"The Priority of Purity and Promises"
Matthew 5:27-37 June 1, 2008
God's intention for us is to enjoy a sense of cleanness, wholeness, security, and being satisfied in Him. But our fallen nature predisposes us to hanker after lesser things which tantalize and tease but don't deliver - in fact they drag us to places we don't want to go.
In recent decades there has been a noticeable 'slide' in the visual content of North American culture. And corresponding fracturing of relationships. For example, I had offered to put the YouthBuilders message on the internet so their friends and family could see a sample of their ministry in churches. But when I went to upload it on YouTube, I couldn't help but notice how 'raunchy' several of the suggested videos were that were featured on the main page. I ended up deleting the YouthBuilders ones after uploading them, because I didn't want to be directing young people to a site with such poor content! Instead I discovered Yahoo! Video provided a more wholesome alternative, and uploaded there instead.
Or consider Facebook. One of the basic applications you can add is FunWall. But now whenever you start it, posters come up that are not good. And it's disturbing to see a young teenage male who once attended Youth Group has added the "Playboy" application, and another focusing on woman's anatomy.
In US News and World Report, William Stanmeyer noted - North Americans spend $8 billion on the pornographic industry in 12 months; each week 150 new porn movies and videos are produced; and from 1987 to 92, the number of strip clubs doubled nationwide in the U.S. Every day, 25 million or more North American men type 'sex' into internet search engines; that's the most entered search word online. Who's doing this? Charisma magazine reports that the typical Christian dabbler in cyber-porn is male, 30-55 years old, married with children, well-educated, economically comfortable, and frequently employed in a profession such as: information science, medicine, commerce, or the ministry. Outwardly, good respectable types. Could be the person sitting next to you. Too many eyes not being careful what they see!
Along with this captivation with lust comes a slide in relational integrity. Whereas marriage was once viewed as 'an honourable estate', now it is regarded by many as irrelevant. Last weekend Yvonne and I stayed at a Bed'n'Breakfast in Ottawa; our middle-aged hostess spoke of her 'partner' owning his own residence as if that were nothing unusual, although in other ways it seemed like a husband-wife relationship. These days when you meet a couple you're afraid to ask if they're married, for fear of coming across as 'politically incorrect' - or rude. Marriages aren't as lasting as they used to be; StatsCan reports that in 2003, there were 147,000 marriages, but nearly 71,000 divorces (about 2-for-1).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls His followers to purity of eye and sincerity of commitment; to buck the trends of the slide into raunch and reneging.
Fight for Purity, Regardless
Jesus says in (Mt 5)27-28, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Notice how He goes beyond the outward action, down into the inner attitude and thought pattern. "Look at a woman lustfully" means in such a way as to desire her, have her for yourself, perhaps as a pleasure-toy. The lustful look is often accompanied by an inner fantasy in the mind; you catch yourself committing the act of adultery 'virtually', imagining yourself doing it.
The brain is our most powerful sex organ (though you probably don't usually think of it that way). Steve Masterson has written a resource for PromiseKeepers Canada called Building Men of Purity and Holiness. He describes how lusting sets off "a bodily sexual response which then creates a powerful mood altering experience...This sexual rush is the result of the brain's production of a neurochemical response which activates the actual experience of sexual pleasure in the body.This results in an actual physical addiction to this chemical and rush of sexual pleasure.It also debases the encounter of sex to that of strictly an animal act with no relational involvement."
Thoughts are powerful - they have consequences. In repeated lusting, we're actually 'hooking' ourselves chemically to unreal and degrading fantasizing. It starts with the brain. This week I was reading about a scientific experiment in which researchers implanted tiny electrodes in the brains of monkeys. They then trained the monkeys to use just their thoughts to guide a robot arm-and-hand to feed them treats, while their own arms were gently restrained in tubes. Down the road this could lead to better prostheses for people missing limbs; they could just think to move. But it shows how real thoughts are - they make a difference.
Back to our text; in v29 Jesus makes a rather shocking statement: "If your right eye causes you to sin, 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." That catches your attention! "If your right eye causes you to sin..." - makes you stumble, ensnares you. The fashion, entertainment, and advertising worlds have made a science of how to ensnare people's eyes. They know we are visual beings; billions of dollars are spent each year on advertising, something that will hopefully 'catch your eye'. What's your favourite commercial that you've seen lately? You could probably describe it fairly well, it's written in your neurons.
If our eye trips us up, Jesus counsels us to 'gouge it out / throw it away'. Yikes! Radical action is called for. It's a figure of speech, of course - blind men could still lust - but the Lord here is encouraging us to take it very seriously and act promptly to protect ourselves. Reach for an index card on which you've written out some good verses against lust (Masterson suggests a few: 1Co 6:18; 2Ti 2:22; Jas 4:7; 1Co 16:13; Ro 8:6, 13:14; Jn 8:34-36). Bounce your eyes. Download Adblock Plus and FiltersetG for Firefox so you don't even see the ads. Be selective in choosing videos (I used to ask Yvonne to go into the shop because I didn't like seeing all those covers). Call ahead to block certain channels in the motel room TV. Use a program guide like Zap2It to check the rating of a program ahead of time. Try reading a good book instead of crashing in front of the tube. Now, some of those ideas aren't all that radical, but Jesus' point is - take action before it's too late!
V30 is almost a word-for-word repeat of v29, except that Jesus talks about the "right hand" causing us to sin instead of the right eye. A little repetition here for emphasis, to drive the point home in case we missed it the first time. It's not really the hand's fault, is it? A hand itself doesn't cause us to sin without the brain's involvement. The point is, deal with it.
You have a choice: throw away what's causing you to sin, OR be 'thrown' yourself - your whole body - into hell. Jesus is saying hell is a very real possibility for those who lack self-control. Many today pooh-pooh the concept of hell, but Jesus treats it as real. Hell is a corollary of divine justice, else God wouldn't finally be fair. Even financial guru Warren Buffet said recently, "Capitalism wouldn't exist without failure.Capitalism without failure is like Christianity without hell." Jesus is warning us lest we wind up in a very real place with all others who reject God.
The goal is not to be enslaved to pleasure, under its rule, but freed to live in God's power and control. FaithToday interviewed renowned evangelical theologian JI Packer about his recent 'defrockment' by an Anglican diocese in BC. Listen to his resolve not to join the downward slide in morality, but uphold godly principles instead when it comes to sex. He says: "I feel no responsibility to do something for a diocese that has made the affirmation of gay partnerships a form of holiness...It's a matter of principle.I cannot budge...What is central is the gospel and the authority of Scripture, which teaches the gospel, and a number of specific beliefs that together make up the gospel message according to the Apostles. One central belief is repentance of sins. In 1Corinthians 6 we are given a vice list of sins. The gay life is one of the things on the list. The spirit of the thing is to live chaste. You are living a new life now in the power of God. All I'm asking for is to get back to that...To the extent to which you give your heart to envy and greed, to that extent you are putting your soul in danger. What I can do is stand with my feet on secure ground and call to those wandering around with unsure footing. And I will call to them and say: 'Don't risk your spiritual welfare.Don't risk your soul.Come and stand on the solid ground."...Repentance is the halt, right-about turn, and you travel in the opposite direction of whatever sin it was that you were allowing to rule you before."
Hear the echoes of Jesus' urgent warning, the passion to save others from winding up in hell? May we too be so motivated to stand firm and help others be saved through the gospel message.
Respect Your Partner by Protecting Your Marriage Promise
Having warned against lust, Jesus comments on divorce. Women had little clout when it came to marriages in Palestine at the time. The divorce laws were very lax among Jews; a man could put away his wife 'for any cause'. The NIV Study Bible says one rabbi, Hillel, maintained that a husband could divorce his wife "if she did anything he disliked - even if she burned his food while cooking it". During a meeting at our place Wednesday night I heard but promptly forgot a kitchen timer we'd set for a rhubarb crisp Yvonne had made; by the time I remembered, it was more than 'crisp' around the outside edge. Back in those times, a woman could have been divorced for that! I'm glad that's not me!
V31 mentions Moses' insistence that a woman be provided with a 'certificate of divorce'. This was "a protection to the wife against an angry whim of the husband who might send her away with no paper to show for it" (Robinson's Word Pictures). But Jesus goes beyond the concession granted given our hard hearts, and points back to God's original intention. V32, "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress..." Jesus is elevating the status of women. A wife is not just a chattel to be disposed of the day you wake up and find there's something you dislike about her. Adultery is bad enough; it's not just a sin of what has been done to the third party, but a sin to trash the spouse, discounting their solemn promise they've made before God in marriage; you're treating as nothing their complete self-giving. They laid it all out for you, and you turn and trample on it. The arbitrary dismisser is treating the oath made before God by both parties as incredibly cheap.
Note that here in Matthew's text, Jesus does allow divorce in cases where there has been 'marital unfaithfulness' - literally porneia in the Greek, illicit sexual intercourse of any kind. A spouse so wronged is not bound to continue. Hopefully if it's a 1-time thing and the offender is genuinely sorry, there can be forgiveness and restoration. There is less hope where the offender continues to commit the wrong.
When the dust settles, the church is to be a place of healing and forgiveness for the broken (while attempting to help stubborn sinners change their pattern). When there's 1 divorce for every 2 marriages, we have lots of healing work to do! Not condemning - making people feel worse than they already do - but supportive and mentoring.
Honour God by Unpretentious Talk
Lying is bad enough - without bringing God into it. Dishonesty undermines and sabotages relationships. Jesus calls into being a new community which tells the truth in love and honours God with their lips - whether He's mentioned or not.
Have you ever had someone lie to your face? Our B'n'B hostess in Ottawa explained she didn't always accept everyone for a booking. One time, not too long after Al-Quaeda rose to prominence, two men from Iraq asked for a room. She asked what business they were in; they said they sold vacuum cleaners. She says in retrospect, "Vacuum cleaners! Do they think so little of women as to insult my intelligence like that!" (They didn't get a room.)
Jesus challenges His disciples to high standards of honesty. V33 recalls the ancient prohibition against breaking oaths; people were to keep the oaths they made to God. Jesus adds in 34-36, "But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black."
There was a tendency to bring God into it by way of backing up your assertion, perhaps especially when the other person was having a hard time believing you. So people would swear by various things they had no control over - heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or even their head. What would that mean, anyway, to swear by your head? Nonsense - unless I suppose it involved getting shaved for cancer. Jesus is teaching us not to be so pretentious, to think we're so high-and-mighty, as to invoke God's name unnecessarily OR adorn what we say for emphasis by senseless expressions that we really have no control over. Keep it simple.
V37, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Again, Jesus is very aware of the presence of evil, and Satan's eagerness to tweak our speech, perhaps so it's insulting or inflammatory or proud. Later in the New Testament, this is echoed by James 5:12 (remember we said James' epistle had echoes of the Sermon on the Mount): "Above all, my brothers, do not swear-- not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned."
Let the Holy Spirit control your tongue; let God set a guard on your lips. Save an oath for when it is necessary - before a magistrate, or when getting married - and be sure to keep your promises. Then your words will have weight.
Practical Help for Holy Living
Doesn't Jesus help us in the most practical ways? How to think - how to see - how to talk. He knows our human weaknesses, the things that commonly tempt us. "...We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin." (Heb 4:15) He understands - and He can help.
What would you recommend in the following case? What are some practical steps that might help this person wrestling with impure factors? Steve Masterson quotes a pastor who confessed, "Among the very worst thing I ever did was to bring the cable movie channels into my home. I found it easy to get back up after my wife and I had gone to bed and she was asleep. I'd watch soem of the movie channels with movies where there was a lot of nudity and sexual scenes. All it did was arouse old feelings I thought I'd gotten rid of when I got married. Then I'd be sitting in my study one afternoon thinking about what I'd seen last night. That would get me thinking about that area of the city where they have a lot of adult bookstores. Before long I'd be driving through the area. The next day I would go back, park the car, and walk the street. The third day I would go back, park, walk and poke my head into one or two places. The fourth day I would be in one of them looking at magazines, watching videos in booths, and setting my mind on fire.
"Then I'd begin to feel very, very bad and I'd have a moment in which I' totally repudiate the whole thing. And I would feel marvelously free. I'd preach about sin the next Sunday and, more often than not, people would say I sounded like a powerful prophet. I'd think I'd finally beaten this temptation.
"But a couple of months later, I'd find myself going back and repeating the same old cycle. This has been going on for several years. Into this stuff, then out of it, then back into it again."
How would you counsel such a man? How would Jesus suggest he 'cut it out'? Notice the gradual exposure as he opens the door to sin increasingly - first this, then that, then I drove there, then I came back the next day. Sometimes the most obvious preventions are obvious to everyone but the individual themself. He needs some accountability partners - his wife, other men - who can lend some objectivity, if he can be honest and admit hs struggle. He needs to renounce the sins, confess the damage, and seek God's forgiveness. Perhaps there is generational sin from his dad or grandfather that neds to be confronted in Jesus' name. He needs hedges so he's not driving around the wrong part of town anyway. Whatever causes you to stumble - throw it away, gouge it out, before it's too late!
Praise God that He wants to help us not find ourselves thrown into hell, but to enter eternal life in His power and promise! God our Saviour "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth," "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1Tim 2:3,2) Let's pray.