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13. How To Avoid Sexual Temptation (Matthew 5:27-30)

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:27-30 (NET)

How can we protect ourselves from sexual temptation?

Sexual immorality is a tremendous temptation in our societies. It is the ultimate promotional advertisement. It is used to sell cell phones, colognes, clothes, and other accessories. It is used to promote athletic events. It saturates our entertainment including our TV, movies, and music. What makes the promotion of sex even more pervasive is the invention of the Internet. In a few clicks, people can have access to pornography, which is one of the biggest industries in the world. Statistics say that 70% of men ages 18-24 watch porn and one out of three porn viewers are women. The average age for a child to first view porn is eleven years old.1 The consumption of pornography is leading the march on the destruction of marriages and families. Statistics say that when men watch pornography in marriage their divorce statistics double. When women start watching pornography, their divorce statistics triple.2

Though the principles in this passage apply to lust and sexual immorality generally, Christ’s focus is on adultery. He says that when a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery in his heart. In Matthew 5:20, Christ began to address the need for a person’s righteousness to surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes to enter the kingdom of heaven. The rabbis of that day focused on externally keeping God’s commands to the exclusion of heart motives. They taught that to not murder was to keep the sixth commandment, but Christ taught that to be angry was to murder. Here the rabbis taught that to not commit physical adultery was to keep the seventh commandment. However, Christ taught that lusting after a married person was to commit adultery before God.

Obviously, to Christ lust and adultery are not the same—nor do they deserve the same consequences. According to the law, the consequence for adultery was death. However, God hates not only the act of adultery but also what leads up to it—the lustful eye and the lustful thought. All his commands are summarized by loving God and our neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). Therefore, to lust after someone we are not married to is to not recognize their innate dignity before God. It is to de-value that person and make him or her an object, and God hates this.

Therefore, as we consider this text on adultery, it teaches us how to avoid sexual temptation all together. Sexual temptation is destructive; therefore, it must be avoided. First Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee sexual immorality! ‘Every sin a person commits is outside of the body’—but the immoral person sins against his own body.” It is a sin against our mind, body, and spirit. It binds, traps, wounds, and kills. It is so powerful, we are not called to fight or resist it. We are simply called to flee from it.

In this study, we will discern principles about how to avoid sexual temptation.

Big Question: What principles about avoiding sexual temptation can we learn from Matthew 5:27-30?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Eyes

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.

Matthew 5:27-29

Interpretation Question: Is it a sin to simply “look” at a person we’re attracted to?

When Christ says, “whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he is not referring to an incidental or involuntary glance. The Greek word for “looks” is a present participle which refers to a continuous gaze.3 He speaks about the person who gazes to satisfy his or her lustful desires. It describes the person who watches an X-rated movie for the purpose of satisfying his lust. It describes the person who repeatedly looks at another’s figure to derive pleasure from it.

This is what happened with David before he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11). David didn’t sin by looking at Bathsheba. He probably couldn’t have avoided noticing a woman that was bathing in the nude on top of her roof! However, when he saw her, he could have immediately gone back into the house and fought to get those images and thoughts out of his mind, but he didn’t. He continued to look, leading to lust, and then to the act of adultery. Therefore, if we are going to have victory against sexual temptation, we must guard our eyes.

Application Question: How should we guard our eyes?

1. To guard our eyes, we must recognize the power and impact of images we view and read.

A 2012 study published in Psychological Science, showed that the more teens were exposed to sexual content in movies, the earlier they started having sex.4 Another study showed that boys exposed to sexually explicit media were 3 times more likely to engage in sexual activity within two years than non-exposed boys. The same study showed that girls were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to engage in sexual activity after exposure.5

The eyes are a doorway to the mind and whatever one’s mind continually thinks on, a person will eventually do. If a person is going to be pure, he must be intentional about guarding his eyes. This will affect the types of movies watched, books read, and Internet sites visited. It will also affect how one looks at the opposite sex. For many, when they view the opposite sex, it is hard to not view them from a sexual standpoint. Their eyes continually trigger lustful thoughts and intentions, and if not combated, these eventually trigger lustful actions. When perverse images are continually viewed, a person’s lust can become out of control, even leading to tragic acts such as sexual harassment, rape, molestation, etc.

No doubt, this contributes to the frightening sexual abuse statistics! One out of three American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime. One out of four women and one out of six men will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen.6 Four out of five sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.7 Why is sexual abuse so pervasive and overwhelming? No doubt, it, in part, has to do with the increased access to erotic material in books, on TV, and on the Internet. The result of people viewing these materials is that they eventually can’t control themselves—they are filled and controlled by the darkness their eyes continually engage in.

Conversely, a person whose eyes are continually engaging with the Word of God and godly things will be controlled by them. Fruits of the Spirit will be born in their lives—love, joy, peace, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

What are you focusing your eyes on? If we don’t understand how powerful images and what we see are, then we won’t guard what we watch or look at.

2. To guard our eyes, we must learn how to “bounce” them.

In Job 31:1, Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I entertain thoughts against a virgin?” In order to remain pure, Job guarded his eyes from looking at a woman lustfully. This was his continual discipline.

Some have called this “bouncing” one’s eyes. When seeing an attractive person, instead of cultivating lustful thoughts and intentions, a person quickly bounces his or her eyes to something else. When seeing seductive images on the TV or the Internet, instead of taking a second look, one bounces his or her eyes by turning the channel or closing the webpage.

3. To guard our eyes, we must pray over them.

Another discipline we should practice is prayer. David, a man who struggled with lust, often prayed over his eyes. In Psalm 119:37, he prayed: “Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!”

He prayed for God to turn his eyes from viewing dark images to the light of God’s Word. Whatever we practice becomes a habit. If we’ve practiced sizing up members of the opposite sex and looking at alluring images, then we will need even more grace to break those habits. Prayer is one of the ways that God changes our eyes from being dark to light. We should also enlist the help of others to pray for us (James 5:16).

Lord, turn our eyes from what is worthless to what is good.

Application Question: Why are our eyes so important in this battle for purity? How do you protect your eyes? How is God challenging you to grow in this endeavor?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard the Eyes of Others

But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:28

Interpretation Question: Do we have a responsibility of guarding the eyes of others to prevent them from lusting?

I believe this is implied in this text. Arthur Pink’s comments are helpful, though they focus exclusively on women. He says,

If lustful looking is so grievous a sin, then those who dress and expose themselves with the desire to be looked at and lusted after … are not less but perhaps more guilty. In this matter it is not only too often the case that men sin but women tempt them to do so. How great then must be the guilt of the great majority of modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of young men. And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses. (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974], p. 83)8

Not only must we guard our own eyes, but we must guard the eyes of our brothers and sisters. As Pink pointed out, this responsibility is not just for individuals but also for parents who train their children. Parents must teach the importance of modesty. The world will only teach them how to be alluring and sexually suggestive. This is especially true for a woman since her body is more alluring than a man’s. That is why in many cultures, it is socially acceptable for a man to have his shirt off and not a woman. It seems that God made the woman’s body that way—it is the more delicate vessel, which should be honored (1 Peter 3:7). Also, this is especially important for women because men are typically more visually stimulated, while women are more emotionally stimulated.

In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul said,

Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.

Modesty means that a Christian woman should avoid extremes in her clothing. She should not be known for dressing haggardly nor with expensive clothing. However, it especially applies to provocative dress, which can cause others to stumble. It will be very hard for a woman to avoid provocative clothing, as Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), which includes the fashion industry. Sex drives the fashion industry. Shorts and skirts continue to get shorter, tops reveal more cleavage, and pants are tighter. For a woman to dress modestly, she will have to go against the flow and be very strategic and particular in her purchases.

With that said, this is also true for men. Men need to consider their clothing in order to not be a stumbling block to their sisters. Men should be careful of wearing t-shirts that are 3X too small and pants with no air in them.

Dressing modestly is especially important to maintain purity in a dating relationship. Many couples with aims of remaining pure before marriage cause each other to stumble by stirring the other’s passions. Wise pre-marriage couples will have conversations about this topic in order to not stumble the other.

How is your clothing? Could it potentially stumble others?

If we are going to avoid sexual temptation, we must not only protect our eyes but also others’.

Application Question: In what ways have you noticed the trend in clothing to be tighter, shorter, and more revealing? How can Christians wisely avoid these trends?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Mind

But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:28

Interpretation Question: What does “heart” refer to in Matthew 5:28?

When Christ referred to lusting in one’s “heart,” it refers to the mind, will, and emotions. But it probably primarily focuses on one’s mind. Many husbands would never commit the act of adultery because of shame or fear of being caught. However, they are willing to commit the act of adultery in their minds. It is not that having a “bad thought” is a sin. It is almost impossible to fully control passing thoughts. The media, the music, others’ conversations, etc., affect what passes through our minds. However, we can control what we continually think on. We can control what our minds rest on and that is why Christ calls these lustful thoughts adultery.

The imagination is a tremendous gift from God. With our imaginations, we can dream big dreams—dreams that lead to helping others and honoring God. However, our imaginations can also lead to great evil—murder, theft, adultery, and other things. Therefore, we must control our imaginations and use them for good. In order to do this, we must guard our minds.

Application Question: How can we guard our minds?

1. In order to guard our minds, we must recognize ungodly thoughts by testing them against God’s Word, and then rejecting them.

David said this in Psalm 19:7: “The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced.”

The Hebrew word for “inexperienced” or “simple” has the meaning of “open-minded.”9 The ancient Jews used this word to describe “someone whose mind was like an open door: everything went in and everything went out.”10 This person is gullible and will believe anything. His mind is open even to thoughts and images that should be rejected. However, David says that by filling the mind with God’s Word, one becomes wise to discern what is not of God (cf. Heb 5:14). Wisdom in Scripture primarily refers to knowledge of God and obedience to him (cf. Prov 9:10). That is why Scripture describes the “fool” as one who says there is no God (Psalm 14:1).

A person who does not know the Word of God will have difficulty testing what is not good and therefore have difficulty protecting himself. His mind will continually be saturated by ungodly thoughts, sexual images, and lusts meant to control and destroy him. He will lack the power and discernment to close the door on sexual thoughts and many times will not only accept them but also cultivate them.

In fact, every time Christ was tempted in the wilderness, he quoted Scripture to combat the temptations. We must do the same to combat sexual temptation. We should memorize Scriptures like:

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (ESV)

Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul,

1 Peter 2:11

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:2-8 (ESV)

If we are going to protect our mind, we must recognize what is not godly. When watching TV shows, listening to music, or engaging in risqué conversations that cultivate and stir lust, the simple accepts what pollutes his soul, while the wise recognizes and rejects what would dishonor God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19).

2. In order to guard our minds, we must saturate ourselves with God’s Word and other things that represent its truths.

Similar to the last point, Philippians 4:8-9 says,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

The more we saturate our minds with what’s true, the less room we have for lies. We should meditate on God’s Word in the morning and at night and throughout the day. When we do this, it brings God’s presence and blessings (Ps 1:2-3). We should leave the enemy no room to work within our hearts.

3. In order to guard our minds, we may at times need to command the devil to leave in Jesus name.

Again, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he initially responded to the temptation with quoting Scripture, but ultimately, he commanded the devil to leave. Matthew 4:10-11 describes this: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.”

Similarly, at times you may need to do this. When battles with lust, pornography, and illicit sex are especially difficult, we can be sure that the enemy has set up camp in these areas, and we may need to pray in authority over these demonic strongholds to be broken in the name of Jesus. We may also need to ask others to pray in authority over them (cf. Matt 16:23). James 5:16 says to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed.

Application Question: Why is the mind so important not only in battling lust but all sins? How do you protect your mind? What disciplines are helpful?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Be Violent

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:29-30

Interpretation Question: What is Christ referring to when he commands one to tear out his eye and cut off his hand?

When Christ talked about tearing out one’s eye and cutting off one’s hand, he was not being literal. Obviously, if a person plucked out one eye, he could still see, and if he cut off one hand, he could still use the other. These were figures of speech that symbolized war time tactics. In ancient wars, when an army conquered another, they would at times pluck out the eyes and cut off the hands of the conquered so that they would never rise up and fight again and so they would be disgraced (cf. 1 Sam 11:2). This cruel tactic was used on Samson. When the Philistines defeated him, they blinded him with the intent of disabling him from ever harming them again (Judges 16:21).

By using this figure of speech, Christ shares how we must similarly be violent in order to be pure. He shows us how severely we must deal with sexual temptations. If our eye—what we look at—is causing us to lust, we must get rid of it. If our hand—what we do—is causing us to sin, we must cut it out of our life.

The eye and the hand represent things dear to us—things that may seem essential for life. However, even these must not be spared in our efforts to be holy and pure. Is an intimate relationship tempting us? It must be severed. Is it our reading or TV watching? Let us discard it. We must be violent in our task of remaining pure and holy.

This violence will be demonstrated in various ways: I had a friend get rid of his TV in order to be holy. Personally, as a seminary student and youth pastor, I wouldn’t own the Internet at home because I wanted to protect myself from temptation. I would only use it at work or school. I even had to end dating relationships that went too far physically to protect the person and myself, but most importantly, to honor God.

With this said, we can understand why many cannot remain pure. The reason is simple. They just don’t hate their sin enough. Purity is not a big enough priority to get rid of things that are dear to them. They love their eye and their hand too much. Friendships, TV shows, a dating relationship, the convenience of the Internet, etc., are too much to part with in their quest to be holy.

Are you willing to be violent in order to be holy?

Application Question: What are common things that hinder people’s ability to stay pure? Why are these things so hard to cut out of people’s lives? What things have you had to cut out of your life to remain pure in mind and body? Are there any things God is calling you to get rid of currently in order to remain pure?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Fear God’s Judgment

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:29-30

Interpretation Question: What does Christ mean by being thrown into hell for sexual immorality?

Being thrown into hell for sexual immorality seems confusing. How can Christ talk to his disciples (Christians) about being thrown into hell for cultivating lustful thoughts? Christ died for our sins, and we’re called to accept his sacrifice in order to be saved. When we do this, we are forgiven of our sins. If this is true, why would we go to hell for sexual immorality?

Does this mean that a believer can lose his salvation? That doesn’t seem to be the case, as taught by other Scriptures (cf. John 6:38-39, 10:27-30, Romans 8:28-30). However, Scripture constantly declares that many professing believers aren’t truly saved. Christ told the professing believers in Matthew 7:21-23 to depart from him as they were lawbreakers. Their lifestyle of sin proved that they had never been saved. He said to them “I never knew you.” Since this is written in the same context (the Sermon on the Mount), that is probably the best way to interpret the judgment of hell.

Those who profess Christ but live in continuous unrepentant sexual sin are probably not genuinely saved and therefore will be judged in hell. In fact, their judgment will be more severe, as they knew the right way, but still refused to obey God. Luke 12:46-48 describes Christ’s judgment on unfaithful servants. It says,

Then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unfaithful. That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or do what his master asked will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating.

This is the consistent witness of Scripture—our lives prove the reality of our faith, whether it is genuine or false. First Corinthians 6:9-10 says,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This is important for us to think on since “our generation treats sin lightly. Sin in our society is better thought of as aberration, or as illness. It is to be treated, not condemned and repented of; and it must not be suppressed for fear of psychological damage.”11 However, Christ taught that sin is deserving of hell. Our only hope is to turn to Christ who will save us. He bore God’s wrath for us; however, we must not only believe in his life, death, and resurrection, but also repent of our sins and follow him.

With that said, not only should we fear eternal judgment, but also earthly judgment. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” In 1 Corinthians 11:30, people were depressed, sick, and asleep, meaning they had died, because they had abused the Lord’s Supper. When we live in unrepentant sin, God will discipline us (cf. 1 Cor 11:32).

If we are going to avoid sexual temptation, we must fear God’s judgment. Proverbs 9:10 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—it’s the beginning of living a wise life.

Do you fear God’s judgment?

Application Question: Why is it so common for Christians to not fear God? Do you fear the Lord’s discipline? If so, why, and how does this fear affect you? How can we grow in the fear of the Lord?

Conclusion

How can we avoid sexual temptation and all its dangers?

  1. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Eyes
  2. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard the Eyes of Others
  3. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Mind
  4. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Be Violent
  5. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Fear God’s Judgment

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Accessed 8/25/2015 from http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-stats-on-internet-pornography-infographic

2 Accessed 5/26/17, from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/divorce-rates-double-when-people-start-watching-porn

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 302). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Accessed 11/14/2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-healing/201208/overexposed-and-under-prepared-the-effects-early-exposure-sexual-content

5 Accessed 11/14/2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-healing/201208/overexposed-and-under-prepared-the-effects-early-exposure-sexual-content

6 Accessed 8/28/2015 from http://www.woar.org/resources/sexual-assault-statistics.php

7 Accessed 8/28/2015 from https://rainn.org/statistics

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 303). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Accessed 8/25/ 2015 from http://biblehub.com/topical/s/simple.htm

10 Wiegel, Robert, “How Does God’s Word Change Us.” Sermon accessed 8/25/2015 from https://sermons.logos.com/submissions/49039-19-Psalm-019-7-08-How-Does-Gods-Word-Change-Us#content=/submissions/49039

11 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 47). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

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