Recently, we had a discussion in our Preteen age group about a section of the Sermon on the Mount that discussed desire and divorce. I’d rather we title the talk “love and marriage,” but Jesus knew his listeners better than I.
(Verses quoted will be from The Kingdom New Testament, unless otherwise noted.)
So, the verse itself starts off: “‘You heard,’ Jesus continued, ‘You shall not commit adultery.'” (Matthew 5.27) And most people in the crowd inwardly patted themselves on the back. They had already been told that everyone is welcome in the Kingdom (the Beatitudes), that life in the Kingdom would be dramatic and attractive (salt and light), and that they should put a damper on anger and contempt (Matthew 5.21-26). They were probably challenged by the passage on anger and contempt, as we all are, but were willing to make a change. And now, Jesus was talking about one of the, for some, easier commandments to keep. And then Jesus goes and addresses the heart of the issue.
“But I say to you: everyone who gazes at a woman in order to lust after her has already committed adultery with her is his heart.” (Matthew 5.28) And this is the verse that has caused many to live a life of guilt due to a misunderstanding. The act of lust is looking at someone or something with the intention of using or possessing. In other words, finding someone attractive is one thing, staring and memorizing for later is something different altogether.
Here’s how we covered it with the Preteens, so imagine yourself younger. You’re at the grocery store with your mom and dad and you see your favorite candy bar on the rack. Is that wrong? Of course not. You’re in the same situation on a different day and decide to steal the candy bar. Is that wrong? Yes, that’s theft. What if between the first and second day you thought about that candy bar and plotted different ways you could sneak it into your pocket? Is that wrong? You didn’t technically steal the bar, you just spent time thinking about how you could.
And here’s what Jesus is talking about in the famous “pluck out your eyes and cut off your hand” bit in Matthew 5.29-30. Jesus is more concerned about your character, your heart and who you are becoming than just following the letter of a rule. Jesus is joking here that if you think that setting a rule is going to make you a better person, you might as well remove all parts of your body capable of participating in breaking the law. But we all know we can still think some pretty evil stuff and be a stump.
Jesus wants to change the attitude, the thought, the intention in order to create a new kind of person: a Kingdom person. This new person can appreciate beauty without desiring to use or possess it. This person can see a rule, note the spirit behind it and seek to be the kind of person who avoids bumping up against the rule in the first place.
We often like rules because they’re easy to keep and give a clear boundary. But as we grow, we begin to mature and not need certain rules because we understand the spirit behind them. Remember “keep your hands and feet to yourself?” That’s a rule to avoid injury and distraction. As we mature, we understand that the spirit of the rule is to respect others and treat them with self-control and honor their time.
What kind of household are you creating? A household of rules only, or a household of developing character? How can you help your children to understand why certain rules exist and what they’re trying to teach?