Life Upside Down
March 11, 2018
The Sermon on the Mount is such a powerful message concerning the tendencies of our human nature toward sin. We all struggle with sin and the power that temptation seems to have on our souls. Jesus addresses the things that the Law teaches but in a way that is very different from what the Scribes and Pharisees taught. The Pharisees made long lists of “do’s and don’ts” by which they sought to live righteously. This is not wrong, at least not in and of itself, but there is something missing.
Jesus, however, begins teaching the Sermon on the Mount and what true righteousness looks like, and honestly, it looks like life turned upside down in comparison to what the Scribes and Pharisees were teaching.
Last year we looked at the eight Beatitudes Jesus expounds on in Matthew 5:1-12 and we found that genuine happiness is experienced when our lives are characterized by self-emptying, mourning over sin, exemplifying meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, becoming merciful, pure in heart and a peacemaker in this world. Then in verses 13-16, Jesus said that people will find genuine joy when they are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and are persecuted by the rest of the world. Truly this is life upside down!
Jesus go on to tell us in verses 17-20 that what He is teaching in no way abolishes the Old Testament Law, like some of those listening to Him thought, but rather He has come to fulfill every demand of the Law. In fact, without His fulfillment of the Law, we cannot be righteous enough to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then last week, in verses 21-26, we found that Jesus is not just talking about obedience to the legal standards of the Law, but the intentions of our heart. You see, the Scribes and Pharisees taught that only if you actually physically killed someone could you be held accountable to the court for the crime of murder. Jesus exposes their teaching in the light of all God has said concerning murder, including the fact that it arises from the heart and that it begins with anger. Therefore, the person who is angry, or calls someone names, or slanders them could be liable before the court just as if they committed murder against that person. And not only that, God does not accept our worship until we seek reconciliation with that person.
Again, this is Life turned Upside Down isn’t it? I said last week that we find Jesus saying a particular phrase several times that should capture our attention. The phrase is this: "You have heard that it was said.” Six times Jesus uses this simple phrase to show the difference between Kingdom righteousness and Pharisaical obedience to the Law. You will notice that our passage today begins with that same phrase. Let’s read verses 27-30.
27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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.
That is a pretty strong warning isn’t it. Let’s go back and begin with verse 27 where Jesus talks about:
Living According to the Law (v. 27)
Jesus begins by quoting the sixth commandment found in Exodus 20:14: “You shall not commit adultery.” The people Jesus was teaching on the hillside that day probably heard the religious leaders teach this commandment to them many times. Adultery is a big deal to God and so since the Scribes and Pharisees were concerned about what God said, they not only taught the Law, but gave details about how to not break this Law. Again, the problem is not their teaching of the Law, they should be commended for that. The problem is that they made a separation between the heart of devotion to God and the ritual practice of the Law.
The focus was on the physical actions of obedience to the Law, . . . not on the heart, not on the motivations, or even the intent of the individual for keeping the Law. Unfortunately, even today, Christians tend to focus on the do’s and don’ts and it becomes this trap of self-righteousness that leads us to think we make ourselves acceptable to God. Don’t get me wrong, it is not bad to have guidelines or rules to live by to help us live pure lives, in fact, we will talk about that more later, but we can never be righteous enough to be acceptable to God.
God never intended that His Law become this stringent ritual of outward obedience that didn’t come from a heart of desire for Him. I believe that God intended all of the 10 Commandments be a matter of the heart. I would encourage you to study them sometime and I think you will see that all God desires of us is obedience from a heart of love for Him. He wants our obedience to be a natural outflow of our love and who we are in Him. Not a forced obedience that we do with a heart of resistance.
The Scribes and Pharisees took the sixth commandment concerning adultery and applied it to the sexual act between a person who is married and someone other than their spouse. As long as a person does not have that kind of sexual relationship, they felt you were good to go on this area of righteousness.
Christians today get into this same “living according to the Law” mentality. As long as we stay true to our spouse in the acts of sex, we are good to go. And we can find lots of verse in the Bible to help us see that adultery is not acceptable to God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Many, many verses in the Bible talk about not being an adulterer or we will face judgment. We say, “Whew” glad I have not had sex with someone other than my spouse. I am good to go on that command, Pastor Mike. But in a culture that sets sex and every kind of immorality before us every day, is just simple obedience to not committing this act of adultery good enough? This is again when Jesus turns life upside down. In verse 28, Jesus says that we are guilty of adultery if we are
Living with Unrestrained Desires of the Heart (v. 28)
Let’s read verse 28 again,
28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Wow! What is Jesus saying here? Lustful intent is the same as committing adultery? What’s up with that? The Greek word translated lustful intent is ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeo). It is a compound word, two words put together. The second part of the word is θυμός (Thumos) meaning “a strong passion.” The preposition attached to it, ἐπι (epi) heightens this as a passion toward or against someone. Let me tell you what Friberg’s Analytical Greek Lexicon tells us about this word:
(1) generally this refers to a strong impulse toward something, a desire, or longing for (2) in a good sense of natural or commendable desire, longing for, earnestly desiring (3) in a bad sense of unrestricted desire for a forbidden person or thing, to lust for or after, to crave, to covet.
As I was reading through this the first time, the word “covet” picked up my attention right away here. There is another command that deals with coveting, isn’t there? It is the tenth commandment and it even goes as far as coveting someone else’s wife, doesn’t it? What Jesus is saying here is that any one who allows the unrestrained desire, this lustful intent, this sexual desire for another . . . is committing adultery in their heart. It doesn’t matter if that person actually commits the physical act of adultery, they are guilty of adultery in their heart.
Think about this for a moment. Do you think that any person who has committed adultery did it without thinking about it first? No way. The reason a person commits adultery is because they thought about it, lusted about it, and coveted about having an adulterous relationship with another person. Thus, the lustful intent is simply the beginning stages of the physical act. Just like we learned last week about anger and murder. Anger is the beginning stages of someone going out to commit murder. So lust, left to its course in our lives will lead to adultery.
But what stands out in Jesus’ statement is the all-inclusive terms He uses. It is everyone who lusts. It is not just those who are married, or those who are unmarried. It is not just male or female or any other category we what to put people in. It is everyone! Now I know you noticed that Jesus uses lusting for a woman in his rebuke, but this does not just apply to men, or women that lust after women, this applies to everyone and anyone that has this sexual desire for in their heart. The idea here is that if we are living with unrestrained desires in our heart, we are sinning.
Another word I think is important that we understand is the word “looks” when Jesus says, “everyone who looks.” The Greek word is βλέπω (blepo) and means “to see, to discern, to gaze upon, to perceive by the sense of sight, to discern mentally, to contemplate.” So, it is a word that speaks not only about what is seen through the eye gate, but what the mind does with what is seen. This word “looks” has the idea of a lingering look with contemplation of what is being seen. But what I want you to know is that it does not mean to “glance” or “see something unintentionally.” It has the idea of intentionally looking at something. In the context of what Jesus is saying here, it is obvious that He is talking about looking at something with the purpose of satisfying the strong lustful, sexual desires of the heart.
If you have not caught the very strong implications of what Jesus is saying here to the problem of pornography in our world today, then you are not listening to what Jesus is saying. I would bet that if we were to get Christians to be honest about this we would find many Christians who struggle with this. And you know what, Christians who look at porn will justify it by saying they are not doing anything wrong. They are not cheating on their wives, they are not participating in the physical act of sexual promiscuity and so they are not sinning . . . at least in their minds. In fact, some will go as far as to say that it keeps them from being unfaithful to their spouse. But what is Jesus saying about this lustful, intentional gaze of mediation on someone performing sex on a computer or TV screen. He says that they have “already committed adultery in their heart.” It is sin!
Listen, there is so much that can be said about the plague of porn on our society. We live in a day that pornography is referred to as an “educational help,” a “freedom of artistic expression,” or other expressive terms that are used to elevate it somehow from the sinful pit it lies in. But don’t be fooled by any of that, pornography is a plague, an addiction, a destroyer of your mind and soul.
As obvious as porn is in application to what Jesus is saying, we often stop there and don’t examine our heart in other ways this may apply to us. When we find delight in watching people who are scantly clothed in the mall or enjoy a television sex scene. Even though the necessary privates of the people are covered, we are allowing the desire of our heart to rule our mind. Sometimes we even allow our minds to think about what it would be like to be with that person in a sexual situation. We may never actually be able to do it, but we allow our minds to feast on that idea. This is lustful intent!
Much of what is carried on network television (including PBS) and on most of the cable channels revolves around sexual themes, and even when they don’t, a sex scene or two is thrown in somewhere just to pull up ratings. Do those scenes bother us, or do we tolerate them until we no longer think twice about seeing a sex scene? This same problem occurs when people read novels that have explicit sexual situations described in their story line. The fantasy conjured in the mind from them is just as bad as seeing pictures and videos of them. The lust in the heart is the same. The problem with sexual sin is that it is internal, not external like we may think.
You probably remember the story of David’s sexual sin with Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 11 tells us that he was on his roof and saw her bathing. If this would have been just a glance that resulted in him turning quickly away because he knew it was wrong, then it probably would not have led to his sin. But what did David do? David looked intently at Bathsheba and said to himself, “Wow, this is a beautiful woman” in verse 2. How did he know she was beautiful? He continued to look at her. David, like you and me, need to have the commitment of Job 31:1:
"I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?”
Scott Harris has said that “the old adage is true. You cannot keep the bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You cannot keep from seeing sights that are enticing, and you cannot keep a thought from going through your mind. However, you can restrict anything you see to a glance instead of a gaze, and you can keep a thought passing rather than lasting.” We cannot live with the unrestrained desires of the heart and not be guilty before our God. So, what do we do about this?
Living with Serious Intent for Purity (vv. 29-30)
Well, verses 29 and 30 may have the solution. No, No, I am not suggesting bodily mutilation as the solution. but what is Jesus suggesting here?
29 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. 30 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.
Do you think that body mutilation will help us escape our sinfulness, our lustful intent? No, probably not. I don’t believe that Jesus is suggesting that we literally do this to our bodies. I believe that what He is telling us is that this is serious, and we need to put up some barriers or hindrances in our lives to control lustful intent. The eye and the hand are not the problem, are they?
What do you think is the problem? What do you think it is that causes us to have lustful intent? Well, part of the problem is that we place things in front of our eyes that tempt us. Certainly, that is part of the problem. Listen to the wisdom of Solomon concerning looking at a prostitute.
25 Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes; 26 for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life. 27 Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? 29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.
We cannot continually place the sexual images of the television and internet in our vision and not expect to have our mind begin to meditate on them with desire. We need to place barriers and restrictions in our lives that would prevent this from happening. Certainly, it is a process of learning to control our body.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
But, I believe that even more important than all of this is making Jesus Christ our life. Obviously, getting rid of harmful and corrupting influences is good, but that doesn’t change the heart. Heart change begins when we place our faith and trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Then as we begin to grow in our love and relationship with Him, the desires of the heart begin to change. Then, as the desires of the heart begin to change, the outward actions change also.
4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
I believe that if we have a serious desire of making Christ our life, that certain aspects of our life will change. Things that we no longer want in our life because Christ is our life. Our relationship with Him will naturally cause us to say no to certain things that cause us to have lustful intent. To get rid of the things that are in front of our eyes that cause us to think thoughts that should never enter our minds. Our life should become so full of Jesus Christ, that we have no time for lustful intent.
This is serious stuff and I believe that is why Jesus uses this extreme image of remove an eye or cutting off a hand. That is how serious sexual sin is. In our day, sexual sin is tolerated among Christians. Young people living together, people having open sexual relationships with other people, same sex relationships, and on it goes. We have become so desensitized to sexual sin that we no longer see it as sin, and certainly not as serious as Jesus describes it. We don’t need to literally remove an eye or hand, but we need barriers and hindrances to keep us from lustful intent.
What about you? Are you a believer? Have you tolerated and allowed this to become a part of your life? Do you allow your mind to be occupied with lustful intent? Jesus tells us that we are committing adultery in our heart.
Do you desire to make Jesus your life? I encourage you to make a commitment to keep your eyes and your mind pure. If you want to live pleasing to our Savior, we need to make Him our life, not our lusts.