A class of fourth graders was given an overnight assignment to write a paper about their family roots. One little boy asked his mother for help, but he failed to explain that he was working on a homework assignment.
She was in the middle of cooking supper when he asked: “Mom, where did I come from?” She thought that he was suddenly curious about where babies come from. But at that precise moment, that was something she was not prepared to discuss. So, she responded: “Why, from the stork, honey.” The little boy persisted: “Well, where did you come from, Mom?” She responded again, rather uncomfortably: “The stork brought me, too.” Once more the little boy asked: “Mom, then where did grandma come from?” The mother’s response was the same as before.
Finally, the boy went to his room where he began his paper with this sentence: “There hasn’t been a natural childbirth in this family for at least three generations.”
It’s never easy to talk about human sexuality, is it? Especially in front of children and strangers, and in public places like the sanctuary of a church on Sunday mornings. But I believe it’s imperative that Christians address the serious issues related to human sexuality.
Let me illustrate why I believe that so strongly. I want to ask you a simple question. How many times in a given day do you suppose that you have sexual thoughts? Be sure to consider all the jokes you tell, hear and laugh at, the songs you listen to, sing and hum during the day (country music and contemporary rock), the shows you watch on television (including the movies you rent), the headlines which grab your attention in the local newspaper or in the supermarket check-out lane, and the conversations you have with neighbors and co-workers, or overhear at the hair stylist’s.
You probably think, talk and are exposed to more sexual influences than you imagined, right? Anything that occupies so much of our thoughts, dominates so completely the music and entertainment industries of our land, and is at the root of so much marital, relational, and personal conflict ought to be addressed from a uniquely Christian and biblical perspective.
The focus of this sermon is one of the most misunderstood and trivialized lessons of the New Testament. Does the text really say what it appears to say? And does it really mean what it says? Does it mean that the physical attraction between an unmarried man and woman is sinful — even if they do not commit the sinful act? Does it mean that every sexual thought is dirty and shameful? Does it mean that every admiring look is adulterous? If so, can any of us escape the scope and breadth of our Lord’s judgment? Let’s look at what the text actually says and then determine its meaning and application for our life situation.
First, it is clear that our Lord clearly intended to re-define the sin of adultery. That which constituted adultery in His time was radically different from that which constitutes adultery in our own time. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that His world was much more permissive and liberal in its understanding of adultery than ours. And that is precisely the reason a re-definition was needed.
You don’t have to read very much of the Old Testament before you discover how crude and uncouth was the understanding of human sexuality in that part of the world. The patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — each had concubines (
Besides that, many prominent figures and folk heroes had several wives and some openly used the services of prostitutes — and nobody much cared. No fingers were pointed at Samson for his sexual escapades in the boudoirs of the Philistines (
In that part of the world, adultery was a sin committed against a married man — never against a woman, including a man’s own wife. The law declared that a woman was a man’s property. She was the property of her father until such time as she was married. Upon her marriage, ownership was transferred to her husband in exchange for other property or services of equal value. Even the tenth commandment prohibiting the coveting by one man of another man’s property listed his wife in the inventory of protected personal property, alongside his livestock and servants (
Essentially, adultery was a violation of the property law. It’s primary concern was a husband’s rights to have children who were unquestionably his own. His wife’s adultery with another man seriously compromised his right to that confidence. It was considered such a serious violation of the law that both the adulteress and the adulterer were put to death (
By the time of Jesus’ ministry, the practices of concubinage and multiple marriages had been discontinued. But the double standard still existed. The woman was still regarded as a man’s property. She had no rights, no standing of her own! Adultery was still considered an offense against a married man — but not a woman, including a man’s own wife.
In the text, our Lord clearly objects to the uncivilized and inhuman treatment of women — not just married women, but women in general, who were treated by men as property to be owned, traded, or discarded! To treat any person as merely a sex object is sinful, even when that woman is your wife, or that man is your husband! In other words, on the basis of His re-definition, it is possible for a man to be guilty of adultery with his own wife. It’s even possible to be guilty of adultery when no physical sexual act had been committed. In the eyes of our Lord, adultery is essentially any attitude which demeans, disgraces, debases or humiliates the worth and integrity of another human being!
It’s clear then, that Jesus is primarily concerned to elevate the relationship between men and women to a new level of sacredness and to establish a new and higher degree of mutual respect between them. In the process, He sounds an ominous warning to those who use sex to control, dominate, and manipulate another human being. His warning is to husbands and wives who have little or no contact, and virtually no meaningful relationship, with each other outside the bedroom. He calls them to recapture the holy element of intimacy and love which is at the heart of every Christian marriage — a degree of intimacy which can even raise their physical relationship to new levels of spirituality.
His warning is to unmarried men and women who share a physical relationship intended only for marriage. He calls them to a serious re-evaluation of their commitment to their Lord and to each other. He reminds them that physical intimacy is never an adequate foundation upon which to establish enduring relationships between Christian men and women.
He warns teenagers and young adults for whom sex is merely a way of relieving boredom or acting out their deeper needs. He reminds them that when sex is used to play “control games” with others, when it is merely a means of holding on to a boyfriend or a girlfriend, it becomes a destructive force of exploitation and that is the root evil of lust and adultery!
No, Jesus does not prohibit a casual, polite and admiring glance at a beautiful woman or a handsome man. Lust is far more serious than that! Generally speaking, it refers to any all-consuming desire. Whenever any urge becomes so over-powering that it dominates a person’s mind, then lust has taken hold. If you have trouble concentrating on anything else other than the one thing you want most right now — whether it’s fame or fortune, a new car or boat, a new house or business, a promotion or recognition, a romantic relationship, or merely a friendship with another person — if you would do almost anything to have what you want, if you would be tempted to risk everything you now have in order to gain what you don’t have, you are at the mercy of lust.
In the text, Jesus focused specifically upon the danger of lust when it becomes attached to our human sexuality. When that happens, lust distorts and perverts everything else. A lustful person lives in a perpetual sexual stew. Sexual thoughts and urges dominate the mind, determine behavior, and infiltate practically every conversation. Lust is not normal sexual desire. It is, instead, the all-consuming, selfish and insatiable desire which seeks — and if given the opportunity uses — other people as sexual objects.
It’s easy to recognize lust. It characterizes the men and women with whom you work or go to school — the ones who seem to have nothing else but sexual thoughts. Everything they say, every joke they tell, has an erotic twist. Lust distinguishes men who fall all over themselves and embarrass their wives by their behavior in shopping malls, restaurants, and other public places as they gawk at every young, attractive, fashionably dressed female they see.
Lust can also describe the friendship between married men and married women. Both are committed to someone else and neither would ever be unfaithful to their spouse. Yet the basic content of their secretive conversations with each other — the essential substance of their friendship — centers around flirting, teasing, and sharing the most intimate fantasies and desires, the most personal frustrations and problems with their spouse. Lust motivates the “sneak peek” at Playboy or Playgirl at the airport newsstand or the bookstore in the local mall. Lust motivates much of the business at local video stores. And it’s lust that is at the root of thoughts you would never express, thoughts you can’t even believe you think.
Lust is serious business. It’s demeaning, degrading, debasing, humiliating, and shameful. It really shouldn’t be trivialized, snickered at, smirked over, and smiled about. The Bible doesn’t dismiss it nearly so casually as the wife who tells her husband that there’s no harm in looking so long as he doesn’t touch. The Bible doesn’t excuse it with a flippancy based upon the argument that everybody lusts, everybody occasionally looks and even looks again.
The Bible says that lust is one of the most dangerous problems we confront. James wrote:
… each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires (lusts). The desire (lust) when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death (destruction, our downfall) (
As far as Jesus was concerned, lust in any form — especially when it becomes attached to our God-given sexuality — is deadly business. He counselled His followers to avoid it at the most extreme cost. He said:
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away: it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go to hell (
Obviously, Jesus did not mean for you to take this advice literally. After all, removing the offending eye or hand would not necessarily remove the sinful thought from your heart. His point was to underscore the necessity of taking drastic action in dealing with the lustful look and the adulterous thought. You can’t nurse it and pamper it, flirt with it and enjoy it, because it will turn out to be your ruin. The only alternative is to ruthlessly root it out of your life!
It may cause you as much pain as a physical amputation. It may mean breaking off a relationship which has become meaningful to you but which is detrimental to your marriage and family or your spiritual well-being. It may mean getting help for your addiction to sexually-explicit, pornographic materials. It may mean that you and your spouse have to seek counsel in order to recover and restore the romance and intimacy to your marriage. It may mean that you have to exercise more self-control and discipline over your thoughts and conversations. It may mean that you have to start running with a different crowd.
Ultimately it means that you will have to yield your whole life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It will mean that you must give Him permission to renew your mind and control your thoughts. It will mean that you allow Him to change the pattern of your conversations and your behavior. It will mean that you permit His power to change you and make you an entirely new and different person!
It may be the most painful thing you have ever experienced. The question is: are you willing to endure it?