Jesus and Torah: Lust

Jesus and Torah: Lust

Jesus and Torah: Lust.

“You have heard it said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matt. 5:27-30).

Jesus is providing another illustration on how to interpret the Ten Commandments. Go beneath the surface and find the root cause, He is saying. Go deeper and set the bar higher. Discover the original intent of the command, the broader implications. Jesus once again interprets Scripture with an eye on the righteousness of the heart. Demand more of yourself than the letter of the Law.

The bald commandment is straightforward and unarguable… Don’t commit adultery (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). But Jesus wants to make the point that, just as unbridled anger can lead to murder, just so can unchecked lust lead to adultery. Anger is the slippery slope leading to murder in the heart. Lust is the slippery slope leading to adultery in the heart. And God is just as concerned with the stimulus to sin as the sin itself. The original intention of the Ten Commandments was to focus as much on the ‘devices and desires of the heart’ as the sinful act itself. God wanted to stop traveling on the road to sin before it even gets started. The sexual urge is so strong that it needs sturdy safeguards in place before the mental sin becomes an active sin.

It’s interesting that Jesus chose the eye and the hand as the potential culprits regarding lust… the lust of the eye and the lust of the hand. He knew that men favor visual stimulation, and therefore the visuals of lust are a particularly dangerous temptation. Men also favor tactile experiences, and so the hand is also a ready vehicle to temptation and sin. Jesus is using a figure of speech when talking about plucking your eye and cutting off your hand. This is not to be taken literally, of course. Blind men can still lust. Speaking figuratively and starkly, Jesus is asking for decisive action in cutting out those temptations that lead to lust, when adultery of the heart is plainly in the picture. Deliberately avoid tempting situations that could lead to sin. Cut off any involvement with pornography. Skip the urge to visit a strip club. Turn off suggestive entertainment. Avoid sexy massage sessions and “brotherly hugs.” Cut out of your life serious flirting, or maybe even casual flirting if it could lead to sin. Again, be wise enough to avoid tempting situations. Don’t trust yourself, thinking that you are strong enough to stand up to temptation. We all have our weak moments when we would be vulnerable to making a serious mistake. So, don’t flirt with disaster at the very start of the temptation.

It is not sinful to be tempted. It is sinful to give in to temptation. “You can’t keep birds from flying overhead, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” (Luther). So it’s important we don’t entertain a temptation to lust, feeding it, holding on to it, embracing it. Instead we need to be decisive and intentional in cutting off any habit or urge that would entertain a temptation.

In speaking of adultery, Jesus is including the biblical idea of fornication as well, sex outside a marriage between a man and a woman. Jesus is on record as saying that marriage has been a sacred institution from the very time of creation. In Mark 10:6-9 Jesus said, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” So Jesus rebuked any unfaithfulness, any sexual intimacy outside of a proper marriage.

Some practical but maybe difficult ways to keep the birds from making a nest in your hair regarding lust… Cancel that tempting magazine subscription; cut off that online porn site; change the channel from a suggestive movie or show; ignore your friends who want you to visit a strip club; cancel that private lunch with a woman who isn’t your wife; when noticing an  attractive woman, try not to stare in your imagination; practice being faithful in the little things that can form a habit for the big things; skip the sexy massages; cut off relationships that are obviously going in the wrong direction; stop telling bawdy jokes, or laughing along with them; practice self-control in other areas of life, giving you confidence you can conquer this temptation.

Mental adultery, the lust of the heart, is just as sinful as the real thing because it’s not the will of God for you in your thought life. Lust that is entertained is just as sinful as the adulterous act itself. Adultery often starts within the imagination. So with God’s strength, we needn’t fill our minds with something that would be sinful if acted out. Find something better to think about. Find something more productive to do. Continue to pray and yearn for purity of heart.