In this Teachings of Jesus series, I want to walk through Jesus’ teachings in a way that anyone could easily understand the core of His lifestyle and the basics of the movement He came to start. I’m using three chapters in the gospel of Matthew called the Sermon On the Mount. This is the sixth session of the series.
We’ve seen Jesus use the formula, “You’ve heard it said _______, but I say to you _______”. He does this to guide the listener’s recollection toward a well-known Old Testament commandment with the typical cultural applications, but He then gives His unique set of applications; always taking it further into the spirit of the command.
His next area of focus will center around adultery and divorce. While the teachings of 5:27-32 all flow together as one, I will break them apart into two posts. Here’s the text.
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.
Let’s start with the original command in its most undefined form: Do not commit adultery. This was the seventh of the Ten Commandments. Peeking into my next blog post a bit, Jesus’ application stretches into his teaching on divorce in addition to lust. There was a common belief that you could be faithful to the Seventh Commandment if you just avoided intercourse with anyone you weren’t married to. If you desired another woman, you would simply give your current wife a certificate of divorce to make it legal, then go and marry another. By doing this, God’s commandments were not broken. You were faithful to His rules and commands. You could move on with your life. This was the standard among many of the religious elite in Jesus’ day. Jesus speaks in terms of men as the initiators of both lust and divorce because, while women had some options, it was typically a male-dominated society where husbands generally had way more rights and options than their wives. Women were extremely vulnerable to the whims of their husbands. I’ll talk more about this in the next post. Jesus starts with lust.
As stated, it was thought that you could be faithful to the Seventh Commandment by merely avoiding intercourse with a woman who caught your eye. You could flirt. You could linger at the office after hours. You could exchange texts or Facebook messages. You could fantasize about possibilities. As long as you didn’t sleep with her, you weren’t breaking any rules. Jesus brought a different way of life. He was starting a different kind of movement. Jesus dives deeper into the spirit of the commandment. It’s not a hoop to jump through. The commandment was given for a reason and Jesus expounds on why it’s important.
Jesus says that anyone who “looks lustfully”, which could also be translated “looks with lustful intent”, has already broken the Seventh Commandment. Examining the original language, Jesus seems to be referring to something beyond merely noticing a person. This isn’t about a double-take on the beach. The word is sometimes used to talk about a hungry person desiring food. It’s about a real desire or craving. Jesus says that when you’ve reached the point of really wishing you could be with someone other than your spouse, you’ve broken God’s command.
He then turns to the idea of Gehenna which is translated as “hell”. In a previous post, I talked about Gehenna being a real-time location in Jesus’ day. It was a land associated with destruction and misery. When Jesus talks about things we look at or touch bringing us toward hell or Gehenna, He was creating a visual for His listeners. If we don’t carefully guard our eyes and our actions, we can do things that throw our lives, and the lives of others, into the dump! Jesus says, “Don’t flirt with the boundaries or you’ll get burned!” It wasn’t about doing the bare minimum to avoid breaking a command. It was about finding the spirit of the rules and doing everything we can to protect our lives from destruction. God is for us! He sees the carnage that lust creates. He sees the lives it wrecks!
God gave us the gift of a trusting relationship. He gave us the gifts of vulnerability and intimacy; so deep it can only properly be shared with ONE other human. He gave us the gift of family. He knows that the delicacy of those gifts and the depths of those gifts are only built on the oneness of heart, body, and soul. It’s not about merely avoiding sex with another. Those gifts shatter at some point well before a side relationship gets to intercourse. Jesus wants to keep your life out of the dumpster, so He calls you to set up fierce boundaries that stop well short of extramarital sex.
After 20-plus years of seeing this play out as a pastor, I can tell you that emotional boundaries are far more important than physical boundaries because they are the gateway!
If you have allowed for anything to move beyond healthy friendship and into ANY scenario where your brain entertains what-if scenarios between you and another who is not your spouse, take the advice of Jesus. Get control of yourself before your world ends up in gehenna; before you get burned. End it. End it today! If you follow Jesus, you have to end it and you can never start it again. If you don’t follow Jesus, it’s still divine wisdom and you know it’s right.