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Today I want to begin by recapping the basis of Jesus’ teachings in what is called the Sermon on the Mount. Here it is: God’s greatest concern is and has always been relationships – God’s relationship to each of us, our relationships to one another, and our relationship to creation/the world around us. God values relationships above all else. God loves community. In His very being God is relationship and community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When God created human beings the Bible tells us he walked and talked with them every day. This was why we were created in the first place – to have relationship with God and with others. That is the fullness and beauty of understanding the existence and purpose of God. It also should help us understand our own existence and purpose, not something selfish and ego-centric, but rather life at its best in the context of relationships. This is why we exist.
Last week Pastor Angelo taught us about the Law of God and how Jesus came to fulfill the “letter of the law” with a more relational approach. We will learn this throughout the summer as we explore all of the different teachings of Jesus. The Law, including the 10 commandments, was not given as a way to force people who didn’t care to obey a God they didn’t know. The Law was given by a loving God who wanted the best relationships for the people He loves – you and me. He gave these commands so we would be spared the grief of damaged relationships and the chaos that ensues.
The Jewish people did not understand this. Many people today do not understand this, even though Jesus was very clear when he said, “All the Law and prophetic saying are fulfilled in this…Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”
These are obviously relational directives. They are not simple do this, don’t do that, and you will be fine. These commands speak to the heart of human existence – relationships. They call us to a deeper sense of what it means to be a part of the “family” of Jesus followers. And they are also not easy. It would be easier to keep the 10 commandments and follow the laws of justice than to love our neighbors and do good to our enemies. But Jesus never calls us to the easy route – he calls us to the best route through life. And, as we discussed before when we talked about the Holy Spirit, Jesus does not expect us to be able to live this way by our own will power. We have the Holy Spirit who lives within us who believe and follow Jesus – the Holy Spirit who lives through us when we submit our will and our heart to Him by listening and acting in His power.
All of these ideas and understandings of God are necessary given our topics of today. These verses are some of the easiest to understand, yet the hardest to put into action. They touch our lives at the center of our heart – our selfish, deceitful, wicked heart – and tend to draw us away from deeper and more meaningful relationships. I want to teach us a new way to see them – a way to live relationally that enlivens our relationship to God and others.
Also, given my current life situation and some family choices that have been made, this topic is very close to me emotionally and spiritually today. I will be sharing some things that may make you wonder, “what’s he really thinking” or “what is he NOT saying?” But there is none of that here. I’m laying it all on the line. I want us to hear, see and understand the Truth of God no matter what. It will not be easy. But few things that can change our lives for the better are. So let’s turn to Matthew chapter 5 starting in verse 27.
Matthew Mateo馬 太 福 音 5:27-37
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’
28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Adultery by every definition involves one or more married persons engaging in physical, intimate acts with someone to whom they are not married. I think we all would accept that as the standard. Few people would say adultery is okay. Very few affirm those who are committing it. Some do. But Jesus, who is fully aware of the importance of pure and honorable relationships, is not willing to stop with this basic definition. Jesus knew that anytime a person focuses their attention on something that was not ordained of God it could lead to relational damage. It’s not just a matter of an act but rather a matter of the heart that can destroy the beauty of marriage. Think about that for just a minute. It’s not just an act, it’s a matter of the heart. Consider your own life and the thoughts you’ve had of your spouse or against them. Our hearts are so easily swayed by emotion and deceit. What of your intimate thoughts about other people? Was it or is it ever healthy to think in intimate ways about someone other than your spouse? Jesus would say, “No,” because it violates the heart of God’s love for pure and honorable relationships. Jesus pushes us to a higher level of love and commitment because life is not about the letter of the Law. It’s about living out God’s love for others.
Of course you might be thinking, “Then we are all in big trouble.” And that would be correct. Very few people in the world have never had a lustful thought about someone other than their spouse, especially in our day of technology and moral depravity. If it’s not our eyes and minds wandering through magazines it could be the enticingly dressed person at the office. If it’s not the readily available pornography on the internet, it’s the buff man or woman at the gym with clothes so tight you don’t need an imagination.
There are times when I am so thankful for how blind I am, because, if I’m at the gym or at a pool the only thing that stands between my mind and purity is my glasses. And if I can’t control my deceitful heart at least I can control my blinded eyes.
Maybe the only thing that stands between your natural, God-given desires within you and the self-indulgent lust of the internet is accountability and a healthy relationship to your spouse. Jesus’ desire for us is that we live in relationships that bring him honor.
Culture doesn’t care and in fact promotes the impurity and promiscuity. Just look at the popularity of the “50 Shades of Grey” novels and the “Magic Mike” film. Men were already gripped by lust and sin, but these are aimed at women. It’s a terrible thing. Remember the old computer adage – garbage in, garbage out? It’s true. Remember the motto for our Destinations series? “Your direction, not your intention, determines your destination.” You will steer to whatever captures your attention. Don’t let culture tell you what you should believe and how you should act. Follow Jesus.
These are not legitimate ways to deal with your natural desires. God’s solution to these issues, for those of you who are married, is to have a vibrant, growing and accountable relationship with your spouse. It’s just like we talked about for so many weeks in the “Guardrails” series. Some of you need to go back and listen to those over and over again. A solid relationship with God and a committed, intimate relationship with your spouse can provide enough stability and resolve to avoid adultery – whether the dictionary type or the more difficult definition of Jesus. Nothing good comes from adultery.
And the solution for you singles is to “guard your heart,” make a “covenant with your eyes.” Find fulfillment in the purity of the relationship that God wants for you. Your time for the rest will be in the future.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the last part of this verse. It meant something significant to them because in that day and under their laws there were some significant, physical consequences to adultery, stealing, etcetera. Verse 29
29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, 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.
30 And if your hand—even your stronger 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 be thrown into hell.
What Jesus is simply saying to us today is this – do whatever you have to do to have a healthy, pure and God-honoring relationship. It’s that plain.
Now we move on to the next thoughts Jesus had about relationships – divorce. This was in a day and time when marriage was for life most of the time. But God had given the children of Israel a way out of a marriage way back in the wilderness. The Apostle Paul, I think it is, wrote later that God did this because of their hardness of heart, not because God sanctioned divorce. In fact, the Old Testament records God saying plainly, “I hate divorce.” God didn’t say that he hated divorced PEOPLE, just the act of divorce itself. Why is that? Again we have to go back to the whole “God loves relationships” theme. In Godly relationships there is always room for repentance, redemption, reconciliation and restoration. God did that and does that for us, and I believe God wants us to live that way as well. So divorce without biblical cause, which we will get to in a moment, goes against everything that is in the character and nature of God. It’s not repentant, it’s not redemptive, it’s not reconciliating and it’s certainly not restorative. Let’s read verses 31-32
31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’
32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.
So here we go again. We have the Law – ‘A man can divorce his wife…,’ (no fault divorce). Then you have another, “But I say,” that Angelo mentioned last week. And the “But I say” of Jesus far outweighs and overpowers the letter of the Law. Jesus is God – in the flesh. Jesus has God’s character and knows God’s nature and has God’s nature. And Jesus says, “There is no legitimate reason for even considering divorcing someone unless they have been unfaithful.” And this word unfaithful does not mean “to look at another person with lust,” or to “irritate someone,” or to “have irreconcilable difference.” This word means that a married person has engaged in a relationship that crosses the line of intimacy…it may not be full blown intercourse, but it has crossed the barriers of activity that are reserved for marriage. THAT is unfaithfulness. There’s not much more to say about that. It’s pretty clear.
But, now, I want to add to this an explanation that I think is reflective of the heart of God, that is not the letter of the Law even in this instance, but is the heart of Jesus’ commands to love God and our neighbor. Notice that Jesus never tells the crowd that they MUST get divorced or that they SHOULD divorce a wayward spouse. He says that unfaithfulness is just cause to divorce your spouse but he does not say you MUST do it. Many people get divorced initially over such things and some get back together afterwards. That’s beautiful if neither spouse has remarried. That is the heart of God’s character – repentance, redemption, reconciliation and restoration. This is what I pray for in my own family. I long for this and am committed to this if God allows. But Jesus never suggests that divorce is a good option, just that there are circumstances that make it allowable in the eyes of God.
I have to say this so as not to lay guilt and shame on anyone. Does marrying another person who is divorced, whose divorce was not caused by infidelity, really cause them to commit adultery? The simple answer is “yes.” It’s right here. This is not God’s ideal. God doesn’t even like the idea. But – does God hate people that are divorced and remarried? NO! He loves us. Does God count this sin of illegitimate divorce against them forever? NO! He forgives us. God is in a relationship with you forever and ever and ever. God will not condemn you guilt you when you repent of any sin, of any kind. You may live out some consequences that are less than ideal for you life, but God forgives you and will make the most beautiful thing possible out of your life no matter what. God wants you to reconcile to your spouse if possible, but God is also not ignorant of the human condition and of our frailty. And God will “cause all things to work together for the good of those who live out His purposes.” God doesn’t want divorce to happen, but He knows it will. God wants the best relationships possible for your entire life.
This is my final point about divorce. It’s also a personal opinion that I cannot back up with a biblical text, yet I think it is the nature of God. You should not stay in a relationship that involves physical violence or severe mental/emotional abuse. You should remove yourself physically from a situation that involves these things – just my opinion. I’m not saying you should give up and get divorced and move on, but none of us deserve to be beaten or abused by anyone. Get out, be safe, involve the authorities if necessary, and then decide “can this work out? Will counseling help? Or is this over?” God would never ask someone to put their life and health on the line for anything other than the Gospel. And most of us will never face that plight of defending our beliefs to the death. So, protect yourself and your kids. Be safe. And then decide with the help of wise, godly counsel, if the marriage should be saved.
Compared to those two teachings this final one might seem like a piece of cake. It’s Jesus’ teaching about vows. It’s related to this first two for sure. Because we take vows at our weddings as well as promising to do other things in life. It is much broader than just marriage, but the principle is the same – God values honorable relationships above all things. So here are verses 33-37:
33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’
34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne.
35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King.
36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black.
37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
Jesus is not telling the people “Don’t make any promises.” That’s not it at all. But what he is saying is “stay true to your word.” Don’t manipulate people. Don’t try to get out of a commitment. Don’t couch your promises with flowery speech or grand guarantees by God or heaven or your own body. If you say, “yes,” Then mean and execute “yes.” And if you say, “no,” then mean and execute a “no.” This means in marriage, don’t’ make the vows and then walk around them. Do everything in your power to live them out. Be the right person, take the right actions, put God at the center. With your children – don’t raise them to be confused by your inconsistency. Don’t manipulate them or let them manipulate you. Work in ALL of your relationships to be honest and upright. That is God’s ideal. That is God’s nature. That is God’s plan.
So those are Jesus’ teachings on adultery, divorce and vows. I hope you have heard the heart of God. I hope you can live a life with these principles in mind: repentance, redemption, reconciliation and restoration. These principles are what God does for us over and over again. And they are how we will have the most successful relationships in every area of life. But let me ask you – where are you in dealing with these issues in your life? Are you fooling yourself into thinking “everything is fine, I/we don’t have a problem?” Do you need to commit yourself to living out your relationships to Jesus’ standard rather than just the letter of the Law? It’s harder, but isn’t it better?
Or maybe you are considering an affair, maybe even divorce, because you’re just tired of the way your life has been. Please, hear the Truth of God’s Word today. Pursue your spouse with purity and humility. Pursue repentance, redemption, reconciliation and restoration. And if you need anyone to talk to about these things, please let me or one of the Pastors know. We will not judge you. We will listen to you and pray with you. We will commiserate and cry with you. And we will speak the Truth to you as God lays it out for us. Let’s pray.