An Invitation to Imagine Marital Faithfulness:
The danger of Lust
Matthew 5: 27-30, Exodus 20:14
Exodus 20:14 (NIV)
14"You shall not commit adultery.
Let me start this message with just a few comments.
I hear that last weeks message created generous amounts of discussion. One of those points of discussion has to do with the question
"Are there exceptions?"
"Do I commit adultery if I divorce because my spouse has been unfaithful to me and I remarry?" For the sake of clarity in last weeks sermon, I did not deal with that issue. Let me just say that there is an exception that is recorded in the gospel of Matthew 5:32, and 19:1-12. Paul picks up on that exception, explaining it in different ways in 1 Corinthians 7:1-17, 25-28, Romans 7:1-3.
All of these passages in scripture that appear to permit divorce and remarriage are at the most concessions to the broken situation that we find ourselves in. Jesus in Matthew 19 makes it clear that human hearts are hard, lack compassion, and therefor even in the safety of bonds of marriage there can be victims. And if the victim of an unfaithful spouse remarries, well there is an exception for that. And Paul makes the exception for when a person becomes a Christian and their spouse refuses to become a Christian and wants a divorce. He knows that such mixed marriages can be extremely difficult. In light of that difficulty, he in exceptional cases allows that remarriage may not be sin.
These are all exceptional exceptions. If we take seriously that marriage at its very root was established by God to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, then we also ought to see that Christ, like Hosea, took an unfaithful spouse back to himself. If we are intent on reflecting the beauty of Christ and the church, then we ought to be intent on reconciling and restoring our relationships as difficult as that may be. Remember, to be reconciled with us, his bride, Jesus gave his life to that painful process. So should we, if we want to reflect the beauty of Christ and the church.
If you have had other unresolved discussions about last week’s message, I invite you to call me, email me, talk to me, or invite me over for a visit, and I will gladly come.
Matthew 5:27–30 (NIV)
27"You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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 to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Now I have preached this passage to you before. We have talked about the dangers of pornography in the past, an important message especially in a culture where pornography as distributed by the internet is one of the fastest growing businesses in the world. My focus this morning is to help us understand why Jesus adds right after talking about lust the words, 29If 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 to be thrown into hell. What is the point that Jesus is really making? Why is he making it?
Clearly the point that Jesus is making is that looking at a woman (or a man) lustfully could be eternal life threatening. It is almost like Jesus is telling us that not only is act looking at another lustfully committing a adultery, he is saying that there is something about lust, there is something about imagining in our mind marital unfaithfulness, there is something about giving our eyes and minds to lustful thoughts that has the power to put us in hell.
And on that theme, let me start by talking about the power of the imagination. We have been spending some time this fall already looking at the imagination and how imagination is important for understanding spiritual truth. So a few Sundays ago, we looked at the paradox called a beatitude - Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted" and we saw how we need to use our imagination to understand and make sense of Jesus words. In the future, we will find out that the imagination even has the power to grow our character in its Christlikeness. That is a lot of power. But like the imagination has power for good, it also has the power for evil. Here in this passage, Jesus is picking up a theme that already arises in the Old Testament, that when the imagination is used in the wrong way, it is an incredibly destructive force in our lives.
Hebrew commentators called it already, in the time of Jesus thehara yetser, that is Hebrew for evil thoughts or evil imaginings. The first time we hear of this evil imagination is in Genesis 6:5 which describes the condition of humanity just before God sent the flood in judgement - and this version is from the King James bible
Genesis 6:4–6 (KJV)
5And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
The focus of this passage is passage is on how far humanity has descended into the distortion of evil. This passage does not tell us that imagination is evil, it tells us that as the direction of the human heart turns away from God, the imagination follows the heart and it is so powerful that it has the power to corrupt us beyond repair, it has the power to corrupt humanity so thoroughly that God was willing to send the flood in judgement.
Jesus in our passage this morning is picking up on this theme. Looking lustfully at another is not only the equivalent of adultery, this lust is even more, it has power to bring you under the judgement of God.
The question is, how does this work?
When we give our thoughts, our imaginations to evil, to lust, it has creative power to send our lives in a certain direction, a direction that takes time to grow, but nevertheless, it has the power to grow to the maturity of spiritual death.
James puts it this wayJames 1:13–15 (NIV)
13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire (lust) has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Notice the interesting way that James describes this slide into soul destroying sin. Giving ourselves to lust, is a way of experiencing the benefits of intimacy without the maturity and the checks and balances of a true relationship. And it can be powerfully addictive, like a drug. That is why James says lust has the power to conceive a life set in a certain direction - that conception gives birth, matures and brings death. The imagination, when set on evil, has the power to mature into death.
Now it is possible to play with lust and not have this process become a reality in life just like it is possible to have sex and not get pregnant. But in both cases we are playing with fire. It is possible to have the freedom of choice once, or twice, maybe even ten times, but you might not have the freedom of choice the third or the eleventh time if lust conceives. And so those who know the addictive power of alcohol know that one drink might be too many because the second drink is the act of an addict who has on many levels lost his power to choose. His thoughts have become a slave to sin. And as lust grows, it overcomes his character and since our behavior arises out of who we are, our identity and our character, we become people corrupted through and through.
That’s why Jesus said
I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.29 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 to be thrown into hell.
There is nothing worth going to hell for. Your capacity to see is not worth it. You would rather go to heaven blind than hell seeing. In hell, everything is hell. The capacity to see is hell. There is no love there. Relationships are hell. There is nothing positive about hell. That is why the rich man (Luke 16:19 - 31) begged Abraham to go warn his brothers because even have brothers and sisters is hell in hell.If your best eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. There is nothing worth going to hell for.
Lust can have soul and spirit destroying consequences. There is no clearer illustration of that than the story of Balaam in the Old testament.
You might remember the story of Balaam’s donkey from the book of Numbers chapter 23-25. Balak, king of the Moabites who worshiped the idol of Baal saw the Israelites coming through the desert and knew that he did not have a chance against this ocean of people coming toward him. So that he might get the upper hand and be able to defeat them, he tried to hire a sooth sayer named Balaam to place a curse on Israel. Balaam, when it came to his cursings and blessings however knew that he could only give what his god allowed him to. At first he was reluctant to go but then as he went, an angel of the Lord stood in front of his donkey to warn him about putting a curse of Israel. Balaam, not seeing the angel starts beating his donkey and the donkey said "What have I done to you to deserve this treatment?" When Balaam finally sees the angel, he realizes that the talking donkey was trying to save Balaam’s life. The upshot of the story is that even though Balak, king of the Moabites was ready to reward Balaam handsomely for cursing the Israelites, all Balaam could do was bless Israel, no less than three times. Now that is where for most of us the story ends. But it does not end there.
You see, the sooth sayer Balaam liked money. Knowing that he could not curse Israel, according to Numbers 31:15, Balaam wen to King Balak of the Moabits and taught him how to defeat Israel. His advice to Balak was simple. Give the men of Israel some skin. Send a crowd of your Baal prostitutes, they will be defeated by their beauty, their souls will be overcome by their illicit desire and lust and soon they will be one with you worshiping your idol Baal.
Balak followed Balaam’s advice. In a place called Peor, Israel’s men and the Moabite prostitutes got together. In no time at all Israel started worshiping Baal. In judgement, the Lord commanded that those who became one with these prostitutes and this religion be put to death. 24,000 men died in Israel that day. From that point on Baal of Peor became a symbol in Israel’s history, a symbol that represented the truth that there is a gateway to falling away from faithfulness to God, there is a gateway to compromising the faith, there is a gateway to hell, it is called lust and it has the power to destroy who we are.
Sex, feasting our eyes on the opposite set, is fitting in the context of marriage, feast our eyes and our desires on our beloved, a clear theme from the Song of Solomon. But when we feast our eyes one that which is not ours, we are opening a door to soul destroying power that is able to destroy our faithfulness to God. How often I have seen members of a congregation place their faith and their marriages at risk by turning their eyes in the wrong direction. Jesus said for good reason"if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell."
Now I know that there are men here who are secretly addicted. They know the power of lust has become beyond their control. They know that something has been conceived in them, that if it gets a chance to mature, it will destroy them. What can you do?
1. Start fighting it again. Do everything in your power to overcome the power of lust. To fight it - get help. Get counseling. Start understanding the way that Satan has his claws in you. Discover triggers and avoid them. Discover the ways you live in secret and avoid secrecy. Be humble and honest about your struggle. It is not caused by someone else, it is not caused by your wife not fulfilling your needs. It is all your problem. Face it squarely!
2. Recognize that Christ has the power to set you free from the tyranny of the devil. The end of Romans 7 pictures human powerlessness against sin, and for those who struggle with addiction, its desciptions are especially descriptive.
Romans 7:15 (NIV)
15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:18–19 (NIV)
18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
And then in verse 24 he cries out
Romans 7:24-25 (NIV)
24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Christ has the power to set us free by the work of his Spirit.
3. Recognize that if the descent into hell starts with the mind, in the power of the Spirit, the ascent to heaven, the return to righteousness also has to do with the mind. That’s why Paul would say
Romans 12:1–2 (NIV)
12Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Like Paul by his preaching was aiming to "take captive evey thought and make it obedient to Christ," so we are called by the power of the Spirit to bring our thoughts into obedience to Christ. He has the power to do that. He has the power to return to us the freedom to choose to obey.
Last week, on my walk home, I ended up talking to an elderly gentleman had celebrated 37 years of sobriety from Alcohol. He had attended 1000s and 1000s of AA meetings. But it was not just the AA meetings that had set him free. In the end, he said, it has everything to do with God.
There is grace, but the journey of grace out of the bondage of lust is a difficult one. Yet it is far better than hell. That is why Jesus saidI tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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 to be thrown into hell.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.