Welcome to part four of the 2nd course of Red Bricks.
Read Matthew 5:27-32
We are still working our way through Yeshua’s early teaching which is known as the Sermon on the Mount, or Beatitudes. These teachings are designed to help those who would follow Him to steer their way through life. They are not to restrain people’s lives, but, instead, they are designed to teach people to restrain their own lives, so that they might be able to live as God purposed.
In this text Yeshua continues to attack the way that the teachers of the law have built upon the written law, or Torah, with their own unwritten laws, which are known as the Oral Traditions. These man-made elaborations of the law that God gave in order to help people live lives of holiness, were impossible to attain in most parts, and often left people burdened by them.
Yeshua once more starts by saying ‘you have heard it said‘. This is a direct attack on this kind of teaching. Yeshua came to reveal the heart of God by showing us the law was there for our benefit. Men, however, viewed the law as something to be followed religiously in order to attain righteousness. Yeshua came to put right that mistake.
It is true that the law states that adultery is wrong. Common sense also confirms this. But the teachers had their own interpretation of what adultery actually meant and would argue that only sexual intercourse constituted adultery. Yeshua was explaining that their understanding was blinded by their own hidden desires, and, therefore their interpretation was wrong. He teaches that adultery begins in the heart. It is in our heart where our will is shaped. Lust is clearly a desire of the flesh and not the spirit. Therefore, the warning Yeshua gives is that even if you look at another person in a way that could lead to sexual relations, then it is no different from actually committing the act itself.
All of Yeshua’s teachings are to steer us towards a life where our will is driven by the Spirit of God, who is holy and pure, and not one where we are dragged around by the desires of our flesh. The whole section of Matthew, from chapter 5 verse 21 right through to chapter 6, and verse 4, deal exclusively with challenging us not to allow ourselves to be driven by what our flesh desires. It all points back to the law itself and challenges us to look at the spirit in which it was written – to help us live Spirit-led lives.
Take note of this excellent paraphrase of Matthew 5:27-28. It was written by a man named Ken Brown and the full paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount can be found here.
27. Then they’ve always said that you can’t commit adultery with another man’s wife.
28. But they never talk about whether it’s right to look at a woman and have lustful thoughts about her. They want you to believe that they have protected their virtue because they didn’t actually commit the sinful act. In reality, they’re corrupted by their wrong thoughts.
It is also important to note that when Yeshua says that adultery has already been committed when you have it in your heart, that He uses the past tense in order to show that in the eyes of God, even lustful thoughts will need to be confessed and repented of.
In verses 29 and 30, Yeshua uses two vivid examples from Old Testament law of punishments for certain sins. But, please understand that He was talking figuratively here. He was in fact saying that if you are sinning in this way, it is better to deal with it now and suffer the discomfort and shame that dealing with it brings, or accept that these type of sexual sins will go on to corrupt all of you, and leaving you in a place from which there may be no forgiveness.
In today’s society, even among church going folk, sexual sin is widespread. It is kept secret and, as a result, people continue in it until it finds them out. Often, the result is pain and suffering for many more people than just the individual. To give you an example of just how profligate it might be in churches, I was once at a Men’s Meeting and we were in groups of ten discussing the things that prevent us from walking with God. The subject of pornography came up, and of the ten around our table, six openly admitted that pornography had been or was still an issue for them. Now, I am not condemning them, I am just using this as an illustration to show how secret the problem of lust really is. Yeshua said that looking at a woman lustfully means that in your heart you have already committed adultery. It is our hearts that we must guard, for there the will is. The prophet Jeremiah descries the heart as ‘wicked and deceitful, above all things‘ (Jeremiah 17:9). Yeshua is making the same point. Be careful what you allow into your heart because even the slightest sin can corrupt the entire body.
Yeshua continues His attack upon the Oral Traditions by turning His attention to a related topic. You will note that once again this is dealing with the influence of the flesh on our thinking. The teachers of the law had developed a system when if you could convince the priest to give you a certificate of divorce, called a getz, you could divorce your wife for any reason you chose. But Yeshua told His disciples that divorce was only permitted if one or other of the married couple had committed adultery. Further on in the book of Matthew, we learn God’s real heart behind the subject. It is likely that the Pharisees came and asked this question because they had got to hear His earlier teachings on the subject.
“Some Pharisees came to Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” ” [Matthew 19:3-8]
It is important to note that in Yeshua response to the Pharisees, He refers them to the written word of God and not the Oral Traditions. He was making a clear distinction between the two when He said, ‘Haven’t you read?‘. This would have been quite embarrassing for them – their hearts would have been full of pride at knowing all of the scriptures. For Yeshua to question that, give Him the authority over their oral teachings.
So, the ideal was not to get a divorce. The coming together of two people formed more than a legal binding. God had joined their flesh, somehow, in the realm which we cannot see. Again, the heart plays such a big role in our decision making processes. It was because their hearts were so hard to start with that God allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery.
Yeshua is teaching us all that our hearts need to be guarded. They are the rudder of our lives and the direction our lives go in relates directly to what we allow to influence our hearts. If we allow the flesh to be the main influence, then it will lead to certain judgement and death. If we allow the Spirit of God to reign there in our hearts, making it His temple, then even when we fall, forgiveness, grace, and mercy will help us back to the right path.
Live your life according to the Spirit of God, who is at work in your heart right now. Show restraint when it comes to anything that the flesh desires.