An Affair of the Heart
Being that we live on this side of the sexual revolution its important that we have our minds recalibrated to the Scriptural understanding of sexual intimacy. In this section Jesus helps us understand what God intended in the seventh commandment (i.e. thou shalt not commit adultery).
Message starts at approx. the 34:45 min mark.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the pure in heart. Those were some of the first words we heard in this series on the Sermon on the Mount. Those beatitudes set the tone for the rest of the series. I have mentioned before that the whole of the Sermon on the Mount is basically a commentary on the Beatitudes.
Certainly, as we come to our passage today, we hear some of the echoes of those beatitudes bouncing back at us. In the passage before us, Jesus deals with the 7th commandment. It is the commandment dealing with adultery.
As Jesus expounds the law of God he is trying to get us to recognize more and more our poverty of spirit. He’s trying to push what it really means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He wants us to ask, “What does purity in heart really entail?”
And there could not be any better thing to meditate upon in our day and age than what Jesus says here. We are living in a culture that has a lot to say about sex and sexuality. We live on this side of the 1960’s and the sexual revolution, and it is almost all that we hear about. Being that we live in this context it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of what Scripture says about this topic.
There are several points that we will consider in regards to the 7th commandment. But I want to begin by talking about the purpose of the 7th commandment.
I. Its purpose
It would be perfectly fine to begin this message by talking about the sin of lust and evils of adultery. That is what Jesus focuses upon. But I think that we should take a step back and simply think about the original design of the seventh commandment. I think that it is good to first pause and remember how sexual intimacy is a gift of God. As such, it is a wonderful thing.
One of the things that often happens is that the church comes off looking like a prude because we talk so much about the sins surrounding sexual activity. There is an incredible focus on the negative aspects of sex and sexuality. What ends up happening is that people come to have a negative view of sex. Young people grow up thinking that sexual desires are evil. They believe that sex is something that one should not look forward to, enjoy, or have any real inclination for if you are truly spiritual.
As a matter of fact, many marriages have suffered quite terribly because one or both of the people in the marriage have been raised in a purity culture that has painted human sexuality in a bad light.
This is why we must remember that the words, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” were not designed to suppress our sexual inclinations or thwart the pleasure of it. As a matter of fact, these words were inscribed on the tablets of stone for the opposite reason. God gave this command for the very purpose of maximizing the intimacy we have with the one we marry.
This might be a new concept to some. And I think it bears repeating. God gave the prohibitions regarding the 7th commandment specifically so that we might experience the greatest possible pleasure with our spouse.
Think about it this way. If you are driving down the road, and you see a sign that says, “No Entry,” or “Do not Pass,” you have to ask, “Why do you think that the Highway Department issued that command?” Was it to inhibit your experience on the road? Was it there to frustrate you as you seek to make it to your destination? Did they put that sign there in order to suppress your urge to drive and make you never want to drive again?
Of course not. Those signs are there in order to keep you from crashing into someone or something. They have these requirements in place so that the pleasure of your driving experience can be maximized to the highest possible degree.
So when the commands says, “do not commit adultery,” it isn’t trying to get you to stifle your incantations towards the opposite sex. Neither is it trying to get you to feel guilty about the natural, God given desires that you have. It is rather saying, in so many words, “Enjoy yourself! Find your every satisfaction that God himself has desired for you within the context of your marriage.”
Whenever I do pre-marital counseling I have a section in that coursework that deals with sexual intimacy. And I point out that the Bible has an incredible amount of good things to say about sex. Unfortunately, we don’t hear a lot of that from the pulpits of a lot of churches. But it is true. Scripture promotes sexual intimacy in marriage, and sometimes it speaks so highly of it that it uses language that can make you blush.
For this reason, there’s certainly much more to be said about the topic. Unfortunately, the scope of our message today will not allow us to explore it to any real extent. However, it is good enough for now simply to say that the purpose of the 7th commandment is not to inhibit our sexual desires. It does not want us to avoid intimacy in any way. Rather, the purpose is to ensure that we gain for ourselves the greatest possible fulfillment within our marriages.
And now that we’ve established the purpose of the seventh commandment, and we can talk about its perversion.
II. Its perversion
To be sure, there are many perversions we could talk about. But I want to talk about the one that is mentioned here in our text. It is the perversion regarding the scope (or the extent) of the command.
You see that Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Now, do you see what the perversion is? The people of Jesus’ time didn’t take the command far enough. They had perverted the 7th commandment by thinking that if they did not sleep with another person’s husband or wife or show infidelity with their own spouse, they were keeping the command. You might say that they had a minimalist approach to the commandments of God. They were not committing any form of adultery. So, in their eyes, as long as they did not violate by doing the deed, they believed themselves to be righteous.
But remember Jesus’ original point. Earlier in this sermon he said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and Scribes, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” And what he is doing here is showing them that their righteousness was not as robust as it should be. They had set the bar too low.
The law was never intended to be simply about the act of adultery alone. The law had originally been representative of any kind of action that disrupted the marital bond, especially any kind of sexual deviancy. Thus, by forbidding adultery, it also forbid any kind of fornication, be it course joking or crude speech, immodesty, unchaste company, undue delay of marriage, pornography, and a host of other things that would detract from giving all your love and attention to your spouse.
This is what Jesus wants to bring out. He reminds us that we can easily pervert God’s commandments by making them all about the external or singular act of adultery. Most especially, we can pervert God’s law by ignoring how it applies to our inner lives.
Of course, this is something that is quite common in the world today. There are people who will say, “Well, it’s okay to look but not touch, right?” And by that they believe that as long as they keep their hands to themselves, they are fine. They think that they can indulge their eyes and fantasize all they want and still not have done anything wrong.
Many people take this same approach to pornography too. They will justify it by saying that they are not really doing anything wrong by looking at these pictures. After all, there’s not actual contact.
But this is where we must realize that the 10 commandments have a much broader application. When we read these commands, we should recognize that each command is like a window blind that can be pulled down. At first, it may look like one item. But as you pull it down it stretches out and many other individual blinds are attached to it.
That is what each of the 10 commandments is like. It not only forbids adultery, but it forbids unchastity in our thoughts. Along with putting restrictions on our imaginations, it calls us to speak well of the opposite sex and not degrade them by speaking to them or of them in a vulgar way.
And this is something that is very important to understand in our day and age. Ever since the sexual revolution, our culture has sought to normalize sexual deviancy more and more. For instance, living together and having premarital sex is not only thought to be normal, but it is considered a good and healthy thing for couples to do. That way, they think, they will know if they should get married. Pornography is, by many, thought to be a harmless. Some would say it’s just part of being a kid. It’s normal. After all, everyone does it.
And in such a climate, we might be tempted to make the same mistake that the people of Jesus’ time were making. We might try to restrict the commandment to the barest possible minimum. But we should be aware that it is a complete perversion of God’s law. It is to rape God’s law, and destroy its full real beauty and intent.
And with that we can move to the third point. As Jesus speaks about the 7th commandant, he also highlights its basic prohibition.
III. Its prohibition
You’ll notice in the verse that we just read that Jesus speaks directly against the sin of lust. What he’s doing is getting down into the 7th commandment. He’s dealing with the most basic issues.
You see, adultery doesn’t begin in the bedroom. It begins in the living room. It begins with the remote control or our mobile devices. When the seventh commandment prohibits adultery, it is ultimately dealing with the lust that leads to adultery.
Of course, when we think about the prohibition against lust, we need to understand that this isn’t just a passing glance or a look which recognizes someone’s outer beauty. You can look at a woman or a man and see that they are very attractive. In so doing, you are not sinning. You are simply observing the obvious, external beauty that this person may possess. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing unlawful about seeing someone of the opposite sex and recognizing that he or she is pretty.
In this sense, it is no different than looking at a great work of art in a museum. One can admire the artistry of God and behold the beauty without having committed any kind of sin.
And we might say that there is nothing overtly wrong with an initial arousal or stimulation. We must recognize that our natural inclinations may be excited. This is especially so for men. God created men in such a way that images have a certain effect upon them. Their sexual proclivity is a lot different than a woman’s and can be stimulated much easier.
This is important to keep in mind. We do not want to confuse these distinctions.
Notice how Jesus phrases it. He says that it is not just the looking upon a woman, but it is to look at her “with lustful intent.” Or, as the KJV renders it, “to lust after her.”
You’ll notice that Jesus is focusing on the selfish indulgence. It is a form of coveting that is at issue. That is the sin. Thus, it is not so much a sin of the eyes, so much as it is a sin of the heart.
It is for this reason that Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully upon a young woman.” Job understand that it is that it wasn’t so much the looking upon someone that is prohibited by God, but it was the purposeful lingering and selfish absorption that must be guarded against. What he attempted to guard against is allowing himself to give into the temptation to lust and let his mind be carried away in its passions.
And this is part of the reason why pornography is illegitimate for Christian people. The purpose of pornography is not artistic, as some would like to claim. It is made and used solely for the purpose of providing some gratification to one’s lust.
But of course, one need not merely pull it up on the screen or flip through a magazine. The mind is the arena of this sin. So the heart must be vigilent not to allow itself to be taken by the temptations.
Which leads us to our last point. In regards to the 7th commandment, we can also speak of its prescription.
IV. Its prescription
Jesus, of course, doesn’t leave us with the evil of lust and he does not merely heap the guilt of the 7th command upon us. He reminds us that the 7th commandment prescribes action. As a matter of fact, it prescribes drastic action. And that’s exactly what is outlined in verses 29-30.
He says, “If you right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”
Now, we must understand that Jesus is not advocating for self mutilation. If that were the case, every single person in the world who loves Christ would not have any eyes or hands. That’s because no one is able to keep this command. And we all would be required to pluck out our eyes and lose a few appendages.
And of course, we know that even if you tore out your eyes, you still would not be safe against this sin. For we know that it is not just an issue of the hand and eye. It’s a matter of the heart. As such, it takes place in our minds.
So it is not about literal, physical amputation. Jesus is talking about disciplining ourselves. It is action that is just as radical and drastic as amputation.
He’s using hyperbole to reinforce the fact that we must act with swiftness and make a full break with anything that might get in the way of your personal purity.
So, if you are watching a movie and there are certain images that may be a stumbling block to you (or, if there are books that cause you to fantasize, then you ought to abandon those things immediately. There should be an amputation that takes place; a radical amputation, where you take drastic measure and cut ties so that you are not tempted or allowed to fall into the temptation.
For some people it may mean adjusting the whole of your life. For instance, some time ago I counseled a man who had developed what he called an “emotional affair” with one of his lady coworkers. He never committed adultery, but he was becoming attached to this lady. He would message her and linger by the coffee pot at break time in order to chat with her. And because he was allowing his feelings to be knit to her, he was becoming negligent of his attachment to his wife. There was nothing physical that happened between them, but the mind was going to places that it ought not to have gone.
This is an instance where there needs to be radical amputation. It may mean that he requests a transfer to another department. Or maybe it could be that he ends his job at that location and finds a new one. The point is that a definite change needs to take place. There needs to be a radical break with that particular context or lifestyle. That’s the cutting away that Jesus speaks of.
This also pertains to our devices today. I could get statistics, but I’m sure you understand that there are too many things that can happen through our phones. Messages that are sent. Videos that are watched. Buttons are pushed that lead us to things that are causing us to sin.
I understand that life in the 21st century requires internet connectivity and computers. Many people can’t just cut off their devices and throw them out. But you can take drastic action through accountability and buying the right filters. Of course, cost should not be the deterrent. Making room in the budget is the kind of radical action Jesus is talking about.
The point is to act, and to act with the decisive swiftness that corresponds to amputation. It may feel like it hurts--it may indeed hurt, such as taking a pay cut by finding another job. But better to pay more or be in a lower tax bracket than to perish in hell.
There’s one other thing that we must note in regards to this though. No external amputation will ultimately deal with the problem. After all, there’s no software that is completely fool proof. You can probably get around it somehow.
What is ultimately at issue is the heart. That is the point that we’ve been making all along. Jesus is dealing with a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, and he’s showing how we all fall short.
The truth is, none of us will be as vigilant as we should be. No one can amputate enough. Not, at least, until your heart has been redeemed.
And that is where we can talk about the 7th commandment and its ultimate prevention.
V. Its prevention
The ultimate key to the 7th commandment is the purging of your heart by the saving grace of our Lord and Savior. The only way to remain sexually pure is to become pure (i.e. spiritually pure). The covetous, lustful yearning in our hearts can only be dislodged through the saving operation of God’s Spirit.
Thus, you must take your heart to the Lord and lay it before him. You must confess your sinfulness and inability to control your desires. You must seek him and ask Him to bring the cross of Christ to bear on it.
This, of course, is worked in you as you also seek to abide by the principles of radical amputation. But you must remember that you are in complete reliance upon God in it all. You amputate with the faith that God will bless these efforts and work through them.
But it is the very gospel that is the fundamental point. This is what Christ is driving you towards in this passage. The only way that you might gain victory over your desires is to gain new desires--desires that only God can create.
And those new desires are ultimately desires for God and chastity. And that is what the gospel produces. The gospel produces new desires as it inflames love for God.
And that happens as you realize what Christ has done on your behalf. Indeed, you may find your desires renewed because He himself held his desires in check.
Christ loves his bride. Christ has always been faithful to his bride. There was not one time that he ever was unfaithful to her. As a matter of fact, he was so devoted to her that he gave his life for her. The Bible says that he loved her and gave himself up for her.
And that bride, of course, is his church. His fidelity to his bride is his fidelity to you. He loves you and he willingly dies for you. That lust is a provocation so great that it could cause you to be cast into hell. But that’s the great love of Christ. He dove head long into the wrath of God. He underwent the cross in order to save you from the pains of hell.
And that same love is manifested towards you right now. He continues to be faithful to you, despite your failings. And it is as you recognize this and embrace it that you will find yourself saved from your ongoign struggles. This is the good news which will bring about your deliverance from the lust and evil desire that may still yet pollute your heart.
So this is where we can give thanks. God by his grace is working new life in us through His Son. He’s doing that even now as you look to him and put your trust in him.
And this should give you that much more zeal to commit acts of radical amputation. As you see how Christ loves you. Jesus ultimately fulfills the 7th commandment because he is unhindered in his love for you. And you, as his bride, can rest in that.