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Matthew 5:27-30 (ESV)
“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.”
In Jesus’ day, the leading teachers of Israel had been insisting that faithfulness to God required the mind of a lawyer who insists on doing exactly what has been written – word for word. Now, of course, obedience to God’s written commands is necessary, but they were missing the forest for the trees.
Those who were familiar with Jewish teaching likely thought: “As long as I don’t take someone’s life or sleep with someone’s wife, I’m obeying the sixth and seventh commandments.”
But Jesus was quick to point out that the Lord looks beyond external appearances. Therefore, in the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus taught that not just murder but unresolved anger in the heart leaves us open to judgement. The sin of adultery doesn’t begin with an act of infidelity, it begins with entertaining lustful thoughts.
Since sexual sin is so destructive, Jesus proceeded to use very strong language to emphasize how to deal with such thoughts. Now, to be clear, he was not advocating for self-mutilation. Instead, Jesus’ hyperbole about the eye and the hand was intended to get the disciples thinking about how important it is to deny oneself and the boundaries they may need in order to pursue purity which Jesus had described earlier in verse six. Jesus taught that without self-denial or boundaries, adultery can begin with a glance.
We live at a time when it’s considered healthy to push back against boundaries and to run after a kind of ‘freedom’ which allows a person to do whatever they desire. But true freedom, which begins with confessing that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ is the ability to do what God wants…for our good. Disciples, then, are empowered to say no to sin and to find value in personal boundaries which keep them from falling into destructive habits.
In other words, Godly freedom enables us to see boundaries lines as “pleasant” for the sake of living into the heritage of our Heavenly Father (see Ps. 16:6).
What boundaries has the Lord led you to establish as you do battle against lust? Are there television stations which you consider to be off-limits? Are there times of the day when you don’t browse online? Are there certain individuals with which you’ll never meet privately? Do you have a Bible verse, like Philippians 4:8, which you mediate upon when adulterous thoughts arise?
The point of asking such questions it to not be legalistic about purity. Jesus’ point about eyes and hands was not intended that way either. But if we want to pursue Jesus’ path towards purity, clear strategies which guard against lustful thoughts must be in place.
What are yours?
Lord, help us to flee from youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Amen!