READ Matthew 5:27-30
In a culture that has gone through a sexual revolution resulting in the throwing off of sexual boundaries and the freedom of sexual expression, what Jesus says here sounds puritanical, repressive or just unrealistic. It sounds like going backward away from flourishing, not deeper into it. Is lust really something that we need to cut out of our lives to flourish? Jesus says, “Yes, and we need to be ruthless and radical when it comes to cutting lust out of our lives.”
REDEFINING SEXUAL FAITHFULNESS
Jesus’ definition of sexual faithfulness and flourishing goes far deeper than simply refraining from the physical act of sex with another person’s spouse (the technical definition of adultery). Sexual faithfulness is not only a matter of your body; it is a matter of the intentions of your heart; it’s a matter what your heart is looking to and for.
It’s important that we read Jesus’ strong words against lust in this sermon in the larger context of the Bible’s teaching on our sexuality. To be anti-lust is not to be anti-sex. God is the creator and designer of our sexuality. Jesus and the whole Bible are enthusiastically pro-sex. God created something that is intoxicatingly pleasurable and good and he gave it to us as a gift to enjoy in the covenant of marriage and to reveal something of Himself to us. The church has not always done a good job at defining sexual faithfulness - often focusing on preventing its misuse by ignoring its God intended delight and goodness.
With this context in mind, we can more clearly understand what lust is and isn’t. Lust is not the same thing as sexual desire nor is it the same as noticing someone’s beauty and attractiveness. To lust is to covet or desire someone sexually who has not been given to you by God as your spouse. Jesus’ definition combines the 7th commandment with the 10th commandment (you shall not covet your neighbors’ wife). Jesus is so ruthless when it comes to lust because it leads us away from sexual faithfulness and flourishing. Lauren Winner, in her book Real Sex, outlines three purposes of sex. Each shows us lust’s distortion of God’s good gift.
1. Unitive – Sex is meant to unite two whole people; lust leads us to objectify people.
2. Creative – Sex is meant to give life; lust looks only to take and get.
3. Sacramental – Sex is never meant to be about just sex; lust is only about sex.
TAKING DRASTIC MEASURES
Though many in our culture would say lust is just harmless fun and natural desire, Jesus says if we don’t cut out lust there are grave consequences. The more we indulge our lust, the more we distance ourselves from true sexual flourishing. The more we choose lust, the more we train ourselves to avoid the hard work of love (sex was never meant to be easy but the reward of promises made and kept). Jesus says refusing to cut off lust leads a person to Gehenna (“hell”) – a place absent of life, flourishing and love.
What are the implications of all this? It means we need to start by being ruthlessly honest about where we struggle. Nothing fuels lust like secrecy and shame. In a world saturated in lust-filled images, advertising and pornography, we need to “look at what we look at.” This may mean hard decisions about what we can watch and the kind of filters and protections we need in our use of technology. Though it won’t be easy and may make us seem strange, Jesus says, “Don’t delay!”
FINDING SEXUAL HOLINESS + WHOLENESS
Though cutting off eyes and hands sounds like Jesus is chopping off pieces of our humanity, the call to sexual holiness is a call to become both holy and whole people. Cutting off lust is just the first step. When we cut off lust the real work can begin toward becoming holy and whole. One of the biggest side effects of the struggle with lust is that it often reduces our relationship to God to a single issue- Have I been sexually faithful or not? This creates an unhealthy obsession over one area of our lives.
The goal of cutting off lust is not to stop lusting. The goal of cutting out lust is the purity of heart that enables us to see God (Matt. 5:8). The more clearly we see God as He is – gracious, holy, whole, loving & compassionate - the more we see other people the way He does; not as objects to use and to look at in lust but as people made in his image to love.
The only thing that can drive out the passion of lust is the passion of a better and more satisfying love. A love that quenches our deep thirst to be fully known and loved - even in our brokenness, sin, shame and guilt. This kind of love can be found only in the gospel. Though we so often refuse to cut off lust and we direct our thirst away from God placing our pleasure over relationship, Jesus was willing be completely cut off and experience an unquenchable thirst for God (Gehenna/hell) – for the sake of relationship with us. This pursuing and passionate love of God is the antidote and the healing power for our lust and all its attendant shame and guilt.
In all our struggles with lust, He loves us still. It’s important that we balance this intense passage with how Jesus dealt with the sexually broken people who came to him – the woman at the well (John 4), the prostitute who came weeping (Luke 7:36-50), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He was so gentle, compassionate and always eager to extend forgiveness. The same is true for us. His grace forgives and changes us so that we can “go and sin no more.”
Sexual holiness + wholeness for those married – Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-11. Married couples need to continually work on deepening their exclusive sexual passion and delight in their spouse. Those with less desire need to hear this passage tell you thata part of discipleship is your sexual life. It should not be ignored, put off or minimized. Those with more desire than their spouse need to hear that the sexual part of your relationship cannot develop without the other parts of your relationship (emotional and spiritual oneness).
In the old marriage vows a husband and wife would say to each other: “With my body I thee worship.” The meaning of this vow was that with our bodies we show our spouse that they alone are worthy of our love, devotion and desire. Married couples should be enacting this vow with great pleasure and frequency.
Sexual holiness + wholeness for those who are single – Read 1 Corinthians 7:25-40. Sexual celibacy (temporary or as lifetime calling) is not only extremely difficult in our culture, it is also often devalued by the church (sometimes in an attempt to restore God’s design for sex in marriages). The apostle Paul (who was single) says seasons of singleness should be honored as seasons to develop holiness in both body and spirit; seasons of focused spiritual development (7:34).
Celibate seasons are seasons to learn to live for God’s pleasure alone. Sex is not necessary to be a whole and fulfilled human being. Jesus was the most complete and perfect human being to ever live. Yet the living example of human flourishing was single and did not experience a sexual relationship with any person.
(Because of the sensitive nature of this topic, group leaders should use their discretion in how to best divide and structure the discussion.)
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. How did you develop your definition of sexual faithfulness and flourishing? How has that impacted your ability to embrace and live according to Jesus’ definition?
3. Why is it important to place Jesus’ radical teaching on lust within the whole Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality? How does contrasting lust with the 3 purposes of sex (outlined above) help you to see how lust leads us away from flourishing?
4. Why do you think Jesus recommends such drastic action against lust? What kind of drastic measures have you taken? What kind do you need to take?
5. How does the passionate and pursuing love of God shown to us in Jesus have the kind of power to drive out the lust of our hearts? Why it is important to see how Jesus actually interacted with sexually broken people?
6. The 3 quotes below were shared as key principles for cutting lust out of our lives. Which is most helpful to you? Why?
· “Lust is never your most important problem; lust is your favorite solution to deal with your most important problems" (paraphrased Nate Larkin, Samson and the Pirate Monks).
· “Lust is the craving for salt of a man dying of thirst.” (Frederick Buechner)
· "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God." (The World, the Flesh and Father Smith, Bruce Marshal)