Matthew 5:27-30 : How to Avoid Sexual Temptation
On Sunday 1st February, during the most popular US TV programme of the year, the Super Bowl, a controversial advert was aired. The NFL and NBC both felt it was inappropriate but local affiliates in Texas decided that $250,000 for a 30-second spot was too much to turn down. The commercial advertised an online dating service for… married people. It showed a couple at a restaurant on their wedding anniversary. The man was an obnoxious jerk who talked on the cell phone al through the supper. Then, he got up to leave during dessert, and said, "Happy anniversary, honey." The voice-over, targeted at women, asked, "Isn’t it time for Ashley Madison?" Their website promises “Have an affair…guaranteed”. The company owner defended the ad by noting he was simply providing a service for people wanting to be honest about their displeasure with marriage. He started the service in 2001 after reading that 30% of the people signing up for singles dating services were married. He now has 3.3 million members. Texas was the only state to see the ad, but that was intentional. Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio represent their fastest-growing markets with nearly a quarter-million members joining in the past few months. Less than 24 hours after the Super Bowl ad, Houston alone accounted for more than 147,000 hits to the site.
Twelve Steps to Adultery?
How does adultery occur? In Temptations Men Face, Tom Eisenman lists 12 common steps that occur in sequence as a relationship moves toward adultery.
1. Readiness Unresolved issues in a marriage that make the partners vulnerable.
2. Fantasizing Innocent thoughts about someone else beginning to turn to fantasizing. The ‘what if” which we rationalize as day dreaming.
3. Innocent Meeting Heightened awareness when around someone. Electricity.
4. Intentional Meeting Plotting to be in the same area so you might see them again. Playing games. This is the point when a person enters the danger zone.
5. Public Lingering Mutually agreeing to spend time together, ignoring others, shutting others out of the conversation. Showing particular interest in the other person’s personal history, interests. Observers might pick up that something is unusual at this point.
6. Private Lingering Long after others have left they are still talking. A growing excitement in being together alone. Converrsations shift from ideas to feelings. Caring is shared.
7. Purposeful Isolating Now the couple begin to plan times alone for legitimate purposes. Men will often confide in the woman and ask for advice with their marriage problems. Or the woman asks the man to stay late at the office to help her with the computer. The couple will still deny any suggestion that their relationship is not completely appropriate. At home, however, a wife might notice a decrease in verbal and nonverbal communication. He seems detached, almost formal.
8. Pleasurable Isolating Now a couple are planning times alone just for the sheer enjoyment and fun of being together
It takes on a youthful euphoria. There is more intimacy. The warm touch of the hand or arm. The couple will still rationalize that they are just good friends.
9. Affectionate Embracing Secret longings become intense. There is embracing often through tickling or wrestling. Physical expression is still rationalized.
10. Passionate Embracing Alcohol or anything that reduces inhibition contributes to increased physical desire and expression. Behaviour is rationalized because a husband or wife is unfeeling or doesn’t make me feel this way.
11. Capitulation Denial is eliminated. There is no longer anyway they can deny the reality of what is happening.
12. Acceptance The couple will admit to each other that they are having an affair. If it continues it is by mutual consent. The spouse is almost always aware at this point. The emotional investment in the affair is at its highest and investment at home at its lowest. The tension of living a double life is usually too much to bear for very long and there is often relief when it is discovered.
Eisenman asks, “Is this the end of the story? Do the man and woman live happily ever after? No. The story of an affair is not a comedy. It is a tragedy.” As James Dobson says, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence,
but it still has to be mowed.” Once the excitement wears off the couple have to return to the real world and the imperfections they had not seen or had ignored become apparent. But by now there is a trail of pain much like a cancer that begins to eat away at the new relationship. Children have been hurt. A wife or husband abandoned. One or more marriages wrecked. Have you ever tried to put toothpaste back in the tube? Hard isn’t it?
I wonder if you are somewhere on those 12 steps right now? Chances are you may very well be. Last week Newsweek found that just 3% of Muslims in Britain think sex outside marriage is acceptable. 3%.
I hate to think what the percentage would be among Christians. Guess what the percentage is for Europeans generally? 87% of Europeans think that sex outside wedlock is morally acceptable. Listen, if you are somewhere on that escalator from 1 to 12, do something about it. Recognise where it is leading you. Turn back. Change your mind. It is not inevitable. You don’t have to. Take responsibility. Tonight. Right now.
How refreshing that Jesus calls for absolute chastity outside marriage and absolute fidelity in marriage. There are no excuses. No mitigating circumstances. No exclusion causes. No time outs. No what ‘ifs’ and no ‘but’s’.
This evening we are going to see what God has to say about how to avoid sexual temptation – how to fire proof our marriage and of those you love. I consider this one of the most important Bible studies we can possibly do together, so please, lets be intentional. In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus teaches us about:
1. The Source of Sexual Sin
2. The Seriousness of Sexual Sin
3. The Sentence for Sexual Sin
But first of all lets consider the context. What was the moral climate of 1st century Palestine?
There were three great civilisations influencing people in first century Palestine: Jewish Religion, Greek culture and Roman government, each with their own distinctive contribution.
The Jewish view of Marriage
Theoretically no nation
ever had a higher ideal of marriage. It was a sacred duty which a man was bound
to take. The only reason a Jew could delay getting married was if he was
studying the Law. If a man refused to marry and have children it was said he
had broken the positive commandment given in Genesis to be fruitful and
multiply. Furthermore the Jewish Rabbi's taught that "every Jew must
surrender his life rather than commit idolatry, murder or adultery." The
tragedy was that in practice this high view of marriage had been abandoned. It
had a lot to do with the low view with which women were held in Jewish society.
At the absolute disposal of her father or husband, she had no legal rights. She could be divorced for all manner of reasons. In the days of Jesus, divorce was as easy as it is today, family life was collapsing. There were other influences at work however. If Jews looked to the Rabbis for their religion they increasingly looked to Greece for their culture. The second influence then came from Greece.
The Greek View of Marriage
In one sense there was no view of marriage among the Greeks. They held an equally low view of women. Relationships outside of marriage carried no stigma whatsoever. They were accepted, indeed they were expected. Such relationships brought not the slightest discredit. To put it bluntly the Greek demanded the most absolute moral purity of his own wife, but for himself claimed the utmost immoral licence. He married a wife for domestic security, but found his pleasure elsewhere. Greek religion reinforced this immorality. Temple worship and prostitution were synonymous. Not only were immoral relationships considered natural, you didn’t even need a solicitor to get a divorce. As long as you had two witnesses a man could dismiss his wife for any reason whatsoever. But there was a third influence which came from the Roman Occupation.
The Roman View of Marriage
Originally Roman religion and society was founded on the home. So high was the standard of Roman morality that for the first five hundred years of the Roman commonwealth there was not a single recoded case of divorce. Then came the Greek influence. Militarily, Rome conquered Greece, but morally Greece conquered Rome. By the 2nd century BC divorce had become as common as marriage. Marriage had become nothing more than an unfortunate necessity to enable your children to bear your name. This was the context, Jewish, Greek and Roman into which these radical words of Jesus were spoken.
1. The Source of Sexual Sin: The Forbidden Desire
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
Jesus is not talking about the passing glance but the willful, calculated stare that arouses sexual desire. Nor is Jesus adding to the Old Testament law merely correctly interpreting it, for even in the Ten Commandments God had required purity of heart (Ex. 20:17). Jesus is pointing out that the chain of sin which ultimately leads to the physical act of adultery, begins in the mind. He is not forbidding us from looking at someone. There is nothing wrong with appreciating beauty or the need for fulfillment or even finding some people more attractive than others.
Jesus is challenging us to recognize that sin begins in the heart when the mind rationalizes what the conscience denies. Adultery is always contemplated before it is committed. The Source of Sexual Sin: The forbidden desire.
2. The Seriousness of Sexual Sin: The Surgical Cure
“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. And 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.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
Jesus is not teaching self-mutilation, for even blind people can lust. Instead Jesus urges us to take radical action to deal with sin. Anything, absolutely anything that causes sin should be completely cut out of our lives. The expression “causes you to sin” is skandalon = from which we also get ‘scandal’ or ‘scandalise’. It literally means to trap with bait to catch an animal. Most scandals these days occur in the newspapers when people are found out. They are trapped, on camera. Jesus is speaking about anything that would lure us into a trap. Being honest and open is one way to avoid being trapped. The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jenson recently confessed to being an adulterer. He said,
“By God’s grace, I am a celibate adulterer.” In this life, that is the best some of us can hope for.
Notice Jesus diagnosis calls for radical surgery. “right eye . . . right hand.” The right side often stood for the more powerful or important. The eye is the medium through which one is tempted to lust, and the hand represents the physical actions that result from lusting. Jesus uses deliberate overstatement to emphasize the importance of maintaining exclusive devotion to one's spouse. Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading us to sin. Jesus didn’t mean that we should amputate parts of our body that has caused us to sin, otherwise we would have no hands or feet, let alone eyes or tongue. Jesus means that we must be ruthless in dealing with any habit or tendency that makes us vulnerable.
Jesus draws attention to three areas that need self control if we are to avoid sin. Our eyes, our hands and our feet.
2.1 Your Eyes: Take care where you look
"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl… if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled, "If my heart has been enticed by a woman … that would have been shameful, a sin to be judged. It is a fire that burns to Destruction; it would have uprooted my harvest. (Job 31:1, 7, 9, 11-12)
If you don’t resist this temptation, it can become an addiction. The Apostle Peter warns of those, “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable…” (2 Peter 2:14). Another thing we should take care with is joking. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:4)
Our media is saturated with sexual innuendo and stimulation. We therefore need to take great care over what TV programmes and videos we watch, what newspapers and magazines we read, even what advertisements we look at. 9:00pm is a watershed not just for children but I think for adults also. There is a very simple tool God gave to help you control what your eyes see. We’ve all got them. A TV remote. It has up and down buttons. Very easy to use. When all else fails, it has a red ‘off’ button. Use it. Or, if you are outvoted, close your eyes, go and make a cup of tea, take the dog for a walk. Exercise self control over your eyes.
2.2 Your Hands: Take care who you touch
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)
If men are turned on primarily by looks, women are often aroused by a gentle touch. Non-sexual touch can be good and therapeutic as long as it is open, welcomed and socially acceptable. Steve Chalk advises young people ‘Don’t touch parts of another person’s body that you don’t have’. We must be careful of anything that is ambiguous or that can become manipulative. So we must guard our eyes and hands.
2.3 Your Feet: Take care where you walk
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins people commit are outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
We need to be very careful about the places we visit. And the time of day we are visiting. Some places of so called entertainment may not assist you in remaining pure in heart. Don Carson puts it like this: “We must not pamper it, flirt with it, enjoy nibbling a little of it around the edges. We are to hate it, crush it, dig it out.”
Paul tells us to run. There is no shame in running to escape danger. I thought karate was all about standing and fighting. Its not. Its about fleeing – only if you are cornered and can’t escape do you defend yourself. Learn self control. “each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
The source of sexual sin: The forbidden desire.
The seriousness of sexual sin: The surgical cure.
3. The Sentence for Sexual Sin: The Ultimate Deterrent
“It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell… It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
Jesus says “It is better”. And if Jesus says “it really is better”, trust me, it really is. Have you reached that conclusion the hard way or do you still needing convincing? Reflect on what the Scriptures teach about hell. “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.” (1 Corinthians 10:8-9)
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord’s people. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:4-5)
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5-6)
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4)
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Get the picture? We have no idea how bad it will be in Hell.
Our worst nightmare doesn’t come even close. John Stott: “It is better to forgo some experiences this life offers in order to enter the life which is life indeed; it is better to accept some cultural amputation in this world than risk final destruction in the next. Of course this teaching runs clean counter to modern standards of permissiveness. It is based on the principle that eternity is more important than time and purity than culture, and that any sacrifice is worthwhile in this life if it is necessary to ensure our entry into the next.”
Notice how the Apostle Paul ends that passage to the Corinthians:
“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
Here are some steps to take when you feel you have failed or you fear falling.
I know some of you have or are experiencing what this passage talks about first hand. If you are in the middle of it right now and want someone to talk to, come and see me, Ro or Francis. We’ll be happy to meet, listen and pray with you. We are also running the popular Marriage Course again in September. Talk to Andrew and Ulla Joseph or Jon and Jan Wicker for more information. As a taster, here are some passages full of advice on how to fireproof your marriage or protect the marriages of those you care about?
1. Respect and honour marriages
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4)
Are you a marriage builder or a marriage breaker?
2. Treat friends as you would your family
“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
Would you go to bed with your brother or sister?
3. Do not deprive your marriage partner of emotional affection or physical intimacy
“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:2-5)
Do you in any way share responsibility for a partner’s infidelity? If you have just had a three course dinner in a fancy Italian restaurant would you tempted to stop for a bag of greasy chips on the way home? I don’t think so.
4. Do not associate with those who are sexually immoral
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with any who claim to be fellow believers but are sexually immoral... With such persons do not even eat.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)
The fear of shame is a very important incentive in some cultures for marital faithfulness. That along with swift justice.
Our theme tonight “How to avoid sexual immorality” is one of the most important challenges facing Christians. In the war against evil, this is where the battle lines divide the Church of Jesus Christ from the secular world – human sexuality. While it seems this is where there are most casualties, it is also where the light and purity of Christ living among his people may shine most brightly.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
Don Carson writes,
“In God’s Word, marriage and love are for the tough minded. Marriage is commitment; and, far from backing out when the going gets rough, marriage partners are to sort out their difficulties in the light of Scripture. They are to hang in there, improving their relationship, working away at it, precisely because they have vowed before God and man to live together and love each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness as in health, until death separates them.” (Don Carson).
We have seen:
The source of sexual sin: The forbidden desire.
The seriousness of sexual sin: The surgical cure.
The sentence for sexual sin: The ultimate deterrent.
Radical? You bet. But its worth it. You can give no better legacy to your children or grandchildren than your victory in this struggle.
In his book, What is so Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancy tells of a young girl who was tired of her parents strict rules; they were keeping from having fun. So one night she has an argument with her father, “I hate you!” she screams. Later that night she decides to run away. She made it to a big city and met a man who buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay, and gives her some pills to make her fell better. She decides this is the good life. The good life continues for a month, 2 months, a year. The nice man, she calls him Boss – teaches her how to do things that men liked and since she is underage men pay a premium for her. In turn he allowed her to live in a nice penthouse apt, orders room service as she pleases. Occasionally she thinks about her life back home – her parents, how her golden retriever would run out to greet her, but that life is a long way away. Before she realizes what is happening she is out on the street addicted to drugs and needing a fix.
One night as she laid covered with newspapers over her coat she realized she is no longer a woman of the world – she is feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. “God why did I leave?” She says to herself. The pain stabs her heart. “My dog back home eats better than I do now.” She is crying now and realizes that more than anything else she wants to go home. She calls and leaves a message on her parents answering machine – I want to come home, I’m taking a bus and I’ll be there in 3 days around midnight. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus unit it hits Canada. On the trip home she is thinking about what she will say – if they are even there. She rehearses in her mind the scene. The bus finally arrives. The driver calls out “15 minutes is all we have here.” She has 15 minutes to decide her life. She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect.
There in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs of the bus terminal stood a group of 40 brothers, sisters, aunt, uncles, grandparents, and parents – all wearing funny party hats and blowing noise makers. She stares through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins her memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know…” Her dad interrupts her. “Shhhh child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies, we’re late for the party at home.”
In life, we are always looking for a catch, but in Jesus’ stories there isn’t one, just unconditional love called grace. Lets pray.