August 26, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:27-32

So today, we reach the topic of Adultery, Lust, and Divorce...easy! Let’s get started!

A couple of years ago I was teaching a class on Paul’s epistles. I started teaching on Corinthians and the setting of that city. The city of Corinth has a large plateau that rises above the city. On this plateau is the Temple of Aphrodite (Venus) which overshadows everything that goes on in the city. The temple housed over 1,000 temple prostitutes and encouraged sexual experimentation as a way of experiencing the divine presence.

As I talked, openly and bluntly, about what this city was like, how Paul addressed this in 1 & 2 Corinthians, and how it affects us as Christians today...I could see the eyes of these teenagers getting wider and wider and wider. They had never heard this stuff or sexuality talked about so openly. They had always heard “Don’t!,” and hadn’t heard it spoken of in the way we were discussing it. They began shifting around in their seats; getting rather uncomfortable. I think the open discussion was making a few of the adults in the room uncomfortable too.

I tried to break the tension by saying, “Welcome to Big Boy Church!” Today, we are having Big Boy Church. As we are working through the Sermon on the Mount, it is inevitable that we would have to talk about issues related to sex.

The openness with which we will be discussing this may make some people uncomfortable...don’t worry, it won’t be the last time we are uncomfortable. In the church we have shied away from talking about sexual things because, like a parent trying to talk to their teenager about the same issue...it makes us uncomfortable. So we reduce our message to a simple, “Don’t do it!” And leave the rest to chance.

But we can’t leave it to chance. There is too much at stake. But also the Bible is filled with discussions about sex and sexual things, and we have to skip large section of it if we refuse to talk about it. Sex was a real part of their life and our life, and the Bible, if it is going apply to real life, has to address it as well.

So we start, once again, by going back to Matthew 5:20.

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In order for our righteousness to surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law we must have a a righteousness that results in a permanent change in our heart and attitudes...that transforms us in the core of our being.

When we start discussing things like adultery, lust, and divorce...these are things that start from in here; in the deep inner parts of our being. And if we are ever going to live by the standards Jesus is setting in these passages we have to be transformed at the core of our being. We will never be able to obey them by following an external law.

And again we reiterate the power of God’s grace. Jesus is lifting up a morality that is extremely difficult to live up to. Anger and lust are powerful forces in our lives...we have all most likely been guilty of them in some form this past week. But God understands where we are in our walk with Him, and, though He challenges us to take that next step higher, He also offers grace and forgiveness when we don’t get it right.

So let’s read today’s passage...

Matthew 5:27-32
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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 right hand causes you to stumble, 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 go into hell.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


Matthew 5:27
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

As with murder, adultery is a given. Person’s who commit adultery were guilty of sin, and breaking the Law. And, in the early practice of Jewish Law, adultery was punishable by stoning the person to death. In fact, Leviticus 20:10 sentenced both parties in the adulterous act to death. But as with murder and anger, Jesus once again intensifies the requirement of the law by focusing on the root of the problem which is lust.

Craig Keener “If you do not break the letter of the other commandments, but you want to do so in your heart, you are guilty.”

Most of the religious teacher’s of Jesus day would have agreed with Him. They believed lust was a sin, and saw it as a form of coveting outlawed in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Jesus, just like the religious teachers of his day, connects the word He uses for “lust” to the word for coveting. By using a word that is also used of coveting...we understand He is talking about more than a quick glance or that twinge of attraction that happens between two people and is seemingly beyond our control. No, He is talking about something we enjoy, something we nurture and hold on to. Something we think about on a regular basis and allow to work in to the depths of who we are.

Since lust was a form of coveting it was outlawed...but Jesus is doing something different than the teachers of the Law. Jesus is making lust the responsibility of the person experiencing the lust and then equating it with breaking the faithfulness of the marital relationship.

Jewish writers placed the responsibility for preventing lust on the women. They were to wear head-coverings and the right clothing in order to keep others from lusting. If people were lusting after her, then it was her fault because she must have done something inappropriate. Now there is something to be said for those who attempt to provoke lust in others, but for now we are focusing on this passage and what it has to say...And Jesus’ focus is to place responsibility and blame on the person doing the lusting.

Applied to our culture and time, we know that both men and women are guilty of lust. And Jesus’ words apply to both of us equally...those who lust are guilty of sin.

Men and women experience lust in different ways, but both experience lust. For men lust most commonly takes the form of the physical. The female body has this weird power over a man’s ability to control his eyes. For the woman lust most commonly takes the form of romance and chivalry. They want the love relationship to be a certain way, and when it is not that caricature of romance and chivalry found in the movies or novels becomes something more desirable. A man will look at pornographic material and think, “Why can’t my wife be like that!” A woman will watch a romantic movie or read a romantic novel and think, “Why can’t my husband be like that!”

These are broad generalities, but they serve our purpose. When we are tempted to look for fulfillment outside of our marital relationship...we are lusting. When we are tempted to see our spouse as less by something be it pictures, movies, novels, whatever...we are being unfaithful to our marital vows according to Jesus’ words here in the Sermon on the Mount.

Lust is sin, and it is sin because it damages all those involved. At its core it is selfish, and seeks to use others to fulfill a passion or desire without them being a willing participant and often without them being present.

Lust also destroys the possibility of true love. It dehumanizes the person on the other side, and love is not possible if one person is not fully human in the relationship.

But more damaging is that it is an act of unfaithfulness to the primary relationship in our lives...our marriage. If Jesus’ call is to “love our neighbor as ourselves” how much more does that apply to the person who has joined us in marriage. And when one person begins to lust after someone other than their marital partner...they are breaking the trust of that relationship.

Jesus challenges us to find our ultimate fulfillment of the opposite sex in our spouse. His challenge is so strong that He uses an extreme example...

If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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 right hand causes you to stumble, 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 go into hell.

Is this hyperbole and overstatement on Jesus’ part? I think it is or else we would have a lot of blind and handless people walking around. But there is still an element of truth here.

While our hands and eyes are not the root location of sin...if we don’t have them we will not be able to do the sinful act. If we don’t have the means to fulfill certain temptations, then those temptations will go unfulfilled.

One of my seminary professors was talking about this passage in class, and wanted to make it very applicable to us. He had just read a statistic that indicated that pastors and Christians were as guilty of viewing Internet pornography as everyone else. He pointed out that if you have a problem with viewing Internet pornography you should do whatever it takes to get away from it. And if you take a sledgehammer and use it smash your computer into little bits...you will not be able to view Internet pornography any longer.

We accept this truth in other areas...for instance, we don’t send recovering alcoholics into bars when we do our acts of kindness in the community. Why? we understand that if we struggle with something, we make it easier on ourselves to avoid giving in to those temptations if we keep ourselves away from those things.

Jesus reminds us to do whatever it takes to get away from the things that create temptation. That movie, that website, that genre of book, that person, whatever it is that creates and nurtures the lustful thoughts in us...we should do whatever it takes to distance ourselves from it because it can have eternal consequences.

Jesus says, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Preservation of our future life with God may require depriving ourselves of something in this life. As Jesus’ followers, our actions have eternal significance. Our actions are building the person we will be in God’s Kingdom to come.

We go back to an earlier statement, “If Jesus’ call is to “love our neighbor as ourselves” how much more does that apply to the person who has joined us in marriage.” And our relationship with our marital partner has eternal significance. If we cannot be faithful to this person...how can we be faithful to God.

Lust is one way to break our vows of faithfulness to our spouse...and so is divorce.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

This week I was talking to a friend of mine about preaching this passage. He is a young guy, unmarried, and, has never been on a date. He said, “I have never actually been on a date before, but I don’t really want to either. It seems like everyone starts out ok, but then it ends in divorce. I don’t want that.”

In the city of Huber Heights, stats show that about 60% of the residents are married couples living in the same household...But in Brianna’s class at school she is one of only 3 kids in her class to still be living with both original parents.

So divorce is a real issue, and the church has not always understood or applied the Bible’s teaching on it. It is a difficult subject to talk about with so many painful issues involved. The challenge is speaking about it a way that sets up God’s expected standard, but also fully comprehends God’s grace for those involved.

Jesus words here are meant to be an encouragement to married people. They are meant to set a standard of what it means to live in a biblical marriage...but we are guilty, like the Pharisees were, of turning these words into a weapon against the divorced.

Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. It is not a Scarlet Letter to be worn for the rest of a person’s life. Those who divorce and are divorced can and should be forgiven. God’s grace and the teaching of the Bible indicates this, but God’s ideal is that marriage is a lifelong covenant between two people.

To help us understand this passage, let’s first talk about the culture setting Jesus is addressing. At issue here was that a woman often didn’t desire the divorce...it was forced upon her, and she had very few options. Remarriage; which usually didn’t happen because she was now tainted. Returning to her father’s home; which would only last for awhile. Poverty; because she was unable to support herself in this culture. Prostitution; because this was the only means of support.

Also at issue here is that the vows were made before God. These two individuals had become one flesh, and that couldn’t be undone. While they may have made concessions allowing a man to divorce His wife, God was certainly not going to accept their actions. He calls them back, once again, to understand that faithfulness in this most intimate of personal relationships is an example of faithfulness to God.

If they were unable to be faithful and to maintain relationship with this person...how could they ever maintain a relationship with God? And for those who follow Christ, the expectation is that every possible means to rescue the marriage must be taken. Paul even indicates in 1 Corinthians that should a person be married to an unbeliever...they should not seek divorce.

But the Gospel of Matthew and 1 Corinthians include exceptions because for many divorce is not their choice. I received a message from a friend last week that stated his wife was leaving and he had tried everything possible to keep her from leaving...including trying to work through her infidelity. But she was divorcing him no matter what he wanted. I think God applauds him, and I don’t believe my friend is guilty of sinning. God doesn’t punish us for things we cannot control.

When exceptions are made in this passage and others in the Bible, they are not meant to give us an out in our marriages...they are meant to exonerate those who are victims of unwanted divorce.

And even when divorce is done without an exception being available...and we go along with it...we are still not outside of God’s grace and forgiveness.

But God’s ideal...his expectation of those who seek after him...is that we do everything possible to make our marriages work. The allowance of exceptions and the offer of grace and forgiveness do not excuse us from taking Jesus’ point seriously...protecting the sanctity of our marriage is the primary place where our relationship with God works itself out. If can’t love our spouse...we can’t love God. If we can’t be faithful to our spouse...we can’t love God.

These are tough and challenging words. The challenge is not to interpret Jesus’ words as another form of legalism and once again punish those who are divorced and refuse them grace and forgiveness. If we do that...we fail to really grasp the point Jesus is trying to make. But we can also fail if we condone inappropriate divorce and reject God’s challenge to live faithfully to the covenant of marriage. The challenge is to see the standard God’s sets here and strive from here on out to live up to it.

Conclusion

The marital relationship is God’s ultimate example of what it means to be in a relationship with him. It is the relationship that should be the most intimate of any relationship we have...one that fosters openness, transparency, and honesty so we can be truly ourselves before the other person...naked and without shame as Adam and Eve were in the Garden.

The marriage covenant was the primary metaphor used in the Old Testament for our relationship with God. In Malachi 2, God says, “I hate divorce!” He says this not because he hates divorced people or refuses them grace, but because He hates the pain it causes to everyone involved...and He hates what it says about our relationship with Him.

This morning we sit here as a mixed bag of people. Some have been divorced. Some have not. Some have been divorced and are now remarried. What I don’t want you to hear is a message that condemns those who are divorced, but neither do I want you to hear one that condones it either.

In fact, I think lust and divorce are the examples Jesus uses to call us to deeper levels of faithfulness. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and there is no closer relationship on this earth than the marital relationship. We are challenged in this passage to do whatever it takes to be faithful...faithful to God and faithful to loving our neighbor as found in the most intimate of our earthly relationships.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent handling of sensitive material.
    I will probably use some of your thinking this Sunday. - Dr. Phillip Bush

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  2. Thank you! Let me know how it goes.

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  3. A very interesting commentary on this passage, as a divorced and remarried person who is now in the ministry I have found this very helpful as I will be speaking on this very passage later this week.

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