As He preaches this great sermon, the Lord Jesus is forcing men to examine their hearts, because holiness is always a matter of the heart:
Matthew 5:27 (NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
We looked at this verse last week, and we talked about what the Bible says about sex. Sex is only a sin when done outside the bond of marriage. But within marriage, sex is not only permitted, but required.
Beginning in verse 21, and repeated here in verse 27, we find a phrase that is repeated six times throughout the chapter - "Ye have heard that it was said to those of old....". There are two possibilities with regard to how the phrase could be translated. It could read, "Ye have heard that it was said to them of old" or, "by them of old." The Greek could be translated either way. If the phrase used the word "to", it would probably refer to the Old Testament. But if the word "by" was used, this would indicate that it isn't the Bible speaking to the people, but some ancient people speaking.
I believe that the proper rendering is "by them of old". I don't think that Moses was the one doing the speaking in that Jesus did not say, "You have heard that Moses commanded" or, "You have heard that it is written," which is precisely what He said three times in Matthew 4, when He referred to the Old Testament:
Matthew 4:4 (NKJV) But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"
In Matthew 8, when He referred to the Old Testament, He said, "Moses commanded."
Jesus does not begin these contrasts by telling them what the Old Testament said, but what they had heard it said. This is an important observation. Jesus does not say, " The Old Testament said....but I say". Jesus is not refuting the Old Testament command against adultery; he, is in fact, explaining its full intent. Jesus is not talking about what Moses said. Jesus is talking about what their religious system taught them.
Another reason for not accepting "to" as the best translation is the fact that famous rabbis were called "fathers of antiquity" or "men of long ago." Hence, I believe this is what our Lord is referring to: "You have heard that it was said by the rabbis of old." In other words, this is a designation related to their oral teaching that glossed over the true law of God, as they added their own thoughts to the revelation of the Old Testament.
So, Jesus is not contrasting the Old Testament with the New Testament, but the word of the rabbis and their traditional interpretation which had been given to the people. Let me give you two illustrations of this that Martyn Lloyd-Jones has used.
The condition of the Jew at the time of Christ was remarkably like that of the people in the Reformation. Prior to the Reformation, the Scriptures were not translated into the people's language. When you went to church for the mass, the whole thing was done in Latin. There was no Bible to speak of in the hands of the people. The only contact the people had with the Bible was from what was read by the priests in Latin. Consequently, nobody understood it, and nobody read it, except for the priests, who would expound upon this Latin text. The people would simply believe whatever the priest said, because they had no basis by which to evaluate: They couldn't read the Latin, let alone interpret it. So they accepted what the priest said.
Century after century went by in this way with the Roman Catholic Church having developed a system which was never really investigated by the people, mainly because they didn't have the Bible in their own language. The people had unquestioningly accepted the priestly interpretations and conformity to the system of Rome. What the Reformation did more than anything else was give the Bible to the people. It put the Word of God in the people's hands. When they began to read the Scripture, then many began to see the false teaching and the misrepresentation of the gospel which had been given to them for centuries. It was the truth of the gospel that helped to shatter the Dark Ages, and Protestant Christianity, as we know it today, was born out of that. And today, we have the Bible in our own languages and are, therefore, able to evaluate the validity of any religious system by the Bible's divine standard.
This was the kind of thing that was going on in our Lord's day. Another similar illustration can be found in the Jews after the Babylonian captivity.
When Israel went into captivity for seventy years, historians tell us that they essentially lost the Hebrew language, acquiring instead a language known as Aramaic. Consequently, when they came back from captivity, the Jews were still speaking Aramaic up to, and beyond, the time of Jesus. Because the Jewish people spoke Aramaic and were, for the most part, completely unfamiliar with Hebrew, the people were dependent upon the rabbis to read and interpret the Hebrew language, which the people didn't understand. Thus, the rabbis began to build an entire system based upon the ignorance of the people regarding the Hebrew text.
As a result of this situation, the Lord is best understood as having said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old...." In this case, He would be describing the religion of the Jews at that time as a product of the oral tradition of the rabbis, rather than from the written Word of God. Their religious system had departed from its biblical base with all of the embellishments, traditions, and interpretations of the Mishnah and the rest of the Talmud, which, in effect, pushed the truth of God into obscurity. Just as the Roman Catholic Church obliterated the truth by keeping the people ignorant of the Scriptures, so the Jews were ignorant of the Scriptures in the time of the rabbis. Our Lord came along and attacked their emphasis upon external works for righteousness, saying, "You have heard it said by them of old...."
Matthew 5:28 (NKJV) "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
The fact that Jesus says that anybody who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart, is a tremendous statement to somebody living in our society today, when the temptations are so vast. Temptation has always been around, it didn't matter whether a woman was covered from head to foot in a long robe and a veil, the temptation would still be there. [Babylonian Talmud, Kallah, Ch. 1 - One who gazes lustfully upon the small finger of a married woman, it is as if he has committed adultery with her.] However, it seems to me that in the day in which we live, the temptations are so much more rampant and so much more visible around us, because of the virtueless society that we live in.
I don't think ever in the history of the western world since the death of Greek and Roman paganism have we seen the unbridled indulgence of sexual passion so encouraged and so elicited and so praised as we do today. You might be interested to know that the American Civil Liberties Union, which takes up all kinds of civil rights causes, was seeking to remove restrictions on X-rated movies so that children can attend them.
I hope that most of us are aware that sexual sin is strongly condemned throughout Scripture, we have dealt with this subject in two separate messages in the last couple of months. But are we aware of what the Scriptures say about lust? Do we understand what lust is and how serious it is?
Throughout the ages, lust has been recognized as one of the "Seven Deadly Sins". How many of you have ever heard of the "seven deadly sins"? These seven sins are considered "deadly" because it is believed they can do terrible damage to the soul. The now famous list does not appear in the Bible and may have been made by St. Gregory the Great (540-604). The deadly sins are sometimes known as "capital" or "cardinal" sins.
The idea that there are seven deadly sins was of great interest during the Middle Ages. At that time the deadly sins were a popular theme among Christian thinkers, artists, and writers such as Dante and Chaucer. The seven deadly sins are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. For years these served as a catalog of sins to definitely avoid. Many Puritan and early American works contained discussions of these 7 sins and how harmful they are. Some of your grandparents may have grown up hearing about these, but we seldom hear them - or any sin for that matter - discussed in our own times.
"Lust" is the Greek word epithumeo, which means: "to set the heart upon, i.e. long for (rightfully or otherwise):" Here it is used of sexual desire toward that which violates God's standards and which is cultivated, bred, and allowed to exercise a controlling force upon the mind.
What Jesus is teaching here is that sexual purity is much more than mere abstinence from physical immorality. It is an inner righteousness, a purity not merely of the body but of the mind. The problem with lust, then, is not just that it may lead us to sexual sin. The problem with lust is that it "is" sexual sin. Immorality in the mind is immorality.
If I were to ask you to raise your hand if you have ever struggled with this sin, how many hands would we see. This is a sin that not too many of us like to confess to. And yet it is a sin that is natural to us, and which few of us have not had to deal with. But let's be honest. Whether male or female, most of us have struggled with, and may still struggle with the sin of lust. Lust is a hidden sin. Who can tell what is on our minds? Who knows our deep desires? We cannot judge each other in this, but God knows. I'm not asking you to tell us, but be honest with yourself and with God, because He knows whether you do or not anyway.
Please notice that Jesus did not say, "Whosoever looks at a woman commits adultery", but..."That whosoever looks on a woman 'to lust after her' hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." We can see a beautiful woman and hold her in high respect for the beauty God has given her without lusting for her. The sin is not when we look at a woman but when we lust after a woman.
Jesus is not saying we must live in a monastery where we will never see a woman; it is lusting after her that is sin. Some overreact and say that a woman must not be observed. In some countries even today, a woman is scarcely allowed to appear in public. They feel that looking at a woman makes a man sin. Some think a woman has to be so covered that you cannot see anything but her face and hands. This is not what the Lord was telling us. The Lord is telling us that we may not lust after her sexually.
This teaching is not just directed at men, this pertains to both women and men. A woman may not lust after a man any more than a man after a woman. Some women have this problem, also; women also have corrupt minds.
1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 (NKJV) that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
As God's children, we are to possess our body in sanctification and honor, and not in lust. The lust mentioned in Matthew 5:28 is in a grammatical construction which indicates purpose. When a man looks at a woman for the purpose of lusting in order to carry out the desires of the mind and proceeds with the act of adultery in the mind, that makes him guilty before God of adultery in the heart. If a man looks on a woman with lust and begins to desire her, he contemplates the act of adultery, and begins to look for the opportunity to carry out the desires of his mind.
Everyone who ends up in an adulterous relationship began that relationship with the condition of the heart. As you lust for an individual, it is normal to look for the opportunity for the contact to develop into a relationship in order to provide the occasion for that act. The physical act of adultery is merely the culmination of what has been going on in the heart. Jesus indicates that God is going to judge us on the basis of our hearts. The one who lusts in his heart is no different from the one who commits the act of adultery.
Don't conclude that since you have committed adultery in your heart, you might just as well go ahead and have the fun of the activity as well. Some people think it does not seem right to be judged guilty as an adulterer without actually enjoying the adulterous relationship. Just keep in mind that there are added consequences with each step of sin. If you follow through and carry out the act of adultery, that will bring further consequences and complications into your life. It is not as though there is not a difference between committing adultery in your heart and committing the act of adultery. The condition of the heart is the same, and God will judge you on the condition of your heart. But the consequences which the act brings into your life will become more severe.
James says in his epistle that the problem begins with lust in the heart:
James 1:15-16 (NKJV) Then, when desire [lust] has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Sin is a result of the lust of the heart being incubated until it has the opportunity to come forth in an act of sin. This passage tells us that sin culminates in death. Sin always leads to destruction and ruin.
It's important to understand that Jesus is not condemning us in this passage for temptations that we face. What He is saying is that there is no excuse for mentally indulging in a fantasy that if physically acted out would constitute immorality.
More often than not, we are guilty of allowing certain temptations to come our way. By our carelessness we invite opportunities to sin. If we exercised wisdom and discretion, we could avoid a great deal of the temptations that come our way.
We need to realize that Christ does not condemn either the temptation or the initial prompting toward sin, but the mental surrender to sin's prompting. Lust is not something that just happens. It is a choice, an act of the will to mentally give in to sexual temptation.
Martin Luther put it this way: "You can't keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair." Jesus goes on in Matthew to tell us how we are to deal with lust:
Matthew 5:29-30 (NKJV) "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell."
Should we take these words literally? If we did, we would have a lot of blind Christians. Jesus has just said that the issue is the heart, why is He now saying, "Pluck out the eye"? Wouldn't a person who had lost their eyesight still be able to lust? You better believe it! If you plucked out your right eye and got rid of your right hand, your heart would still be able to lust. Jesus is not saying that there is a physical remedy for a heart problem; that would undermine the whole point. Because the right eye, arm, and leg were symbols of the best facilities that a man had, Jesus is simply saying that there is nothing too precious to eliminate from your life if it is going to cause your heart to be pandered in its adulterous desires. If it means getting rid of your most precious possession, then get rid of it, even if it's your right eye or your right arm.
A similar passage appears in:
Matthew 18:7-9 (NKJV) "Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! 8 "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.
Does it sound as if Jesus takes lust lightly? Jesus is teaching that anything which causes a man to remain in his sin and to pander an adulterous and evil heart should be eliminated, even if it is something you wouldn't dream of giving up.
A woman who used to attend this church wrote this to me after she left her husband and family for another man, "I know that what I am doing is wrong, but I have been emotionally starved for so long, and this man adores me."
We must avoid any and all relationships or situations that might tempt us to sin. Unless you build a wall of protection around yourself by avoiding certain temptations, you may live to regret it. The Bible exhorts us to flee temptation. We are also exhorted not to be overconfident in our own ability to stand, lest we fall. Jesus is saying that nothing is too precious that it shouldn't be eliminated if it affects your relationship with God. Sin must be dealt with radically.
Jesus calls for immediate action and effective action against sin. He diagnoses the problem and says, "Pluck it out, cut it off, eliminate it - whatever it is in your life that feeds that heart of lust - get rid of it!" If you go to a movie, and you watch something that nurtures adulterous thoughts, then get out. If you have that problem with your television, switch the channel, turn it off, or get rid of it. If you read things that incite sinful thoughts, throw them in the trash. Jesus is not really talking about the physical...we know that. He knows that cutting off your right hand or plucking out your right eye isn't going to change an adulterous heart. But what He is saying is that you should take the most precious thing you have - your right arm, your right eye, if need be - and get rid of it if it stands in the way of purity and brings you to sin.
The words "causes you to sin" in verses 29 and 30, are from the Greek word skandalizo. In the Greek, that word is used literally of a bait stick in a trap, where an animal would come and grab the bait on the bait stick and the trap would close. The word eventually came to mean a snare, a temptation to sin or an enticement. The verb form means to lure into sin or to lure astray. You must learn to deal drastically with that which lures you or entices you to sin. You cannot flirt with it or fool around with it. You must be willing to take whatever drastic measures are necessary to deal with sin.
Note the personal responsibility that falls on the individual. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out...if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off." You are responsible to deal with the sin in your life and the enticement you face to sin. We always want to blame someone else, but God holds us personally accountable to Him for our sins. It is the individual who is ultimately responsible for his sins.
There is no room in Scripture for people who are not accountable for their sins. We are never passive in our sin; we are always guilty parties. Sometimes the idea is presented today that a person cannot help his sin and, therefore, he is not accountable for it. Some take this approach with immorality, drunkenness, and many other sins; as though the person were not accountable for his actions. This has made a mess of our whole judicial system as debates go back and forth about whether or not a person is really accountable for his actions. The Scripture is very clear that we are personally accountable to deal with our sin and our enticement to it. That is where the real problem comes in. If we would deal more effectively with the enticement to sin, we would not fall into sin nearly so much.
There is pleasure in sin. Because we are fleshly beings, we have an attraction to sin. The pleasure of sin is of short duration, but it is very real. Our bodies enjoy certain sins. The sins which have appeal vary from one individual to another. I have to deal with those issues that affect me.
Dealing with sin is a personal matter. Notice how Paul dealt with sin in:
1 Corinthians 9:27 (NKJV) But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Paul does not want to be found unworthy and, thus, disqualified for the prize. He has in view his rewards for service to Christ. To buffet the body is an expression that originally meant to beat around the eyes with the fist until the eyes swell up and turn black and blue. Paul is saying that he beats his body black and blue and makes it his slave in order to bring it into subjection. He had battles in his life - struggles and temptations. His body often wanted to do what it should not do. Yet he dealt with it severely and drastically. He did not beat his body black and blue literally, but the expression refers to the discipline necessary in order to deal effectively with sin and its enticement.
Living the Christian life in our society takes tremendous self-control. Proverbs gives us a vivid picture of the importance of self-control:
Proverbs 25:28 (NKJV) "Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls."
In ancient times, the walls of a city were its main defense; without them the city was easy prey to its enemies. Self-control is the believer's wall of defense against the sinful desires that wage war against his soul. Self-control is probably best defined as the governing of one's desires, and it is necessary because we are at war with our own sinful desires. Self-control is the neglected fruit of the Spirit:
Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."
We hear a lot about love, joy, and peace. But we'll never experience sexual purity until we learn self-control, which is always a matter of the mind. Self-control of our minds means entertaining in our minds only those thoughts that are acceptable to God.
In our text, the word Jesus uses for "hell" is transliterated from the Greek as: "Gehenna". Gehenna was the garbage dump for Jerusalem. It was a place that had become identified in people's minds as a filthy and accursed place, where useless and evil things were destroyed. This is not talking about eternal damnation.
When talking about lust, we need to address the subject of modesty, Paul spoke of its need when writing to Timothy.
1 Timothy 2:8-9 (NKJV) "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,"
The church must address the controversial issue of proper clothing. In reference to Matthew 5:27, A.W. Pink says this, "If lustful looking be so grievous a sin, than those who dress and expose themselves with a desire to be looked at and lusted after - as Jezebel who painted her face, tired her head, and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30) - are not less, but even more guilty. In this matter it is only too often the case that men sin, but women tempt them so to do. How great then must be the guilt of the great majority of modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of our young men. And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers (I think this should be fathers) for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses"
I personally dread summer because of the careless way some women dress. It's bad enough to be assaulted by improperly dressed women at the store, in magazines, newspapers, and TV, but it's extremely bad to have it happen at church when you come to worship. Sexiness should be reserved for the marriage bedroom. The church assembled should be a sanctuary to gain strength to resist the world's temptations, not a factory producing its own temptations.
When the church comes together, it should be sensitive to modest and pure appearance. We need to heed Jesus' warning about causing a brother to sin:
Matthew 18:5-6 (NKJV) "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. 6 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
Ladies, God's word say's here that you would be better off dead than to cause someone to sin because of the way you dressed. Ladies, please be careful how you dress, and fathers, please take notice as to how your daughters are dressed. Don't be the cause of someone falling into sin.
If modest clothing is appropriate in church meetings, then it is appropriate everywhere! A woman who claims to love God cannot then, on the other hand, violate what God says about modesty in dress. Let your clothes demonstrate your godliness.
Proverbs 31:30 (NKJV) "Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised."
In discussing the issue of lust, we also need to mention the subject of dating. I hope that what I say will not offend the sensitivities of anyone here. Subjects like this are a little sensitive in a public service like this.
The Bible doesn't talk about dating, because dating is an American custom. But I think we can draw some principles from the Bible that will help us with dating. When I was a youth-pastor, I was frequently asked, "How far is too far in a dating relationship?" Where does the unmarried couple draw the line? Can they hold hands, hug, kiss? The key question to ask yourself is this, "At what point does my body begin to prepare itself for intercourse?" Surely the God who forbids intercourse outside of marriage does not advocate any physical activity which he himself specifically designed to prepare the body for intercourse.
When a parent tells his child not to play on the freeway, it is safe to assume he does not want the child to walk down to the freeway and dangle one foot over the edge.
An obedient child does not try to get as close as he possibly can to disobedience. The very question, "How far can I go?" implies a desire to live as close to disobeying our Lord as we can. Then there is the safety factor. Once by the freeway, the temptation to cross it may be too great, or the child may forget, stumble, or be pushed.
When have you gone too far in a physical relationship before marriage? When your heart is pounding like a jackhammer and your hormones are flowing like water through a firehouse, it's a pretty strong clue that you have gone too far already! At such times, your body neither knows nor cares about your Christian convictions. Instead of trying to figure out how to derail a fifty ton locomotive traveling at high speed, wisdom suggests we would do better to stay off the train and avoid the crisis in the first place. Believers, sexual sin is a serious sin, and God will judge those who violate His precepts.
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord, you are a new creation in Christ, you have a new heart. You don't need to fall prey to the sins of lust and adultery - you can know victory over them:
Romans 6:12 (NKJV) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
Colossians 3:5 (NKJV) Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
As a Christian, you can know victory over those sins that constantly victimize men and women who do not know Jesus Christ:
Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
When we live a life of fellowship with our Lord, he gives us the strength to deal with any situation. Oh, how grateful we should be that what the Lord has given us is a resource for victory. I thank God that He's given us who know Him new hearts so that we are not left defenseless in the constant battle against sin. We never need to lose if we appropriate the resources that are there.
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