Biblical Perspectives Magazine, Volume 24, Number 30, July 17 to July 23, 2022


Matthew 5:27-32

By David Strain

April 12, 2015
(Lesson 1 on "Money" not transcribed)

Beginning last Sunday evening and running over the course of five Sundays as Gary said earlier, we are looking at some of the big barriers to faith in Jesus Christ in our culture and our context. Last time we thought about money and this week we're going to think about sex and sexuality. And you'll understand that actually I picked these five subjects mainly as an insurance policy. I figured if I don't get fired by the end of it, you're never, never going to get rid of me! So tonight we're thinking about sex and sexuality. To help direct our thinking, I want to turn to two places in the Gospels where Jesus will challenge some of our assumptions about the subject. So if you'll look in the pockets in the pews in front of you, you'll see copies of the Bible. If you would take one and turn in it to page 810, page 810, toward the top right-hand column on page 810 you'll see verse 27 of Matthew chapter 5 and we're going to read through verse 30. Before we read, it is our usual pattern to pray and ask for God to help us as we study His Word. So would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?

Father, we pray now that as Your Word is opened before us You would also come and open our hearts to its message. Work please, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to show us ourselves in the text as we really are - sinful, guilty, confused, lost - and to show us Jesus in the text, the only one who can forgive and cleanse and find us. And then would You bring us to Him to meet Him and know Him and trust Him for ourselves? For we ask it in Jesus' name, amen.

Matthew chapter 5 from verse 27. Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If 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. And 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."

Amen. You will find it helpful to keep your copy of the Scriptures open at that passage so that you can follow as we study along together and then later in the sermon we'll turn to another text as we continue to think about this subject.

Objections to the Gospel

One of the most persistent objections to the Christian Gospel in these days is that its sexual ethics are repressive and out of date and ultimately harmful to human flourishing. In a 1990 postscript to his influential 1966 novel, The Harrad Experiment, Robert Rimmer asks this question - "Can we lift ourselves by the bootstraps and create a new kind of society where human sexuality and the total wonder of the human body and the human mind become the new religion, a humanistic religion without the necessity of a God, because you and I and the billions who could interact caringly with one another are the only God we need. I think we can," he says. So here is the idea of sex as salvation. And to limit it, to set boundaries on it, would therefore be to shatter the true path to human redemption and flourishing. "So long as I'm happy and I'm not hurting anyone, well any rule that tells me I can't enjoy it is oppressive and inhibiting and has simply got to be wrong. You're hurting me by asking me to repress something that is essential to my identity. I could never be a Christian on those terms," so the argument today typically runs.

The Sexual Ethic of Christ

On the other hand, in stark contrast to that prevailing cultural attitude, there is the ethic of Jesus Christ. We read about it just a moment ago in Matthew 5:27-30 - no less radical but completely different, even contradictory to the prevailing ethic of our society. In Matthew 5, Jesus is giving the famous Sermon on the Mount and He is explaining the message of various aspects of God's moral law. "You shall not commit adultery," the subject of this portion of Scripture, is the seventh of the Ten Commandments. While the instinct of our culture is to minimize and limit sexual rules and taboos, Jesus goes in the opposite direction altogether, doesn't He? Look at the passage, Matthew 5:27-30. He wants us to see that the commandment is actually about more than physical adultery. You see that in verse 28. "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." In an age where, as one Gallup Poll I read reports that only 47% of people believe that adultery is always wrong. Let that sink in for a minute. More than half the population believes there are times when adultery is perfectly okay. In an age where that's normal, Jesus' teaching here actually really is rather a shock, isn't it?

Sexuality and Personhood

He's saying the look, the intent, and the heart are the instruments of sexual transgression. He traces our problem in this whole area of sexuality to the depths of who we are, not just to our behaviors but right into the roots of our personhood. The mind, the inner life - that, for Jesus, is where sex impacts us as human beings. He is teaching us that the commandment dealing with adultery, like all the other commandments, is more than simply a prohibition of marital infidelity. It is the heading and the title for an entire species of actions and attitudes that are offensive to God. The reach of the commandment extends into the hidden chambers of the mind and the imagination and the soul. Now when the common objection to Christianity is that it represses sexual freedom, often all that people understand is that Christian ethics addresses behavior, and that's bad enough for many. What Jesus is showing us here, however, is that the conflict between the majority report in our culture and the Bible is far more absolute than most people realize. Jesus' ethic deals with our deepest selves, do you see? It reaches all the way down into who we are essentially, not just with our behavior but with our hearts. He is telling us in fact that we sin because we are sinners, at root, not simply that we are sinners because we happen occasionally to commit sins.

And take a look at verses 29 and 30. Just how radical is Jesus' ethic really? Verses 29 and 30. "If 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. And 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." If you think that Christian sexual ethics is only concerned with behaviors and actions on the surface, well then you would probably be right to conclude that Jesus' statement here constitutes a massive overreaction on Jesus' part. It talks about tracking down the root of our sin and tearing it out and cutting it off lest hell itself overtake us. Cut off the hand; tear out the eye if that is the cause of sin. That seems a little over the top, don't you think? No wonder Christians are so uptight, right?

But actually when you see that in Jesus' worldview sin is the fruit of being a sinner, intrinsically, that sin arises out of our fundamental orientation and inclinations and natures, His radical counsel here actually begins to make sense. The metaphor that He's using (and it is a metaphor) of the eye and the hand being torn out or cut off, is simply a way to say to us that the cause of our sin is bound up with ourselves essentially, not incidentally, but is fundamentally bound up with who we are. It doesn't happen to us like - it's not an infection like a flu virus that you might catch and with a little medicinal help you will soon get over it. No, Jesus is teaching us sin is more like a glitch in our programming that pervades every operation and every system and distorts and disorders everything. Our sin comes from our natures and dramatic, drastic action must be taken to deal with it at its source.

Colliding Perspectives

So now I hope you can see there are two approaches, two trajectories on this whole subject of sex and sexuality that are on a direct collision course. There really is no way to harmonize them or reconcile them. It is clear in light of Jesus' teaching that you can't follow Him and sleep around. Right? You can't follow Jesus and live a gay lifestyle. You can't follow Jesus and commit adultery. To watch Fifty Shades of Grey on Saturday night and then sing hymns with joy in your heart Sunday morning is an utterly, utterly incompatible position, actually from both the world's point of view and from Jesus' point of view. These two perspectives on sex and sexuality are like oil and water. They cannot be made to fit together.

Well then why should you follow Jesus? That's why we're here, right? I'm here trying to persuade you to follow Jesus but instead of making your objections all sort of dissolve and go away, you see what I've done? If you're not a Christian it may be I've just made your objections a whole lot worse. I've shown you that not only do Christians maintain an ethic that prohibits all sexual activity outside of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage, more than that I've shown you that that very prohibition extends all the way to our thoughts and our attitudes and our outlook and our hearts as well. It deals with what we look at, what we lust after; it tackles our hearts. So if you find Christian sexual ethics repressive when you thought they only dealt with the act of sex, I can only imagine what you think of them now that they deal with your deepest self.

So why should you follow a Jesus like this? Well I'm glad you asked. I want you to turn with me to the other passage I mentioned. Take your Bibles and flip forward to page 864; page 864. Luke chapter 7 verses 36 to 50 on page 864. We won't read it all, but you'll see if you look at it that Jesus is having dinner at the home of Simon. We're told in verse 36 that he is a Pharisee, which makes him an ultra-conservative. He is a moral hardliner. That's important to know. And just as they're all getting down to the meal verse 37, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that Jesus was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, wipe them with her hair, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Simon, of course is outraged. Most likely this woman was a local prostitute and Simon is just stunned at her audacity and at Jesus' welcome of her actions.

Jesus: A Problem for Libertines and Moralists

And here's the thing that I want you to see at this point in the story. If Jesus has been problematic for you because of what you might consider His repressive sexual ethics, it turns out He's every bit as big of a problem for Simon the religious hardliner too. Isn't that perplexing? If Jesus makes you mad because He's too narrow when it comes to sex He makes the ultra-conservative before us in this story every bit as mad. Well what's going on? The answer has to do with what Jesus offers, that neither sexual libertarianism nor moralistic religion can ever, ever supply. Look at the story that Jesus tells Simon as He goes on to try and explain what is happening with this woman in verses 41 and 42. There are two debtors, one owing five hundred denarii; the other only fifty. And they're both forgiven their debts. Neither can pay and their lender forgives their debts. "Which one," Jesus asks, "will love their benefactor more?" "Obviously," Simon says, "the one whose debt was the greatest will love the most." Well in the same way, verses 44 through 46, the response of Simon to Jesus and the response of this woman to Jesus reveal which has been forgiven. Simon's response to Jesus was minimal, actually bordering on the rude and the insulting according to the conventions of hospitality in those days. But this prostitute, she has showered expressions of love on Jesus, just pouring from her heart since He first arrived.

And what can account for that? Why does she act like this? Verses 47 and 48, "I tell you," Jesus says, "her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much." Her love here displays and reveals the fact that she has been forgiven dramatically, wonderfully. "But he who is forgiven little loves little." And Simon, it seems, does not love Jesus at all. And so he says to her by way of open declaration of a reality already possessed in her life, "Your sins are forgiven." This woman somewhere, somehow along the way has heard Jesus' message. Perhaps she's been a face in the crowd while Jesus has been preaching. However it has happened, she has come to trust Christ for herself, believe in Him, follow Him, and as she did something has happened to her heart. She was changed. She was washed clean. She was forgiven. Jesus has made her a new person. So when she found out where Jesus was that night, she knew what she had to do. She couldn't help herself. She bursts in on Simon and the dinner party and pours out her love and gratitude.

Now just pause there. Can you see any hint of repression and shame caused by Jesus' strict sexual ethic in her actions as she walks into Simon's house here so audaciously? If anyone should feel the bite of Jesus teaching on sex and sexuality, surely it would be this woman, right? But look at the story. The truth is, now that she has trusted herself wholly to Jesus Christ she has become utterly self-forgetful. Shame is gone; joy has come. So here's the scene. Do you see it? The religious guy is angry and the prostitute is full of joy in the presence of Jesus Christ and the only thing that makes sense of that actually is Jesus' teaching, radical teaching about adultery that we looked at earlier from Matthew chapter 5. You see, Simon has a superficial view of sin. He thinks it's only a matter of behavior, that a person therefore is perfectly capable of adequate behavior modification in order to obtain and merit the favor of God. "Just do the right thing and God will accept you by consequence and in virtue of your own merits." That's what the Pharisees like Simon believed and that's why he's so outraged at all that's happening in front of him.

The Prostitute Was A Better Theologian

But this prostitute on the other hand, she's a much better theologian than Simon. She understands all too well that sin arises out of our hearts and as Jesus said, "Whatever is the cause of sin needs to be removed. A spiritual heart transplant is our only hope. She knows her deepest need isn't a matter merely of behavior modification. That's not nearly radical enough. "If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off." But before ever we get to eyes or hands we really must first deal with hearts. She needs a spiritual heart transplant and that's not something this poor woman can do anything about for herself and she knows it. And so she clung to Jesus instead and He transformed her completely.

The Deepest Need of the Heart

Why should you follow this Jesus with His radical sexual ethic that calls us to obedience and purity and self-denial? Well you should follow Him because only He can deal with the deepest need of your heart. Only He can. Giving unbridled license to the free expression of our sexuality is not the path to fulfillment, whatever our culture may tell you. As many have discovered to their deep hurt it is in fact the highway to slavery and shame. But come like this woman here in Simon's home to trust in Christ, to submit to Christ, turn from life your way to life Jesus' way and you will find that the life He will give you is a clean life, a forgiven life, a life of self-forgetfulness and joy in place of shame.

It may be that as you've listened you find you'd like to talk to someone. Maybe you have some questions. Maybe you need some counsel. I would love to talk with you later. Let me encourage you to use the tear-off panel in the bulletin or shoot us a text. The instructions are all there. You can leave them in the baskets as you exit the building. Come talk to me after the service. Maybe you are here tonight and you know something of the guilt and the pollution of sexual sin yourself. You know you need a spiritual heart transplant. I do hope you'll let the woman who walked into Simon's home that night show you the way. You need to come to Jesus Christ, now, now, quietly and humbly and put all your trust in Him. You don't need anything else. You need no other qualifications except an awareness of how much you need Him. You don't even need to say a word; you simply need to cling to Him, surrender to Him, and He will forgive you and make you clean.

Shall we pray together?

Our Father, we praise You that Jesus is a perfect Savior for us. Would You, therefore, rescue us from being like Simon here - angry and self-righteous with such a shallow view of sin and a wrong understanding of the grounds upon which we may win acceptance with God. Instead, help us to see that there's not one of us better than the woman who came and bent her knee before Christ that night in Simon's home. That every one of us, whatever our particular life pattern and story may be, every one of us needs a spiritual heart transplant. Every one of us needs a new start. Every one of us needs forgiveness. And so here we are, Lord, in need of mercy. Would You come and deal with us and bring us to Christ to trust in Him for ourselves? For we do ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

©2013 First Presbyterian Church.

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