27 “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 lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Jesus is the One and only One who is truly, fully righteous. He is the One we must look to in order to understand what it means to be human. After Jesus tells His readers that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, He discusses six laws or traditions to help them develop a deeper understanding of what righteousness actually is. Last study we looked at the first of these six, which was on murder. This time Jesus deals with adultery. Both of these are about sin and its consequences in our relationships..
When Jesus spoke to them about murder, He asked His audience to consider the roots of murder. Murder isn’t just when the other person is actually killed. Murder begins in the thoughtless words we speak in anger or frustration. Righteousness, Jesus is telling His listeners, is not doing the minimum required by the law. Righteousness is not just doing the right thing. The law stated that they were not to murder each other. But the righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees is not righteousness that merely makes sure never to actually “do someone else in.” Jesus has told His listeners that He has come to fulfill the will of God, to be our righteousness. Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection goes way beyond not killing. Jesus brings us not just an absence of murder, but He fills us with life, blessing, peace, comfort, etc. Righteousness is not an absence of blatant evil. To be righteous is to be filled with life as it was created to be lived, filled with the love and presence of the triune God so that there is no room for even the small seeds of murder to begin to take root.
Now Jesus turns to the example of adultery. As with the previous section, He begins by reminding them of what they already know. This is another of the ten commandments, very familiar to Jesus’ audience. This time, though, the root of adultery is not with the words we speak, but the thoughts we have. Jesus is asking his audience to consider that unfaithfulness begins not in the actual act of adultery, but when one looks lustfully at a woman. The word translated “lustfully” is related closely to the word “covet.” So to look at someone with lust is to want, in some way, to own or possess them. To lust after someone is to view them as an object, an object that exists to meet your needs, rather than as a person to respect and honor as one of God’s very own children. Right relationships in God’s kingdom begins with this respect and honor. Relationships that don’t start there can easily erode into sinful and broken ones. The act of adultery has deep and corrupt roots. Right relationships in God’s kingdom will be concerned about the roots of relationships, not just the end resulting acts.
We can be tempted to believe that our thought life is our own, since it is hidden from those around us. As long as our behavior, and even our words are okay, we can indulge in whatever thoughts we want. This kind of thinking leads us to the temptation to hope that righteousness is about obeying a certain set of rules. If we do the minimum to observe these rules, then that should satisfy. We should be righteous because we do what is required. But we want to save some space, some room, for us to live in our little indulgences.
This is what Jesus is battling in this section. We are not truly righteous towards another person if in our thoughts we view them as an object--even if our treatment of them seems “okay.” We are merely hypocrites--one way on the inside and another on the outside. There is no purity, no integrity. Someday the truth of what we have let go on in our hearts and minds may come out. This is the secret of our soul that we have attempted to hide from others by restraint, but it is nevertheless a truer picture of the state of our souls than the behavior we show others. And this deep corruption and confusion is just what Jesus came to take care of. Nothing less.
To long for righteousness is to hate all evil, even that which no one else knows about but ourselves. When we’re moving towards God, we long for the time when we can freely allow our words and our actions to flow out naturally from our hearts, when we can be transparent. It is to hope for the day when there is no slippage between what is inside of us and what comes out of us. So there will be no need to worry about what would happen if someday the hidden secrets of our hearts were revealed.
Jesus goes on to tell His listeners what they should do if some part of their body causes them to sin. He answer is very simple and straightforward. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. And what is the reason He gives for such radical behavior? Because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” It is better, Jesus tells His listeners to love being righteous than to hold on to some old thought patterns, indulgences, manipulations, that we have come to think of as being a part of who we are. Cut out those things which are keeping you from experiencing the full life of Christ. Jesus’ intention for us, God’s eternal purpose for us, is that we be truly and completely holy, whole, like Him. To be righteous is to be all one thing--full of the good life of God, every nook and cranny of our being filled with His joy and love. Who would want to cling to some destructive habit or indulgence and risk losing life itself?
C. S. Lewis thought a great deal about this God who would love us to complete perfection. Here is what he said in his book, Mere Christianity:
When he said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder--in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird, it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. . . .
If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.
What a wonderful picture Lewis draws for us here. Trying to hold onto some place of sin in our lives is like trying to fly while remaining an egg. It is impossible. God’s love will win out in the end. His desire is for us to fly and so all the sickness and twistedness must go. Often what we cling to in our thought lives is something that does not lead to right relationships and to life. In the end they are not worth holding on to. Jesus warns us of the dangers of holding on to them. He also shows us in His own life the true source of right relationship with God and with others and calls us to turn to Him to cut out the root of all wrong relationship and receive from Him the gift of holy loving relationship. Can we trust Him to do this work in us? Will we offer up to Him in faith what needs to be done away with and look to him to provide us His true righteousness?
Thank God He is more interested in our perfection than we often are. May He continue to give us the grace to participate in His work rather than to resist it.
<< Back Next Sermon on the Mount Study >>