Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:30 “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee:
for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish,
and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
Our Master never underestimated how dearly attached a person can become to a particular sin. A certain evil can easily evolve into a habit one settles in with, a pleasure often repeated. An individual sin can become so much a part of the warp and woof of our lives that it becomes harder to give up than a right eye or a right hand.
Paul said, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 C 9:27). If Paul needed to do this, we also must be ever on guard, but too many saints are careless. Jesus told His disciples in their hour of temptation, “Watch and pray” (MT 26:41). Watch for red flags, warning signs which may indicate an activity is becoming our pet idol, and thus needs to be surgically excised, spiritually amputated.
Beware activities which anger us when reproved. Anything we are overly defensive about obviously has a grip on us and may be approaching idol-status.
Beware activities we think a lot about when alone, when we are not actually doing them. Obsession of attention usually indicates obsession of affection.
Beware activities for which we are most willing to endure great hardships. When, in order to do it, we are willing to sacrifice Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, or family time, we should hear sirens, whistles, and bells warning us.
Beware activities which commonly tempt people our own age. Any Christian can commit any sin at any time, but there do seem to be seasons in life when certain temptations require extra wariness. As we age, we seem to have to deal with varying, successive stages of intense age-targeted temptations, progressing from sex to success to security. In younger years, sins of the flesh haunt us at every turn. Middle adults face materialism and ambition as driving forces. In old age, we often clutch our money; security is such a concern that we are tempted to lessen our trust in God. The cost of discipleship is constant vigilance in every season of life.
Beware activities we wish no one opposed, deeds we would like to do without any loss of popularity. The deed we hope the pastor never sees us doing is usually a sin we wish were not a sin. My dad’s knock at a door was once answered by a man holding a beer. Upon seeing my dad, the man immediately tried to hide his beer behind his back, and said, “Hi, Pastor.” If we do not want the pastor to see it, we certainly should not want God to see it. I once had a church member upset with me over preaching about modesty. She had tried on several bathing suits at a store, but was unable to buy any because she said she kept worrying about what her pastor would think if he saw her in one. It is amazing what pastors get blamed for. I once visited a lady who was so horrified at the thought of my seeing her son’s stinky tennis shoes on a kitchen counter that, when she thought I was not looking, she threw them in the refrigerator. Worry not about what the pastor thinks, worry about God. If you have settled in with a sin, be it ever so precious, root it out, cast it from thee.
Matt. 5:31a “It hath been said,. . .”
Jesus now gives a third contrast in delineating the righteousness which must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (5:20). Having emphasized heart-murder and heart-adultery, as opposed to hand-murder and hand-adultery, Jesus now fearlessly confronts His antagonists on the volatile issue of divorce. We are not surprised that Jesus, the greatest and most influential social reformer of all time, would confront the most serious threat to any society, the breakdown of the family unit.
It is no coincidence Jesus mentioned divorce right after discussing lust. The two often go together. A Scriptural reason for marriage is to prevent lust and other sex sins. “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 C 7:2). “If they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 C 7:9 NAS, margin).
Even as purity and marriage go together, even so do impurity and the breakdown of marriage. Lust has much to do with the frequency of divorce in a society. The deterioration of sexual purity always brings pressure to bear to loosen divorce laws. In turn, as divorce is made easier, morality deteriorates even further, for the strictness or laxity of divorce laws strongly influences sexual purity in a society. As a general rule, the harder it is to get out of a marriage, the harder people work at making the marriage work and guarding their vows. If a third person is available, and divorce is easy to attain, the latter is a tempting option to obtain the former.
The important influence sex has on a married couple is well documented by marriage and family therapist Willard Harley. His research has conclusively demonstrated the top five needs of spouses. Wives need affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, family commitment. Husbands need sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, domestic support, admiration. By comparing the first item on each list, we can see why sex sins play a significant role in many divorces. Lust can quickly drive a husband into an affair. A wife can literally be hugged into an affair if her marriage is void of affection.
The man’s sexual inclinations toward an affair are intensified by items three and five on his list. In addition to sex, he wants a woman who is pretty and will stroke his ego. Thus, a man can be easily persuaded to think three of his top needs can be fulfilled in an affair. This explains why a husband almost never leaves a wife without already having another woman on the side. Wives often leave husbands due to safety or sadness, and live alone, but men rarely leave without a sex partner. Woman’s need for affection explains why such partners are often available.
An affair is by far the most shocking blow to a married couple, but adultery does not automatically end a marriage. Amazingly, two-thirds of couples hit by an affair decide to stay together, and many report a newfound richness and closeness gained through conquering the ordeal together.
When a husband-wife relationship is ruptured, Christians are to approach the schism as they do breakdowns in other relationships. Always seek reconciliation. Go to professional Christian counselors. They can help. Men in our culture are often resistant to seeking professional help. They deem it an acknowledgement of weakness, and consider it a contradiction of their macho scripting. Men, get a grip. Real manhood is not found in refusing to seek help, but in refusing to let your marriage die without trying every possibility you can under God’s heaven to save it.
Do not let an affair automatically end your marriage. Jesus forgives adultery. We should, too. God forgives. Wherever we find ourself in the process–bad marriage, divorce, remarriage–if we need forgiveness, we can have it and be made whole. Whatever our status now, we can enjoy the smile and full blessing of God.