Jesus was teaching the Sermon on the Mount. He explained what it means to be a member of God’s Kingdom. The key is found in qualities of the heart such as purity, mercy, and meekness. These rich inner qualities will show outwardly in the way Christ’s followers respond to life. Jesus demanded that the members of His Kingdom have a standard far higher and deeper than anything the world had ever heard before. It isn’t enough not to murder. Christ’s followers have to get rid of malice, contempt, and insults, too. The inner reality matters to God. He sees all of who we are, and He wants it all to be wholly devoted to Him. He calls His children to love. It is higher and more pure than anything in this world because it is heavenly.
Through the empowerment of Christ, the thoughts and attitudes of their inner heart will change, and will transform their outward behavior in turn. When the law of God is lived out with such utter faithfulness in this world, the difference is so deeply beautiful that it exhibits the goodness of God.
The next thing Jesus taught was about sexual purity. The first story in the Bible is the story of how God created the entire universe. The second story is about how God made the first man and woman for each other. It’s that important. They were made in the image of God to have a sacred union. They become one soul, and their love for each other is shown in every way. They give to each other emotionally, spiritually, and physically. That physical union is something they cannot have with anyone else. And the amazing thing is, that union brings whole new souls into the world. The physical expression of love between a husband and wife is very powerful, and it was designed to be held as a sacred, creating act that is special and unique between each couple. It was given as a deeply rich, pleasurable, joyful gift from God.
And then came the Fall. The destructive power of sin became a part of life, and relationships between men and women became just as broken and distorted as everything else. And because sexual expression is powerful and full of pleasure and delight, it is gets misused in selfish, foolish ways that are powerfully destructive. Adultery is a grave sin, and God condemns it sternly in the seventh commandment. It isn’t because God hates the beauty and pleasure of the physical relationship between a man and a woman…it was His idea. He just created it to be so much more. It’s like trading diamonds for bottle caps.
When Jesus taught about the right way to understand this seventh commandment, He said:
“‘…I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”
This is a very high, extreme standard. Only God Himself can know if someone is following it. But Jesus was very serious. He told His listeners that if their eye caused them to stumble into lust, they should gouge it out! If their hand caused them to sin, they should cut it off! Do you really think that Jesus meant that they should harm their bodies? Or do you think He was trying to show how serious this command is to God? The Lord was using extreme examples of what to do to stop the sin of lust because He knew how deep and intoxicatingly powerful it is.
Jesus knew how brutally hard men and women would have to work to remain pure. This area of sin is so powerful that it has to be aggressively destroyed. It is not something that can be played with or indulged in. The result is amazing. When godly men and women stand in this honorable, dignified self-control and restraint, they change the world around them.
Imagine the impact that the lavish love that is possible in a marriage has on the children born into it. What protective power and righteousness good men brings to their communities! How they preserve the safety and purity of all those around them! How protected and safe the women and girls feel when they sense the power of Christ in their leaders and in their Christian brothers! How different life feels for them when men are their protectors instead of their predators. What models of hope they are for younger men as they learn to control their desires in the power of God! And how powerful the example of godly men, purified in the manly dignity of self-restraint, to the men of this world who are out of control and flailing helplessly in the weakness of their sinful nature!
This world discounts and holds in contempt the importance of these things. But the world is wrong, and the evidence of it is all of the perverse abuse and degradation going on all around us. The lies of the world are hurting everyone who follows their deceptive poverty of truth. They learn to accept that infidelity, betrayal, selfish, limited love, divorce, and distorted, even abusive sexuality are not only inevitable, but the norm. They forget to even hope for what their hearts were made for. Or worse, they feel ashamed and weak for wanting it. The innocent suffer as well.
Just as salt awakens the flavor of food so that it can be truly enjoyed, godly, pure men and women awaken an understanding of healthy, right relationship. And just as salt preserves, godly men and women preserve the goodness that becomes eroded and lost in a lustful, degraded world.
When an entire community is committed to the ways of Christ and is honest about the vulnerability that is caused by the intoxicating power of human sexuality, everyone can get on board to protect everyone else…protect the marriages of others, protect our own spouse through our committed love and devotion, protect the vulnerable from their own sin and our own desire to exploit it, etc. A socially stable, secure environment with healthy boundaries develops from the collective faithfulness and love of brothers and sisters in Christ.
But when sexuality is treated loosely, when we are more committed to being gratified by a look or by being looked at, when we allow secrets to fester, when we demand our “right” to live out the patterns of this world that destroy ourselves and others, when we reject the ways of God as outdated, judgmental, or unnecessary, the followers of Christ lose their capacity to act as salt and light. It means we have already failed to mourn sin, to be poor in spirit, and to hunger and thirst after His righteousness. The purity of our hearts has been tainted. If we refuse to make the hard decisions of love for each other, we will have a compromised voice in our proclamation of Christ. It is dangerous, and Jesus made His solution very clear: Gouge it out and cut it off. Wage war against violations of purity to create a place in your heart for the rich, sacred beauty of the deeply loyal, protected love of a Christ filled marriage.