Tag Archives: lust

Of Right Eyes and Right Hands

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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. Matthew 5:27-30

In the passage cited above, our context is the opening chapter of what is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.  Here, our Lord is instructing His disciples (the Twelve; see verse 1) by correcting the faulty teaching of the Jewish religious leaders concerning the law.  To this, He adds several points of interpretation and application of the Law of God.  It’s important to understand that Jesus is neither changing the law, nor is He reinterpreting it, as some have asserted.  He is, however, restating the law and providing much needed clarification to the original meaning and intentions behind the law as opposed to the erroneous teachings of the law by the Scribes and Pharisees.  Their focus on external (Matt. 23:26) deeds had created a culture of legalism.  Jesus’ exposition exposes these errors and provides for us a clear understanding of how the law is to be applied.  Additionally, we must note that in His exposition on the law, our Lord is not abolishing the Law, rather He fulfills and upholds (see vs. 5:17-20).

His first point of explanation concerns murder and while the physical act is certainly in view (6th Commandment), the spirit of the law indicates that anger in the heart towards a brother is worthy of equal judgment in the eyes of God.  Despite so many thinking that Christ has added or reinterpreted the law, His explanation is precisely what the law teaches.  The 10th Commandment, Exodus 20:17, states, “You shall not covet….”  One cannot covet by external actions; instead this is an act purely motivated by sinful desires of the heart and should’ve clued the religious leaders to the “heart” of the law.

Moving to the next section of the sermon, we arrive at our passage cited above, where our Lord turns His attention towards adultery, with a specific application of lust.  Here we see the 7th Commandment in view, as Jesus applies it directly to the heart and the intentions of men.  Just as the act of physical adultery is worthy of punishment in the eyes of God for violating His law, so too is adultery of the heart, or lustful intentions of the heart.  The error of the Jewish religious leaders was to strictly interpret this commandment to apply only to the married (adultery) and then only to the physical act.  In viewing this in such a strict manner, it actually created a liberal application and opened the avenue for unbridled fornication.

Within the same passage, we have what might be summarized as The Principle of Elimination.  It’s an extreme illustration of how to deal with those members that offend, presumably as it relates to lust (remember the context).  The first offending member is the right eye.  With the eye, we are told that should it offend, or lead the rest of the body into sin, eliminate it by plucking it out.  Clearly this is meant to imply that the eye is the window or the avenue through which objects of lust enter.  By plucking it out, the avenue for this access is eliminated.

Next, the right hand.  Should it offend, or act out in sin, eliminate it by cutting it off.  The implication here may be broad, but certainly it includes any physical manifestation of lustful intentions that the hand (or actions) might bring about.  In order to avoid this, Jesus says the offending member should be cut off.  Each instance of elimination is summarized with the following statement, “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”  In summary, should gangrene (sin) infect the hand, cut it off before it spreads to the rest of the body.

While it’s important to understand that Jesus isn’t instructing his disciples, or by extension those who read His words today, to run home and begin plucking out their eyes and cutting off their hands, we needn’t dismiss the seriousness and extremeness of this language.  Given our Lord’s previous words, that both murder and adultery are matters of the heart and not just physical actions, we know restraint should be exercised before we go plucking eyes and sawing off hands.  This was the error of Jews, Origen, and many of those who enlisted in the ranks of the monastery, each of whom engaged in some form of self-flagellation.

However, if we consider that Jesus’s focus is on the heart, what do we make of this figurative language that focuses on the physical body, i.e. offending members?

First, we shouldn’t neuter the passage of its shocking implications.  Jesus is being extreme for the purpose of saving our souls at the expense of our bodies, that point should not be missed.  Aside from actually maiming our bodies, which would still leave an active and sinful heart, I do think that there is a principle of elimination at work here, as we previously mentioned.  This principle states that if something is causing us to sin, we should radically eliminate it, stopping short of physical harm to ourselves or others.  Yes, this still leaves a heart whose desires need changed, but it also removes opportunities to feed the flesh and opportunities to act out desires of the flesh.

In Romans 13:14 we read, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  This idea of provision here refers to plans, accommodations, etc.  It is these avenues or opportunities for sin that I’m suggesting our Lord has in mind for us to eliminate, i.e. to cut off.  Meanwhile there is work to be done, heart work, and that work is not completed by removing temptations or opportunities to sin from our lives.  That work is completed by the ongoing sanctification of the Holy Spirit to purify the heart, change desires, and set a course of passionate pursuit for the Almighty God.

It is with Him that we must plead for our hearts to change; that the Lord would, “create in us a clean heart” Psalm 51:10; that He would continue to work in us, “both to will and to work and to do His good pleasure” Philippians 2:13; that “He who began a good would bring it to completion” Philippians 1:6.

What avenues in your life need radically eliminated?  This may look different for each person, but if there are specific areas that are causing you to sin or be tempted to sin, don’t wait.  Cut. them. off.

Then seek the Lord pleading for Him to continue to purify and cleanse your heart of idols.

Soli Deo Gloria

Finding God’s Will in the New Year

 

Welcome to 2018.  Typically the New Year is filled with resolutions like getting fit, saving more, eating better, being kinder, being more productive and other self-improvement plans.  Without settling for the same old resolutions, likely to fail by February anyway, why not allow one of the oft-asked questions, namely what is God’s Will for me, to guide your New Year.

Despite so many of us wondering long and hard about this question, the Scriptures are not silent on the matter, in fact on some occasions they answer this question explicitly.  One such example may be found in 1 Thessalonians, where the Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes to the young church at Thessalonica.  In chapter 4 of his letter, he begins his conclusion with the following words

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

This plea, from the Apostle for the Thessalonians, is a plea toward holiness founded on the “instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” with the goal of pleasing God (yes, you read that right!).  This statement in and of itself would’ve been enough of an exhortation, yet in the next six verses he unpacks this and unloads upon them a tremendous duty wrapped around a declaration of God’s will for their life.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There it is.  God’s will for not only the lives of the Thessalonians, but for us as well, is sanctification or more simply put holiness.

The translation and punctuation from the ESV cited above aides our interpretation by unfolding what exactly is meant by the word sanctification.  Specifically, we read of the following modifying statements

  1. That you abstain from sexual immorality.
  2. That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor
  3. That no one wrong his brother in this matter

Without any guesswork or longing to see signs for God to show us what His will is for our lives, here we have in straightforward, plain language that God’s will for the life of the believer is holiness. This begins with abstaining from sexual immorality (negative) and exercising bodily self control (positive), specifically as it pertains to lusts, and then moves outward from personal to community to avoid sinning against each other in this matter.  In other words, not committing sexual immorality with each other, nor lusting after each other.

Holiness is a serious duty of each believer, a life-long pursuit of being Christlike.  One of, if not the chief, hindrance to this is sexual immorality.  With this my  own exhortation, I begin with a self-examination, that my heart and hands would be clean.  But let me then also encourage you to desire holiness and sexual purity, particularly in this age of rapid, cultural descent into sexual immorality.  Let us begin this New Year seeking ways to be more obedient to God’s will in this matter.

“56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Jonathan Edwards – Resolution #56

‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

 

Colossians 3:1-6 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For  you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”

The Apostle Paul continuing his exhortation to the Church at Colossae moves from admonishing the believers on the dangers of the Gnostics beliefs to instructing them on how to live as new creations in Christ.  After reminding them of their salvation in Christ, Paul urges the Christians to “put to death therefore what is earthly.”  Similarly in Romans, Paul writes, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13  Paul’s message here is the same to both churches, realize that you have been united with Christ in His death and have been raised in Him as a new creation, so start acting like one.  Here in Colossians however, Paul details some of the things which not only the Colossians need to “put to death” but also Christians today.  On the surface, this list looks like a general inventory of fleshly sins, but digging deeper we begin to see that there is a method to not only the order of Paul’s list, but significance with each one.

Paul begins his discourse with instruction to put to death or mortify, sexual immorality, or as the King James Version states, fornication, from the Greek word pornea, meaning harlotry or adultery.  The idea that Paul is conveying here is that this is an action, i.e. the act of sexual immorality.  A working definition of this might be, any forbidden sexual act.  What is forbidden you might ask?  Everything that is outside the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.  Jesus addresses the very nature of this sin in Matthew 5:27-28, “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.”  Jesus qualifies adultery by saying it doesn’t even have to be the physical act, but the mere thought of it is sin.  This is where Paul takes the next point on his list, impurity.  Impurity here is unclean or filthy thoughts and they come directly from the heart.  In Mark 7:21-23 Jesus states, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”  Impurity gives way to immorality, but itself is fueled by passion, Paul’s next point.  The King James Version uses the phrase “inordinate affection” from the Greek word pathos.  Passion is that internal burning or longing that each of us have for an object of affection.

The progression of Paul’s list has migrated from actions that the body commits externally, to internal thoughts and now to heated passions which flow forth from our own evil desires.  James 1:14-15 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”  Desires flow forth from the heart and the evil desires of our old sinful nature conceive with the temptations of the world giving birth to sin.  But Paul’s list does not stop here.  He has deeper still to go in his admonishment to mortify deeds of the flesh.  Paul cuts straight to the root of desire, namely covetousness.  This is the source of the previous four sins which the Apostle describes.  Covetousness is desiring what is forbidden and at its root is idolatry.  It sets each of us up to be mini-gods, worshipping ourselves, thinking that we know what is best or what we need and it is the oldest, deepest, evil sin.  It is the same sin that sprung forth in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve desired to be like God and discern the knowledge of good and evil, so from the tree they ate.  Satan desired to be like God and let his covetousness lead to a failed coup resulting in his eternal damnation.  It was no different for the Church at Colossae and it’s no different for us today.  The axe must be laid at the root of covetousness in order to put to death the earthly, fleshly deeds.

The Apostle Paul’s message is powerful and straightforward and God’s Words through His inspired author speaks to us on so many different levels.  Our sinful desires are like little streetcars and covetousness is the engine that drives them.  They are fueled by our passions and travel on the road of impurity until they reach an immoral destination.  Search your hearts Christian and with the power of the Holy Spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh at the root level.  Do not succumb to your own desires, but let God give you desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4), for it is only He who knows how to give what is good and perfect.

 

*Image credit: www.threadcity.com