In this series from the Sermon on the Mount, my previous post looked at getting rid of willful anger and contempt—the #1 culprits that sabotage well-being. Willful, retained anger always seeks to do harm; and harm always returns harm. Thus, the primary benefit of Jesus’ seek-no-harm strategy isn’t for neighbors; it’s for ourselves.
It’s important to keep anger and contempt in mind as we move to the next step, adultery and divorce. Remember, Jesus is a builder and his Sermon is sequential. When we chop it into random bits in no particular order, it becomes nothing but a collection of divine gripes rather than an intelligent Way to personal wellness.
You have heard it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…“It has also been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress.” (Mat. 5:27-29, 31-32)
Although it’s not what we usually hear, the secret is to realize what “woman” and what “wife” Jesus is ultimately talking about. This is primarily about spiritual adultery and divorce from God. Obviously, there’s a corresponding physical aspect, and that’s what we usually hear about (as did first-century crowds).
But the “woman” we lust after is the spiritual harlot depicted in Scripture as Mystery Babylon. The “wife” we shouldn’t divorce is God’s faithful wisdom and “her” children—love, truth, peace, joy, and so on. (Luk. 7:35, Mat. 11:19)
The “adulterous generation” didn’t die with the Pharisees. It lives on in the world (and the church!) because it’s a mind-set rather than any specific act. The point is that all sin is adultery and all sinners are adulterers. “The whole world” chases after Babylon. Once we digest that concept, we can better understand this step.
What Are You Looking At?
People and relationships seem difficult because we tend to obsess over neighbors and all their offenses. Recall that anger is triggered by an offended sense of “justice.” Our reaction is usually stone-throwing insults and behavior. Also, to look at, or to look down on others in contempt is adultery. Because harm returns harm, and because the benefit of following Jesus’ strategy is primarily for ourselves (with side benefits for neighbors), it’s never wise to practice “You fool” mentality. Neither is it smart to let other people’s opinions own you.
Many churches teach an acronym for JOY—Jesus, Others, You, in that order—which inadvertently undermines relationships. We also hear common admonishments to “get your eyes off yourself.” Both are meant well, but they conflict with Jesus’ order and, ultimately, keep us frustrated and impotent.
What’s Jesus’ order overall? First, love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul—not because He needs us to feed His ego, but because we need the self-worth that He fills us with. Without it, we have no staying power and are little help to others. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. This assumes (and requires) that we first love ourselves—not in a narcissistic way, but in a healthy way. Without this in place, we can’t love neighbors effectively. But when it’s there, we’re able to function as strong, capable assets. That’s God’s wisdom, order, and motivation.
It’s like learning how to juggle, starting with two balls: It’s you and God, you and God, you and God, practiced until that relationship feels secure and strong. Then you add the third ball, neighbors. I find this the easiest way to apply Jesus’ command to love God, then love your neighbor as yourself. (You can check out my related full article here.)
Cut It Out
How do you quit chasing the harlot’s thinking and re-marry God’s wisdom? You gouge out your right “eye.” No, that doesn’t mean self-mutilation! It simply refers to how we see rightness, and how we use and abuse others to force them into it. Get your eyes off of others. That doesn’t mean ignore people. It means quit chasing their approval of you and your approval of them.
I know it’s not what we’ve heard, but it’s better to lose this habit than to live in hell.
If we don’t cut it out, others keep us irritated and imprisoned. If, however, we take Jesus’ first two Sermon steps to heart, we steadily get free of adulterous habits that sabotage well-being. Relationships subsequently grow healthier because the self is healthier. It’s called “blessedness.”
We’ll look at the third culprit in the next installment, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts? Do you obsess over how others treat you (good or bad)? Do you depend on them for your sense of worth? On the other hand, do you put yourself at the bottom of the pile because you believe you “deserve” nothing?