The Teaching of Jesus. Adultery and Lust.
America’s favorite pastime—it’s not baseball, or football, or Nascar. It’s not movies or TV or music. It seems to be porn. Worth more than 97 billion dollars—which is 100 times more than the seven hundred fifty million it was generating 20 years ago. More than Hollywood and all the reported earnings of the NFL, NBA, and baseball combined. And that’s just the legal, W-2 filing porn industry. It seems like we can’t get enough of it.
But it’s not just an American problem. There are no geographical, ethnic, gender or even religious boundaries to the porn obsession. $27 billion in China, $25 billion in South Korea. The Muslim world was humiliated in 2012 when it was revealed that pornographic sites were among the most visited in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Pakistan. Even remote villages in Ghana where people live in huts are able to watch porn by running generators to make electricity.
People have always been obsessed with sex—confused about sex—it’s not a modern problem. Technology has certainly played a role in making it weirder and more accessible, though. It seems like the first thing people do when some new technology comes on the scene is try to figure out how to how sex with it. You know the sex robots are just around the corner—what do you think that’s gonna do to society? Things are about to get a lot weirder.
But maybe you think, “So what. Who cares what people do as long as they’re not hurting anyone. I don’t see what the big deal is.” Okay. But since we’re in a message series called The Teaching of Jesus—let’s see what He has to say about it.
Matthew 5:27–30 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, 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. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off 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.
Prayer: Father in heaven, help us to hear Your Word today. I mean, really hear it—so we can live the kind of life you put us on this earth to live. Help us to not live in shame or condemnation or judgement, but to trust in Your mercy and goodness. AMEN.
So, this is Jesus talking about the 6th Commandment. God said His people were to have no other gods and then He commanded them to be the kind of people who lived their lives a certain way. They were to be a holy people. A pure people. Last week we talked about how God’s people are gonna be the kind of people who don’t murder other people—Jesus said, and if you get mad at someone, then you’ve murdered them in your heart. This week He’s doing the same kind of thing with adultery. You shall not commit adultery—but if you’ve even looked at someone with lust in your heart, then you’ve already committed it.
Let’s start simple: what is adultery? In its narrowest definition it refers to a married person having sex with someone that they are not married to. That is certainly forbidden by God’s 6th commandment—but the word in Hebrew and Greek is also used more generally for any kind of sexual immorality. God’s people are to be the kind of people who only participate in sex within the proper relationship of husband and wife. Anything else is strictly forbidden, dangerous, destructive, taboo, unholy and not gonna be good for anyone.
We all know the dangers—playing with sex is like playing with fire. Oh sure, it’s fun, but it can cause irreparable damage to a person’s marriage and family—we all know this from experiences that are probably way too close to home. The casual attitude our society has toward sex has caused so many problems—broken homes, poverty, abuse, venereal disease, unwanted pregnancies, abortion, children born into broken homes, families who are split. I come from a long line of sexually irresponsible broken people—I don’t even know who my biological father was. It’s painfully obvious that adultery is a bad thing and causes damage to every life it touches.
God didn’t give us these commands to make us miserable. He didn’t tell us what to do so that we’d be unhappy. He’s not a big meanie trying to keep us from having any fun. He’s protecting us from ourselves and the very real dangers we’re gonna face in our lives. So don’t play around with adultery—you’re not smarter than God.
Lust. But Jesus says if you even look at someone with lust in your heart, then you’ve already gone there. You already set your own lap on fire like a crazy person. Secret lust is already disgusting in the eyes of the Lord even before we act on it.
You know how a perfectly good date night would go right down the tubes if your date caught you staring and drooling at some pretty young thing? One of the things about being God is He knows what you’re thinking. So do you. It’s not good for YOU to allow lust to fill your heart—to feast with your eyes, and dwell in the fantasy.
Somebody said lust is like a cannibal committing suicide by nibbling on himself.
People are always trying to justify whatever their particular sexual fantasies and desires are by calling them “natural.” As if, if they’re natural then they must be okay. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s essential, important, good for us something that we shouldn’t change about ourselves. It’s perfectly natural to poop our pants. It’s perfectly natural to never brush our teeth. There’s all kinds of things we have to teach ourselves to do until they become part of our nature. I can’t remember where I read it but someone said, “All self-discipline might be defined as teaching ourselves to do the unnatural.” It isn’t any different with our unbridled sexual urges—our human nature isn’t doing any of us any favors.
Marriage. God says to save sex for marriage and to keep our marriages pure. Our culture laughs and mocks God for being such a prude. We know better than He does. We’re enlightened. We think it’s better to sample the goods. Do a test run before we make a commitment. If it feels good, do it. It’s none of our business what happens between two consenting adults. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
Of course the idea of what “consent” means gets more complicated everyday. If you’re a big strong guy and you’re on a date with petite beautiful girl—they end up back at his place, one thing leads to another, and he says, “Hey, do you consent to us indulging in sexual activity?” That’s probably not exactly how he would say it. She might say “yes” because she’s really into it. But she also might say “yes” because she’s afraid that if she says “no,” he might get upset or it might ruin the night, or he might get mad. Current thinking on what’s actually consent is pretty blurry. If she changes her mind at any time—even the next day—it wasn’t consent.
There’s a bunch of apps that have been developed promising to protect you if the person accuses you after the fact: Consent Amour, LegalFling, The Consent App, and, YesMeansYes—you know, you just pull out your phone and have them promise not to press charges later. Very romantic. Here’s an idea: how about if you get a bunch of your friends and family together—stand up in front of them and promise to love, honor, and cherish instead.
But no, we want instant gratification. Now means now. That’s where porn steps into the picture—and it is so harmful, so destructive.
Porn has been shown to rewire our brains so that natural sex with a real partner is ruined—leading to all kinds of dysfunctions. It’s as addictive as any drug and requires increasingly perverse material to get the same effect. It leads to loneliness, depression, self-loathing, and isolation. Not to mention that the porn industry is inseparably connected to sex trafficking and violence—many of those young people are in those videos against their will or out of a sense of desperation. It’s not harmless—no matter what you tell yourself—not to you, not your family, not to society, and certainly not to the young people who are being exploited to make it.
Jesus says if you look at a person with lust then you have already committed adultery in your heart. That’s not good for anyone. God doesn’t tell us what to do and what not to do to make us miserable—He’s protecting us from ourselves. To be a follower of Jesus, a Christian, is to be a disciple—disciple means discipline. Discipline is never easy.
Jesus says to look on someone with lust is to commit sexual sin—adultery. A crime that was punishable by death. A crime that placed under the judgment of God. He said, so if you can’t help yourself—you see all those beautiful people and you can’t help but be filled with lust—then gouge your eyes out! Better to enter the kingdom of heaven without your eyes than to be thrown into hell where they’re just gonna burn up anyway. Jesus is pretty hardcore. He said if your right hand causes you to sin—and what on earth could He possibly mean by that? What do right hands and lust have to do with each other? I wonder. He said it would be better to cut your hand off than for your whole body to be thrown in hell. These are terrifying images that would even make Flannery O’Connor wince.
I think Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point. I don’t think He actually wants anyone to gouge out their eyes or cut off their hands—maybe that makes me a liberal heretic. I don’t think so.
I think Jesus is admitting that it’s gonna be difficult. It’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna seem like the most natural and most powerful thing in the world to give in to our lust. To fantasize. To slow down, turn your head and take it in. To go to that secret URL in a private browser. Jesus is making the point that the pain of self discipline is gonna be painful. Like gouge out your eye painful. You’re not gonna want to do it. It’s gonna seem counter-intuitive.
Repent. CS Lewis tells the story of taking his dog for a walk. They’d be walking along, going forward, and the dog would sometimes step off the path and get the leash tangled on a lamp post. He said the dog never understands that when this happens, the only way forward is by going backward. Gotta go backward to unwrap the leash, before they could go forward. Sometimes the dog, especially when it was a pup, would really fight and pull the wrong way—make it worse. But he would be patient with the dog, forcing him to go back and get untangled.
There’s gonna be some radical action if God’s gonna untangle us from this porn culture of lust and sexual confusion. There’s a lot at stake. Any real hope we have of real intimacy, healthy relationships, lasting families—any hope we have of being able to have friendships that aren’t distorted by a warped fantasy life. Any hope we have of being the kind of people God has called us to be—salt of the earth, light of the world. Not prudes who are afraid of sex but people who are trying to live as pure people in this messed up world.
Temptation. We’re gonna see things that tempt us to lust. When we do, try not to linger. When something comes on the TV, just push your eyes off the screen—look beside the TV. I’ve found that things don’t burn into my mind when I only see them in my peripheral vision. Try it. Your gonna see billboards and magazines and yoga pants and six pack apps—just bounce your eyes and don’t let them get caught like they’re in a glue trap. An old preacher told me one time that temptation was like when a bird lands on your head—lust is when you let it build a nest.
Find a way to be accountable to someone. There are services like Covenant Eyes.com that allow you to have an accountability partner for all your gadgets—they get reports and see what you’ve been looking at. Better to pluck that gadget out of your hand than to be thrown with it in the fires of hell, you know?
Help Each Other. And let’s not be so quick to condemn each other. Let’s help each other with this, help them to be better about it, to succeed in the struggle. Don’t just catch people looking at something and get mad at them. Don’t make it worse by heaping shame and guilt on them. Do you hear me mom and dad? When your kids show interest in the same kind of temptation you’ve been dealing with all your life, don’t act surprised or get mad or treat them with disgust. We’re all in this together. Show some kindness and patience and understanding. Same goes for husbands and wives and friends. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.
Everyone who really follows Jesus is gonna struggle with this stuff as long as we’re in this world. That’s what it means to be in the world but not of the world. We’re gonna struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. Lust is one of his most powerful weapons against us—we have to resist. We can’t define ourselves by our lusts—no matter what culture tells us. We have to define ourselves by Jesus—we are His, we are Christian. And in this struggle, especially when it comes to lust, we’re gonna find that we are poor in spirit, spiritually bankrupt, unable to be pure.
And when that happens, you know what you have to do, right?
Monks Image. There were two monks who had taken a vow of sexual purity, they weren’t supposed to touch or even look at a woman. One day they were walking and they come to a river that had flooded over its banks so the current was raging. There was a young woman sitting beside the river crying—she explained to them that she needed to cross the river but was afraid she’d be swept away by the water. The first monk offered to carry her across, and he did, and it was fine. The two monks went on their way and later that evening the second monk couldn’t take it anymore, he said, “We made a vow to never touch a women, but back there at the river you carried that girl across.” The first monk said, “My brother, I put that woman down on the other side of the river. You’re still carrying her in your mind.”
Things are gonna happen. Life is complicated. When things don’t go according to plan, when we fail in our vows to live the kind of life that God has called us to live, we simply need to return to the doorway that leads to Jesus blessing us again. Do you remember the doorway? The Beatitudes? These commands are given to us to protect us from the damage sin does to our lives—that’ why God tells us what His will for us is. He’s protecting us from all the damage we do to ourselves in this world and eternal consequences because the wages of sin is death. But God wants to have mercy on us—His kindness leads us to repentance. So do what God says, He’s serious, it will be much better for you if you do—but when you fail, don’t wallow in guilt and shame. We come back to Jesus, we confess our sin, and He blesses us again.
Because I don’t want anyone leaving here with the burden of shame and guilt, the heaviness of failure, I want you to join me in this confession:
Minister: Blessed Jesus, you offered us all your blessings when
you announced Blessed are the poor in spirit
People: but we have been rich in pride.
Minister: Blessed are those who mourn
People: but we have not known much sorrow for our sin.
Minister: Blessed are the meek
People: but we are a stiff-necked people.
Minister: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
People: but we are filled with desire for other things.
Minister: Blessed are the merciful”
People: but we are harsh and impatient.
Minister: Blessed are the pure in heart
People: but we have impure hearts.
Minister: Blessed are the peacemakers
People: but we have not sought reconciliation.
Minister: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness
People: but our lives do not challenge the world.
Minister: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you
and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me
People: but we have hardly made it known that we are yours.
Minister: Your will for us is holy and your blessings are perfect.
People: We confess our sins and trust in Your goodness.
Minister: Because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven.
People: AMEN. Thanks be to God.
You are not helpless in your struggle against sin, not even lust and sins of the heart. Because of Christ who dwells within you, who will never leave you or forsake you—you have the power to resist temptation and and live according to God’s will for you. This is good news.