Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:28b “. . .hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Through twenty-six years of marital faithfulness with Ruth, seven covenants with my eyes have helped: daily prayer, do not take a second look, no surfing TV channels when alone at night, no R-rated movies, look someone of the opposite sex in the eye, avoid compromising situations, keep a picture of your spouse in sight.
Jesus expects us to guard our eyes. He gave us eyelids “to restrain corrupt glances, and to keep out their defiling impressions” (Henry). Do not feed the flesh, allowing lust to be stirred up in us. Evil fire simmers in us, and we must not fuel it.
If we let our eyes become inlets of evil, “eyes full of adultery” (2 P 2:14), we in our heart cross the barrier of criminal intent. If a sex act is imagined, dramatized, or play-acted, we commit heart-adultery. Such lust is limited only to a gaze solely because opportunity is lacking to attain further satisfaction in an outward deed.
How did human beings come to the place where sexual purity is extremely difficult to maintain? Why is it such a struggle for us? Sex is a classic example of how something God gave us for ultimate good is twisted by Satan into ultimate evil.
God climaxed creation with Eve (GN 2:22). Woman is the crown jewel of God’s creation. Adam had been lonely (2:20), but upon seeing Eve, became satisfied, fulfilled (GN 2:23). For man, there was in woman a God-given pleasantness.
Beauty and attractiveness to men have ever since been the hallmark of women. Helen of Troy, the world’s most beautiful woman, was kidnapped from her husband. The ensuing war caused her to be remembered as having a face that launched a thousand ships. Cleopatra brought Caesar and Antony to their knees, forever altering the course of the Roman Empire. In 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England to marry his American love, Wallis Simpson. God made woman to be the joy and equal complement of man.
In each sex, God put traits which make it pleasant and appealing to the other. This natural attraction between the sexes was meant to be pure and normal, but when sin entered the picture, what had been winsome, free, and open, suddenly became ugly, strained, and marred. After their sin in Eden, Adam and Eve for the first time felt shame and nakedness, and sensed a need to cover themselves (GN 3:7). At that moment, things went sour between man and woman. Ever since, God-given love has had to compete with Satan-driven lust.
To handle the lust problem, many options have been tried through the centuries. Women have been forced to cover themselves completely with long robes and heavy veils. Some cultures have isolated women, required them never to speak to, or to have any social contact with, men, other than immediate family. Some men, trying to curb lust, have run off to monasteries, opting never to look at a woman.
These options may at first seem pious, but further examination reveals each displays a demeaning spirit toward women. All these activities in essence say woman is the problem, and imply a woman is nothing but a sex object. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day clamored for the death of the woman taken in adultery (JN 8:5), where was the man they caught her with? The Bible called for both to die (LV 20:10). The leaders were in essence saying the woman was the problem.
Men often have trouble relating to women other than as sex objects. Jesus, though, set the example for us to follow by freeing women from this stereotype. Our Master had a very relaxed relationship with women. He talked with prostitutes, had women among His supporters, and sought to integrate women into an open, public, common life which was characterized by neither desire for, nor the fear of, sex.
The way to circumvent lust is to adopt the original attitude God ordained for each gender to have for the other. We are to see one another as attractive and pleasing, without mixing in sexual overtones. All human beings, male and female, are made in the image of God. None is ever to be viewed as a sex object, as a toy to be played with or manipulated. The cure for lust is to see divine worth in everyone.
Christian men are to have normal dealings with women, to treat them with respect and dignity. Men must view women as persons, not bodies; equals, not subordinates; as having worth in and of themselves apart from any sexual connotation.
It is an exciting time to be a pastor having to deal with the issue of gender in the church. Pastor Cho’s church in Seoul, South Korea, is the largest church in the world. The church’s explosive growth is attributed to his decision to release women from demeaning subservience, to set them free in ministry. Cho elevated women to a station equal to men. Southern Baptists may not have female pastors and deacons, but other than that, we need to set women free, and turn them loose as ministers.
Now, having tried to set men straight in this matter, let me ask a favor of the women. Ladies, help us men. You are beautiful. We are attracted to you. Please highlight your beauty, not your sensuousness. Dress to be looked at, not lusted after. You do not want us to think of you as a sex object; thus do not dress like one.
Modesty always has been, and ever shall be, the mark of godly women. In the church’s early days, Pliny the Younger, a Roman official, wrote a letter stating the Christians he had to persecute were producing the finest women in the empire. The Christian women of his day, when dying for their faith, instead of fending off the devouring lions, chose instead to hold their torn clothing in such a way as to maintain modesty. They deemed their reputations more precious than their lives.
I have always held women in high and holy esteem. I grew up surrounded by godly women, including my two grandmothers, mother, sister, aunts, cousins. I then chose to live “till death do we part” with a godly woman. Every successful man I have ever known outmarried himself, and I am no exception to that rule. I have a godly daughter and daughter-in-law. I long ago placed womanhood high on a pedestal. Thus, when I see a woman playing to the vulgar instincts of men, I feel a deep sense of personal loss, as if something precious were being violated.
Dear ladies, America has a legacy of many faults, failures, and flaws in the treating of women, but in this land you have at least had the opportunity to undertake the fight, to engage the battle, to improve your station. I urge you to continue your efforts to seek fairness in the market place, to press ahead in your attempts for equality in the work place. I offer a word of caution, be sure your efforts are lifting you up higher, not dragging you down lower. Seek to cast off wrong, but try to retain those distinctive features which are yours as the crown jewel of God’s creation.
In this vein, I urge you to make pornography a women’s rights issue, to battle it with all your might. It puts you and your daughters in jeopardy, for it inflames beastly perversions in men. It demeans your gender, and reinforces in vulgar male chauvinists the stereotyped role of females as play things, as sex objects.
I challenge us all, though in the midst of a sensuous society, to strive for a higher, purer plane. As Christians, our objective must be to pursue purity in every phase of life, to seek to cleanse everything within the orb of our influence. Our motto should be cleanliness around us, cleanliness outside us, and cleanliness inside us. Guard the environment to guard the eyes to guard the heart to guard the hand.
With God’s help, we all can be sexually clean. If impossible, Jesus would not require this of us. It is always possible to overcome even the most ingrained sin. Thus, though the battle is difficult, do not be discouraged, never give up. Ever pray for God to forbid the inner thought which conceives the outer deed. If we can have grace to squelch the illicit desire, we will have grace to avoid the illicit deed.