Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5. This passage we read this morning is one of those passage’s that reminds us why it’s good to preach through books of the Bible because preachers would like to skip passages like these. There are two reasons I’m encouraged coming to a passage like this today. The first one is these are the words of our Lord and I shall not stray to the right or the left of them and He did not say these words to us to wound us to death, to hurt us, but He said them for our good in His glory. There is a second reason I’m encouraged to bring this word to you, and that is you are a people who love the truth and you want to hear the truth even when it hurts, and so the word of God beginning in Matthew 5 verse 27.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks upon a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. If your right hand makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right eye makes you stumble, cut it off, and thrown it from you. For it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for your whole body to go into hell. It was said that whoever sends his wife away let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Thus ends this reading of God’s holy word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him in prayer.
Our Father this is a hard word but it comes from the lips of our Lord and so we are convinced of the spiritual help of it and the spiritual necessity of it. So we pray this morning not only for seeing eyes and hearing ears but for willing hearts to receive a word that is hard to receive. Search our hearts this day, where your servant fails to reach the heart, reach the heart by your Spirit and draw our hearts to yourself, leaving us open to be judged by the word and then cured by the work of the Spirit. We give all the praise and all the glory for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
In this passage our Lord Jesus shows us the deadliness of sexual immorality. He reminds us that sexual immorality occurs not only literally and physically but that it takes place in the heart. Indeed. that the root of it is in the heart and that there is only one hope and that is in Him. We began this passage. which sets forth the righteousness of our Lord’s kingdom, and we said that as Jesus teaches the truth of the way His disciples ought to live, He does it in the context and the teaching of the Pharisees. They suspected that He was against the Law of Moses and so in Matthew 5 verses 17 through 20, He makes it clear that He is here not against the law. He is not against the moral law of God, in fact, He is here to interpret it correctly. It is the Pharisees who are against the law because they have misinterpreted the law, they have scaled down its demands, and the Lord Jesus is here to interpret it for us rightly.
Last week, we saw Him in verses 21 through 26 apply the general principles of His teaching about the law to the specific circumstance, the specific issue of the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” The Pharisees thought that they had that commandment down cold. You shall not commit murder and those who commit murder are liable to the court. What better exposition of the law could you wish for? The Lord Jesus says, you have failed to understand the extent of the law because that law extends even to tongue murder and heart murder. When you slander and ruin and murder the reputation of your brother by your tongue, you commit murder and thus break the sixth commandment. When you have thoughts of destruction and annihilation and hatred in your heart for your brothers and sisters in Christ you commit the sin of murder. So the Pharisees encouraged the people to believe they were actually keeping a commandment that they were not keeping. He gave them examples of that in their relationships. We’re going to see Him repeat that pattern over and over.
Notice He does three things, and He does this over and over in the passage from verse 21 all the over to verse 48. First, He shows that the Pharisees had misinterpreted the law, then He teaches what the law really means, and then He applies it to our relationships saying that you can pretend like you are keeping the law until you start looking at your relationships, and when your look at your relationships you begin to see those relationships are an index to see if you’re really keeping the law of God. And whether you are keeping the law of God is an index of how you think about God Himself and what sort of relationship you have to Him.
So the Lord Jesus in this passage always has in view two groups of people: believers and unbelievers. Let me say that when I say unbelievers, He also has in mind religious unbelievers, for He knows there are people who are religious who are yet unbelieving in their hearts. Throughout this passage He wants to do two things. He wants the unbelievers who are religious to realize that their religion is of no value unless they are resting and trusting in Him and thus filled by the Spirit and follow in His way. He wants believers to be careful that we ourselves do not become external in our keeping of the law and fail to look at how the law reaches into our hearts. So with that, we look at Jesus’ teaching in this passage from verse 27 to verse 32. Notice again, here those 3 patterns that He discusses in each case throughout this passage. First, notice in verse 27 He contradicts the Pharisees interpretation of the law, then in verses 28 through 30 He gives His own exposition (interpretation) of what the law means, and then in verse 31 and 32 He applies the law to relationships so that you see whether you really love the law in the practical issue of relationships in life. Let’s look at this teaching together.
I. Jesus contradicts the Pharisees interpretation of the Law.
First of all in verse 27 Jesus’ contradiction of the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law. We read there, “You have heard that is was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’” But the Lord Jesus wants to make it clear that that command cannot nearly be kept by literally refraining from adultery in sexual immorality. It must be kept at a deeper level because the law is a matter of the heart. He teaches us that in this passage. Notice again, that Jesus is not attacking the Old Testament, He’s not attacking the moral law, but the Lord Jesus is attacking the interpretation of the moral law by the Pharisee in His day.
Now the Pharisees prided themselves as being the ones who cared and loved the law above everyone else. But the Lord Jesus says to the Pharisees that their problem is not that they went too far with the law, it’s that they really didn’t go with the law at all. They didn’t go far enough and they didn’t see that the law deals with the heart as well as the external things. So the quintessential question of Pharisaism is 'when do I not have to obey the law of God?' The Pharisee wants to know what the minimal is that one has to do to meet the standards of God. If I can put it in contemporary language, the Pharisee wants to know not is it ethical, not is it moral, but is it legal. Can I do this without being ostracized by society and pursued by the law? If I can do it legally I would like to do it. I don’t care whether it’s immoral or unethical, I just want to know if it’s illegal and so the attitude that the Pharisee has toward the law show you the attitude the Pharisee has towards God.
Jesus, in this passage, is criticizing the Pharisee’s externalism as they taught the seventh commandment to their people. The Pharisees were harsh on adultery, to be sure. In the gospels themselves we have several instances where people who were caught in adultery fell into the hands of the Pharisees and the Pharisees were ready to administer swift justice, when it suited them. So they were very harsh on the literal breaking of this command but the Pharisees, as Jesus points out in this passage, were very lenient in their divorce law. In fact, the Pharisees were in favor of what amounted to divorce on demand. They had gone back to the book of Deuteronomy and they had read a passage in which Moses said that a man could send his wife away if he found something unclean or indecent with her. The Pharisees had interpreted that clause so broadly that it would allow a man to divorce his wife in he did not like her cooking, literally. If he had become indifferent towards her he could put her away and so they had found all manner of loopholes in the law and the Lord Jesus is saying to the Pharisees that your attitude towards marriage shows me that you are adulterers in your hearts. Because the seventh commandment not only forbids you from committing adultery, it commits you to having a high view of marriage. And I see in your view of divorce that you do not have a high view of marriage.
That is precisely what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees here, and from that He turns to give an exposition of what the law really means. I would invite you to look with me again closely at verses 28 through 30. “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. And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” The Lord Jesus makes it very clear that the law is spiritual. That is, the requirements of this commandment extend not nearly to our outward physical actions but to our eyes, the way we look, and even to our hearts, what we’re thinking, what we’re desiring, and what we’re longing for. Jesus in this passage says that we can break the commandment in at least three ways. There is not only literal, physical adultery but there is also eye adultery. That is, Jesus is speaking of lusting viewing and He calls it adultery. We can commit adultery with our eyes, Jesus says. “I tell that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery.” Now it’s no mistake that the Lord Jesus speaks of the eyes as a gateway to temptation in the area of sexual sin. Every man in this room knows exactly what the Lord Jesus is talking about. For a man, the eye is the great gateway into the heart for lust, for covetousness, for longing for someone and something that does not belong to us. So the Lord Jesus makes it clear that even that is a violation of the commandment.
Now let me say that Satan often uses different means for women in this area. Jesus uses the eye as an example of anything that is an occasion for sin. He does not mean to limit this Scripture only to the eyes, only to that which He sees. For women, for instance, the ears and relationships are perhaps the gateway to the heart. Perhaps for a woman, she has been neglected by her husband, her husband will not talk to her as much as she wishes. Perhaps she has been neglected in the area of the relationship and now there is a man who comes along at some opportunity, socially, in the context of work, or the context of a vacation. He begins to talk to her and makes his way into her heart through her ears. But the Lord Jesus is warning here that any gateway into the heart which is an opportunity for sin, especially in this area of sexual immorality, and must be guarded against and men know how visual stimulation works in our hearts in this area.
Jesus goes deeper however, than the eyes, those portals which allow things into our hearts. He goes to the heart itself and He says that that indulgence of the eyes leads to a heart adultery. “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus knows that indulgence of the eyes leads to heart adultery which so often leads to actual, literal adultery. For the Lord Jesus has explained to us here that that physical attraction can be an opportunity for lust and for covetousness in the hearts of men. They see, they desire, they imagine, they meditate, they reflect, and then they begin to seek that object which is forbidden.
Let me say something about these types of corrupt desires. These corrupt desires are insatiable. God has created His world in such a way that when we seek holy desires we can find contentment, but if you seek something that is unholy or something that is sinful, I promise you will find that in God’s universe you will never be content with what you have, you will always want more, and you will never be filled up. So Satan draws you into a whirlpool of sin which drags you down, you become less human, less relational, less everything, and so the corrupt desires are insatiable. Jill Briscoe has said, “The world is littered with the debris of what erotic love has promised but been unable to provide.” Corrupt desires are insatiable and they will never satisfy, and so men must guard against heart adultery via the portals of the eyes, but woman must be on guard for the relational attractions which come along.
Very often these take root in two things in the heart of a woman. First of all, natural desires and natural expectations that they have for what marriage will bring, coupled with their disappointment when their expectations aren’t met. Those things leave a woman relationally vulnerable to engaging in this type of sin. Jesus brings home, in this passage, a brutal prescription for how we are to respond to sexual temptation and sin. Jesus, in this passage, uses words which seem hyperbolic. He is not calling us to mutilate our bodies though there have been some Christians who have wrongly interpreted Him to be saying that. The Lord Jesus is not overstating Himself, in fact. He is using a physical illustration and applying it to the spiritual realm. The Lord Jesus is saying, as important as your right eye is, as important is your right hand is, if it is causing you to stumble, if it is an occasion for sin in this area, you would be better to be without it that to be cast into hell. The Lord Jesus is saying that we must take drastic action in getting rid of whatever may be the conduit of temptation.
Notice that He says that this is a temptation which has eternal consequences. The present, He reminds us, is not our only life, but an eternal destiny awaits for us in heaven or in hell, and nothing, however pleasurable or satisfying at the moment, should be allowed to doom us eternally. Look at what the Lord Jesus is saying. He is drawing close to your ear and saying, “Is an hour with her worth a lake of fire?” He is bringing to bear the strongest inducements on our hearts.
Now why is the Lord Jesus reacting? I know many non-Christian friends who come to Christians and they say, “You Christians are hung up about sexual matters, you’re hung up about sexual ethics and temptation.” No, the Lord Jesus invented sex, but He also knew how powerful it was when it was used wrongly. So the Lord Jesus knows that this sin is particularly dangerous to us. Why? Because this sin enwraps our hearts, it bonds us in our desires, in our loves, and in our affections to something which is wrong and thus makes us impervious to the overtures of the gospel. We begin to love something which is self-destructive and if there is any man in this place who has ever tried to deal with a mate, who has left his wife and gone after an immoral affair and that man has become emotionally wrapped with that person, any man in this place knows how difficult it is to reason. The rabbis used to say, “Lust and reason are enemies.” They do not go together, a man ceases to function with his mind when he is wrapped in this sin and so the Lord Jesus is absolutely dedicated to waking us up about the danger of this sin. It is not that this sin cannot be forgiven. If it were not forgiven, there would not be many men in heaven. It is that this sin is so fulfilling in certain twisted ways that men would do it to the destruction of their own souls, they would follow after that way even to their own destruction.
So the Lord Jesus is saying that this sin must not be pampered. It must be put to death. And notice that He uses the most graphic language, “mortification” and “dismemberment.” No Puritan ever spoke in harder words about mortification than our Lord Jesus. “Tear out your right eye” and “cut off your right arm.” Mortification is not passive, there is no passive righteousness here. This is a striving against sin. The Lord Jesus is calling on us to wage war against this sin in our hearts and in our lives. It must be flung aside immediately and decisively. What does that mean? It means that that book which is causing you to think thoughts that you ought not think needs to be turned aside from. Perhaps it needs to be burned. It means that that film which is titillating your heart, your mind it needs to be turned aside from. That movie, that VCR, and that tape it needs to be turned aside from. Those pictures which titillate the mind they need to be turned aside from. It means that website or that social relationship that we have begun to develop and we sense the inappropriateness of the action that we have with one another. It needs to be turned aside from. That vainful habit in which we are engaging, it needs to be turned aside from. The Lord Jesus is calling on us not to mess with this sin because it is eternally deadly.
My friends, there is a double application for this, for both the unbeliever and the believer. For the unbeliever wrestling with this sin, you know that you cannot overcome this temptation. There is no sin like this one to show you that you cannot conquer sin by your own works. You need the grace of Christ, you need the work of the Spirit, you need all the benefits of union with Christ, you need a spiritual armory to conquer this sin and an unbeliever has no spiritual armory. This sin will defeat even the strongest of men. If it could defeat saintly David, it can defeat anyone, and the unbeliever ought to know inherently that he or she cannot conquer this sin and it ought to drive them to Christ that He might conquer it in them.
But He also means to apply this word to believers. Believers, too, should know that we are no match for this temptation. What are we to do as believers when faced with this temptation? There are several things which we should be prepared to do. First, we must immediately resort to Christ. We must be absolutely dependent on Him. Human resources cannot defeat this temptation. Human resources cannot match this desire. We must draw on divine grace if we are going to do warfare with this sin. We must have desire for Christ which exceeds our desire for the pleasure of the flesh. That’s going to mean going to Him in prayer. That is the first step back to Christ. Our first step is back into His arms because the desires that are building in us when we prone to this sin are so powerful that they can be matched by no desire except a supernatural desire implanted into our hearts.
Then what? When we have done that and when we continue in the way resorting to Christ what would we do? The next thing that we must do is realize where our sinful lust will take eternally. Isn’t it interesting that the Lord Jesus in this passage does not hesitate to bring in hellfire and brimstone. Why? Because He’s trying to shake us out of our spiritual slumber here. He wants us to know what will happen if we go down this road. The book of Proverbs is full of stories of men who have gone down this road and the Lord Jesus is saying , “I want you to think about what this will mean for you eternally. Is it worth it? Is your hour of pleasure worth it eternally?”
The third thing we must do is we must deal with the real cause of our sin. If there is an occasion which is causing us to stumble we must not come back to God and negotiate with Him by promising Him to read our Bible more and pray more as long as we can keep going back to that occasion of sin. Obedience knows no negotiation. The Lord Jesus, when we see an occasion for sin, says, “Don’t go back and read your Bible and pray more, you cut off your right hand. If that is an occasion for sin don’t put yourself there.” He further more says that we must do this decisively and immediately. It requires drastic action.
A dear friend of mine is a minister in another state. And in his town, like in our town, the “gentlemen’s clubs” have come. I use that word derisively, gentlemen’s clubs. These gentlemen’s clubs in his town have put up billboards around the town and in the way that he had to go from his home to the church, low and behold, appeared one of these billboards. Now he is a man who greatly appreciates the womanhood God has created, and so he is tempted in this area. He said, “I would drive in, and there would be this billboard staring me in the face every week with a new beautiful face and body. I could not pass the billboard without thinking and feeling evil thoughts.” And so what did he do? He drove into town another way. It takes him longer, it is more difficult, it is filled with more traffic, but it was an occasion of sin and he dealt with it decisively and immediately.
Finally, we must realize what our lust will lead us to temporally. We should rehearse what we will lose in this life as well as the life to come if we persist in indulging our lust. One of my former pastors told us a story one day of a woman who came to him for counsel about an illicit affair that she had been involved with. She did not have a good relationship with her husband. The man that she became involved with talked to her, listened to her, cherished her, encouraged her, praised her, flattered her, and cared for her. She said to him that these things were so right, these were desires that I had for my marriage which I had never had fulfilled and this man gave me everything my husband never gave me. I seemed so right until the day my husband discovered us and then what had seemed so right and so good and so self-advancing seemed petty and lurid and disgusting and wicked and mean, and so it was. Yet it was too late, for she lost everything, her husband, her home, her community, and her children. A temporal loss because she persisted in gratifying her need.
A dear friend who is an officer in another church had an occasion a few years back to minister to a woman in need. She had lost her husband, she was in much need for counsel, she needed financial counsel, and a counsel on how to handle her affairs. She had never had to do it before because her dear husband fulfilled all those obligations. This dear brother, as he worked with her over the months, found his heart being drawn to her. He was in a role almost as a husband, he was doing things for her that her husband would have done, and he was caring for her as a husband might have done, and he found his heart drawn to her. So much that one night he called me on the phone in terror. “What do I do? I feel as if I’m falling in love with this woman and I love my wife and I love my family.” We talked for a long time. The next day that man got up and he made a list of all the things that would happen if he were to follow through on these wrong, wicked, and evil desires. He rehearsed them to himself every day and then he became determining not to put himself in a position where he could even follow through on his desires if he wanted to. He resisted temptation by thinking about what it would cost him in this life.
Let me say very briefly to our young folks, to young men and woman here. To the young men, there is no danger like this danger. Do not toy with this temptation and ask yourself this, “Are you treating the young ladies that you escort as you would wish another wish another young man to be treating the woman that you will be marrying one day? Or are you treating her as an object, a thing, and something to gratify your desire.” Remember that God has determined that we will not have pleasure in a woman to whom we have not committed. Commitment is required before we take pleasure in our sisters. commitment of lifetime permanence. This is what’s required of us.
This is for our young woman. Are you helping your brothers in your dress, in your manner of dress, and in your behavior? Are you causing them to face a temptation that they are incapable of overcoming because of the strength of their natural desires? Are you tempting them in your behavior? Are you pushing it as far as you can? In this area, once we have asked the question “How far?” we already know in our hearts we have crossed the line. To our young people, beware of this temptation.
There is much more in this great passage, but let me leave you with this word. If you are in the grip of this sin you know how hopeless it is to struggle against. Let me tell that that very hopelessness is your greatest hope because if you have learned that you are hopeless against this sin, you have just learned that there is no hope in you. Only hope in Him and in Him alone. Now Satan will be saying to you, “If I confess this sin Christ will reject me,” and Satan will be saying to you, “If you confess this sin they (the church) will reject you.” I assure you these are lies. Christ's arms are open wide, His peoples' arms are open wide, and there are few men in here who cannot sympathize and empathize with this temptation. Put aside the obstacles of Satan and come to Christ. The only way you will ever overcome this temptation is in the arms of Christ, who will give you a greater desire that the flesh can ever fulfill. Let us look to the Lord now in prayer.
Our Lord and our God we confess ourselves to You, and we ask that You would help us. We need your grace, O Lord, to wage this warfare. We would do it manfully and valiantly, all for your praise and glory, we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.