Jesus tackles some difficult subjects in the Sermon on the Mount. This week’s blog highlights a section that is no exception. In fact, I prayed pretty hard on how to write this in the most palatable way possible as to not step on any toes. But I believe Jesus preached this sermon in the order he did so that we remember what he said in just a few verses earlier: therefore, anyone who sets aside the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but anyone who practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19) Armed with that, let’s dive deep into God’s heart for us.
You have heard that it was said, “you shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you, anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
I think we are all prone to individual sins. Mine is lust. Needless to say, I never liked this passage of scripture much. “What harm is there in a lingering glance?” “I’m just doing a little window shopping!” “It’s not hurting anyone to just, you know, think about it.” All these things I justified to myself. But Jesus made it clear that simple, little lust equates to adultery itself.
I don’t believe a passing glance, recognizing that another person is attractive, is a sin. When we dwell on that recognition, it becomes a problem. As with each section in the Sermon, Jesus is calling his disciples to a higher level of living. If we want life in abundance, as God has it (the greek word zoe used in John 10:10), we have to aim for the standard Jesus, God himself, set. “You shall not commit adultery” is the seventh commandment given to the Israelites. Jesus in these verses is calling us to a higher righteousness than the external act of adultery for the sake of fulfilling this commandment. What our hearts dwell on, we will eventually manifest in the physical realm.
If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and thr oi w it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
This passage captures the essence of the Sermon on the Mount: we need a radical separation from sin.
In the context of adultry, no happily married man or woman suddenly thought to themselves, “hmmm, seems like a good day to cheat on my spouse!” No! It was a slow fade. A lingering glance at their new coworker. The glance let to small talk by the coffee pot. The coffee at work lead to coffee outside of work. The coffee lead to dinner. Dinner lead to a bedroom. Affairs don’t happen on a whim. They start with a lustful glance.
If you find yourself in the beginning phase of this situation, here’s what you should do: stop drinking coffee. Avoid this coworker at all cost. Maybe get rid of social media. Perhaps stop going to wherever you see this person that causes you to lust. If you struggle with pornography, stop your in home internet service. Get a flip phone. Go to a good, Christian counselor. Tell your spouse. Seek help.
I am well aware of how extreme this sounds. Give up coffee? No internet? Stop social media? Yikes! You may think you can handle it. But if you are already battling lust at a glance, I assure you, you cannot.
Jesus isn’t calling us to anything unreasonable; he is calling us to something radical.
These two verses, while seemingly extreme, give us the tools to obey the seventh commandment. Sin of any kind starts in our hearts before it ever works it’s way out to the actual action of committing that sin. God in his grace gave us the means to separate us from sin and live a life that us higher. We don’t serve a monstrous God who enjoys putting unachievable standards on us. Rather, we serve a gracious God who through Jesus not only paid for our sins, but also equips his disciples to abstain from impurity.
It has been said, “anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
I would first like to make something clear, if you are in an abusive situation or have been in an abusive marriage and your partner was unwilling to change therefore you proceeded with a divorce, I believe you were completely justified in doing so. A spouse that is abusive, whether that be physical, emotional, mental, social, or spiritual abuse, is sinning. If they are unwilling to change, they are unwilling to follow Christ and live in accordance to his word. I believe 1 Corinthians 7:15 highlights this when it says, “But if an unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, seek safety and counsel immediately. Do your best to mend your marriage, but if your partner absolutely refuses to repent, you have to do what you need to do to maintain peace and wholeness.
That being said, we should not approach divorce casually. Our most sacred relationship is with God himself. Following in a close second to that is our relationship with our spouse. Marriage is one of the best earthly reflections of our relationship with God. Just as our relationship with God should be handled with reverence and seriousness, so should our marriage.
I believe the Jewish law permitted a written notice of divorce because of the knowledge of the sinfulness of our humanity. We can gather from Jesus’s statement, much like today, this permission was abused. “Falling out of love” is not a reason to divorce. The concept of falling in and out of love treats love as a haphazard circumstance. In reality, love is an intentional action of two people growing closer to each other and closer to God. Feelings about love are irrelevant. Love is an everyday decision we purposely make. God’s design for marriage is not casual, therefore we should never escape it casually.
While Jesus said adultery is a valid reason for divorce and a pervious paragraph also stated abuse was too, I cannot skip mentioning that those things do not have to end in divorce. Obviously safety and healing are key and should be the first step, but do not underestimate the restorative power of God. He can make all things new, even an abusive or adulterous partner. If the guilty party is truly retentive and genuinely allows God to change them and their spouse permits God to work forgiveness in and out of them, they can grow to have a beautifully healed and restored marriage. I would even venture to say that if handled properly with grace, they will most definitely have a stronger marriage than before and likely stronger than many who did not undergo such brokenness. There is always hope.
Our intimate relationships with others reflect our relationship with God. They should be treated as sacred. We too often handle lightly what God designed to be delt with seriousness. We must amputate what displeases God in our marriage, whether that is a lingering glance or the notion of divorce. Remember, it is better to endure pain here on earth than to endure it for eternity.