verse XVI – Wrong Appetites
Yeshua/Jesus was never one to skip over a sensitive topic due to people’s sensibilities; rather, He addressed the issue at hand, head on. In this article we will consider one of those sensitive issues. I would be remiss to skip over these verses – and I cannot imagine why I would – as I am directed to teach the full counsel of Scripture. Lust is the principle subject of Matthew 5:27-30; and unless you have ignored the trend in society, it is nearly impossible to avoid in our world today. Advertising and entertainment is saturated with lust in order to entice people to purchase goods or entertainment services, as if they depend on the stimulus of lust over the quality of their product or production – well, maybe they do.
What then is the antidote of “lust” and misplaced sexual appetites?
In Matthew 5:27-30 we read, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that everyone who looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away! It is better for you that one part of your body be thrown into Gehenna. And if you right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away! It is better for you that one part of your body should be destroyed, than that you whole body go into Gehenna.”
Pluck out! Cut off!
I believe that we can find comfort for ourselves, and for those who might call on us for counsel in their times of distress regarding this issue, if we properly understand the words of Yeshua recorded here. As we read, Yeshua speaks of adultery as given in the Ten Commandments, but He combines His teaching with the tenth commandment as well: “You shall not covet your neighbors wife.”
Adultery is defined as an act of being unfaithful to one’s spouse voluntarily through what would otherwise be marital relations. It is forbidden in the Decalogue, “You shall not commit adultery.” And to underscore the severity of the act, and how it should be handled within the ancient Israelite theocracy, Leviticus 20:10 reads, “And a man who commits adultery with the wife of another man, who commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor: the adulterer and the adulteress shall certainly be put to death.”
Yet, by the Second Temple period – for a number of issues not directly related to my immediate thought process – the commandment against adultery had been reduced to “You shall not be found guilty of committing adultery.”
But then Yeshua speaks of the heart, and He is defining adultery as the mental act of desiring someone who is not your spouse, not merely avoidance of discovery. The logical question is: why would He draw our attention to this?
To properly understand how Yeshua is teaching, we must look back a few verses to Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Pharisaical teaching was not concerned with the inner condition of man, but rather, the meticulous keeping of outward religious observance; Yeshua, however, was concerned that we first clean “the inside of the cup, so that the outside of the cup would be clean as well.” He cares about our inward thoughts, and how they influence our outward action.
To the heart.
Yeshua goes to the heart of the matter. Previously, Yeshua connected murder with anger (Matt. 5:21-22), and now He connects adultery to lust. What would lead us to commit adultery? Lust. The desire to want someone that does not belong to us. This is a condition found in the heart. As disciples of Messiah, we should desire to please the covenant Lord. This is not limited to our outward actions, but also our inner motivation – the influences residing in our heart.
To the point.
As we consider the words of Messiah more closely, we will understand Him more clearly.
The physical act of adultery is not the beginning of the Biblical sin of adultery. I appreciate how Dr. R.T. Kendall articulates these five points, or stages that end in the sin of adultery.
- Normal Attraction: it is quite normal to recognize that a member of the opposite sex is handsome or pretty; but caution is advised as to whether or not such a thought should be vocalized.
- Temptation: it is not a sin to be tempted; it is a sin to act upon the temptation. One must turn away from temptation before sin is brought forth.
- Obsession: when one obsesses on a temptation and it consumes them to the point where the individual must act upon the thoughts.
- Causing a Person to Lust: this is Jesus’ main point, which I will explain in a moment.
- The Physical Act of Adultery: the mental act has now, because of a lack of self-control and obsession, become a reality.
Some Greek scholars agree that point four (4) above is the main point that Yeshua is making – causing a person to lust. They explain that the verse, “that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” should read, “that whoever looks at a woman with the purpose of getting her to lust…” What often begins innocently, simply noticing another person, leads to temptation, causing obsession, and a reaching out as through flirtation, leading, ultimately to physical realization.
As we all know, the effects of adultery are far reaching: destroying families, friendships, and our relationship with the Lord. This is why Yeshua speaks in such serious terms with regard to avoidance, “if your eye causes you to sin gouge it out!” Although His words are hyperbole, He is imploring us to lose some part of ourselves in order to not lose our life.
Don’t take that literally.
Many are the stories recorded in history, and in recent times, of people cutting off hands and gouging out their eyes in order to avoid sexual sin. Even Origen, a Greek father of the early Church castrated himself; an act that he later expressed remorse over.
When taken out of context, without proper understanding of Jewish methods of teaching, one can come to the wrong conclusion. The Law of Moses is very clear that man is not to intentionally damage the flesh – so Yeshua is not going to instruct people to do such a thing. But in order that we understand the importance and severity of His words, He emphasizes the point in the strongest of terms.
Exercise self-control, as through the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Do not be drawn into sin through your eyes. Do not reach out to take what does not belong to you. Avoid temptation. All of us know, whatever the temptation might be, where we will be tempted – so do not go there.
Disciples of Messiah, through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, have the mind of Messiah (1 Cor. 2:15); therefore, we should not dwell on matters, and nurture thoughts that would lead to sin – to do so is contrary to what we have learned from Him.
Nothing that this world can offer us is worth risking hurt and loss of our families, friends, and relationship with the covenant Lord. We must be the guardians of our eyes and our hearts. We must be guardians of our relationships. We must close the door to improper, unhealthy, sinful and wrong appetites. Ultimately, to do so, is to protect the human other as well, and love them as ourselves.
Shalom. Be well.