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3. Flames of Desire (Matthew 5:27-30)

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Matthew 5:27-30
March 21, 2004


The message today is rated PG. It includes a discussion of sexual issues. Parents may wish to take their younger children to Kids’ Church.

Title: Flames of Desire

It’s happened so many times that it’s almost clich. When they stood at the altar, he loved her—more than anything else in the world. They bought a home together and worked late into the night to fix it up. Together they created children and watched them grow. They supported each other through many challenging and difficult times—soul mates, lovers, partners.

But then one day, he has an affair with another woman. She, too, was “happily” married—a devoted wife and mother. She loves (or at least she used to love) her husband. Of course she still loves her children. But this is something different—something just for her. She deserves it.

It is not amazing that men and women get involved in sexual sin.

What is amazing is how much they are willing to pay for it.

Long-standing relationships of love and trust are shattered. Kids lose their parents and are scarred by sorrow and guilt. People surrender their careers, their reputations, their homes, their savings, their friends and their relationship with God—all in the pursuit of happiness—happiness that vanishes with an ever-diminishing half-life.

It’s particularly distressing when we see this done by a pastor or promi-nent Christian leader. We expect that somehow they should be made out of something better than the average person. But at the end of the day, too many of them demonstrate that all of them—just like the rest of us—have feet of clay. However, when they fall into sexual sin, the price often includes the destruction of churches, ministries and people’s faith.

What would make someone do that—risk so much to gain so little?

Three things.

First, you usually don’t realize how much sexual sin is going to cost.

It rarely comes with a visible price tag attached. The cost is hidden, and besides that, it’s pleasure purchased on credit, with unmentioned payments due for the rest of your life.

Second, sex is a powerful force. It compels people to voluntarily do things that they would never think themselves capable of doing under normal circumstances. The combination of sexual and emotional attraction is an undertow that captures people who are merely wading by the beach, sweeps them out to sea and does everything possible to drown them. Sex is powerful, but also deceptive, because those who are being swept out to sea are willing and excited about going on this adventure into deep water.

Third, sexual sin doesn’t begin with glaring and blatant transgressions.

It starts with something very small and innocent—something that looks so harmless, it’s easy to allow. It starts with a desire.

The Jesus Curriculum

Today we’re studying Matthew 5:27-30, a passage where Jesus talks about sexual sin and the desires that lead up to it. This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, or what we’re calling, “The Kingdom Handbook” because in it Jesus teaches his followers about life in God’s kingdom.

The Kingdom Code

This particular section of the handbook is about The Kingdom Code, the rules we ought to follow as citizens of the kingdom.

We don’t follow the rules to get into the kingdom—the only way to get in is by trusting in what Jesus has done for us. The reason we follow the rules is because we are already in the kingdom. Since we trust God to tell us the truth, when he says something is off limits, we believe that he’s got our best interests at heart and that he’s trying to spare us from the pain and destruction that sin would produce if we gave it the chance.

But as Jesus lays out the Kingdom Code, it becomes obvious that he is explaining not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law, the law’s intent. Jesus says it’s not enough to avoid certain external sinful behaviors. We also need to honor God with our thoughts, our motives and our attitudes—the inner things only God can know about us.

Matthew 5 contains six comparisons between this “external performance” and the “internal obedience” that God desires. Jesus talks about anger, lust, divorce, lying, revenge, and hatred. In each case, he calls us, his followers, to commit ourselves not just to obeying the external requirements of the law, but also to allowing the Kingdom Code to govern our thoughts, our motives and our attitudes.

Last week we talked about anger. It’s not just the external behavior of murder that’s wrong. It’s also wrong to maintain unresolved anger toward another person. Today we’re going to talk about the second of these six contrasts as Jesus teaches us about lust. In God’s Kingdom, it’s not only against the law to cheat on your spouse. It’s also against the law just to entertain the desire to have an affair with someone else.

Unrestrained Desire is Sin

Matthew 5:27-30 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'

The OT law was clear: adultery was wrong. Sleeping with someone else’s spouse, but could refer to a broader spectrum of sexual sins.

[28] But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus says adultery is not the only thing to avoid. Adultery is an external behavior. But Jesus goes for the internal thoughts and motives.

The key word in this sentence is “lustfully”. However, that’s actually not a very good translation of this Greek word. The English “lust” carries a decidedly negative and sexual connotation—both of which are missing in the Greek word, epiqumew. It simply means, “to desire something or to long for something” and it is strictly a neutral term. In other words, whether desire is good or bad depends entirely on what you are desiring. The Bible uses this same word to say that one who wants to be an elder “desires a noble task”. Paul “desires to depart” this life and be with Christ. Jesus “eagerly desired” to eat the Last Supper with his disciples. The prophets in the OT “longed to see” the Messiah and angels “long” to understand our salvation. When Jesus uses this word, it is usually positive. But here it is obvious that he is talking about a desire for a woman that God has placed “off limits”. To desire that woman, says Jesus, is wrong, just as adultery itself is wrong.

There are a few misunderstandings about this verse. So I’d like to take a some time to say what this verse does NOT mean.

First, this does NOT mean that desire is adultery or that desire is just as bad as adultery, i.e., as soon as you’ve desired, then you’ve already had adultery, so having the thought is the same as if you acted on the thought. It is NOT the same. Notice that it doesn’t say, “you’ve already had adultery with her”, but “you’ve already had adultery with her in your heart.” Desire for an inappropriate sexual relationship is emotional adultery, not physical adultery. What this is saying is that it is not only wrong to consummate an “off limits” relationship. It is also wrong to desire an “off limits” relationship. Both are wrong, but they are not the same.

Second, this does NOT mean that sexual desire itself is wrong. God created sex and He created us with strong sexual desires. He also gave us the perfect context to indulge those desires—the marriage relation-ship. Unfortunately, many churches have left people with the impression that sex is evil and that God is pretty upset that somehow people figured out how to do this. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. (In 1981, Pope John Paul II said that a man could violate this verse even with own wife by lusting after her. That is completely contrary to what the Bible says.) Sex is God’s invention. He came up with the idea. He made it attractive and pleasurable and fun. He wants his followers to enjoy the best sex on the planet and so he designed marriage as the perfect context for it.

But to use God’s gift outside the context of marriage is to violate the operating instructions in the owner’s manual. Sex wasn’t designed to work outside marriage. It won’t work outside marriage. Instead of bringing us the fulfillment that God created sex to produce, it will bring us temporary pleasure and then long-term destruction and heartache.

Proverbs 6:25-29, 32

Do not lust in your heart after her beauty

or let her captivate you with her eyes,

for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread,

and the adulteress preys upon your very life.

Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?

Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?

So is he who sleeps with another man's wife;

no one who touches her will go unpunished.

A man who commits adultery lacks judgment;

whoever does so destroys himself.

Have you ever put something together without reading the directions?

Look, here’s glue. Let’s squirt it on. Then you read the instructions: “Warning: do not put the glue on part C until you have first connected part A to part B.” By that time it’s too late. It’s ruined. It will never work the way it’s supposed to. That’s what happens when we use sex outside of the context of marriage. It messes things up. It destroys. That’s why God says it’s “off limits”. He loves us and wants us to have the best. He didn’t send us assembly instructions to keep us from having fun. He sent them so that we could get the maximum enjoyment out of his gift.

Third, I believe that this verse is NOT saying that merely to have a desire for an inappropriate relationship is wrong. I believe that to entertain or nurture that desire is wrong. Remember when we talked about anger last week. It isn’t wrong to be angry. It’s wrong to leave it unresolved. In the same way, I believe that it isn’t sin to be attracted to someone besides your spouse or even to desire a sexual relationship with that person. However, to hang on to that desire, to feed it or act upon it—that is wrong.

Like anger, desire is initially a response, not a choice. We probably have desires for inappropriate relationships so often because we’re fallen—so in that sense even that initial desire is sinful. But it’s not a sin in the sense of a choice I make to disobey God. When it first strikes, I think desire is more of a temptation than a sin. It’s what we choose to do with desire and what we choose to do because of desire that makes it sinful.

It’s unrestrained desire that is sinful. That is the point that Jesus is trying to make in this verse. It’s not only the external behavior of adultery that is wrong. It is also wrong to harbor and nourish a secret internal desire for an illicit relationship. Physical adultery is wrong. But so is emotional adultery or mental adultery or attitudinal adultery.

Purity is Important

That’s why purity is important—not only purity in actions, but also purity in thoughts. Jesus goes on in verses 29-30 to explain just how important it is.

[29] If your right eye causes you to sin, 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.

Notice the parallel thought in the next verse:

10. [30] And if your right 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 go into hell.

These verses are not suggesting that we should fight sexual sin by literally plucking out our eyes and cutting off our hands. I’m confident that even if we had only left eyes and left hands, we would still be able to find a way to have inappropriate sexual relationships and inappropriate sexual desires.

What these two verses are saying is that sexual purity in both action and thought is very important. It’s so important, that it’s worth sacrificing some otherwise good things if they might lead us into sin.

Colossians 3:4-5 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. [5] Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; [4] that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, [5] not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; [6] and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. [7] For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.

Off course. Titanic about to run into an iceberg.

Some Practical Advice

I’d like to close today with some practical advice about dealing with sexual. Some of these are not explicitly from the Bible, but are some practical things I have learned about trying not to let desire turn into sin.

1. Desire is an alarm.

Like a proximity alarm. Action needs to be taken to avoid a collision.

2. Recognize you are vulnerable.

3. Watch your input.

4. Dress thoughtfully.

5. Watch your circumstances.

6. Think consequences.

7. Satisfy each other in marriage.

Proverbs 5:15-20 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. [16] Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? [17] Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. [18] May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. [19] A loving doe, a graceful deer-- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. [20] Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?

8. Tell someone else.

9. Run away.

10. Rely on God’s Spirit.

Galatians 5:16 Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the [flesh].

1 Copyright 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the The Kingdom Code series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on March 21, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Love

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