Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 21: “Adultery” 08.30.18

Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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.”

Fifty years ago, in the late sixties, the concept of no-fault divorce was introduced in America. Within a few years, most states adopted it. Without commenting on the wisdom of such a decision, we can point out that prior to that, families and couples had to endure the often sordid process of proving that adultery had taken place. At a time when marital laws still reflected respect for the Word of God, the Seventh Commandment was still honored: “You shall not commit adultery.” Thus, for an aggrieved marriage partner to secure a decree of divorce, he or she had to provide proof to the court that their spouse had committed adultery.

This requirement spawned an entire industry of sleuthing detective/photographers who would be retained to follow the husband or wife who was suspected. A folder of photographs of the adulterer entering a motel with an illicit lover was brought to the bench. I knew many adulterous men and a few women. In the ministry, I’ve spoken with too many others who claimed to be disciples of Christ but were guilty of this sin.

Picture this. We are sitting on the mountainside and every single man, with a very, very few possible exceptions, every single man…notices a fellow with a camera taking pictures of our hearts. Probably many of the women too. Jesus just said that we have committed adultery when we lust after someone who does not belong to us in marriage. With God as our Judge, the spiritual photos will be presented.

Of course, I am writing these things as a man. I hope my sisters in Christ will not take offense when I say the following. Some years back I spoke from the pulpit reminding the ladies, as summer began, to be thoughtful about their dressing choices. Modesty for a Christian man or woman should be a given. All the more in a worship service. I correctly quoted the Lord Jesus Christ who said:

Luke 17:1 (NIV) “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”

For men, lust is as automatic as breathing. Put simply, unless a man has a very muted level of libido, his eyes will be drawn to the woman whose physical gifts are obvious. He doesn’t even have to think about it. What he does at that point is another matter. We will return to that. But, after that sermon, I received an outraged note from a woman who identified herself as a psychologist. She made it very clear that she was offended. I needed to know, in her view, that it was entirely a man’s problem if he could not or would not control his thoughts. She insisted that no man had to have lustful thoughts even if a woman was dressed seductively.

I did not suggest to her that her feminism had taken a turn to the irrational. I merely said something like “You can speak this way because…you are not a man. This is every man’s problem, and women can certainly contribute to it. In fact, many committed Christian women have admitted to me as a Pastor that they have done so.” I did not hear back from her.

We said above that we will return to the question of what the lustful heart should do when it begins. Of course, there’s the very practical step of “incubation.” That is, whenever we are tempted to sin, we must make a very simple and immediate decision to turn away. A woman cannot help it if she notices a man, not her husband, who is attractive or even exciting sexually. The same with a man who has eyes that are operational! But she or he can determine to take their minds elsewhere and not fantasize about this one who has come into view. That’s the best thing to do but even then, they have probably committed adultery in their hearts! Thus, this whole teaching from our Lord is downright discouraging and, dare we say it, unrealistic.

Perhaps one of the guys sitting on the mountainside, close enough to Jesus to be heard, might gently interrupt. He might say “Jesus…wait please. What you just said about adultery in our hearts? It’s just…impossible! You’re a man. You have never lusted? Really? Please excuse my asking but do you mean this?” What might Jesus say in response at this point? I have an idea he might respond…

“Actually, this teaching is not primarily about adultery. It is about sin in the heart. You have been thinking that God’s displeasure with you is all about your actions. So, you fret endlessly about every behavior. But your hearts are the real issue. What I am saying is that you will only be delivered from adultery in the heart, or murder in the heart, or any other heart sin…when you come to hate sin itself! That is why I said that sin is so bad you should cut off your hand or gouge out your eye if necessary to avoid it!”

Now, of course Jesus was using hyperbole. Exaggeration for effect. No one is expected to start self-mutilating. The real question is how can I come to hate my sin? Not just hate it because of some set of reminders that I develop when I feel lustful or murderous. But to hate it without even thinking. Is it possible that my heart could be changed in that way? Do I want it to be changed to hate sin?

I can’t stand olives. I like olive oil (my father was born in Sicily. They are big on olives.) But as a little boy I tasted an olive, and spit it out. I will never like olives! Can I reach a point where I spit out sin as it tries to enter my heart? Not because I should spit it out but because I just can’t stand it?

Next: Can we put sin in our hearts to death?

Peace. Pastor Alberta

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

  1. Marilyn N

    I totally agree with you, Pastor Alberta, about immodest dressing placing an added burden on those of the opposite sex! It’s unfortunate that the psychologist didn’t recognize your exhortation to your congregation as a plea for mercy! Her training should have been sufficient to understand the natural human instinct for pleasure, and being a loving shepherd, you were reminding your flock of their personal responsibilities in limiting temptation. It amazes me when Christians act so unlovingly as to risk tempting others toward sinful thoughts/behaviors. It is even more surprising when married Christians consider it ‘no big deal’ when their manner of dress is provocative. Why would a married woman want to entice a man other than her husband? And, why would a married man want his wife to tempt other men with her attire? Anyway, thank you, Pastor Alberta, for boldly confronting this, as we need to be reminded of our own hearts’ sinful nature, and God’s perspective on it!

  2. PATRICK & LUCILLE JAMIESON

    WE WERE AT THAT SUNDAY SERVICE AND I REMEMBER YOU MENTIONED THAT IT WOULD BE WELL FOR A WOMEN TO DRESS IN A MODEST WAY WHEN ATTENDING CHURCH.

    MOST FAMILY MEMBERS WERE PRESENT ON THAT VERY WARM SUMMER DAY AND OUR GRAND DAUGHTER SARAH WORE, WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT,”SHORT SHORTS”. SHE WAS ABOUT SIXTEEN AT THE TIME.

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