Matthew 5:27-32 Part 1

In Romans chapter seven the apostle Paul says that he would not have known lust except for the Commandment “thou shalt not covet.”  And when the Commandment came, he died.

Included in Paul’s biography is the fact that he had been a student of Gamaliel, he was a lawyer, a Pharisee, and a member of the ruling body – the Sanhedrin!  And, as a member of that body, we know that he held the religion of the Pharisees.

And, as we learned last time when the former seven verses of this text were preached, the Pharisees had enthroned themselves on the benches of the courts, where they interpreted the Law only with regard to outward manifestations of lawlessness.  And their own adherence to their traditions and interpretations justified them, in their opinions, before the ultimate seat of justice – the throne of Almighty God!

And we also learned that their traditions included unlawful uses of God’s Law – embracing distortions, additions, detractions, unjust leniency for some, and undue harshness for others – and even, as we learned last time, the combinations of partially related verses taken out of their proper contexts, in order to manipulate the Scriptures!  And these manipulations, more often than not, had to do with external, or exterior, infractions of the Law.  In other words the Law was made to read as if it dealt only with the outer man – his actions.

“Thou shalt not kill” – and the full and glorious content of that Commandment, became “thou shalt not kill, and, if you do, you will be subject to the court and its sanctions.”  Later, when Paul is dealing with the Law in one of his epistles he says that this kind of interpretation has to do only with the “letter” rather than full content of the Law being in our minds and written in our hearts.  Whereas the Law reveals the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the Pharisees dealt only with public lawbreaking!  Although the Law defines what man’s character ought to be, the Pharisees taught only what his behavior ought to be!  Whereas the Law deals with man’s innate perversity, the Pharisees only sanctioned outward lawlessness - in the civil court!

You see, the Law of God has to do with sin.  And sin is man’s problem.  It arises from the very core of man’s being – symbolized in Scripture by the term “heart.”  Our Lord said once to the Pharisees, “You are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

The Pharisees said “as long as you do not commit adultery you have kept the Law.”  But Jesus says, “When one looks at a woman so as to desire her, he has already committed adultery with respect to her in his heart.”

And, perhaps, nowhere in Scripture do we have such a terrible exposure of sin, as it really is, as in these words of our Lord.  He says that the fact that you have not committed the physical act of adultery doesn’t justify you, your heart is foul!  He said, “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,” etc.  People desire – covet – lust because there is this evil in us.  It is part of us – it is our nature – we are this evil power.

There it is in all of us – the depth and power of sin. And the Pharisees were deluded and fooled by the depth and power of their sin into believing that they were happy and content so long as they had not committed the act of adultery.  They may even have admitted to temptation of they were pressed hard – but they would have said, “thank God I did not fall.”

The subtlety of sin.  We justify ourselves by believing that our sinful covetousness can be dismissed by abstinence from outward sin!  It is as if we believed that there is this inherent separation – dichotomy – in man – the physical from the spiritual.  That sin has its effect only on our animal side.  And if we rid ourselves of animalistic behavior, then we are holy people!  This is a delusion!

That’s an evolutionary view of man.  That man was animalistic in early history.  And, as time goes on, he will become materially better.  But that is a foolish and idolatrous idea.  Man was made without sin.  And he fell.  And it affected his whole constitution.  His nature became a sin nature.

It isn’t just something in an animal part of our makeup.  It is in our minds.  It is our outlook.  We think and feel in terms of sin.  That is why our Lord says that when one looks at a woman with desire he has already committed adultery in his heart!  The covetousness and lust is already there!  The act of adultery proceeds from the heart because it is already there!

“It is all right to look and enjoy, but don’t touch” is the subtle delusion of a sinful mind!  “This is a man’s sin” is a subtle delusion of a sinful mind.  Covetousness has no gender barriers.  And it has no age barriers either!  There is no reason to think that our Lord was limiting His teaching on the lusts of the heart to just sexual sin – adult sin.  Although the example concerns adultery, the center of His teaching is the depth and power of sin in the depraved and perverse hearts of man!

There are many people who wouldn’t even think of committing the scandalous, illicit sexual act.  But in every one of them is an enjoyment of sin in the mind and imagination.  But the Law of God, which, from the very beginning, has condemned and judged man’s heart perversity, says, “You shall not covet.”

Paul said that when this Law came, he died.  When this Law came, he become poor in spirit, for it showed him his own foul nature!  Paul was a zealot Pharisee.  He wouldn’t have committed adultery for anything!  But when this Law came, he saw himself as utterly contemptible in the sight of God.  For his heart was laid bare to its radical and instinctive and essential – and vile – nature.  He was an adulterer by nature!

Now, you may say, “I’m not involved in any illicit sexual activity.”  Praise the Lord for that.  He hates illicit sexual activity!  The sin is mammoth – and the consequences are horrible.  It is against His nature and abhorrent to Him.  It is in most cases, punishable by death through the civil courts, and by eternal hell.

But what about your heart?  Your feelings – your mind – your emotions- your self?  Where nobody knows and nobody gets hurt – the secret place.  Why is the illicit so attractive to you?  Why, when you first pick up the newspaper, are your eyes first attracted to and riveted to the rape cases – or the pornography stories – or the child serial abuse trials – or the divorce scandals?  What is that excitement that makes it essential that you read those things?  What is it that makes us look for novels and TV programs and movies that have perverse human behavior in them?  What is it about pornographic films and magazines that makes us delight in them and that stimulates us to an almost unbearable excitement?

What is it?  It is the depth and power of our sin nature.  We don’t have any legal or social interest in those things.  We can’t claim a theological interest in them.  We look at sexually stimulating things, or people and we read sexually stimulating things, and we participate in them and we lust in them, and we are excited by them – because we enjoy them!  We pretend that we have a general philosophical interest in all of life, or we pretend that we have an interest in people and what is happening in the world, or we pretend and fool ourselves that we are just looking – not lusting!  Or we pretend that there is no harm in it – it is just normal human activity.

But it is sin in the heart – the mind – the imagination.  It is your sin.  It is mine.  And it is adultery!  That is what our Lord says.  How subtle and awful this thing is!  We pervert everything wonderful that God has given us.  We are so perverted that everything illicit is automatically attractive and exciting.

And we try to get rid of the guilt by perverting the Law!  We make excuses to make the Law less applicable to us!  Anything to avoid the admission that the Holiness of Almighty God in His written Law speaks to the perverse hearts of every person!

And our Lord speaks directly to all these ludicrous excuses with an appropriate answer!  As we read His answer, we have to understand that that is what it is!  It is an appropriate answer to lame excuses which are being used to cover personal guilt.  To cover the reality of the depth and power of sin in the heart.

Listen again to what He says,

“But if your right eye scandalizes you, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is profitable to you that one of your body parts be destroyed than your whole body be thrown into Gehenna.  And if your right hand scandalizes you, cut it off and throw it away from you; for it is profitable to you that one of your body parts be destroyed rather than your whole body should go to Gehenna.”

Now, there are many excuses for heart adultery, but they can be expressed under two categories, can’t they?  The first being those people and situations external to us.  We just can’t seem to control how women dress – and how men act – and the promiscuity that has arisen in the media – and the ready availability of pornography; even everyday things like TV commercials are filled with lusty pictures and body movements!  And you can’t pick up a magazine without seeing people in revealing poses!

And we use these things as excuses to convince ourselves that we are helpless to do anything about it!  We want to retain that lusty heart adultery, as we say we can’t control what our eyes come in contact with.

Now, the second category of excuses concerns that set of circumstances peculiar to us internally.  We say, “Not only are we faced with all this femininity, or masculinity, paraded before us all day every day, but we have to remember that we are just human!  We were made to be sexual beings.  It is normal!  I can’t control my eyes – they just gravitate to it!  The pull is unbelievable – I couldn’t stop looking if I wanted to!  Besides, it is all right to inspect the merchandise if you don’t become a consumer!  And it’s even all right to touch if you don’t do anything wicked!”

And in the face of all these excuses, and in the light of the Pharisees’ manipulation of the Law to make it read “physical act of adultery only,” Jesus says, “if your right eye is scandalizing you, pluck it out!”  “If your right hand is scandalizing you, cut it off!”  He uses the right eye and right hand because the right side was said to be more important than the left.

But the word scandalize means to bait and trap!  If your right eye is baiting and trapping you, then, by all means, tear it out!  If you are foolish enough to think that it is your eyes that are causing you to sin, then, certainly, you should tear it out – it is better to lose it than to be thrown into hell for eternity!

If it is your right hand that is baiting and trapping you into adultery, then, by all means, cut it off and throw it away!  It is better to lose you right hand and live that way for the rest of your life, than to lose your soul eternally!

And, then, if your left eye and your left hand begin baiting and trapping you, then you must do the same to them, for they could cause you to lose your soul in eternity!  And then, more than likely you will have to cut off your feet, and cut out your tongue, and stick needles in your eardrums, and soon you are deaf mute, emasculated paraplegic with nothing left but a non-communicative trunk who has a heart which is saturated with the depth and power of sin! – And who’s adulterous heart still hasn’t been dealt with! 

Do you see how Jesus destroys the excuses?

Your eyes don’t bait and trap you.  Your heart loves the perversity.  As much as we are vexed by the promiscuous display of sexuality (and other focuses of lust) we are not baited and trapped by all that!  It is our own sin that causes it!  We love it!  We continue to do it.  We enjoy it.  We want it!  The more perverse it is the more it excites us!  And the more self made, and self willed, and independent to powerful a person is, the more we want to read about him – and lust after what he’s done and what he has!

The sin that is inside can’t be blamed on the sexual revolution – it cannot be blamed on the lifestyles of the rich and famous – it cannot be blamed on exposed bodies – it cannot be blamed on movie-makers and TV commercials; and it cannot be blamed on the members of our body!  The Scriptures command us to walk in the Spirit and do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh!  It is adultery!

The Lord Jesus says it is adultery.  And the adulterer will lose his soul in hell.

And that is the main focus of Jesus’ teaching here.  The horrible nature of sin, and the importance of dealing with it – and doing so decisively.  And how do we do that?  I think that there are four of five principles which are critical that we must learn from this passage.

And the first, obviously, is that we must come to an understanding of the depth and power of the sin which is ours.  Without this first principle there is no holiness – without which no man shall see God – and there is no sanctification.  As Jesus said, it is not just the act of adultery, but it is the adulterous heart.  In other words, we are not just sinners guilty of sinful acts, but we are sinful – ourselves polluted with sin.  And never is this brought to display in such awful and terrible colors as in the death of the Son of God, Who became sin for us.  He did that to cover – not only our sins – but our sin.  He covers us so God doesn’t see our sin.

The second principle in dealing with our sin that we must learn from this text is the importance of our destiny.  I think that, in addition to love for God and wanting to be holy as He is holy, the fear of eternal punishment in hell by this Almighty and Sovereign God should be seen as a primary motivating factor in dealing with our sin.  I don’t think there is anything more gut-wrenching and sobering than a pure faith in God’s punishment for the wicked.  Jesus says here that anything is better than spending forever in hell!

A cancer patient is willing to lose a leg, or a breast, or a kidney in order to stay alive.  But are we willing to excise the sinful self in order to avoid eternal death?  It’s the self – the sinful nature – that must be mortified.  It has to be surgically cut out in the power found in the body of Christ.

“What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”  There is a tragic negligence in those who refuse to mortify the lusts of the flesh – for this life inevitably comes to an end.  And then we meet the One Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew ten, verse twenty-eight)

Now, regarding the third principle, our Lord says, if your eye is baiting and trapping you, tear it out!  Even if this is a metaphorical answer to a ludicrous excuse, the principle is still there – the sin must be hated!  Our Puritan forefathers used to be called specialists in sin.  And they were laughed at.  Let them laugh!  For this is the way to become holy as God is holy.  We must become specialists in sin – contrasting self with the holiness and goodness of God as it is found in His holy Word.  And detesting every difference that is found in the comparison!  That is the third principle.

The fourth principle in dealing with our sin is that we must know what our standard is.  And that standard is “Blessed the pure in heart, for they alone shall see God.”  As we have said many times before, the virtues which belong to the Lord Jesus are ours through living in Him.  We in the Reformed Faith can look at the “letter” and say that we are separated from all the liberalism and the modernism, and the statism, and the arminianism, and the antinomianism; and we can feel self-satisfied without anybody knowing what is going on in the secret places of our imaginations.  That is Pharisaical!  The plague which is in our own hearts has to be understood and hated – and then we must see the standard, which is the pure heart of Christ Himself.

The fifth principle is the mortification of sin.  Putting it to death.  Mortify – to kill.  In Romans eight, verse thirteen Paul says, “For if you live under the flesh, you shall die; but if you, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.”  In First Corinthians nine, twenty-seven he says, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”  Paul’s use of the word “body” refers to the self – the person – the whole person, which is utterly depraved and separated from God outside the body of Christ!  But united with Him we have His Spirit – through Whom we must bring ourselves into subjection.  Paul says, “Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

When the flesh says “sin”, we – the person, by the power of Christ’s Spirit, must make no provision for that!  We must put that to death and bring it into subjection!  Don’t feed it!  Don’t give it provision!  If there is a fire in you, don’t throw gasoline on it!  Whatever is a source of fuel, turn away!  Put it down!  Close your eyes!  Kill it!  Don’t give them any time at all – whether it be fuel for adultery, or hatred, or murder, or envy or bitterness, or strife – the sin is a hated thing, and we have a pure standard in Christ Jesus.  So we must deliberately restrain the flesh – and deal with every suggestion and insinuation of evil; deal with it decisively.  You must do it – the Spirit of Christ will not do that for you.  This is not Eastern mysticism!

The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world, and suffered the shame and the pain, in order to deliver us from the present evil world order – to redeem us from all iniquity, and to separate unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works!  And if His suffering and his love for us mean anything to us, then we, through His Spirit, will mortify the deeds of the body.

“Work through your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”  Sin is powerful, and it is deep within our nature.  And its grip on us is awful.  We are truly polluted.  And that makes us poor in spirit.  And that drives us more and more to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ – where we plead constantly for that power which His Spirit alone can give us.  And by His power we can tear out the eye – and cut off the hand – mortifying the flesh.  And thus deal with the problem of our sin.