Matthew 5:27-30 (ESV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If 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. 30 And 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.”
“An Impossible Standard”
If the scribes and Pharisees thought they were having great success keeping the sixth commandment, their achievements surly continued into the seventh. If they don’t murder anyone and they don’t commit adultery, that’s two of the Ten Commandments they have kept. Only eight more to go, right?
As I mentioned in a previous post titled “Living the Law,” the Mosaic Law included 613 commands: 248 were “positive commandments” to perform an act (matching the total number of bones and organs in the male body), and 365 were “negative commandments” to abstain from certain acts (one for each day of the year). If that wasn’t enough, the scribes and Pharisees added thousands of complicated regulations to the already demanding 613 commands while also interpreting the Law superficially (read here).
Just as the scribes and Pharisees relaxed the commandment “You shall not murder” by limiting it to the physical act of murder, they limited the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” to the act of adultery itself. But the scribes and Pharisees were so focused on behavior, and keeping their own standards based on their own interpretations and traditions, they completely missed the tenth and final commandment, “You shall not covet.” The full text of the tenth commandment reads:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
How could they miss it? The last five commandments in order are:
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Of the last five commandments, the last stands out more than the others. You would have to be blind not to see it! Jesus sees they are blind and says:
Matthew 15:14 “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Matthew 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.'”
Matthew 23:24 “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
What’s worse than being a blind guide?
It’s obvious they not only saw this commandment, they knew it and chose to ignore it. Why would they do that? What would be the benefit to them in doing so? If they focus on external behavior, they could enforce obedience to their laws with the threat of punishment in civil court, while at the same time “proving” to themselves and others they are better than everyone else.
Luke 18:9-14 says, He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Because the tenth commandment “You shall not covet” didn’t humble them before God, the Law was not able to do what it was intended to do – reveal to us how sinful we are before a Holy God and in our poverty of spirit, cry out to God for mercy.
Since they couldn’t punish disobedient thoughts and intentions in civil court, or prove their thoughts were more pure than others’, the tenth commandment didn’t serve any purpose to them. Out came the eraser and “You shall not covet” went by the wayside.
It’s as dangerous to put words in God’s mouth as it is to take them out!
Maybe that’s partially why they came up with so many additional laws? Like no one would notice the missing tenth commandment? Their religion was all smoke and mirrors and Jesus was about to clear the air.
Jesus corrects their self-righteousness and false teaching not with anything new, but with what they chose to ignore.
He says in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
I need to pause for a few minutes . . .
When I consider Jesus’ words carefully, I can’t help but mourn (Matthew 5:4) because I know that I am not pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). It’s easy for me to gauge my relationship with God based on my success but when I think of my failures, I can only be poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). There is nowhere else for me to go except to God for mercy (Matthew 5:7). Although I hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), I have to admit, I am not as content in Christ as I think I am or as much as I should be.
But I know that I am not as content in Christ as I will be!
Jesus continues, “If 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. 30 And 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” (Matthew 5:29-20).
I think the graphic nature of Jesus’ teaching reveals the seriousness of lust and sexual sin to God. It goes way beyond the physical act of adultery. This has to be one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. It’s an impossible standard, and it’s supposed to be.
It’s interesting that Jesus offers two parallels (the eye and the right hand) after mentioning lust in the heart. While they are certainly valuable to our daily lives and we wouldn’t want to lose them, I think Jesus using the imagery of cutting off the right hand instead of cutting out the heart has numerous implications.
There is another place where Jesus uses graphic imagery in a similar context. In Matthew 19:12, Jesus said, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
One of the earliest Christian scholars, Origen of Alexandria (AD 185—254), carried out Jesus’ teaching literally and castrated himself.
As we pursue God, not in a figurative or imaginary way, but in a literal and intentional Matthew 22:37-39 kind of way, Satan will attack us literally and intentionally. If you just “dabble with faith” or your pursuit of God is in the context of all the wonderful things He can do for you, but you do not walk in His Sprit or have any real interest in loving Him and others, you probably doubt if Satan even exists. But those of us who walk with God know he is real, and he hates us and hates our God.
One of the ways Satan attacks us is revealed in Revelation 12:10, “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.'”
How does Satan accuse us before God? While his accusations are not detailed in the Book of Revelation, I’m sure he reports to God (day and night) every failure, every shortcoming and every sinful act. Of course, like the majority of the news media, he will only show clips that support his claims against us. We’ll be taken out of context and anything we do that honors God will be omitted from the broadcast.
But what if Satan’s accusations against us are true?
James 4 not only speaks to this but also fits in with Jesus’ teaching on adultery.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:4-10).
The scribes and Pharisees did not submit themselves to God even though they thought they were by their obedience and good deeds. They thought they were drawing near to God by their self-righteous deeds but they didn’t purify their hearts. They were double-minded. They didn’t mourn and weep over their sin. Instead, they relaxed the commandments and added thousands more. They never humbled themselves before the Lord and therefore, He did not exalt them. As a matter of fact, it was quite the opposite.
While at times I feel like my “religion” is smoke and mirrors, I cling to Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Many abuse this verse by being casual about sin, and in the name of grace, they don’t purify their hearts, mourn and weep over their sin or submit themselves to God.
Jesus was serious about not only the outward manifestation of sin in our behavior but more importantly, the hidden sin in our thoughts and in our hearts.
Erase any false image you may have of a “hippie Jesus” who gives a pass to sin, and instead, with a sober mind and humble heart, draw near to Him. Ask God to reveal any area in your life that you cherish and hold onto that might be leading you into sin. Then get rid of it. Cut ties with whatever is holding you back from freedom.
Father, I pray that I would not live like a failure when I fail, but I pray that I would not live like a Pharisee when I don’t. Help me to live in the balance of my identity in Christ and still being a work in progress. I want to glorify you in every aspect of my life. I submit myself to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Thank you for reading my Daily Bible Journal!
Reading, reflecting and writing from the Bible has so radically impacted my life in Christ, it’s as if I’ve been on auto-pilot when reading the Bible in the past. There’s something about “sitting with the text” and through prayerful reflection, sharing what comes to mind. Because I’m posting online for others to read, I consider my words carefully and try to be clear and accurate.
This daily process enhances my understanding of God’s Word and embeds it into my conscience. It literally gets “hidden in my heart!”
I hope this encourages others to be in God’s Word every day.
For God’s Glory,