Feb 21 - Tossing Aside That Which Engenders Sins

Tossing Aside That Which Engenders Sins

February 21, 2016

Matthew 5:27-30



Matthew 5:27-30

February 21st, 2016

This morning we are continuing in our series through the Sermon on the Mount.  Last week we covered the passage on making amends, making restitution, being reconciled to those we have hurt.  Today, we cover Jesus’ teaching on sexual desire. 

You have heard it said, “Do not commit adultery.”  But I say to you that any man who looks at a woman lustfully[1] already has committed adultery with her in his heart. 

7th of the 10 Commandments (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18).  What Jesus was saying here wasn’t something completely new.  Other Pharisaic Rabbis already extended the OT passages about not committing adultery to include sexual activities outside of the married state as they warned against the danger that is inherent in sinful thoughts: 

The moment a man contemplates sin, it is as though he has committed a trespass against God (Num. R. 8.5). 

He who has a pure heart in love, does not look on a woman with thoughts of fornication (Test. Benj. 8.2).

He who looks at a woman with desire is as one who had illicit intercourse with her (Mas. Kall 1).

Woman = gyne, could potentially be translated “wife” since it most often refers to a married woman.  Some commentators therefore think that Jesus is commenting only on the deliberately desire for an illicit relationship with a married woman.  This view is bolstered by the use of the term “adultery,” which in the Mosaic Law was reserved to having a relationship with a married woman.[2]

If this is correct, then Jesus may have been commenting on the 6th as well as the 7th commandment, the 6th being: do not covet your neighbour’s wife (Ex 20:17).  In other words, looking lustfully at another’s wife is the same as “coveting her”.[3]

However, most commentators think that Jesus’ comment has more far-reaching implications than being limited to having sexual thoughts about another man’s wife.  Also, we have to keep in mind that Jesus’ society was not nearly as sexually charged as our own.  In Jewish society, something like pornography or pornographic art simply didn’t exist.[4] 

Women in public dressed very conservatively compared to today, in Roman and Greek culture, but even more so in Jewish society. 

A Jewish man could divorce his wife in Jesus’ day without having to repay her dowry if she is seen to be promiscuous: by letting her hair down in public, spinning yarn in public, because that could expose her ankles and forearms, or speaking with any man other than her husband.[5]

No one in western society would consider any of these actions promiscuous, but the woman in Jesus’ day who would do these was seen to flaunt their sexuality in order to attract men and have an affair with them.

Today we would consider that kind of modesty ridiculous.  On the other hand, the way that some women dress today in order to feel attractive and get attention from men, can set aside the whole principle of modesty. 

Whatever the case, Jesus is commenting about an act on the part of the man that goes beyond simply being attracted to a woman because of physical attraction.  Jesus is commenting on the actual desire to have an illicit sexual relationship with a woman.

Some commentators on this passage have pointed out the problem with lust.  For, one, they point out, lust is based on externals, on physical beauty or attractiveness, and doesn’t care about the inner qualities of a person. 

Lust is interested in the gratification of sexual desires, without looking at the other person as a person – put another way, it objectifies a human being as an object to be used for personal gratification.  The other person becomes something less than human, someone other than a child of God to be protected or cared for.

Lust is impatient.  It is self-centered.  It takes advantage of another person.  It can even be cruel. 

Others have pointed out the danger with infatuation, which can go hand in hand with lust.

Infatuation is that unexplainable and sudden draw to another person.  It is sometimes mistakenly called “love at first sight,” but it nothing more than an intense physical and emotional attraction. 

Infatuation is this instant attraction to a virtual stranger.  That is, ones idea of who that person is, resides almost entirely in the realm of fantasy.  And fantasies often seem perfect.  In other words, the infatuated person is caught up in a whirlwind of emotions and desires so that they can only see what they want to see, not what is really there.

The saying that “love is blind,” should really be restated as “infatuation is blind.”

Ultimately, infatuation will wear off, and then, all of a sudden, people discover the real person with all of its flaws.  Those quirks that once seemed so endearing all of a sudden can be the very character traits that annoy.  When the dust settles, infatuated couples find that they don’t really like each other, despite the initial intense physical and emotional attraction.  And so they speak about “falling out of love.”

Love, may include emotional and physical attraction, but it is actually something that has developed over time, as two individuals persevere.  It has been said that you can only really love another person who you know well. 

Unfortunately, love is an overused word, especially in the English language – I love peanut butter.  I love surfing.  I love my children.  Not even close to the same meaning.

While Jesus directs his comment at men, we know that in our time and age they can speak of women as well.  Even in the Bible we have the example of Potiphar’s wife, who wanted to sleep with Joseph because, we are told, he was well-built and handsome (Genesis 39:6-7).[6] 

However, I think that because of the inordinate amount of emphasis on externals, women have become more visually oriented when it comes to men than at any other time in history.  In fact, while modern internet porn is very, very effective at triggering male sexual desire, women actually have a stronger physiological response to porn than men.  Also, if you ever look at the articles in women’s magazines, a huge amount have to do with the sexiest men, attracting men and having better sex. 

What about the sexually charged day-time programing?  Or the sexually explicit romance novels? 

These too misrepresent what love and sex is to be about and creates all kind of temptations for women.  And while women may not be as vulnerable to porn as men, more and more of both genders have access to it at a younger and younger age because of the internet.   

While the Old Spice commercials are designed to sell a product, the real message is that, whoever your partner is, he doesn’t measure up to the male model.  Who really cares if they smell the same?

It is the same trap of husbands who think to themselves that their wives should be as adventurous as beautiful women who are paid a lot of money to pretend to enjoy something they absolutely loathe and despise.   You see pornography is not victimless, nor is the consummation harmless.

In some cases it can lead to a man’s inability to get sexually aroused with a living partner. In other cases, viewing porn can lead to the viewing of more extreme, unusual or deviant forms of sexual behaviour.  It can and will interfere with healthy and fulfilling sexual experiences.

Allowing our oversexed culture in its various manifestations to drive our thoughts about our own sexuality can breed unbridled lust, unrealistic expectations, dissatisfaction, lack of intimacy, inability for healthy sexual expression, all of which can deeply wound relationships that otherwise would have done quite well.

Jesus comment about adultery of the heart is really a comment on the universal struggle with sexuality.  Jesus was a sexual being, had a full-blown sex drive and faced the very same sexual temptations that we do.  So he was commenting on something he was personally familiar with.

We are sexual beings.  And our sexual drive is as potent as any of our other physical desires.  Jesus is not asking us to deny this reality but to respect it.  The reality is that we all have issues when it comes to our sexuality and how to deal with it – particularly where we allow our sexual thoughts to go. 

Every normal human being who has passed through puberty has issues with their sexuality, how to think about it, and how to express it. 

Some individuals become highly repressed, especially if they have been sexually molested.  Others become highly promiscuous, often for the same reason.  Others become rebellious in the sense that they do not want anything, even their own conscience, to set any boundaries to the expression of their sexuality.  Others again become consumed with guilt about their sexuality.  Others become predatory.  Others again get lost in a world of porn and self-gratification.  Others drift toward deviance of one kind or another.  All of these damage the healthy expression and celebration of our sexuality.

Of course, there is a marked difference between committing adultery in the heart or mind … and actually, physically committing adultery.  Jesus was not belittling the devastation of actual adultery, he only wanted to show that the act of the mind cannot be ignored as irrelevant.

How many marriages or reputations have been shipwrecked because of adultery? 

Tiger woods – 7 years ago at the top of the world.  Had everything – beautiful wife and two children.  He was the first athlete ever to earn $ 1 billion. 

Then he was exposed as a serial adulterer – within 2 weeks 14 women spoke about having had affairs with him, some of them escorts, others porn stars.  After hearing of a 15th woman, his wife decided to leave him. 

By January, the number of known mistresses had risen to 19.  There were more.[7]  A number of sponsors drop him incl. AT&T, Gatorade, and Gillette.  

Tiger admitted to trying to stop having extra-marital affairs but felt he couldn’t.  Perhaps more telling, he also admitted to feeling that he was entitled to do whatever he wanted, including having sex with anyone he wanted. 

Subsequently he went to a sex-addiction clinic, but ultimately this was not enough for his wife and she divorced him within a year. 

Today, Tiger is 40 years old.  He hasn’t won a major tournament since 2013.  He’s had knee surgery and three back operations in two years.  He dropped below the 100 ranking in March 2015.  It is highly unlikely that he will ever be the player he once was.  He did manage to save his relationship with his children and he is on friendly terms with his former wife.

Bill Cosby had dodged a number of allegations of rape and sexual assault between 1965 and 2004, mostly because they weren’t believed or the district attorney decided against laying charges.  Cosby was able to settle a civil suit against him in 2005, but further assault and rape allegations were made against him in the years since.

By the fall of last year, nearly 60 women have accused Cosby of either rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and/or sexual misconduct over a 42 year span from 1965 to 2008. 

A former NBC facilities manager told the New York Daily News that Coby funneled regular payments to several women via money orders, which he thought was because they were having sex with him.  Cosby himself admitted making regular payments to one of the women who is now accusing him of sexual assault.

In 2005, during the one civil law suit, Cosby had admitted to having casual sex with young women who he had given a sedative to make them more pliable.  This admission became public in July 2015 and created a huge backlash. 

23 colleges and universities have rescinded his honorary degrees.

The US Navy revoked his honourary title of Chief Petty Officer (2014).

Walt Disney World removed a statue of Bill Cosby (2015).

Simon and Schuster publishing company is no longer releasing a Cosby approved biography of his life.

His high school removed his name from its Hall of Fame.

President Barack Obama was asked whether Bill Cosby’s Medal of Freedom award would be revoked.  After commenting that there is no precedent for revoking that medal, he added,

I'll say this, if you give a woman, or a man for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that's rape. And I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.

Currently, Cosby has been charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault relating back to the 2005 civil court case.  I’m not sure if further charges will follow.  At this time, Bill Cosby and his lawyers are denying all charges, but many individuals, even those close to Bill Cosby, are starting to consider him a serial rapist and sexual predator.

I don’t know where this will end for Mr. Cosby, now 78 years old, but his legacy, his name, his reputation, have likely been lost forever.

Actions are in fact more devastating than thoughts, but thoughts, if left unchecked, can cause significant damage and have and will lead to regrettable actions.

I believe that God has given us our sex-drive in order to enjoy sex, to celebrate it, within the confines where we do not hurt ourselves or others in the process, where we do not take advantage of another or are taken advantage of, where we do not denigrate another or ourselves, where we do not damage ourselves or others, physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, or spiritually.  

To repeat: the reality is that each human being struggles to some extend with their sexuality and its expression.  This is not just an issue for men, but for women as well.

For believers, who don’t just want to fall into a cycle of wanton self-indulgence, either in thought or action, there are books and other resources that address this issue with honesty and brings help in setting boundaries to the minefield of sexual thoughts.  Here is just one of these resources:

After making the comment about adultery, Jesus goes on:

If your right eye[8] causes you to do evil[9], tear it out and throw it from you.  For it is better for you that one of the parts of the body is lost, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

If your right hand cause you to do evil, cut it off and throw it from you.  For it is better for you that one of the parts of the body is lost, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 

See Matt 18:8-9 (= Mark 9:43,45,47-48), which also makes mention of a foot.[10]

“Hell” = Gehenna, in reference to the valley of the son of Hinnom, the valley bottom bordering ancient Jerusalem to both the south and the west of the city.  At the time of King Ahaz and Manassah, Israelites would burn their children in sacrifice to the idol Moloch in that valley (2 Kings 23:10; cf. Jer 7:31-32).  By the time of Jesus, the valley contained numerous burial chambers that had been reused for hundreds of years, some of which have survived to this day.

Gehenna came to be used as the name of the place of punishment or destruction for the wicked dead.  Some Rabbis thought of it as a kind of purgatory where a person suffers until they have atoned for their sins, but Jesus doesn’t give us any indication that he thought of Gehenna as a time of temporary punishment.

Jesus seems to be saying that it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven physically maimed than to miss entering it by remaining physically whole.

The question that Jesus words raise is whether he was serious about self-mutilation?  The answer is unanimously, “no”![11]   

Jesus is not speaking about literal self-mutilation, but is continuing to speak in hyperbole, in purposeful exaggeration, to make his point, as he has been throughout most of what has been recorded up to this point in the Sermon on the Mount. 

So what is Jesus saying?  Most agree that Jesus was speaking about making radical personal sacrifices to avoid temptations such as adultery of the mind or heart – today that might be going as far as stopping a favourite activity, getting rid of the internet, quit reading harlequin-type romance novels, stop watching a TV program, severing a relationship, to staying away from a person or place, whatever it takes.  

Some men have the internet or cable turned off in their hotel rooms, or they install a net nanny on their own computer, so they have less temptation. These men recognize that they need to do the prep-work, in advance, in order to make good decisions.

When it came to avoiding temptation, even in ones thought-life, Martin Luther quipped:

You cannot keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep him from building a nest in your hair.                                                                                     Martin Luther

Or you can think of avoiding temptation along these lines:  If you broke your arm in two places, whatever you do, avoid those two places (old HeeHaw joke).

The question is whether or not we are really willing to make a personal sacrifice, give up something, or avoid those places that will trip us up? 

Job, in defending his innocence from sinful behaviour, says this to his three friends:

I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a young woman…. If my heart had been enticed toward a woman … that would have been a heinous crime.                                    Job 31:1,9,11

I think what Job was saying is that he refused to objectify women, any women, married or not, as simply an object to gratify his sexual desires.  But in today’s world, the same could be applied to women.  Being flirtatious with someone other than one’s husband or flirting with a friend’s husband, is on the very same level, no matter how “innocent” it may seem.

So the question remains, “are we willing to change our thought patterns when it comes to our sexuality and its expression?”

If so, what is it that would motivate us to make a radical personal sacrifice to redirect our minds about sexuality in a more positive direction?  Well, fear could be a big motivator.  Fear of discovery perhaps.  Or fear of eternal consequences. 

But maybe a bigger motivator could be actual concern for another human being.  Maybe Jesus followed his teaching on anger and making restitution for having hurt others with this message as a further comment on not hurting or injuring others with our sexuality. 

Better to lose a hand than for that hand to be used to injure another person. Better to lose an eye, than for that eye to denigrate a person, even if it’s just in our thoughts.  

A heart in sync with God places the highest value on protecting another person.  The highest value is not take advantage of another person, not to use them, not to abuse them for one’s own personal gratification.  It is the mindset that sees a daughter or sister even in a hooker or porn star.  It is seeing a beloved child of God in even the least of these.

A couple of final thoughts about this whole subject of sexual desire and thought-life.  The first is this:  I believe there is a greater need for more open dialogue between marriage partners when it comes to sex. 

Looking back on what happened in 2009 – Tiger Woods said that the biggest problem was that he was not open with his wife.  He did not talk about what he was going through and why.  According to him, he should have nurtured a more open, honest relationship.  And I think he’s right.

Many husbands feel they cannot be honest with their wives about the temptations they face.  They feel that they cannot tell their wives what the constant refusal to have sex does to their sense of identity, self-worth and sexual frustration.

By the way, the Rabbis had some pretty harsh financial penalties for husbands or wives who refused to have sexual intercourse with their partners,[12] it was even considered one legitimate cause for divorce.[13]  The apostle Paul told couples not to stop having sex except through mutual consent and for a limited time.

But equally, women often cannot tell their husbands what happened to them, or what their sexual issues, hang-ups, desires and dreams are.

Especially in Christian marriages there is often this unspoken taboo about communicating openly and honestly about sexual temptations, desires, or anything to do with sex.  And I think that’s a shame because God is the creator of sexual pleasure.  

When I think of true intimacy, including true sexual intimacy and satisfaction, I cannot help but wonder:

Within a marriage, can anyone ever know his or her true worth until it has been reflected back by another gracious, caring human being?

Besides communication, and just as importantly, in order for us to move forward in this area of sexual temptation … in order for any true healing to take place… We’re going to need a tremendous amount of grace.

We need a tremendous amount of grace from God – In order to forgive us of our sexual sins and give us the strength to do better in the future.

And we need an inordinate amount of grace for ourselves – so that we don’t feel defeated … even if we continually fall down.  Grace to forgive ourselves, even if we’ve done things we are deeply ashamed of.  Grace to learn to like ourselves so we can move forward.

Then we are going to need a lot of grace from others – grace to give us a safe environment in which to work on this stuff.  And it needs to be said, that not everyone will extend us that grace.

And we are going to need a huge amount of grace that we extend toward others, because we recognize that we are all in the same boat.  All of us have sexual issues, we all struggle to some degree with our sexuality.  So instead of ragging against those who may disappoint us because of their issues, let’s be less judgmental and more supportive.


[1] Literally, “in order to desire her.”

[2] Matthew uses the Greek verb moicheuo (= to commit adultery) and the noun moicheia (= adultery), which does not speak about other kinds of illicit sexual relationships.

[3] Another factor in favour of seeing this as a man lusting after another man’s wife is Jesus’ thoughts on divorce and remarriage which follow our passage.  To marry a divorced woman is “adultery” in the sense that she still belongs to her first husband.

[4] Although some of the carvings, frescoes, tile mosaics, paintings, statues and inscriptions in Roman society were highly pornographic in nature (erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum preserved under the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, which depicted highly graphical sex scenes).

[5] Mishnah – Ketuboth, Nashim 7.6 – a husband could divorce his wife without having to give her back her dowry if she has transgressed the Mosaic Law (does not tithe, sleeps with him while having her period, does not fulfill a vow) or is seen to be sexually promiscuous as outlined!

[6] Handsome in form and appearance.

[7] No clear numbers.  One article mentioned 27. 

[8] In a predominantly right-handed society, the right eye, the right hand, and the right foot are presumed more valuable than their left counterparts.  Jesus was commenting about removing even the most valued body part.

[9] To do evil = skandalizein

[10] And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you.  Because it is better for you to enter [eternal] life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

[11] In Deut 25:12, the woman who comes to the aid of her husband during a fight by grabbing the genitals of her husband’s opponent is to have her hand cut off.  It is also in Matthew that Jesus speaks seemingly favourably of a man who castrates himself for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (19:12), although this too can be seen as a metaphor for someone who decides to remain celibate.  The church father Origin apparently applied this passage literally (as reported by Eusebius and commented on by Jerome). So did the group of men called Valesians by Ephiphanius of Salamis.  Minucius Felix in the 3rd and Ambrose of Milan in the 4th century also comment negatively about Christian men who had castrated themselves.

[12] Mishnah – Nashim, Ketuboth, 5.6-7

[13] Mishnah – Nashim, Ketuboth, 7.1-5