Hope for Hurting Hearts

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:31-32

Today we return to the Sermon on the Mount and find ourselves standing before one of the most difficult subjects in all of Scripture and life today: divorce. Every one of us has experienced divorce or known someone affected directly by it.

Let’s ask the Lord our most common questions about this painful subject and listen to him together as he offers us hope for hurting hearts.

What does Jesus teach?

Let’s ask first, what does Jesus teach? His answer begins: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce'” (v. 31). “Whoever divorces his wife” points to an extremely common practice in Jesus’ day.

The Jews typically allowed divorce for any reason whatsoever. A man could divorce his wife if she spoiled his dinner by putting too much salt in his food; if she went into public with her head uncovered; if she talked with men in the streets; if she burned the toast. Rabbi Akiba said that a man could divorce his wife if he found someone more attractive.

Divorce was so common in Jesus’ day that many women refused to get married.

To divorce his wife, the husband presented her with a “certificate of divorcement.” The most common form: “Let this be from me your writ of divorce and letter of dismissal and deed of liberation, that you may marry whatever man you will.” If he handed this document to his wife in the presence of two witnesses, she stood divorced, with no legal proceedings or protection whatsoever.

So Jesus speaks to an extremely common situation, in which the structure of family life is collapsing and national morals are disintegrating. His words are significant and radical: “everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (v. 32).

“Sexual immorality” means sexual relations between a wife and a person not her husband. Such an act breaks the marriage union, rendering it null and void. Divorce otherwise causes her to become an adulteress, since she will have to remarry to support herself but is still bound to her first husband in the eyes of God. Anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery as well.

Jesus repeats the very same words in Matthew 19:9. Divorce except for adultery is outside the word and will of God. This is the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What constitutes a biblical divorce?

Here’s our second question: what constitutes a biblical divorce? In addition to Jesus’ clear teaching, the Bible also says, “If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15 NIV). If a believer is married to a non-Christian, and the unbeliever deserts the marriage, the believer is innocent.

Abandonment by a believer must be considered as well. What if your spouse is a Christian but refuses to stay in your marriage? What if you want to work, to seek help and restoration, but he or she will not? This person has misused the freedom of will given by God. The Bible forbids this divorce, but the laws of our land do not. And the Bible clearly teaches that we are not responsible for the sins of others, but only our own.

Abuse is a third area we must discuss. Physical, emotional, verbal, or substance abuse are epidemic in marriages today. While the Bible nowhere addresses abuse specifically with regard to divorce, we can draw two conclusions from biblical truth.

First, abuse is always wrong: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). And wives are to just as loving, supportive, and sacrificial with their husbands.

Second, life must be protected: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). You must protect yourself and your children from abuse.

So biblical counselors recommend that an abused person separate from the spouse immediately. Get yourself and your children to safety. Seek intensive counseling. But don’t give up—as I’ll say again this morning, God can heal any marriage if both partners will surrender fully to him. I’ve seen abusers repent and be restored. Consider divorce only as the lesser of two evils, in order to protect the abused, and only if there are no other options.

As I understand Scripture, these are the conditions under which divorce is permissible biblically: adultery, abandonment, and abuse. Note that the Bible does not prescribe divorce even in these painful circumstances, but only permits it.

If you’re considering divorce

Now we come to the hope God offers hurting hearts today. Hope for those who are considering divorce, and for those who have experienced one. We’ll find both this morning.

First, if you’re considering a divorce this morning, please know that God can heal any marriage whose partners are fully yielded to him. He doesn’t want you to have a better marriage, but a new marriage.

I know of pastors and staff members who have committed the horrible sin of adultery, but through their repentance and God’s grace their marriage is restored and renewed today. I have seen abuse healed, and abandoners return. God is still the Great Physician of bodies, souls, and homes as well.

And he wants to heal every marriage, to prevent the tragic consequences which so often accompany divorce.

Divorce seldom solves the problem it was meant to solve. And financial pressures are enormous: the woman’s standard of living drops 73 percent in the first year, while men who remarry find themselves supporting two families on the same income. And while you can divorce your spouse, you cannot divorce your child’s parent.

If your marriage is struggling:

  • Remember God’s plan: one man and one woman joined for life (Genesis 2:24). He wants to help and heal your home.
  • Seek help. If you’ve gone to biblical counseling without success, try someone else. Try again. If your spouse won’t go, go alone. To work on your marriage, work on yourself.
  • Don’t wait for your spouse to make you happy—find ways to make yourself happier. Seek new activities, work, ministries, friendships.
  • And seek God together. It is a fact that couples who attend worship together have the lowest risk of divorce. Those who are in church regularly are 2.5 times less likely to have been divorced than those who do not attend. Seek God’s strength and help. Ask his family to help you, to pray for you. Ask him to guide you to those who can help you most.

Your Father wants to give you a new life together. There is wonderful hope for you today.

If you’ve been divorced

What if you’ve already experienced divorce, as a result of adultery, abandonment, or abuse? You are the innocent party. You will need counseling, healing, and help. But you must reject the guilt you may feel and move forward into God’s grace and hope.

What if your divorce was not for biblical reasons? Here I must speak very carefully. I want to do nothing which will encourage someone considering a divorce to do so. The consequences of divorce are very real, and those of you who have experienced them know their pain better than anyone else.

But at the same time, know that divorce is not the “unpardonable sin.” God can forgive any person who repents and returns to his word and will. Scripture is clear: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV). “All” includes divorce.

God wants to help you and heal you. He plans to prosper you and not harm you, to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). The Bible is clear: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18 NIV). God grieves with you, cries with you, walks with you, and accepts and loves you, just as you are, right now.

As I understand Scripture, remarriage is a biblical option for you. With counsel and help, restoration and healing, I believe God can lead you into another marriage.

Billy Graham: “I am opposed to divorce and regard the increase in divorces today as one of the most alarming problems in society. However, I know that the Lord can forgive and heal.” He is right.


We’ve discussed a very large and very hard subject this morning. To summarize:

  • Biblical conditions for divorce would include adultery, abandonment, and abuse.
  • God does not want any couple to divorce. He stands ready to give hope, help, and healing.
  • God loves those who have experienced the pain of divorce. He still has a wonderful plan and purpose for their lives and ministries. Would any good father still love a child who experiences the pain of divorce? Your perfect Father in heaven does.

The Apostle Paul is proof. He was a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), thus required to be married. By the time he wrote 1 Corinthians he was no longer married (1 Corinthians 7:8), so that he was either a widower or a divorcee. He states in Philippians 3:8 that he lost all things when he gave his life to Christ; most scholars believe that he lost his wife when he became a Christian.

In Paul’s day, a Jew who converted to Christianity was considered dead by his family and wife. She was a widow, free to marry another Jew. We would say she divorced him. And he wrote half of the New Testament.

What will God do with your life?

How to Handle Anger

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:38-42

Natural disasters have dominated the headlines this week.

Wildfires are burning in California. Power has been cut to as many as three million customers as officials try to prevent further incidents that would make the fires even worse.

A tornado roared through Dallas last Sunday, causing $2 billion in losses. And a lightning strike in the Harbor destroyed an entire condo unit.

Other tragedies are manmade. A shooting Saturday night at a Texas A&M Commerce homecoming party killed two and left fourteen injured. And Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the infamous leader of ISIS, is in the news with reports that he was killed in a raid Saturday night.

As we continue our conversation with the Sermon on the Mount, we come today to Jesus’ teachings about enemies, those who choose to hurt us. We all have them. Perhaps not on the scope and scale of those who attacked the homecoming party, or perpetrate horrific violence in the name of their religion, but they are nonetheless real and painful to us.

When I ask you to name the person who hurt you most recently or most deeply, what name comes to mind? Let’s ask Jesus how we should relate to that person today, to God’s glory and our good.

The law of retribution

Jesus begins: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth'” (v. 38). And it was.

This statute, known to history as the Lex Talionis, is the oldest law in the world. It first appeared in the Code of Hammurabi, the man who ruled Babylon (ancient Iraq, ironically) from 2285 to 2242 BC. Exodus 21:24–25 states it clearly: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Note that the law was intended not to justify conflict but to limit it. Without it, if you scraped my car, I could wreck yours. If you injured my son, I could kill all your children. This law limited revenge.

It also took vengeance out of individual hands and put it into the courts. The judges of ancient Israel determined what constituted proper restitution for injury and levied monetary fines as a result. They developed elaborate ways to ensure the rights of all citizens.

The law of grace

Now Jesus adds: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person” (v. 39b). Even though you have the right, don’t insist on your rights. Then he gives us four examples of this principle in action.

The first regards our honor: “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (v. 39b).

The right hand was almost always the one used in public. So, to slap your right cheek with my right hand is an insult. This was not a threat to life and limb, but an insult to character and reputation. It was a sign of great contempt and abuse, so that the rabbinic fines for such an action were twice those of other physical injuries.

Jesus says: Do not retaliate. Do not slap back, though this would be within your rights. Do not prosecute for financial gain, though this also would be within your rights. Turn the other cheek instead. Do not insist on your rights.

Next Jesus speaks to our possessions: “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” (v. 40).

Shirt was the inner garment, an undershirt with sleeves. It could be taken in a lawsuit. But the coat could not—it was the outer garment which protected a poor person from the elements and served as his bed at night. And so, Exodus 22 forbids keeping the coat.

But not Jesus: “hand over your coat as well.” Even though it is your right to keep it, and he has no right to take it. Do not insist on your rights.

Now Jesus comes to an issue of great urgency for us today: our time. He says, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (v. 41).

Here Jesus refers to a custom known and despised by every person who heard his sermon. A Roman soldier could require any Jew to carry his military pack for the distance of one mile. No matter where you were going or what you were doing, the soldier could “force” you to do this.

But none could force you to carry his pack for two miles. Jesus says to do it anyway. Sacrifice the time. Even though it is your right not to. Do not insist on your rights.

Finally he deals with our money: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (v. 42). Give when you are asked to give and lend when you are asked to lend.

As St. Augustine commented, we are not told to give everything that is asked for, but to give to every person who asks. Even though you don’t owe this person anything. Even though it is your right not to. Do not insist on your rights.

Instead, return hate with love, harm with kindness, evil with good. Do not lower yourself to the one who has taken from you. Simply refuse.

Choosing grace

West Texans taught me a crude but appropriate statement: The dog looks at the skunk and says, “I can beat you, but it’s not worth it.”

You can choose not to insult those who insult you, not to hurt those who hurt you. When your honor or possessions or time or money are taken, do not take back. Take the high road. Show the high character. Be the presence of Christ.

You say, “I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it.” Of course, you don’t. No human wants to be hurt, to give up his right to revenge or justice. But do it anyway. And as you act in love, your feelings will follow.

And ask the Spirit to help you. We cannot fulfill the word of God without the Spirit of God. The same Spirit who empowered Jesus will empower us. The same Spirit who inspired the word of God will empower the people of God.

Name the person with whom you are in conflict. Ask the Spirit to help you be the presence of Christ. And trust that he will as you take your next step in grace.

C. S. Lewis: “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. . . . The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity.’ The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning” (Mere Christianity 116, 117).


Jesus’ teaching is clear: We are to return hate with love, harm with kindness, evil with good. When your honor or possessions or time or money are taken, do not take back. Take the high road. Show the high character. Be the presence of Christ.

Heed his example: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

He was insulted for us and suffered for us. He wore our sins on his body, our failures on his soul. He had the right to call ten thousand angels to his side, to end his crucifixion before it began, to condemn all of humanity to a hell we deserve. But he did not claim his rights.

Now he invites us to faith in him, to experience his forgiveness for our sins and the eternal life he died to give. Do you have his eternal life today?

If so, where will you share it with someone else? What personal conflict is troubling you most this morning? Will you show the selfless love of Jesus Christ to that person this week?

During the horrific Thirty Years War (1618–1648), a German Lutheran theologian named Rupertus Meldenius offered this maxim: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Let’s choose all three, to the glory of God.

Using Babylonian Kings

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:33-37

Many years ago, I learned how to cuss and be a Baptist preacher: use Babylonian kings’ names. When you miss a three-foot putt say “Belshazzer!” When someone cuts you off on the interstate say “Nebuchadnezzar!” It works.

Jesus wants to talk with us about our language today. And we need the help.

Research indicates that 64 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage.” Ninety-one percent say they lie “regularly.” Only 31 percent believe that honesty is the best policy.

Today Jesus wants to talk with us about truth telling. We’ll focus on our words, because they both reveal and mold our souls.

Why tell the truth?

Our Lord begins: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn'” (v. 33). Here he summarizes passages from Leviticus 19, Numbers 30, and Deuteronomy 23. And he agrees: lying is wrong.

So what is lying?

  • Speaking false words: half-truths, exaggerations, misquotes, slander.
  • Giving false impressions: misleading about our accomplishments, or income, or relationships. Sometimes we do this in spiritual garb: “Pray for the Smiths, they’re having trouble at home” or “Pray for the Joneses, their child is struggling in school.” Gossip in the guise of spirituality.
  • Withholding truth: “If someone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible” (Leviticus 5:1). Listening to slander or gossip without correcting it; agreeing tacitly to falsehood; refusing to pay the price of truth.

Why tell the truth? Because God consistently commands and commends truth-telling.

  • Without exception: “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts” (Zechariah 8:16).
  • Every one of us: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).
  • No matter how tempted we are to lie: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Ephesians 6:14).

This is the key to peace with God and ourselves: “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin” (Malachi 2:6).

Why tell the truth? Because God condemns lying:

  • Here is what the Lord thinks of lies: “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Proverbs 12:22).
  • He warns us: “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare” (Proverbs 21:6). Enron employees can attest that God is right.
  • Lying breaks our relationship with God: “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence” (Psalm 101:7).
  • God must punish those who lie: “You destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest” (Psalm 5:6).

So God commands us: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9).

Why tell the truth? Because our words reveal our souls. Jesus said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34). Our words are windows into our souls, and a witness we can never retract. How do we unring a bell?

Why tell the truth? Because our words mold our souls. James, the brother of our Lord and pastor of the first church at Jerusalem, makes the point clear: “the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

When we lie we become liars. Our words take on a power and life of their own. I don’t fully know why, but the words I speak shape how I think and feel. When I fail and then condemn myself, I become more of a failure. When I succeed and then encourage myself, I become more of a success. Our words reveal us, and they mold us.

Why do we tell lies?

Given their importance, the value of truth, why do we lie?

Comedian Jay Leno told a somewhat embarrassing story about himself in his book, Leading With My Chin. The problem is that it didn’t happen to him, but to another comedian, Jeff Altman. When the deception was discovered, Jay told a reporter for the New York Post that he liked the story so much he paid Altman $1,000 for the right to publish it as his own.

Why did he do it? Why do we? Think about the last lie you told. Why did you tell it?

One: Lying is part of our fallen human nature: “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies” (Psalm 58:3).

Two: We lie to compensate for our own failures. We have some sense of the way things should be, of life as God intended it. But we know that we are failing to live up to this standard.

So we create a false self, an “idealized self,” the person we wish we were. And we spend the rest of our lives trying to live up to this person. But we cannot. So we lie, to others and to ourselves. We lie to be the people we aren’t. We lie to be empowered, to control the situation. It’s part of our fallen nature.

Three: We lie to get ahead. To get the account, to close the deal. To impress the girl or the boy. To please our parents. To further our agenda.

Four: We lie to hurt those who hurt us. Someone lies to us, so we lie to them. They hurt us, so we get revenge. We start or repeat half-truths, rumors, gossip, slander, to hurt the people we feel justified in hurting. After all, they did it to us.

Five: At its root, we lie because we are tempted by Satan himself. Jesus says, “Anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37 NIV). Later he explains: Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The first sin in the Bible was a lie (Genesis 3:4), told by Satan himself.

Satan wants us to lie, so that we break the word of God, harm our witness, and corrupt our souls.

How do we tell the truth? (vv. 34–37)

So how do we refuse his lies? How do we refuse our own? How do we tell the truth? Here’s the key: give every area of your life to the Lord Jesus. Refuse to divide your days into sacred and secular, religious and the “real world.” Believe that God’s commendation of truth and condemnation of lying applies to your business practices as much as your Sunday school teaching, to your private finances as much as your public faith.

The Jews of Jesus’ culture missed this point completely. They believed they could make an oath and then break it, so long as they did not swear by God himself. They could swear by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem. They could swear by their heads, as though to say “My head’s on the line if I don’t do this . . .” They could swear by the “secular,” just not the “sacred.”

But Jesus is blunt: there’s no distinction. Heaven is God’s throne room, the place where he lives. Earth is his footstool, his possession. If someone slanders America, we are upset. If you criticize my car or house, I feel criticized, because I own them. Jerusalem is his city. If you criticize Dallas, I’m unhappy. Our heads are his creation. If you criticize my sermon, I feel criticized, because I made it.

Greek philosophers taught that soul and body are separate, spiritual and secular distinct. Keep your faith and your life in separate compartments. Tell the truth at church but lie when necessary at work.

Except that God is as present at work as in church. You belong to him as much there as here. The “secular” does not exist. There is no place which stands outside God’s hearing, his caring, his judging or rewarding. Every word is spiritual, for it is spoken by a tongue God made. It reveals a heart which should be his. It shows who is on the throne of our mind and soul.


What was the last lie you told? Be honest—why did you tell it? To compensate for failure or weakness? To get ahead? To hurt someone who hurt you? Ultimately you did it because Satan tempted you. And you pleased him.

Please remember this week: God commands truth-telling and condemns lying. Your words will reveal and mold your soul. So tell the truth. You’re on the stage. Your world is the panel, watching to know if you’re a truth-teller. And God is the audience.

In the night fog, a ship’s captain saw what appeared to be another ship’s lights. To avoid a collision, he signaled the approaching ship: “Change your heading 10 degrees west.” Back through the fog came the reply: “Change your heading 10 degrees east.” The captain replied with clear irritation: “I am an admiral—change your heading 10 degrees west.” Came the response: “I am a seaman fourth class. Change your heading 10 degrees east.” Furious, the admiral blazed his message: “This is a United States Navy vessel under orders of the U.S. government. Change your heading 10 degrees west.” Came the reply: “Change your heading. I am a lighthouse.”

Live by the truth. Speak the truth. Or you’re sailing your ship in a foggy night. And the rocks are near. What heading do you need to change today?

Winning the Battle of the Mind

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:27-30

When we follow Jesus, we die to the old life and live only for the new. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us how to live this new life, the biblical worldview, the life of a disciple. Today he deals with sexual sin and adultery.

Is this an issue for us?

Ninety-two million people visit porn sites every day. Pornography makes more money than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball, combined. Twenty percent of men admit to having had an affair. I could add much more bad news.

The problem is clear, and real. How do we win the battle of the mind?

Refuse adultery of body (v. 27)

Our text begins: “You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery” (v. 27). Here our Lord quotes the seventh commandment, cited specifically in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18.

From the very beginning, God made clear to his creation that sexual activity within marriage is normal and good. In fact, he commanded it: “God blessed them…and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it'” (Genesis 1:28).

But God also made very clear that sex is his gift for marriage. Extramarital sex is always wrong: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22).

Premarital sex is as wrong as extramarital sex: “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 22:23–24).

Sex is God’s gift for marriage. We are to refuse all adultery, of any kind. We are not to engage in sexual activity until we are married, and then with our spouse alone. This is the clear word and will of God.

Refuse adultery of mind (v. 28)

How do we keep this commandment? How do we resist sexual temptations, especially in a culture which so surrounds us with them every day? To refuse adultery of body, first refuse adultery of mind.

Aristotle was believed to have said “What is a crime for a person to do, is a crime for a person to think.” Jesus proves that this is so.

Our text continues: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v. 28). The “I” here is emphatic—Jesus is asserting his own divine authority. This is just as much the command of God as the seventh commandment.

“Everyone”—regardless of religious title, status, or significance. No exceptions are granted here. “Who looks at”—the sin is not noticing a woman or a man. The sin is not the first look but the second. Luther was right: You cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.

“A woman”—not specifically a wife, though this is implied. But adultery of the mind can be practiced with any woman, or with any man. “With lustful intent”—”who looks at a woman for the purpose of lusting.” Barclay translates the phrase, “Everyone who looks at a woman in such a way as to waken within himself forbidden desires for her.”

“Adultery with her in his heart”—the “heart” includes the intellect, the emotions, the will. The place from which actions find the origin. The source of all that follows. When we poison the mind, we poison the body. We poison the headwaters, which pollutes the river which flows out from them. The heart becomes the life.

Refuse the thoughts before they become actions. It will never be easier to refuse lust than when it first appears to your mind:

  • “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1 NIV).
  • “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” (Proverbs 6:25–29 NIV).
  • Here’s how David’s sin started: “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful” (2 Samuel 11:2).
  • “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…” (Philippians 4:8).

What if you cannot? What if there is an area or activity in your life which continually leads you into lust of the mind? Luther was picturesque: Don’t sit near the fire if your head is made of butter.

Here’s how Jesus advises us: “If the right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you to lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (v. 29).

The “right eye” was considered the better of the two, as is the “right hand” in verse 30. If it “causes you to sin”—the phrase means specifically the stick in a trap which holds the bait; when the prey touches the stick, the trap snaps shut. So it is with the eye, which is the trap that baits the mind.

What are we to do with a sinful “eye”? Rabbinic hyperbole was a common teaching technique in Jesus’ day. The rabbis would teach a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. So it is here. Taken literally, one leaves the left eye with which to view lustfully. Take both eyes, but a blind man can still think sinful thoughts.

Jesus’ point is simple: rid yourself of anything which causes lustful thoughts in your mind. Premium channels on cable or satellite television; cable or satellite television; or even television. Use internet pornography filters on your computer, or even get rid of the internet itself. I have known of men and women who have changed their working relationships to avoid such temptation, and I admire them for their courage in doing so. Do whatever you must.

This is spiritual surgery—amputating the diseased limb to save the life of the patient. In this case, the soul. Because the malignancy is spreading.

Another illustration follows: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (v. 30).

The right hand was indispensable for work in the ancient world. People typically saw the left hand as a symbol for evil, so they used it only for the most menial and demeaning tasks. Even today in many places in the East, to gesture to someone with the left hand is obscene.

Jesus’ point: get rid of anything you cannot control sexually. Anything which is causing you to lust must go. No matter how valuable you think it is. You would amputate your hand to save your life. So you must here.

Do it now. God’s word is clear: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). These are commandments from our holy God who is also our loving Father.


We have dealt today with a sober subject, but one which proves the continuing relevance of the Sermon on the Mount to life today. Refuse adultery of the body, extramarital and premarital sex. How? By refusing adultery of the mind. How? By refusing anything which leads you to such mental sin. Now.

Let me close with this fact: you cannot obey the teachings of this text alone. You were not meant to. There is not one word of the Sermon on the Mount which can be fulfilled in human ability. We must have God’s help to do God’s will.

So ask Jesus to deal with the source—your heart. Ask God to forgive your every sin and claim his cleansing and renewal: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Then stay close to Jesus. Stay connected to the source of your power by praying and worshiping all day long, communing with Christ: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). When your enemy is shooting arrows at you, you’ll stay behind your shield.

Keep your mind focused on God: “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God … Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:1, 5). And you will have the victory of God.

The same night our Lord shared the Lord’s supper with his disciples, he prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane not to have to go to the cross. Not just because of the physical torture, though it was beyond our imagining. Not just because our sins would be placed on his sinless soul, though we cannot imagine the horror he must have felt.

I think it was because when he took on our sin, for the only time in all of eternity, his intimate relationship with his holy Father was severed. In that moment, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, he faced a pain and grief we cannot begin to understand.

But Jesus chose that. He did so for you and for me. He would do it all over again for us.

Please never again wonder if your Savior loves you, no matter your sins and failures. He will forgive all the past we confess and empower us to win victories in the future.