In the year 2006, the porn industry revenue in the United States was $13.3 billion. That is bigger than the revenues of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball combined. Other statistics regarding the viewing of pornography are alarming. During the year of 2006, there were 72 million unique visitors to adult websites every month. Hollywood releases 11,000 adult movies a year, over 20 times the number of regular releases. (Source). Not to mention the millions of suggestive material which is viewed on primetime on the major networks in homes all across America every night. Sex is being used to sale and Americans are buying it. When we understand that a look can lead to lust and lust leads to lewdness, no wonder the marriages in our country are in the shape that they are in!
In this morning’s text Jesus continues to assert his own unique authority to make, interpret, and enforce God’s laws. Jesus here raises the bar by asserting that the one who has the internal attitude of lust is as guilty before God as the one who commits the physical act of adultery.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. Matthew 5:27-30
I. Exposition: What They Heard, v. 27.
As in verses 21-26, Jesus begins by asserting what the people have heard from their teachers of the law. It is the exact words of the seventh commandment found in Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery.” This was rightly interpreted by the Jewish teachers of the law as referring to a sexual act by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse. This is adultery and is forbidden by God in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul says in Romans 13:9-10,
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
They had heard correctly, but Jesus has more to say.
II. Explanation: What Jesus Says, v. 28.
In this case, as well as in the previous one dealing with murder, Jesus doesn’t refute what they have heard. Instead He raises the bar by informing his male hearers that if they had desired to have sex with a woman who was not their wife, they were guilty of adultery within their hearts. Here Jesus seems to take the interpretation of the neglected tenth commandment on covetousness and saying that it is equal importance with the prohibition against adultery. In Jewish life, the tenth commandment had been minimized because it is impossible to enforce by men since it involves an attitude of the heart which only God knows. Therefore, while the commandments against the outward and more easily observable acts of murder, adultery, stealing and lying were prominently discussed, the issue of covetousness was largely neglected. But Jesus says that if you have the internal attitude of coveting your neighbor’s wife, then you are guilty of the external act of adultery.
“Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus is here describing the man who is looking at a woman for the express purpose of lusting for her. In Josh Harris’ book Not Even a Hint, he defines lust as “craving sexually what God has forbidden.” To lust is to want what you don’t have and weren’t meant to have. There is nothing wrong about sexual desire in and of itself in its proper place. God created us as human beings with sexual attraction that is to be expressed within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman. Sexual desire is a good thing, a gift from God. But like all of God’s gifts it can be misused and abused. That’s what lust does to sexual desire. John Piper has said that, “Lust is a sexual desire minus honor and holiness.”
Lust has always been a problem for men, but it is increasingly a problem in our modern image crazy society. Women dress more provocatively than ever before. There are more sexually suggestive billboards, tv and movie scenes, magazines, advertisements and internet sites than ever before. It is harder than ever to obey this command by Christ to not lust. But it is a command by Christ! Jesus begins this verse with His authoritative, “But I say to you . . .” As the Divine Messianic King he equates the punishment for lusting with that of adultery, which was death! Jesus is here saying that lust deserves the death penalty! But it is even more serious than that, because in the next two verses we see that the penalty in view is nothing less than hell itself! Individuals given over to the sin of lusting go to hell! This is a serious matter indeed!
I’ve often heard women naively/stupidly say of their husbands, “They can look, but they had better not touch.” That is not only contradictory to what Jesus says, but it is extremely foolish! A lustful look leads to temptation to touch! James 1:14-15 states,
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (KJV)
In Job 31:1 Job said “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?” Have you made a covenant with your eyes? Why then do you look with lust upon a woman? Jesus said, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”! Don’t commit heart adultery by looking with lust!
Excursus: To the Women
Most of this sermon has been addressed to the men, because men seem to struggle more in the area of lust because of visual stimulation through the eyes. But many women are also guilty of the same kind of sin when they are constantly checking out the cute guy, daydreaming about some movie star, watching a filthy soap opera, or reading a racy romance novel. In this image crazy world, women too must be on guard against looking upon men with lust! The same warning issued by Jesus to the men applies to you as well!
Another source of application for women is to be cautious about the way that you dress. This is the issue of modesty which Christian women are called to. It does not involve a certain type of clothes, but the motive the heart. Do you dress the way you do in order to be pleasing in the eyes of God or to make you pleasing in the eyes of men?
This is something that we need to be teaching our daughters from their earliest ages. If we wait till their teenagers the battle may already be lost. The world is targeting your children with their marketing. For example, Target carries a line of clothing called “Xhilaration” that is targeted to girls as young as 6 years old and contains this label: “There are no rules. Whether you choose to dress crazy or dress to thrill – make a statement, make a scene, wear what you want and it won’t be wrong.” (Source: Mary Mohler’s Modeling Modesty).
There could be no greater summary than the world’s philosophy than this. But the Scriptures offer a very different perspective:
1 Timothy 2:9-10 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, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.
1 Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Richard Baxter, the great Puritan pastor, said to women, “And you must not lay a stumbling block in their way, nor blow of the fire of their lust, nor make your ornaments snares but you must walk among sinful persons as you would do with a candle among straw or gunpowder, or else you may see the flame which you would not foresee, when it is too late to quench it.”
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your heart’s attitude (adapted from Modesty Heart Check):
- What statement do my clothes make about my heart?
- In choosing what clothes to wear today, whose attention do I desire and whose approval do I crave? Am I seeking to please God or impress others?
- Who am I trying to identify with through my dress? Is the Word of God my standard or is it the latest fashion?
There is a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract. Learn that difference and avoid dressing in order to incite lust in the men around you. At the very least you owe this responsibility to your brothers in Christ who are struggling to keep their thoughts pure. This is a responsibility that every Christians woman and girl should take seriously. Men have a responsibility not to lust, but the way you dress can either be a help or a hindrance to that end.
This is an application for women today, but what is the application which Jesus Himself gave to His teaching on lust? For the answer to this question we must look again at our text in verses 29-30.
III. What We Are to Do: Application, vv. 29-30.
Jesus application of this text in verses 29-30 is both direct and drastic. He begins with the problem of the eye and moves to the problem of the hand. This highlights the progression from looking to touching which I mentioned earlier. If your right eye causes you to sin, stick in a spoon and pop it out of its socket and hurl it as far from you as possible! If you right hand causes you to sin, take an axe and chop it off and with your left hand throw it as far from you as you possibly can! These drastic measures speak of the serious nature of the sin of lust. The look of lust is that dangerous, so dangerous that these actions are reasonable responses.
The phrase translated “causes you to sin” translates the Greek word scandalizei which has the idea of “causing to stumble.” It is the word from which we get the English word “scandal.” It has the idea of being stuck in a trap which springs and closes when an animal touches it. That idea is passed down to us today when we speak of a prominent individual being “caught in a scandal”. The meaning is this: If your right eye or right hand is a cause for you to stumble or become ensnared in a trap of sin, it is far better for you to pull the eye out or chop off the hand than to be dragged down by your sin into the pit of hell!
Is Jesus calling on people to literally gouge out their eyes or amputate their limbs? The early church father Origen thought so and castrated himself. It’s interesting that Origen is known today as the father of the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. I can understand why he began to interpret Scripture allegorically when we think of where a literal interpretation led him.
I don’t think Jesus is calling on people to mutilate their bodies. Self-mutilation is not a cure for the problem of lust. Blind people and amputees can still struggle with the heart problem of lust. Jesus point here is that desperate situations call for drastic measures!
Each of us have the choice of either being like Joseph or David when temptation comes. Joseph ran away from Potiphar’s wife, leaving behind his coat in his haste. David stood on his rooftop and gazed with lust upon Bathsheba who was bathing.
To pluck out our right eye and cut off our right hand means to act drastically to prevent temptation. Paul tells us in Romans 13:14 to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” We know what leads to lust and we must take action to prevent us from arriving at that point. Richard Baxter wrote, “Keep as far as you can from those temptations that feed and strengthen the sins which you would overcome. Lay siege on your sins, and starve them out, by keeping away the food and fuel which is their maintenance and life.”
Job made a covenant with his eyes. We need to make a covenant with our eyes! The psalmist David learned his lesson from the incident with Bathsheba and proclaimed, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes.” (Psalm 101:3). There are certain times (late at night or when alone), certain places (business trip, hotel room, certain streets, etc.), certain television programs, certain books, newspapers and magazines, and certain internet siteswhich must be avoided if we are to avoid the problem of lust in our world today. I was talking to someone about this text this week and they noted how that it is almost impossible not to see scantily clad people in our world today. There are billboards everywhere. Every magazine has advertisements using men’s propensity to lust as a marketing tactic. Even wholesome television programs are interspersed with commercials which leave little to the imagination. People in stores or walking down the street wearing clothing that used to be reserved for the bedroom. How can a person keep a pure mind in such a world today? Stephen Arterburn, in his book Every Man’s Battle, proposes a tactic he calls “bouncing the eyes.” He says that although you can’t help seeing certain things, you can train your eyes to react to what they see in a certain way. Whenever your eyes see someone that you might be tempted to lust over, bounce your eyes away as quickly as possible. You must train your eyes to move away from such sights as quickly as you would jerk your hand away from a hot stove! Do you believe that lust is dangerous? Do you believe that it is deadly? If we really believed this, we would recoil from the sexually stimulating images that we see daily as we would from the most venomous of snakes!
A few years ago I read a news story that illustrates very well the point of Jesus’ application of His prohibition against lust. It is the story of Aron Ralston, who was a 27 year old mountain climber who was climbing in Blue John Canyon which is nearby the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. While climbing on this particular occasion, a 200 lb. boulder fell on Ralston pinning him down by his right arm. Three days later, he ran out of water. Two days later, he decided to take desperate action to save his life. He chose to amputated his right arm just below the elbow in order to escape his certain death. Ralston understood the seriousness of the situation in which he was ensnared and took drastic action to save his life.
Men and women, do you see this issue as serious as Jesus says it is? Or, are you willing to risk your soul for a look of lust?