The Pharisees consider themselves blameless before the law because they have refrained from physically committing adultery. But Jesus says righteousness requires more. It requires inward submission to the will of God and accepting the boundaries He has placed on your life, including your sexuality.
Matthew 5:17-20 is the introduction to the second major section of this sermon. Jesus wants his disciples to avoid the kind of law keeping that the Pharisees practice: holding to the letter of the law while avoiding the genuine demands of the law. He gives examples to explain how our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” – Matthew 5:27-30
- Jesus is speaking to a culture where virtually everyone of adult age was married.
- The Old Testament laws concerning adultery tend to focus on the man’s responsibility.
- Many cultures throughout history have had double standards: It is never right for a wife to sleep with someone other than her husband, because she might compromise the blood line. But in those same cultures, a husband can have a mistress or sleep with prostitutes without fear of social reprisal, because he cannot harm the bloodline.
- Jesus speaks to the kind of self-righteousness a man could gain from having never legally committed the act of adultery.
- By saying everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart, Jesus is not saying anything new. See Exodus 20:17; Romans 7:7-12.
What is lustful intent?
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:17
- To covet or to lust after something is to cling in my mind to that which God has forbidden me. In the case of lust, I pursue a relationship God has not given to me in my mind. I resent the boundaries God has placed in my life and inside refuse to submit to them.
- Looking at woman with lustful intent is to commit in our hearts the adultery that God has forbidden with the real person.
- Jesus is saying, you Pharisees consider yourselves righteous because you have refrained from committing the act of adultery. But righteousness requires more than outward obedience. Righteousness requires an inward submission to the will of God.
- Internally rejecting God’s boundaries and pursuing a fantasy relationship that God has forbidden is just as wrong.
29“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell”. – Matthew 5:29-30 NASB
- Something that causes me to stumble causes me to turn away from God and fall head long to my peril. In this context, the result of stumbling is going to hell.
- Hell is the place of judgment and condemnation. Hell is the outcome of rejecting God.
- Jesus is not speaking literally here. He is using hyperbole to make a point.
- In this life, my eye and my hand are very precious. But if the choice is losing my hand or losing my whole body, it’s better to lose a hand.
- In the same way, it is better to submit to God’s plan for me in this life than to forfeit my soul in eternity. What is forgoing some sexual gratification now compared to eternal judgment?
- Jesus is saying if those sexual desires are drawing you away from God, then they are no longer precious. They are your enemy. What good will it do you to have what you want now if it leads to your eternal destruction in the end? Just like it is better to lose a hand or an eye, it is better to do without illicit sexual encounters now than to fall headlong into God’s wrath.
- In that sense, your righteousness has to surpass the Pharisees. They have taught you that you are righteous if you refrain from committing the act of adultery. But the issue goes much deeper. You are righteous if you are truly content with the boundaries God has put on your sexuality, not just in your outward actions, but also in your mind.
When the Pharisees talk about what it means to be a righteous person, you have heard them say that you shall not commit the act of adultery. They say this as if righteousness consists only of not legally or physically committing adultery. But I’m telling you that if you’ve imagined committing adultery with another man’s wife and resent the sexual boundaries God has placed on you, then you are an adulterer. If you understand what I’m saying, be more concerned with submitting to God’s will for you than with seeking sexual gratification outside of God’s will. It is better follow God even if it means going through this life without something precious, then to face eternal destruction.
- Every believer still seriously struggles with win. The issue is not: how perfectly obedient can you be? The issue is: will you respond to the truth of the gospel?
- At some level you have to agree, God is right, you are wrong and you have to want to change.
- See Titus 3:3-7. Those who stand to inherit eternal life have not only been forgiven, they have also been reborn and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
- If you’re pursuing a lifestyle of sexual immorality and you don’t care what God thinks about it, that’s a red flag that you have stumbled and sexuality is drawing you away from God. These verses should be a wake-up call.
- If you’ve failed in your sexuality, genuinely repented and are actively seeking to follow God, then be comforted. The blood of Jesus covers your sins and the Holy Spirit is working to change you.