6. "The Look"

Matthew 5:27–32

After Jesus tells His readers that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, he discusses six laws or traditions to help them develop a deeper understanding of what righteousness actually is. During our recent "Beyond Anger Management" study, we looked at the first of these six laws: murder.
In today's lesson, Jesus deals with adultery. Both of these are about sin and its consequences in our relationships.



"The Look"

Adultery

Matthew 5:27–30 [Click to open, re-click to close, this and all other links.]
27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, 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. 30And if your right 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 go into hell."

Jesus turns to the example of adultery. As with previous sections, he begins by reminding them of what they already know. This is the seventh of Ten Commandments, very familiar to Jesus’ audience. This time, though, the root of adultery is not with the spoken word but the thought behind it. Jesus is asking his audience to consider that unfaithfulness begins not in the actual act of adultery, but when one looks lustfully at a woman.

Right relationships in God’s kingdom begin with respect and honor. Relationships that don’t start there can easily erode into sinful and broken ones.

We are not truly righteous towards another person if in our thoughts we view them as an object — even if our treatment of them seems “okay.” We are merely hypocrites — one way on the inside and another on the outside. There is no purity, no integrity. This deep corruption and confusion is just what Jesus came to take care of. Nothing less.

To long for righteousness is to hate all evil, even that which no one else knows about but ourselves. When we’re moving towards God, we long for the time when we can freely allow our words and our actions to flow out naturally from our hearts, when we become transparent. It's to hope for the day when there's no slippage between what's inside of us and what comes out of us.

Jesus goes on to tell his listeners what they should do if some part of their body causes them to sin. His answer is very simple and straightforward. 29"If your right eye causes you to sin, 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. 30And if your right 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 go into hell."

And what is the reason he gives for such radical behavior? It's better, Jesus tells his listeners, to love being righteous than to hold on to some old thought patterns, indulgences, and manipulations that we've come to think of as being a part of who we are. We're to cut out those things that are keeping us from experiencing the full life of Christ. Jesus’ intention for us, i.e., God’s eternal purpose for us, is that we be truly and completely holy; whole, like him. Who'd want to cling to some destructive habit or indulgence and risk losing life itself?

C. S. Lewis thought a great deal about this God who would love us to complete perfection. Here is what he said in his book, Mere Christianity: "When he said, ‘Be perfect,’ he meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is so much harder. In fact, it's impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; imagine how difficult it would be for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We're like eggs, at present. We cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. . . ."

Trying to hold onto some place of sin in our lives is like trying to fly while remaining an egg. It's impossible. God’s love will win out in the end. His desire is for us to fly and so all the sickness and twistedness must go. Can we trust him to do this work in us? We had better!

Thank God that he's more interested in our perfection than we often are. May he continue to give us the grace to participate fully in his work, rather than to resist it.

Divorce

Matthew 5:31–32 [Click to open, re-click to close, this and all other links.]
31"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

The adultery section and this divorce section are both addressing men and their understanding of and relationship to women, in general, and their wives, in particular. In both sections Jesus deals with adultery. voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse

God speaks against adultery in Commandment 6. It amounts to sexual unfaithfulness in marriage. God intended for marriage to be a sign of fidelity; ultimately of his fidelity to us. The deepest truth is that God will never be unfaithful to us, will never leave, never divorce us.

By Jesus’ day, men were using divorce as a way to become interested in and sexually involved with a woman other than their wife while trying to maintain that they were righteous because they were not committing adultery. These men would divorce their wives in order to marry their "new interest." Since divorce was allowed, they could convince themselves that this was all perfectly lawful. They did nothing to change their status before God. In fact, they “forgot” God’s original intent for marriage and the reasons that he allowed for divorce.

Of course, women could also seek a divorce or attempt to get her husband to divorce her in the hopes of marrying another. So whether a woman or a man divorced in order to get remarried to another, this was not righteousness, but unfaithfulness. And this is what Jesus saw going on around him in "the name of righteousness."

Really counting on God would first mean hoping and trusting in him to see if even a broken relationship might be remade and transformed. Seeking reconciliation comes as a result of faithfulness that comes out of trusting in God's work.

What God wants for us is a life in which his blessing of faithfulness is gloriously reflected in our lives, especially when he grants us marriage. That's what we were created for: truly right relationships with God and with each other. Essentially, it's the gift of righteousness that comes from our faithful God.

A Few Practical Questions

Hearty brothers: The scribes and Pharisees calculated that the Law contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions. They were better at arithmetic than obedience. So they tried to make the Law's demands less demanding and the Law's permissions more permissive.

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seeks to reverse this tendency. He came to deepen, not destroy, the Law's demands.

  1. In what situation(s) might you need to "gouge out your eye" or "cut off one of your hands"?
  2. Did Jesus teach anything more about adultery and divorce than what had already existed in the Law?
  3. Can you "look without lusting"? Do you?
  4. In what ways might divorce reveal the hardness of our hearts?

As Pastor Ortberg concludes in this session's video, "The most tender need of the human heart, no matter how big, tough, or smart a person might be, is the need for love that no human body, no human person, no mere nerve endings can provide. That is why it is so important that we put Jesus' teachings about sexuality in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with good news. Blessed. Blessed. Blessed."

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