27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
This is from the 10 commandments. Main idea? Desire and covenant go together.
28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So is this going to be only about marriage, or only men toward women? No. It is a specific example of a comprehensive problem: God made people beautifully attractive and we don’t always deal with that very well. Laws about these things are coping systems when the way things should be don’t happen like they should. That is way too often.
James 4 says conflict comes from our poor handling of desires and passions. He says we need to realize this, even grieve over how we rationalize and manipulate to justify what we want and what we do to get it. But, we also need to realize that when we do surrender our fight to justify ourselves, God is gracious and will restore us and provide good for us. Also, he says don’t get too confident telling other people what to do about their conflicts and all the complicated passions and such that fueled it. Don’t judge them, good or bad, as much as direct them toward God and the challenge to come clean with Him.
What is hoped is that we will not try and find out exactly what is or isn’t allowed; what we can get away with. The hope is that we will try and understand where we go wrong in response to passions, and hopefully, learn to clear up our thinking and processing of desires.
IF the problem is this, or that, body part, THEN the solution is easy: remove the problem.
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.
For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.
For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus is tricky. Earlier he said we needed to set our sacrificial animal ready for slaughter aside, walk all the way from the temple in Jerusalem to wherever our offended brother is, then walk all the way back, find our animal, and then worship. Is he serious? Yes, Jesus is serious, but he is also clever. By exaggerating one solution to outrageous proportions he makes his more sensible solution far more appealing.
So what is the thing about Hell Fire? What we want to do is start where the original audience started. What they heard was “the fires of Gehenna”. Gehenna was an actual place they knew about. It was a place with a story.
Word Studies in the New Testament:
22. Hell-fire (τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός). Rev., more accurately, the hell of fire. The word Gehenna, rendered hell, occurs outside of the Gospels only at James 3:6. It is the Greek representative of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom, or Valley of Hinnom, a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where, after the introduction of the worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz, the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to Molech. Josiah formally desecrated it, “that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech” (2 Kings 23:10). After this it became the common refuse-place of the city, into which the bodies of criminals, carcasses of animals, and all sorts of filth were cast. From its depth and narrowness, and its fire and ascending smoke, it became the symbol of the place of the future punishment of the wicked. So Milton:
“The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna called, the type of hell.”
As fire was the characteristic of the place, it was called the Gehenna of fire. It should be carefully distinguished from Hades (ᾅδης), which is never used for the place of punishment, but for the place of departed spirits, without reference to their moral condition. This distinction, ignored by the A. V., is made in the Rev.
Vincent, M. R. (1887). Vol. 1: Word studies in the New Testament (40). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
What was the deal with child sacrifices? A real place, with real fire, was used for rituals to demon deities of the people’s around Israel. Some of God’s people compromised and did this.
2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. 3 I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. 4 If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, 5 I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.
Fire, cutting off, etc. stirred ideas the listeners were familiar with. Later the valley of Gehenna became a place of burning the refuse from Jerusalem, including the bodies of criminals. This term “Gehenna” is used 11 times in the gospels and only 1 time after that James 3:6
5 … How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by Gehenna.
What does this mean? It means God’s righteousness is about life, and about unifying desires, dignity and so on. It means that trying to separate one aspect of God’s goodness from the ways he has wisely integrated goodness, is terribly destructive and is rebellion against him as a loving Father who provided goodness (there very things we desire) and the right times and ways in which to enjoy goodness.
Guess what happens when we don’t really go about things like we should, in terms of right desires being rightly arranged within right covenants, which should then be rightly tended to? Things don’t go right; that’s what.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Temporary marriages aren’t a solution to the desire challenge either. Actual adultery, “would if I could”-in the heart adultery, lawyered-up adultery… it’s all the same. We just don’t treasure God, people, love and covenant wisely enough.
Later in Matthew19 Jesus gets pulled into a contemporary debate about what is allowed in divorce. The main two camps: divorce is a big deal vs. divorce is not a big deal. Jesus is clear that divorce is a big deal. Why? Because divorce means that a covenant meant for love and goodness has gone bad and selfish somewhere. Does Jesus acknowledge that divorce does happen, and that there are mechanisms in place to minimize destruction? Yes.
The point back here in the Sermon on the Mount is that managing a “fair and legal divorce” is an unfortunate situation with all sorts of complications. A “good divorce” is like a “good amputation”. Where Jesus has gone is from adultery as a question to dealing with desire, divorce and vows.
33 “Again 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.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
There is only one God, and we are not him. Heaven, earth, the center of your religious community focus… even you own head; we do not have a way to make promises without reference to God. Jesus makes it clear that simple integrity, being a man of your word, is where the energy should go when trying to be credible.
So let’s put them together. What if someone did have integrity such that yes meant yes, and no meant no. And what if he saw a woman he desired, and pursued her, and invited her into a marriage covenant. And what if that man and woman meant their promises, not only to ”get married” but also to live out all of their vows of selflessness and faithfulness? How much more righteous and blessed would life be for them?