Pastor Scott L. Harris
July 19, 1992; October 11, 1998
Lust & You Lose
This morning we will be continuing in our examination of the Sermon on the Mount. We are now in the section of the sermon in which Jesus is giving concrete examples that contrast the false self-righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees with that of true righteousness.
Jesus described the qualities of true righteousness in the Beatitudes. People who are truly righteous are characterized by being poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. They are persecuted by those that are unrighteous. They are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They seek to bring glory to God in all that they do.
We have already seen in 5:17-20 that Jesus makes it plain what He is teaching is in complete harmony with all of the Old Testament, down to the last stroke of the pen. This is in contrast with the Scribes and Pharisees. Verse 20 is a condemnation of their self-righteousness because “unless you righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were not getting into the kingdom of heaven unless they exchanged their self-righteousness for true righteousness. (See: Fulfilling the Law).
Last week we examined verses 21-26 in which Jesus contrasts what the Scribes taught about murder with what God says about anger, hatred, name calling and slander. The Scribes 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 that it arises from the heart and that it begins with anger. Therefore, the person who is angry could be liable before the court. The person that expresses that anger by calling another person names would be guilty before the supreme court, and the person that allowed his anger to erupt into slandering the character of the other person would be guilty enough to go into fiery hell. Quite a contrast between the teaching of Christ and that of the Scribes. (See: Hate & You Lose – 7/5/92).
I want to point out here that Jesus to this point has not condemned the Scribes themselves, only their teaching. In fact, it will not be until the Scribes utterly reject Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah that He will condemn them. At this point Jesus is just exposing their teaching, and their hearts. What they will do with that exposure would determine their future destiny. Would they accept the corrections, become poor in spirit and hunger and thirst after righteousness, or would they continue in their religious self-righteousness?
A story is told that many years ago, while on a visit to England, a wealthy Chinese businessman was fascinated by a powerful microscope. Looking through its lens to study crystals and the petals of flowers, he was amazed at their beauty and detail. So he decided to purchase one of these devices and take it back to China. He thoroughly enjoyed using it until one day he examined some rice he was planning to eat for dinner. Much to his dismay, he discovered that tiny living creatures were crawling in it. Since he was especially fond of this staple food in his daily diet, he wondered what to do. Finally he concluded that there was only one way out of this dilemma. He smashed the microscope to pieces destroying the instrument that caused him to discover the distasteful fact!
Eventually the Scribes would react the same way as this Chinese business man who smashed the microscope because it revealed to him something he did not want to know. The Scribes, along with the Pharisees and other religious leaders would crucify the Messiah, hoping that this would allow them to go back to their old way of doing things.
As we go through each of these illustrations of true righteousness your true heart will be exposed, just like it was for the Scribes. The test will be what you will do with that exposure. Will you accept the rebuke received at the hands of the Holy Spirit as He works on your heart and then turn (repent) from that sinfulness to the Savior? Will you become even more poor in spirit, mournful over sin and meek? Will your hunger and thirst for righteousness increase along with your drive to be pure in heart? Or will you be like the self righteous religious leaders, rejecting what Jesus says and continue on in your own self deception?
In the passage we studied last week, Jesus laid open our hearts and exposed the murder that is in them. Murder that expresses itself in unrighteous anger, in calling other people names and slandering their character. The only proper response to that exposure is mourning over sin, pleading for God’s mercy and grace, and rejoicing in His giving it to us in Jesus Christ.
This morning we come to another section that will also expose each of our hearts. What will you do with this exposure?
Sin in Deed
Jesus begins his next practical illustration of true righteousness by quoting the sixth commandment.
Matthew 5:27, “You have heard that it was said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.”
The Scribes had the same mind set that many in evangelical circles have today. They were very concerned about what the Bible says, as they properly should be. They studied the Scriptures in detail, another good thing to do. They wanted to be very careful to do all that it said , again, a wonderful goal. However, they made a separation between the mind and heart and physical actions. Since they could not see a persons heart and discern the motive or the desires that were in the heart, they paid little attention to those things and concentrated on what could be seen. That in itself is not bad because we cannot know what is in someone else’s heart. We can only guess at it by the clues that come out in a person’s actions. The problem with the Scribes, and the problem with a lot of Christians, is that they forget that God can see the heart and that He is very concerned about it. A list of rules and regulations may be helpful to remind ourselves that we need to be careful in all that we do, but when we begin to think that we are good because we manage to keep the list of do’s and don’ts, we have fallen into the trap of self-righteousness.
Even in Exodus 20 in the Ten Commandments, God’s concern was for the heart. As the chapter begins, God reminds them of who He is, the One who brought them out of Egypt. Then God gives them the following commands. 1) No other God (vs 3). 2) No Idols or worship of other “gods” (vs 4-6). 3) Do not take the name of the Lord in vain (vs 7). 4) Keep the Sabbath (vs 8-11). 5) Honor your father and mother (vs 12). 6) Do not murder (vs 13). 7) Do not commit adultery (vs 14). 8) Do not steal (vs 15). 9) Do not bear false witness (vs 16). 10) Do not covet (vs 17). The religious leaders had turned each of these into specific physical actions you did or did not do. Yet each has an element that must come from the heart, and the last one, “Do not covet” is only a matter of the heart. If any action is taken to gain the object coveted then that is stealing.
The Scribes had taken the sixth command, which is not to commit adultery, and decided that they were righteous because they had not committed that act. They looked at the most technical aspect of the law they could, that adultery is sexual intercourse between a person who is married with someone other than their own spouse. Because they had not done that, they thought they were pretty good.
In many ways, with the perversion in our own society, we might thing we are pretty good if we refrain to that level and stay true to our spouse. All around us we see a society pre-occupied by sex. The entertainment media glorifies infidelity, divorce and perversion while sneering at marriage, sexual fidelity and moral purity.
Some of you may remember what then Vice President Qualye said about the decline of the American family and its effect on poverty. In that speech he said, “Ultimately, however, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failure to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.” I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong, Now it’s time to make the discussion public.” Qualye’s speech described more about this, and the media did just what Quayle said they would do. They jeered at him. Columnist chided him. Media comics laughed at him.
President Clinton has gotten himself into all sorts of trouble because of his adultery, yet we find the media either defending him and excusing his behavior, in part because they promote the same kind of behavior in their daily programming. In a society like this, you might think that God is very pleased with you that you have not done what the President has done nor joined in perversions of our society .
We know that God hates adultery, for in Leviticus 20:10 God commands the most severe punishment for it, “the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” Hebrews 13:4 says that “for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Paul warns about it in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Sin in the Heart
The Scribes had taught the sixth commandment, do not commit adultery, and that was good because God does hate it. But again, the Scribes had missed a major part of the commandment. They thought they were righteous, and maybe you think you are righteous because you have not had sexual intercourse with anyone other than your spouse, but read on. Jesus again exposes the wickedness that is in the hearts of men and women.
Matthew 5:28, “but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Jesus directly applies the tenth commandment (not to covet) to the sixth commandment (do not commit adultery), and says that everyone who lusts (has a strong sexual desire) for anyone other than their spouse has committed adultery in their hearts. That is a judgement against everyone whether married or not. Notice that Jesus uses the all inclusive word “everyone,” and that He does not distinguish the particular woman. He says “a woman.” Jesus statement applies both to the married and to the unmarried. And remember that though Jesus uses the male as the example of the one that lusts, the injunction applies to females that do the same. There are many statements made throughout Scripture against the adulteress and the harlot.
But what does Jesus mean by His statement? Is this a blanket condemnation? I do not believe so, but I do believe that all of us fall prey to our sinful hearts.
The word “look” here does not mean to “glance” or “incidental sight.” The grammar indicates a person that sees and continues to look. Intentional and repeated gazing.” The purpose of which is to satisfy the evil desire of the heart. The word lust simply means “strong desire” with the context indicating the object of that strong desire being the person viewed.
Obviously those that are caught up in pornography commit this sin that Jesus is describing. I could spend the whole sermon speaking about the evils of pornography and the effect it has had on our society, but that would side track us. I believe all of us are well aware of the pervasiveness of pornography in our society and that such material is intended to titillate the sexual interest of the viewer. Don’t kid yourself if you think you can look at the so called soft porn such as Playboy and its genre of smut and not get burned. These things are carefully designed to lure you into sinful thoughts and actions. And do not think you can elevate that trash by calling “artistic,” “provocative” or “educational.” The world can use any term they want, but Jesus pointedly calls it sinful to look at someone, whether live or in a picture, to lust after him or her. If you have any of these things, you had better get rid of them or they will drag you to Hell.
Also obvious in this would be those guys who are “girl watchers.” They like to go to the beach and other places to watch the women in revealing dress (undress?) go by. Women they sometimes refer to as “eye candy.” Of course these kind of people do not have to go anywhere in particular to do this because they are also looking whenever a pretty woman walks by. There are few that have not had to put up such people. They may or may not say something or whistle, but they leer. The term “wolf” applies well.
But don’t think that you avoid this sin because you do not wolf whistle or make some comment when someone of the opposite sex walks by. And don’t think you avoid this by not buying pornography or by renting only videos that are rated G or PG. That helps, but temptation in this area will come into your life through a variety of channels. TV is a big one. 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 do not, a sex scene or two is thrown in somewhere to keep viewer interest high. How do you respond if you are watching something and a sex scene comes on? (And most often it seems it is between two people who are not married to each other). Do you turn the TV off? Do you feel like writing a letter to complain about it? Do you feel disgusted and violated yourself? Or do you quietly tolerate it? Maybe you are thinking “I am glad he got the girl” or “I am glad she got the guy, isn’t it good they love each other” Maybe you even smile a little at it.
Lets be frank folks. This material is written to entice you into a sympathetic relationship with the characters, and it does a very good job at getting you to condone immorality and conclude what they are doing is good. One test you can throw at it is this. If I were watching my son or daughter do this in real life, would I feel the same?
And let me also point out to you that this sin of lusting after someone else does not have to involve the eye to occur. The “look” can also occur within the mind such as occurs in the trash novels that have no pictures but just describe everything in detail. The fantasy that one enters into reading one of those books is just as bad are looking at something with all the pictures. The lust in the heart is the same.
It is incredible that this sin is even promoted by many psychologists, especially the so called sex experts who say that if you are unfulfilled with your mate but don’t want to fool around with someone else, then just fantasize about someone else when you are with your spouse.
But maybe that strikes at the core of what Jesus is saying. The problem with sin is that it is internal, not external. It is what is in our hearts. The problem is not that a guy may see a beautiful woman walk by. That woman is a creation of God and her beauty should give glory to her creator. The problem is not even that a guy may see a woman clothed immodestly or not clothed. The problem is in the heart of the man. We want to quote the verse and say “to the pure all things are pure,” but the problem is that our hearts are impure and we cannot trust them. The prophet Jeremiah putting it this way in Jeremiah 17:9, “the heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” When you want to think you are better than others because they have fallen in this area, it is precisely at that moment you need to remind yourself of 1 Corinthians 10:12 which warns us to take heed to what occurred to the Israelites because of the failure to follow God and then says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Anyone here who does not or has not fallen to this sin is certainly capable of it.
The Bible tells us that David was a man after God’s own heart. He loved God and proved it over and over. Yet, David let his guard down. He was not diligent to do all that he should have as the king. 2 Samuel 11 recounts that David was in Jerusalem instead of being out with the army in battle. That David was on his roof and he saw a woman bathing. Was it a sin that David saw the woman bathing? No. The sin came when David saw that the “woman was very beautiful in appearance.” How did David know she was “very beautiful”? He continued to look. David was not as Job who said, “Behold I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin.” 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.
How serious did Jesus see this problem of sin in the heart? Look at Matthew 5:29-30
29 “And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts for your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 “And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, 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 go into hell.
That sounds serious doesn’t it? And it is serious. Some have taken what our Lord says here literally and have torn out their eye and cut off their hands with the hope that it would enable them to escape hell and enter heaven. The sad part of this is not just that they failed to recognize when Jesus speaks figuratively, but that in doing these things they did not escape their sinfulness. History is full of those trying to follow an ascetic ideal who have shut themselves away, or deprived themselves of food, sleep and any sort of comfort. They have physically injured themselves, some even castrating themselves, yet with all that sin was still present. Athanasius says of St. Anthony, “that the devil sometimes appeared to him in the form of a woman.” Jerome relates of St. Hilarion, “that in bed his imagination was often beset with visions of naked women.” Another monastic named Ptolemy spent three years alone in an unwatered desert and quenched his thirst with dew he collected during December and January and saved for the rest of the year. His end was skepticism, madness and debauchery.
Jesus is not advocating self inflicted injury or even asceticism as the way to avoid sin. Plucking out your right eye leaves your left eye so you can still sin with it. Cutting off your right hand still leaves your left hand so you can still sin with it. Jesus is being figurative here and He is making clear the seriousness of sin. The Jews considered the right eye and the right hand to be of supreme value. Jesus is saying that if something is hindering you from living for God, then it is better to be without it than let that drag you into hell. This is a call for a dramatic severing of the sinful impulses in us which push us to evil action.
Anything that morally or spiritually traps you, causes you to fall into sin or to stay in sin, should be eliminated quickly and totally. Does TV entice you to sin? Is it dragging you down? Then don’t just turn it off, you have already shown yourself too weak to do that, get rid of it! You say that is too radical? That is the seriousness with which Jesus is talking.
I don’t know what your particular area of temptation may be, but whatever it is, do all you can to set it aside that you might live a holy life. If you are in an immoral relationship, end it now regardless of how nice that other person makes you feel. As already mentioned, if it is pornographic material, get rid of it! If TV causes you to stumble, then admit it and get rid of it. If it is pulp novels that glorify sin, get rid of them. If it is supermarket magazines like the Star and National Enquirer or other gossip magazines which glorify sin, get rid of what you have and don’t get anymore. When you get in line at the market, look straight ahead at the person in front of you and not at the magazine rack. You say that is too radical? Then you do not yet understand the seriousness of sin, you do not understand the condemnation, the judgement and the punishment that sin brings. Eternity is a long, long, long time for it will never end. You do not want to spend eternity shut out from God and suffering everlasting punishment.
But now you say, “wait a minute Preacher!” “You say the problem is in the heart and that the heart is sinful and now you are telling me to do external things.” “I am confused!”
Obviously getting rid of harmful influences will not change a corrupt heart into a pure heart. The example I gave of several of the monastics already shows that. But just as the outward act of adultery reflects a heart that is already adulterous, the outward act of voluntarily forsaking whatever is harmful reflects a heart that hungers and thirst for righteousness. The outward actions have to be generated from the heart if they are to be effective. Paul told Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” which is just what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife sought to seduce him, but Joseph did not flee because he was not enticed by her, but because he loved God more (See Genesis 39).
Jesus’ discussion here only proves again that one cannot become righteous by outward rules and regulations, which is what the Pharisees sought to do. They were self-righteous. The first step toward true righteousness is recognizing your own sinfulness. That is being poor in spirit and mourning over that sin. (See: Blessed are Those Who Mourn – 3/22/92). Without that you can never truly turn from sin to the Savior. Do you recognize your sinfulness and that your only hope is God? That is the first step to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. You cannot be holy and you cannot please God on your own. You must place your hope and trust in Christ alone.
True Christians hunger and thirst after righteousness. (See: Hungering for Righteousness) They are concerned about the inward as well as the outward. They are having their hearts purified by Christ. Do you profess to know Jesus? Then consider who you want to please. Is it yourself or God? I said in the beginning of this message that this passage will expose your hearts. What will you now do with that exposure? Will you confess the sin within you and turn with grateful hearts to God thanking Him for His forgiveness in Jesus Christ while striving with everything within you to live a life pleasing and glorifying to Him? Or will you continue to judge yourself against a false standard made by man and consider yourself to be good enough? Which is it for you?
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