As I mentioned in my previous article, Jesus sets forth a challenge in the Sermon on the Mount: be different. Jesus even sets a challenge for Himself. He told His audience that day that He came to earth to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).
There is part of that challenge that is strictly Messianic, meaning, only Jesus was able to fulfill the Law by living it perfectly. Only Jesus was able to fulfill the prophecies about the Prophet who was to come into the world.
Yet, there is the other part that we ourselves can participate in.
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12.
Are you ready to take up this challenge? Can you be a part of Jesus’ mission to create fulfillers?
Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19-20.
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48.
Between these two high callings, Jesus gives some shocking teachings that require courage and dedication to the cause of Christ. To move forward in our study, we need to make the commitment of a true disciple.
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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30.
Marriage, as God defines it, is a sacred bond. It is the first inter-personal relationship He ever created. Woman was made for man, and man is incomplete without woman.
Jesus says a lot about marriage. The one phrase that is and should be repeated at every Christian wedding is what He said in Matthew 19:6: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
What happens, however, when a third person is introduced into the one-flesh bond? The first time the word adultery is found in the Bible is within the cited commandment: “You shall not commit adultery!” (Ex. 20:14). The punishment? Death for both parties involved.
To say that God takes marriage seriously is true, but that may be an understatement. God understands the wrenching heartbreak people feel when relationships are destroyed by adultery. If this is news to you, read through the book of Hosea, and read God’s reasonings for punishing the nation of Israel in the book of Jeremiah (31:31-32).
The people listening to Jesus on this occasion would have heard this commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” well enough. But did they understand it? Perhaps, like murder, the religious teachers spent inadequate time on the feelings and intentions that usually lead to sin. Sure enough, the commitment of adultery is wrong. What about the heart?
…but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28.
Let us define our terms. There are some Greek words that are flexible, and context helps us understand the correct translation into English. There is no ambiguity with the word translated “adultery” in this passage. Every time “moicheuō” appears in the New Testament, it is translated as the act of (commitment of) adultery, which can be defined as: “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse” (Oxford).
The word lust is a bit more flexible than adultery. It has been translated as covetousness (Acts 20:33), craving (1 Cor. 10:6), desire (Matt. 13:17), longing (Luke 16:21), and lust. Sometimes, it’s even used for spiritually healthy feelings (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1). In the context of Matthew 5, however, lust would be a sensational craving that produces unwholesome and sinful thoughts. It has to do with sensational cravings of someone’s physical being who is not your spouse.
Let it be said that attraction is not the same as lust. Attraction, the recognition that someone has desirable qualities, is as universal as its opposite, disgust, the recognition of undesirable qualities. A woman may see a man and say, “He’s handsome.” She may then notice some other things about him and say, “I also like how kind he is, and how good he is with children.” In other words, she’s saying, “I’m attracted to him.”
The question is, where does it go from there? She could pursue these feelings in a very godly way, so long as he is eligible for her. Or, if she employs no self-control, then it could become sinful, or lustful, very quickly.
Without attraction, God’s first commandment to the first married couple would be difficult to fulfill. He told them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Attraction aids in the fruitfulness of the earth. With lust, however, God’s creation is distorted, and a man or a woman is stripped of the image of God and turned into a spirit-less, physical body.
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17.
John says the things in the world fall into these three categories. Two of them are related to this subject: the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes.
The child of God who, every day by discipline of the heart, submits more to God according to His word bears the Holy Spirit’s fruit, which includes self-control (Gal. 5:16-25).
When we become Christians, we are publicly professing our belief in the spiritual. We recognize that there is more to our body; therefore, there is more to everyone else’s, too! When we lust, we are are looking at the person according to the flesh and denying the faith that teaches of the spiritual.
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad…
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, 16-17
A Christian is committed to no longer recognizing anyone according to the flesh. If you struggle with this, wake up daily with the words of Job on your lips: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman [or man]” (Job 31:1, NIV).
The question is still here: are we willing to take drastic measures?
If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5: 29-30.
Sometimes we want to go quickly to the question, “Does Jesus mean for me to obey this commandment literally?” First, no, He doesn’t. If He did, we would have seen examples of self-mutilation carried out by the inspired apostles, the prophets, and the first-century church in Scripture, but we do not. Obeying this literally renders the world half-blind and half-paralyzed. Plus, what good is it to pluck out one eye, when one more would remain?
When we jump to this question right away, at best, we are distracted from the commandment. At worst, we begin to justify a lack of action when stumbling blocks are present. After all, we are not to take it literally.
So, what did Jesus mean? Do whatever it takes to remove stumbling blocks from your life. Therefore, if you find out that “whatever it takes” actually requires the loss of a body part, then follow through, “For it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Truthfully, though, “whatever it takes” is sometimes more painful and difficult than it would be to tear out your eye with a dull, wooden spoon. Do you struggle with sorcery? If so, do what the new Ephesian Christians did in Acts 19–burn your books that equal to five million dollars in today’s money. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it? Do you struggle with pornography? Cut off all access to the internet. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it?
Maybe we need to first take a step back and ask a simpler question. Do you struggle with lust? Even simpler is, do you struggle? I’m afraid that many of us, when we see a spiritual weakness, we begin saying, “I struggle with such-and-such.” Yet, struggling requires much more than just admitting you have a problem.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:1-6.
Do you recognize a problem in your life? Take it to the next step, to the point of struggling, or striving against sin. Can you honestly say that you are actively fighting against the temptation of lust?
Do you want to participate in Jesus’ fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets? If so, treat others the way you want to be treated. How do you want people to see you, as merely an animated body (or as slang puts it, a “piece of meat”)? Or do you want people to see you as someone who bears the image of God, and for that reason, you have inherent value?
Regard people with spiritual eyes. Do not reduce a person to the flesh. Remove anything in your life that hinders your growth in Christ and causes you to stumble in your walk.
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38.
Our righteousness must surpass that of the most apparent religious people around us. We are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It’s easy enough to say, “That’s impossible!” But with Christ by our side and the Holy Spirit inside, it’s even easier to say, “That’s possible.”
The things that are impossible with people are possible with God. Luke 18:27.