27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY ‘; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Many men cringe at this passage, especially if they are dating or married to someone. Whenever I read these few sentences, I hope my wife never will because I fear it will cause her to question my fidelity. It’s a piercing statement. Jesus cuts to the heart of man’s sinfulness…literally. It is in this small passage, however, that we discover Jesus’ point in speaking the way He does throughout the sermon. He is talking about the heart of the Law, not the words. The Jews had grown to think that their righteousness came from physically following the Law even though their heart was telling them otherwise. The great king David lusted, had an affair, and killed someone then lied to cover it up; yet he was still considered a man after God’s own heart. How is this possible if he violated at least 3 of the 10 commandments (and we can be sure he violated others as well).
Through this principle that Jesus is highlighting, we see the danger of sinfulness. In James 1, Jesus’ brother writes his own beatitude that focuses specifically on lust of the heart:
12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God “; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Now, I always like to make sure we understand that the word lust doesn’t just have a sexual connotation. Lust can be likened to envy or a longing desire for something that isn’t specifically sexual. You can lust after a new car, a big house, or even a beer. This principle can even be compared to idolatry, where we worship someone or something else more than God. The original Greek word epithumia that James uses and that is recorded in Matthew means, “To have a desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden.”
It is at this point in the sermon where we begin to look at it and think, “Well, this is impossible. I might as well fold it up and go home because I have already lost.” I try to remember David being a man after God’s own heart after having committed adultery and murder and a slew of other things. We discussed before that it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to follow these Kingdom principles. It isn’t a measure of perfection as far as it depends upon us, but an enabling of the Holy Spirit’s power to work in and through us to be transformed into this image Jesus is painting of a follower of Him. This sermon was the initial lesson that He used to kick off His ministry. He was baptized, tempted in the desert, and then He sat down and started teaching these things. Jesus is giving us the key principles to Kingdom living, not the keys to enter it. We enter the Kingdom through Him; we stay there by striving to embody these principles and following His teachings.
So, instead of cringing at the fact that we have lusted in our heart, sexually or otherwise, let us recognize it as sinfulness and work to stop doing it. Let us rely upon the Holy Spirit, which helps us persevere under these trials so that we will receive the crown of life. Let us not be afraid of this Kingdom principle and instead embrace it, recognizing that by working to achieve it we will be living in the freedom offered to us through the Kingdom of God. The world continues to tell us that giving in to lust is satisfying, but if that were true, then why do we continue to lust after more and more? Pornography has grown to an overwhelming point where even non-Christians are starting to realize its damaging effects upon normal relationships. If we extend that and apply the promotion of lust for other things as well, our minds are blown. Food, clothing, cars, jobs, children, relationships, lives, parents…the list goes on of the things our media driven society has sensationalized to a point where nothing satisfies us anymore. This is why the divorce rate is so high. This is why people compound mortgages and car loans. This is why families cannot live together anymore and the hatred in the world is growing. We want it perfect and we want it now. We want the Hollywood version, not the real version. Even “reality TV” is too perfect. Whenever we think we finally have it, we recognize a flaw in our dream world but continue to reject reality and lust after the next thing that flashes in front of us, throwing everything else in the trash. This is not how we were designed to live!
One day the world will be perfect again. When the New Heaven and New Earth are created, none of these things will be an issue. Until then, however, we must recognize that we are all imperfect people living in an imperfect world. The perfection comes in when we love despite imperfection. Instead of lusting after the next best thing, we should recognize the blessing God has already given us and care for it. Instead of wanting more we should cherish what we already have. Instead of succumbing to temptation we should persevere, because the crown of life is perfect.