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The Greatest Sermon Ever Told | Love, Lust, and the Christian Life
October 15, 2023
Matthew 5:27-32; 19:3-9
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
O God, you are life, wisdom, truth, and blessedness, the eternal, the only true good; our God and our Lord, you are our hope and our heart’s joy—we acknowledge with thanksgiving that you have made us in your image, and that we may direct our thoughts to you. Lord, make us know you aright, that we may love, enjoy, and possess you more and more; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 24
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
Who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Summary and Connection
This week’s study is based on Matthew 5:27-32 and 19:3-9. In our previous study, we have learned about the relationship between Jesus and the law. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish, abrogate, or condemn the law. Jesus not only perfectly fulfilled the law on our behalf, but he also perfectly interpreted the law for us to obey the law freely and joyfully for our good and for the glory of God. Beginning from verse 5:21-47, we see Jesus’ exegesis of the Torah. In other words, Jesus demonstrates the true interpretation and scope of the law by employing a formulaic pattern: “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you.” Jesus picks the theologically, ethically, and morally loaded commandments dealing with issues such as murder, adultery, divorce, remarriage, retributory justice, and explains their true intent and scope. Furthermore, Jesus applies his interpretive teaching to the daily lives of his audience. Put simply, in this section Jesus masterfully and pastorally fleshes out the fundamental unity between orthodoxy (Christian doctrines) and orthopraxy (Christian living).
In 5:27-32, Jesus essentially addresses the weighty topics of adultery, divorce, and remarriage. We can outline Jesus’ teaching in this passage under three main points: love, lust, and the Christian life. In 5:31-32 and in 19:3-9, Jesus tackles the issue of divorce by addressing the erroneous interpretation of the commandment by the Pharisees and the Scribes. In Matthew 19, Jesus reframes the Pharisees trick question regarding the legitimate grounds for divorce by asking a counter-question about their reading of Scripture. The Biblical definition of marriage implies that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that it is permanent. Marriage, according to Jesus, is a divine covenantal institution by which God unites a man and a woman to become one flesh. Since marriage is a divine covenantal institution, sex, therefore, is a sacred act of union between a husband and a wife that further cements the bonds of the divine covenant. Jesus allows sexual immorality as the only exception clause for divorce. However, based on Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 19:3-9, it is important for us to understand that divorce is not a divine instruction but a divine concession that was issued by God due to the hardness of the people’s hearts.
In 5:27-30, Jesus addresses the issue of adultery. Once again, the Pharisees had conveniently narrowed the definition of sexual sin and broadened the definition of sexual purity. Jesus puts nearly every man and woman under the spotlight of God’s all-knowing sight. Unlike the Pharisees who only focused on external sexual behavior and purity, Jesus focused on the heart—deep and inward purity or righteousness. Jesus addresses the ethical core of the seventh commandment: The true extent of the sinfulness of adultery is not merely limited to the external act, but its root extends to the adulterous intent and the indulgence of the heart. Deliberate and habitual indulgence in sexual sin is tantamount to committing adultery in the heart. Jesus prescribes the deep and inward purity—holistic righteousness—as God honoring, and that which God honors. Furthermore, Jesus issues practical steps to address the issue of lust. Jesus deliberately uses shockingly graphic metaphors to emphasize the seriousness of sexual sin in God’s sight. The focus is not on mutilation or maiming of body parts but on the mortification of sin. Jesus highlights the importance of addressing the root of the issue—indwelling sin. It is important to kill the sin in you before the sin kills you. In other words, if you are susceptible to the temptation that comes to you through your eyes, then don’t look. If it comes to you through your hands (things you do), or legs (places you go), then cut them off. Don’t do it. Don’t go! Take every necessary step to avoid and every necessary step to rely on God for strength and courage to resist sexual sin. The focus is on the heart, and on the spiritual discipline of applying the gospel to our hearts through repentance and faith.
It is vital for us to understand three aspects of Jesus’ teaching in this section: compassion, clarity, and courage. Jesus’ words ought to humble us as we recognize how short we fall in holiness and purity. Jesus’ compassion towards us compels us to be compassionate, and non-judgmental towards fellow believers. Secondly, Jesus, by pointing us to God’s original purpose for men and women in marriage, emphasizes the fundamental unity between sex, gender, and marriage. Finally, for Christians living in a postmodern culture, Jesus’ powerful words provide the courage to buck the trend by living a grace filled life of sexual purity in humble reliance on Jesus.
1. Looking at the Bible
What does the text say? Who are the main characters in this story? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- How does Jesus provide the true interpretation of the seventh commandment: Do not commit adultery? According to Jesus are all sins equal?—Is lust just as bad as adultery? If yes, why, and if no, why not?
- What “practical instruction” does Jesus provide about how to avoid sexual lust? What was Jesus’ intention behind using the shockingly graphic metaphors?
- Read Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-9. How does Jesus address the Pharisees question about divorce? How does Jesus challenge the Pharisees’ teaching about divorce and remarriage?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- How does Jesus give us the grace to be sexually pure—both as single and married, and to honor the covenant of marriage?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.
- How does this passage challenge you to love God by seeking deep and inward purity, and hate sin by using practical measures to avoid, resist, and kill habitual sins?
- Share some of the practical steps you are already taking or hoping to employ in actively seeking God and resisting sin?
4. Looking at Our World
- How might this passage help us to be the salt and light Christians in a culture that demonizes the Biblical view of marriage, and normalizes sexual sin by deifying sex as the ultimate good?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1a. As the true interpreter of the law, Jesus tackles the Pharisees erroneous interpretation of the law. The Pharisees had limited the scope of the seventh commandment—you shall not commit adultery. According to the Pharisees, one is considered sexually pure as long as he avoids the act of adultery. Thus, they gave a conveniently narrow definition of sexual sin and a broad definition of sexual purity.
Jesus provides the true interpretation by extending the scope and focus of the commandment from mere external behavior to internal purity. By his interpretation of the commandment, Jesus extends the scope to the domain of heart—desire, intent, and volition. He puts nearly every man and woman under the spotlight of God’s all-knowing sight. Jesus emphasizes an important truth: Every sexual practice which is immoral in action is immoral also in look and thought. The Pharisees were teaching the easy and broad way of external moralistic religion, whereas Jesus here is teaching the narrow way of whole person righteousness. Jesus’ words expose our tendency to elevate external behavior over the heart’s intent. Jesus challenges us to take an honest look into our own hearts. Are we guilty of adultery by deliberately and habitually lusting after someone in our heart?
Is Jesus equating all sin as equal in its grievousness? Certainly not! It is vital for us to understand that Jesus is not creating a new sin syllogism that equates lust to adultery in a co-extensive way. In other words, Jesus is not saying lust is just as bad as adultery. Jesus is putting the focus on the root of adultery. No, all sins are not equal. Murder and adultery are indeed worse sins with greater personal and social consequences than being angry and lusting. The purpose of Jesus’ teaching is to put the focus on the heart, revealing the root or the true depth of the matter. Jesus challenges our tendency to merit righteousness by external behavior and comparisons with others, while neglecting our hearts. Remember the words of an old preacher: “The seed of every known sin to man is latent in my heart.” When you water the sinful seed, it will eventually bear fruit. Furthermore, Jesus is also not equating mere sexual temptation to adultery. Martin Luther provides helpful imagery: “Temptations, of course, cannot be avoided, but because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them nest in our hair.” Sexual temptations, like birds flying over, are inevitable; however, Jesus is concerned with the deliberate and habitual nature of sexual sin. What is the orientation of your heart: Do you faithfully seek God, and take all measures to avoid sexual sin from festering, or do you seek pleasure and indulge in sexual sin?
Question 1b. Jesus provides two shockingly graphic metaphors—tearing the eye out and cutting and discarding the limb—as “practical instructions” to avoid sexual lust. Needless to say, Jesus did not advocate literal physical self-amputation, but a spiritual and moral self-denial for the sake of personal holiness and the glory of God. Jesus wants us to be serious about sin at the root level, and not just the fruit level. Remember John Owen’s words of warning: “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” John Stott makes an insightful point: “It is not mutilation, but mortification is the path of holiness. Mortification or taking up the cross to follow Christ means to reject sinful practices so resolutely that we die to them or put them to death.” Jesus’ instruction here specifically addresses the matter of sexual self-discipline, and purity. Because we live in a broken world, we are prone to either demonize sex and avoid it, or deify sex and indulge in it. The Bible celebrates sexual attraction and intimacy within the bounds of marriage. However, the Bible does not deify sex. Sex is good, but not the ultimate good. It is certainly not easy to overcome the addiction of sexual sin. However, by the grace of God, we are enabled to avoid, resist, and kill it. If you struggle with temptations of sexual sin like pornography, it involves consistently taking steps to cut off or avoid situations, context, and even your friendship with people who indulge, and encourage you to indulge in sexual sin. Would you allow the gangrene of the foot to destroy your entire body? Or would you cut the foot off to save your life? Jesus wants us to apply the same principle with regard to our eternal life. Jesus’ teaching is based on the principle that eternity is more important than time and any sacrifice is worthwhile in this life if it is necessary to ensure our entry into eternal life.
Question 1c. Matthew 19:3-9 provides the context to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:31-32. The Pharisees confront Jesus with a trick question about the legitimate grounds for divorce. Jesus responds to the Pharisees by asking them a counter question. Jesus challenges their ability to read the Scripture. He refers them back to Genesis 1:27; 2:24, showing them God’s original purpose in creating man and woman in his own image. To be God’s image bearers is to be bestowed with utmost honor and dignity. Furthermore, God unites his image bearers—a male and a female, together in the covenantal bond of marriage. The man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh. Their one flesh union is further solidified by sex within the confines of marriage. The covenantal union of marriage reflects God’s covenant with his people—it is permanent, and it involves unconditional love, and steadfast faithfulness. Therefore, what God has united, no man or woman can separate. This is God’s purpose for marriage.
Furthermore, Jesus also corrects the Pharisees erroneous interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus makes the same argument as Matthew 27-32—he boils down the heart of the matter to the matter of heart. According to Jesus, God allowed divorce under one exception clause—sexual infidelity because of the hardness of people’s hearts. Hardness of heart here implies allowing the adulterous lust to fester into the act of adultery. It is vital for us to remember that it was never God’s intention for a marital union to be broken (19:8). Divorce is not a divine instruction but a divine concession that was issued by God due to the hardness of people’s hearts.
Finally, Jesus refutes the Pharisees rationale for remarriage by declaring that remarriage under any condition other than legitimate sexual immorality is sinful in God’s sight. This principle includes both male and female—to divorce one’s partner and marry another, or to marry a divorced person, is to enter an adulterous relationship. Interestingly however, Jesus here particularly warns the male perpetrator of an invalid divorce. According to Jonathan Pennington, Jesus ends the teaching by putting the responsibility on the man’s shoulders: “Jesus is pushing the man to realize that he is the cause of his former wife’s adultery by virtue of forcing her into remarriage when she was wrongly divorced. Men should not presume that they are free to remarry either, for they too will commit adultery by remarrying such divorced women (5:32; cf. 19:9).”
Question 2: If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit the sheer weightiness of Jesus’ teaching in this section. Jesus boils down the heart of the matter to the matter of the heart. Our default tendency is to externally present ourselves as spiritually good and morally acceptable. We compare ourselves with others who have fallen into grievous sins and conclude that we are relatively better. However, Jesus dismantles our idea of righteousness, purity, and morality by putting us all under the spotlight of God’s all-knowing and all seeing gaze. We all are guilty of lusting and coveting after someone or something that is not ours. The truth is, we can never be pure enough or righteous enough to merit God’s forgiveness. We deserve to be thrown in hell.
However, as we have already learned, Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, perfectly obeys the law on our behalf. He secures our righteousness by his perfect obedience of the law, and he secures our forgiveness by his ultimate sacrifice on the cross that satisfies the just wrath of God against sin. Jesus received the just punishment we deserved.
How does Jesus give us grace? Jesus has inseparably united himself with us in such a way that we receive all the spiritual benefits that he has secured for us. As Paul says in Romans 8:1, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit as our guide. When we sin, we are assured of forgiveness by God by virtue of our union with Christ. Furthermore, we also receive grace for our sanctification from Jesus. God has revealed himself, and his will for us in the Bible. When we read God’s word daily, receive God’s word on Sunday mornings, and partake God’s word through communion, we grow our knowledge of God. Our knowledge of God deepens our love for God and equips us to joyfully obey his commandments. Jesus also gives us grace to be sexually pure by strengthening us to resist sexual temptation.
Jesus’ grace compels us to be faithful to him, albeit imperfectly. God honors our faithfulness, and not moralistic perfection. When we sin, we repent and look to Jesus in faith. When we apply the gospel to our hearts on a daily basis, we are energized to fight against sexual sins. Even though we fail, we rise up in the strength of Christ. Since we know the costliness of Jesus’ sacrifice, and the extent of his love for us, we will not remain passive in our battle against sexual sin. We take radical actions to cut off every situation, context, and even people that cause us to fall into sexual sin. Finally, Jesus also gives us grace to be compassionate and not judgmental, to others who are struggling with sexual sin. Jesus’ grace gives us the clarity to know God’s purpose for marriage, sex, and gender. We are compelled by Jesus’ grace to be loving yet truthful towards those who struggle with sexual sins. Jesus’ grace gives us the much needed courage to be sexually pure and faithful to our spouse in a culture that demonizes Christian marriage, and deifies unbridled sexual pleasure as the ultimate good.
Question 3: These are personal application questions. Encourage the group to share the practical ways they engage in seeking God, and resisting sins. The nature of these personal application questions can create awkward silence. Remember, silence is alright. Allow the group to pause and think. You can break the silence by venturing to share your personal experience as related to the questions.
Question 4: This is a personal application question.