Matthew 5:27-32
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 16, 2024

Sometimes we’d like to restrict the scope of God’s commandments.  But Jesus brings to light their full implications and urges His followers to engage in a wider and deeper righteousness.

For example, while many view the sixth of the Ten Commandments as just prohibiting homicide, Jesus expands its application to respecting the sanctity of all human life.  Likewise, while many view the seventh of the Ten as just prohibiting adultery, Jesus expands its application to respecting the sanctity of all covenantal relationships – most immediately, marriage; but also, by reasonable extension, other covenantal relationships such as deep friendship and church membership.

A covenantal relationship is one defined by an exchange of commitments.  Each commitment is a determination, for the sake of creating a special bond, both to do some things and not to do some other things.  Married couples live out such a covenant – and so do best friends, and congregations and their members.

Once we appreciate, as much as Jesus, all that the seventh of the Ten Commandments entails, we know it pertains to more than just husbands and wives.

Yet, in all covenantal relationships it remains to be seen whether someone who commits to one will faithfully follow through on its defining commitments.

After examining a woman, a doctor phoned her husband to speak with him in private.  He said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your wife has a potentially fatal disease.  Her prospects of survival depend on her maintaining a bright outlook.  So, to have her for many years to come, you need to keep her as happy and stress-free as you can.  If you do all the cleaning and cooking, you’ll help her keep her spirits up.  And if you often bring her flowers, hug her and tell her how glad you are she married you, you’ll help her stay positive.  Staying upbeat is everything in defeating this disease.  So if you do all this as long as it takes, your wife stands a good chance of overcoming this disease and regaining full health.”

That evening, the husband told his wife the doctor had called.  “What did he say?” she asked.  “Honey,” he replied shaking his head sadly, “he said you’re going to die – and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

No one has a higher view of marriage than Jesus.  That’s why He narrowly limits the grounds for divorce.  Because marriage is a holy institution created by God, divorce can’t be justified by just meeting the legal requirements and submitting the right paperwork.  It can only be justified as a “last resort” – that is, as the best available option when the ideal one is not available.

Hence, a spouse who is a faithful follower of Jesus does everything they can to love their spouse as Jesus loves His church.  In contrast to the husband in the story, a Jesus-following husband denies himself to serve his wife; and is attentive, kind and generous with her even on those days when she’s hard to put up with.  In other words, he’s as gracious to her as Jesus has been to him.

One husband whose happy marriage had lasted 50 years revealed the secret to their marital longevity:  “The day we wed,” he said, “I decided to pick ten of her faults that, for the sake of our marriage, I’d always overlook.”  Right away someone begged to know one of her faults.  He answered, “Well, I never got around to even starting that list.  So every time she did something that made me hopping mad, I’d say, ‘Lucky for her, I bet that’s one of the ten.’”  As Billy Graham’s wife used to say, “A good marriage is a union of two good forgivers!”

It’s also a union of two good commitment-keepers.  Faithfulness matters mightily, and it’s fulfilled not only physically.  For there is as well infidelity of the mind and infidelity of the heart.  Thus, Jesus speaks of how a married person who looks with lust at someone else has already committed adultery with them in their heart.

This is not to say adultery in the heart is as bad as adultery in a No-Tell Motel – but the two actions are cut from the same unrighteous cloth, and the lesser of the two sins inclines one to carry out the greater.  Eye-adultery leads to mind-adultery; and mind-adultery, to body-adultery.  Dwelling on having one’s desire leads to fantasizing, and fantasizing leads to making the daydream a reality.  The heart follows the eyes; and the body, the heart.

There is, let us note, a real distinction between looking with a natural response of attraction and interest, and looking with lust.  Lust is not in the arousing, but in the housing of our desire inside of us.  As Martin Luther once put it, “You can’t keep the birds from flying past your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair” – which, if understood literally, means I for one never have to worry about that particular sin!

In all seriousness, lusting is no innocent activity.  It goes beyond being stirred up by the beauty in someone’s appearance or personality.  It is to degrade attraction to them into a greedy avarice to “have them” as one’s own.  Thus, lusting demeans the other person by viewing them, not as a subject for our honoring and serving, but as an object for our craving and using.  It reduces them to a mere means to our self-centered ends when we should respect them as an end in themselves – which is how God sees them.

In every human soul, there are two equally strong dogs vying for supremacy, one bright with righteousness and the other dark with unrighteousness.  Which one wins the fight for dominance?  The one we feed!

How do we feed the good dog?  Mentally, by focusing our attention on God and His righteousness; emotionally, by relishing the beauty of righteousness and its inner rewards; and physically, by getting our knees on the floor and our butts in the pew.

And how do we starve the other dog?  Jesus, the poet, expresses it with hyperbolic figures of speech.  He talks of tearing out an eye or cutting off a hand if it causes us to sin.  He’s not advising physical mutilation, but spiritual mortification – putting our insistently barking, but insufficiently deep, desires in their place.  We starve the bad dog, not by destroying any part of our body, but by disciplining every part of our being for a higher concern.  The main thing in life is, after all, to keep the main thing the main thing – or, as Jesus says later in the Sermon on the Mount, to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

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