Jesus continues his commentary on the law defeating self-righteousness, pointing to law-keepers who do not reflect the holiness of God, and calling us all to repentance.
When we first started the Sermon on the Mount, this was the passage where my mind immediately went. We will talk about marriage, adultery, and divorce; these are very personal topics that touch a raw nerve with many people. Quite honestly some modern-day Pharisees have used these and other passages against people with a less-than-ideal marriage experiences; and if that is their take-away from this sermon, they have flatly missed the point. Nevertheless it is as awkward for me to tell as it will be for you to hear, and even this week I was having my garden-of-gethsemane moment with God, asking him if there was any way for me to avoid this topic. But we are committed to teach the full council of God's Word, so hang on tight and we'll get through this together.
27 "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.
The SAT College entrance exam is infamous for its similes, and you could almost teach this passage in Matthew 5 simply by drawing a simile between the two. Anger is to murder as Lust is to Adultery. As we continue Jesus' commentary on the Law He is showing examples where self-righteous people claim to keep the Law, while harboring thoughts and attitudes that do not reflect the holiness of God.
Just as we were shown that harboring anger sows the kind hatred and bitterness that leads to violence, so we will see how lustful looking leads to adultery. This week we will touch on the marriage relationship, what it means to God, what it should mean us, and the dangers that threaten our homes.
While everyone is familiar with the law against adultery, how many really take seriously the warning in verse 28 that adultery begins in a lustful heart? We have a tragic illustration of this principle in 2 Samuel 11.
2 Samuel 11
2 Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king's house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. 3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" 4 Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.
Due to boredom or a sense of entitlement one of the great warrior kings in history goes for a stroll and becomes a voyeur, from the palace rooftop he sees Bathsheba bathing. She is beautiful so he allows himself to lust for her. And even after he discovers that she is his servant's wife, the lust is already settled in his mind, so he uses the power of his position to have sex with her. This sets in motion the judgment of God and a chain of violence that would not leave David's house for a generation. There is no sense in which David could have thought his lust was harmless, after all the law against coveting your neighbor's wife is one of the 10 commandments.
Now a Pharisee legalist might think it is OK to lust after single women but turn it off when you find out they are married, but the mind simply doesn't work that way. So the general rule against covetousness, reminds us to worship only God, and the obsession of coveting really challenges our affections, and what we truly worship.
Just this month David Loveless the lead pastor of Discovery Church, a 4 campus mega-church in Orlando Florida, resigned after admitting to a past affair (adultery). The article I read in the Christian Post also mentioned that two other Orlando area pastors of large churches had resigned in the last 6 months because of extra-marital affairs. It is clear to me that Satan can easily use lust and adultery to attack the Christian churches, and leave them leaderless, discouraged and confused. We need to guard our hearts and minds, and that begins with guarding our eyes. Do not think that lustful looking is a harmless fantasy, because the evidence tells a different story.
The most common form of lustful looking is Pornography. Internet statistics reveal that more people visit pornographic web sites than visit Amazon.com and Ebay combined. Estimates rank the porn industry as an 8 billion dollar business, with the same revenue as the bottled water industry. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary has written several articles on the dangers of pornography and one of them quoted researchers with the following:
"A man's brain is a sexual mosaic influenced by hormone levels in the womb and in puberty and molded by his psychological experience." Over time, exposure to pornography takes a man or boy deeper along "a one-way neurological superhighway where a man's mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed. This superhighway has countless on-ramps but very few off-ramps.
Ricky Chelette director of a sexual-sin recovery ministry in Arlington, says that when men come to him and say they don't have the same passion for their wives that they once did, the first thing he asks them is "have they been viewing pornography"? He said more often than not, pornography is the origin of sexual dissatisfaction in married men, comparing their wives to imaginary women with no other purpose than sexual pleasure. This sin is harmful to your marriage, and Jesus identifies as a sin (lust) leading to a worse sin (adultery).
31 "Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except "sexual immorality" causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
In the Movie "Juno" about a teenage girl who gets pregnant, she has a conversation with her Father and says "I need to know if two people can really be happy together forever?" If your daughter asked you this, would you answer hopefully? Or would your answer include a warning of the temptations, and sins that tear marriages apart?
Statistics show that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end divorce. Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 % of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 % have been divorced.
Jesus presents a challenging view of marriage that the world still rejects. His most comprehensive teaching on marriage is in Matthew 19 where the Pharisees ask "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" Jesus, replies in the strongest possible terms explaining God's ideal of marriage as heterosexual (man and wife), monogamous (no longer two but one flesh), and permanent (what God has joined, let not man separate).
If you have a reference Bible Matthew 5:31 will point you to one part of the Law in Deuteronomy 24. Now in fairness I cannot give you a comprehensive study of OT marriage laws in one week. From Genesis to Deuteronomy there are many verses and about 5 complete chapters dedicated to marriage; but we will concentrate on the ones Jesus mentioned.
Deuteronomy 24:1 "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house"
I see this passage as a newlywed law, to protect a man from a wedding night surprise. The word translated uncleanness means nakedness, but with the connotation of something unprotected or unguarded. The idea is clear that a man should not be deceived by a woman with a longer sexual history than he imagined.
We see this demonstrated in the marriage of Mary and Joseph when she was found with child before they had been intimate. Before the Angel spoke to Joseph his intent was to "put away" Mary as the law allowed. She would not be accused of adultery because she and Joseph had not yet been united as "one flesh", but she could have been guilty of sexual uncleanness; except her conception was not by any man. Joseph was called a "just man" for his understanding of the law, and his willingness to show grace by handling the divorce in private.
Among the Jews, there were two schools of interpretation regarding the Mosaic teaching on divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1): the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel. The school of Shammai followed a strict reading of this passage, as I have explained it. Hillel's school, on the other hand, was liberal in the extreme. They taught that a man could divorce his wife for almost anything he found displeasing in her; a woman had no rights at all.
A woman could not divorce a man, so it's easy for this law to become oppressive to women unless it is limited in its usage. And this unlimited divorce taught by Hillel, is what Jesus opposes in Matthew 5 & 19. A woman's highest standing would be to marry an honorable man a raise good children in a loving home. Unlimited divorce means that could be taken from her at any time for any reason; that is not God's ideal of marriage.
The "sexual immorality" in Matthew 5:32 is the Greek word "pornea", or sexual uncleanness, which is perfectly consistent with Deuteronomy 24:1 being read as a newlywed law. Can a man really be a law-keeper if he takes a wife in his youth, only to replace her with a trophy-wife when they are older? A Hillel Pharisee would say yes, but this is a reading of the law that does not reflect the holiness of God. Jesus is calling us to a higher standard. Remember in creation woman, was made of flesh taken out of man. In Biblical marriage husband and wife are reunited as one flesh. This concept permeates the OT and our civil laws today. Any vow or promise made by the wife was binding against her husband. Even today if one spouse borrows money, or cheats on their taxes the money owed is equally binding against husband and wife.
Jesus fulfills the law of marriage as the bridegroom who gave himself for his bride, the church. And he has promised that those who come to him in faith will never be "put away", or cast out. If the ideas of lustful-looking or Biblical marriage are challenging to you; that is their purpose, Jesus is calling us to repent. If your marriage experience is less-than-ideal, the take-away for all of us is that I need Jesus in my marriage. Our standard of righteousness is the holiness of God, and He has chosen marriage to teach us about his own grace, in choosing and loving us "for better or worse". What a beautiful example to follow, and a challenging standard to keep. God, give us the grace to practice marriage the way Jesus taught.