God is interested in the attitude of our hearts, not minimal rule-keeping.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
At another church, in another place, at another time, a female friend told me about how she’d had to ask her pastor to talk to her husband. Her husband was looking admiringly at other women. This otherwise reasonable Christian man not only have thought it was OK to look lustfully, but he would even comment to his wife about what he was thinking about them. He couldn’t understand why his wife didn’t like it – after all, he wasn’t actually having an affair with them!
We might be shocked by his brazenness, but the truth is that he just did in the open what we all do in private. Like that guy, we draw a line between what’s clearly forbidden and those things that – we think, we hope, we assert – don’t quite break the rules. Then, on “our” side of the line, we do what we like. We think it’s OK, just as long as we don’t cross the line. Maybe it’s lustful thoughts, or convenient lies, or cheating on the tax, or maybe it’s something else, but somewhere or other in our lives, we draw those lines.
Here, in this segment from the sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us two things. First, it’s not about lines and rules. Rather, he wants us to consider the motivations of our heart. Specifically, he tells us that we can’t draw lines with respect to lustful looks or thoughts about those who aren’t our spouse. Those things are adultery. Second, he tells us that this is a serious matter. His hyperbole in verses 29 & 30 is meant to alert us to the importance of the situation.
Of course, the key problem is that lust is idolatry. We’re throwing aside God and putting something that he created in his place. It’s unloving to others (and ourselves) to misuse sex, and that can cause a lot of damage. But, even more than that, it’s denying God. And that’s why Jesus speaks so bluntly here.
One last thought: I’ve spoken with pastors who, quite literally, had to stop people who were about to gouge out their eyes or harm themselves because of these verses. Jesus is using a metaphor to emphasise to us the gravity of the situation. He doesn’t want us to disfigure ourselves. Rather, the right response is to prioritise change in our hearts and minds. Get together with your growth group leader or other trusted friend and tell them that you’re ready to take this issue seriously, and to deal with it in your life.
Head: Where is a place in your life that you draw a line, marking off a space that you think is yours alone?
Heart: Where do you give yourself permission to indulge in lust, or similar thoughts and emotions? TV programs, YouTube, movies, erotic novels, looking at people in the gym, porn, …? To turn this around, is the solution to show more willpower, or is it something else?
Hands: Change is only possible by putting Jesus first. It’s a matter of the heart. But sometimes we need strategies too. Who is a trusted person that you can discuss strategies with? Identify such a person, and start discussing this with them.
Prayer: Father, you own all of my life. Please help me to see that fencing off areas, so that I can do what I want, is denying you. I’m sorry for the times I have let lust, adoring romance, or other similar things lead me away from you, and hurt others. Please help me to put Jesus first in all areas of my life. Help me to work out why I am unwilling to do that in some areas, and help me to change that. Amen.
A song to listen to: Shine Into Our Night
This Grow Daily was originally posted as part of the God With Us – Matthew series. During the School Holidays we take the opportunity to look back at the Grow Dailys over the years.