Summary: This is a fresh look at Jesus’ teaching on divorce, adultery, and remarriage. The sermon argues that we have often missed the intent of Jesus’ teaching.
Affairs of the Heart
Introduction: Letter of the Law vs. the Spirit of the Law
Last week in the NBA playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns, Robert Horry, of the Spurs, viciously fouled Steve Nash into the scorer’s table. Two other Suns left their bench. One to see Nash; the other left to confront Horry. Nash was okay. There was no pushing or punching. Horry was rightfully ejected from the game. Common sense would suggest that nothing else needed to be done.
But then the NBA commissioner, David Stern, enters the picture. The NBA has a rule that if a player leaves the bench area for a confrontation on the court, he will automatically be suspended for the next game. Horry was suspended for two games, but the two Suns were suspended the next game for leaving the bench. This included the Suns’ best scorer and of their best defensive players. Horry was only a bench player. Never mind that no punches were thrown. Never mind that the team that received the vicious foul is the team that was ultimately punished. Never the mind that this is the NBA playoffs and that the best series has been forever tainted. The Suns would loose the next game and maybe the entire series. But the letter of the law was followed and NBA fans around the world outraged.
David Stern has a lot in common with the Pharisees. They were excellent at adhering to the letter of the law, but they completely missed the spirit of the law and therefore they interpreted it erroneously for their selfish gains and to the pain of others. That is why Jesus told his disciples your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees. Today, we will see how Jesus addressed the spirit of the law when it comes to adultery and divorce, issues that hit close to home and close to our hearts. Jesus calls us to pure hearts and actions. He helps us understand the adulterer in each of us.
Move 1: Jesus redefines adultery (read 27-30).
Jesus came to fulfill the law not abolish it, so he is not changing it, but rather illuminating its true meaning. Nevertheless, he speaks with unprecedented authority as the ultimate authority on the law. “You have heard it was said…but I tell you…” The Pharisees were very content that they had not committed adultery as long as they didn’t sleep with another man’s wife. That was external righteousness. It didn’t matter to them who you ogled at and fantasized about. It didn’t matter if their view of women was nothing more than ‘eye candy’ as long as they didn’t actually have sexual union with them.
But for Jesus’ disciples that is not sufficient. Jesus commanded the purity of heart. As Bonhoeffer said, “Adherence to Jesus allows no free reign of desires unless accompanied by love.” You cannot love a woman while at the same time lusting after her when she is not rightfully yours. I know our culture basically equates love and lust, but Jesus calls it what it is, adultery.
It is in the heart that adultery begins and it is in the heart that adultery grows. It isn’t so much the point that it will ultimately grow to the point of sexual immorality, but that in fact it already is adultery. The eyes are the gateway of lust and lust is adultery. Jesus addresses his remarks to men, but of course it is possible for women to lust as well. Sometimes their fantasies may not be as sexually focused, but how many women have fantasized about what it would be like to be married to someone else? How many have actually desired it? Jesus addresses men, because in his culture women were devalued, and he would not tolerate that from his disciples, but please don’t think his words do not address women as well.
Move 2: Radical temptation calls for radical tactics.
Does it seem impossible not to ever look at another man or woman lustfully? I suppose for most of us we have proven it to be impossible. They once made fun of Jimmy Carter because he once said he had committed adultery in his heart. Never mind that concept comes from Jesus, to our secular world he was just totally out of touch. Jesus is not condemning sexual desire, but he is condemning allow that desire to rule our hearts and to reduce others created in God’s image as sexual objects.
We may have all failed in this regard, but that isn’t the point as much as it is recognizing what is happening in our heart, and struggling through the power of the Spirit to bring our hearts in submission to him. Do we also think that as long as we don’t have an actual sexual relationship with someone we are not sinning? The person who gets up in the middle of night when everyone is sleeping to look at porn is committing adultery. The person who shares intimate secrets with strangers on-line is committing adultery. The man who sexually fantasizes about the woman he shares an office with is committing adultery. Those desires do not have to rule us; rather Christ must rule in us. We must bring those desires in subjection to his rule.