Tough Passages #3: With Only a Glance (Matthew 5:27-28)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  Last month, we looked at Luke 16:18 and the adultery of divorce; for March, we’re not straying far: Matthew 5:27-28 talks about adultery, too.

The Verse

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Matthew 5:27-28, ESV

The Secular Response

It’s pretty safe to say every adult (and God knows, every teenager), has committed adultery by this standard.

Ivana Wynn, ranker.com

Our Reply

Once again, I don’t need to go through any wrangling or mental calisthenics to deal with this passage.  It’s simple and straightforward, and it’s not being interpreted incorrectly.  Like in January, the answer is pretty simple: Yeah, that’s right.

We do pretty badly at addressing this, as a church.  Oh, sure, sometimes there’s talk about adultery, and Christians have a tendency to try to avoid discussions of sexuality and sexiness.  But since lust tends to happen exclusively inside of our minds, it’s easy to miss, or to deny if you’re accused.  This particular sin doesn’t get as much play in the usual Bible-thumping that “those kinds of fundamentalists” do.

But even more so, the real reason for this commandment (and the Ten upon which it is based) is not to be used as a cudgel by stern-eyed ladies with blue perms.  In fact, commandments are meant to lead us to love.

No, commandments aren’t ammunition to show others how holy we are.

They’re mirrors to show us how sinful we are.

Commandments aren’t ammo to show others how holy we are.  They’re mirrors to show us how sinful we are.

God gave hundreds of commands in the Old and New Testaments.  There are four different ways to to see them (which we’ll investigate further this Friday).  But throughout the Bible, there is one constant: they’re impossible.

Well, not technically.  Jesus kept them all, for instance.  Not just the Ten.  And He did it perfectly.

But for mortal men, with fallen hearts…there’s no way we could live up to God’s perfection in even a small handful of commands (and failing on just one makes us guilty of everything).  But God didn’t give them to shame us or condemn us; He gave them to us as a pointer to Jesus.  Because if we can see that we’re failing in even the smallest subsection of His commanded perfection, we can see how much we need a Savior.  The commands are diagnostic: like an X-ray machine, they show the malady; they don’t cause it, and they were never meant to fix it.

So when Ivana Wynn predicts that looking at attractive people will “have made everyone into adequate sinners,” she’s half right.  The commandments – and breaking them – don’t make us sinners.  They reveal that we always were.

• • •

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture!  Next month in Tough Passages, we’re going to look at the results of adultery through Deuteronomy 23:2.  In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week!

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