they know is wrong. The good news of God’s grace arouses in us men hope and expectancy that a love like his can start changing us, so that we’re a blessing to all around. The good news says to us, “Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:4). The good news says to us, “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue” (2 Peter 1:5). The good news says to us, “I discipline my body and keep in under control” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Would it be good news from above if God said to us, “Do whatever your worst self feels like doing, and I don’t even want to discuss it – however dishonoring to me, however harmful to others and yourself. All I want to talk to you about is how much I accept you”? Could you trust a God like that? There is a place in the good news of the gospel for warning and rebuke and correction, because the real Jesus loves us enough both to accept us and to change us. The Bible says, “He will treat our iniquities underfoot” (Micah 7:19). Our sins have met their match in Jesus.
His point here in Matthew 5 is this. We have to settle in our minds that we will accept what the Bible calls the upward call of God in Christ (Philippians 3:14). We have every reason to accept it, because the Lord will be with us every step of the way. I don’t believe the Lord wants us literally to maim ourselves. That wouldn’t change our desires. But the Lord is saying, “Stop compromising. It’s the little hypocrisies that are killing you. Whatever the cost, your sexual integrity is worth it.”
But some of us are thinking right now, “But Ray, I’ve tried. And I can’t get free.” There is nothing like sexual sin to break our hearts, precisely because it’s so personal. When we get involved in anything sexual, we make ourselves vulnerable. And then to find ourselves betrayed and enslaved – our hearts just break. But there is a way to get free through Christ. There is one thing every man can do. We don’t have to be heroic. We only have to be honest. Jesus is the hero. We are the sinners. But what we can do, to gouge out that sin, is confess it – especially to another man, who will pray for us. I’m not talking about sporadic confession, so that we save face. Real confession is complete. It is painfully honest, leaving nothing out, and on a regular basis. The power of God comes down into that confession, with a brother’s prayers. The Bible says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
Here at Immanuel, we call that “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7). We don’t overcome our sins by heroic effort; we confess them to death. It might not work the first time. But by the nineteenth time, your sin will start weakening in the powerful light of honest confession and prayer. We can experience this wonderful deliverance in a one-on-one basis, man with man. We can experience it at Men’s Community on Tuesday nights. But the real Jesus meets us, with his freeing power, in real confession.
Is there even one man here who wouldn’t be helped by that?