Two case studies: Love, War - Matthew 5:21-30

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 9th March 2003.

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He cut a most unassuming figure. Curly black hair with a cherubic smile. Vaclav Maly seemed to be a typical Czech priest. But you would be wrong. In fact he was defrocked for preaching the Gospel and was then dispatched by the communists to clean toilets in the subways of Prague. But on Christmas Eve, 1989, when the crowds began to move out onto the streets, and it finally looked like the Marxist monster was to be overturned, the crowd started to chant, 'Maly, Maly.' So up out of the subway came Vaclav Maly, the defrocked priest. He led them down the main square of old Prague and around 800,000 people gathered around while Maly took a service and in the name of Christ offered forgiveness to all communists. All they had to do was to come forward, repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. They did, by the hundreds. The next morning, the tanks were gone, the velvet revolution was over without a single shot being fired or a single drop of blood being spilt.

Vaclav Havel, who became president, called Maly in one day and said : ' Is there anything you want in this government, from prime minister down. It's yours' 'Oh no', he replied. 'I just want to preach the Gospel. I just want to tell people about Jesus.'

A very impressive story isn't it? But just think of what Maly could have done. He could have kept his head down and quietly gone about his business as usual, carrying out the required ritual. He could have salved his conscience by telling himself that at least he privately believed the gospel and there was no point in antagonising the ecclesiastical and political authorities, what good would that do? After all, he wasn't publicly denying Jesus, he was still saying his prayers, he wasn't doing any one any harm. But had he taken that route, he would have been going the way of the Pharisee, following the principle of minimum requirement. And the result? He would not have entered the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says as much in Matthew 5:20, speaking of what is required of his followers he says: 'For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. ' Instead, Maly took the more costly Kingdom route, that of the maximum application of God's Word, the belief that the whole of the teaching of Jesus is to be applied to the whole of life. The result? Maly was in the kingdom of heaven and something of that Kingdom broke into that beautiful ,yet oppressed country of Czechoslovakia. You see, the minimum requirement approach, the approach of the Pharisee, asks: 'What can I get away with?' The maximum application approach-the way of the Sermon on the Mount- asks: 'What can I do most?' And which of these two approaches we are following is a fairly good indicator as to whether we are under God's saving rule- his Kingdom- or not.

And tonight we are going to look at two case studies which Jesus gives in which two of the ten commandments are given and the way the Pharisees handles them is contrasted with the way his followers are meant to deal with them. So let's take a look at attitudes of hate and affairs of the heart.

First of all, attitudes of hate- v21 'You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.'

That sounds pretty serious doesn't it? So what does Jesus mean by it?

Well, let's think through how the religious leaders of the time, the morally respectable Pharisees would have taken it. Well, quite literally. Here is the sixth commandment which speaks against taking a life-murder. And the minimum requirement person comes to this and asks 'Who does it apply to? Is it all right to kill animals or are the animal rights people correct and we should all become vegetarian and get rid of vivisection? Surely it can't mean that? Does it mean that capital punishment is out or is it all right to kill those who have already killed? And what about war, is what goes on there with a soldier killing another soldier murder or should we become pacifists? Then what about the unborn? Is abortion ever to be thought of as murder? Or think about those in a persistent vegetative state, they don't seem fully human, so is it right to pull the plug on them? And suppose that I don't actively take steps to kill a person , instead I just leave them there to die, is that murdering them?' The danger with those sort of questions is that we are really looking for some loophole, trying to find circumstances in which we can murder, the minimum requirement you see.

But Jesus cuts through all of that. The reason it is wrong to murder is that it is wrong to hate your brother. Hatred is the internal trigger of which the wilful disposal of a life is the external consequence. In other words, Jesus goes beyond the externals to that which is internal-motive- what moves us to such acts. He goes to the heart of the problem which is the human heart.

A film which was quiet shocking in its time, although by today's standards appears tame in comparison, is the film 'Point Blank', starring Lee Marvin. It was recently remade, badly in my opinion, by my namesake and look alike- Mel Gibson as 'Payback.' Reflecting back on his experience in that film, Lee Marvin said this: ' How did I see myself when I saw myself on the screen? I found it very unpleasant recently when I saw a film of mine called Point Blank, which was a violent film... I was shocked at how violent it was . Of course that was 15 years ago. When I saw the film I could hardly stand up. I was so weak. I did that? I am capable of that violence? See, there is the fright, and this is why I think guys back off eventually, they say, 'No, I am not going to put myself to those demons again. The demon being the self.' We are all capable of it, that is the shocking thing. The reason why there are not more murders is because of lack of opportunity, lack of guns, or fear of getting caught, but if there was a possibility of getting away with it- there would have been one or two folk we will have come across who would no longer be breathing if the truth were known.

And how we evaluate a person, what are attitude towards them we really hold, is often shown by the expressions we use to describe them. 'Whoever is angry with his brother', that seething, persistent contempt, will 'be subject to judgement' says Jesus. Whoever calls someone raca- a term of abuse meaning a total waste of space- they will be answerable to the highest religious court in the land. And if you say someone is a 'fool', probably going back to the Hebrew word moreh- moron- spurning their character- well then your destiny is hell. 'Yes, but what about righteous anger, didn't Jesus get angry? What about speaking in jest?' The Pharisee again. Well, Jesus knows all about those things, the Bible isn't silly . But far better to err on the side of caution isn't it? Maximum application. Avoid feeding the resentment. Jesus internalises the commandment .He wants his followers not only to avoid destroying someone physically out of hate, he wants them to steer clear of any form of murder- mental and spiritual.

Just think of how many people's characters have been murdered by gossip or the trial by press even before they have been brought to court. They may not be dead, but given what has happened to them as their name has been dragged through the mud they might as well be.

But the place where such a thing should be anathema is in the company of believers, hence what Jesus goes on to say in vv 23 -24 'Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.' Now the point Jesus is driving home here is that we should be more concerned about the offence we have caused to someone else, with the danger that they may be driven to anger and murder of some kind, than any offence committed against us. This is a reversal of the way people normally operate. We tend to stand on our dignity and say, 'Look at what they have done to me, I have a right to want them out of the way.' , Jesus is saying, 'No, be aware of how you might have offended someone else so that they are harbouring a grudge against you and get it sorted out for their sake, so that they don't end up sinning.' Now it may well be that you know that you have deeply upset someone, intentionally or unintentionally, it doesn't really matter, but the upshot is that a barrier has been erected and fellowship is impaired. Then it is best to get it sorted out as soon as possible and tonight might be such a good time. Maximum application, that is Jesus way.

But what about affairs of the heart ? vv 27-30 'You have heard that 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 is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.'

Now let's take a careful look at this passage because it has been the cause of so much unnecessary guilt and tyranny, especially for young people because many of the ideas flowing from it are based upon a mistranslation. So I am going to make it easier for you and then harder. Here is v27 again as in the NIV 'You have heard that 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.' The principle is clear isn't it , 'You shall not commit adultery.' How does the Pharisee handle it according to the minimum requirement method? He says, 'Sex outside marriage is OK for us because neither of us are really married. I am not sleeping with another man's wife, so it isn't adultery, she's my girlfriend'. Or it is also not adultery because ' I have not had sex with that woman.' to quote President Clinton's plea in the Monica Lewinski saga. So he can abuse his position as President by messing around with a girl who is hardly younger than his daughter, he can engage in all kinds of sexual activities with her, but because he technically doesn't have intercourse he can hold up his hands and say, 'I have not had sex with that woman.' That is a Pharisee speaking.

But the maximum application method says, adultery doesn't just happen when you have sexual intercourse, it happens in your heart.

However, the mistranslation is unfortunate at this point. In the Greek it says, ' If anyone looks upon a woman in order to lust, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' That is an important distinction. I need to point that out because sexual arousal, sexual interest, sexual attraction are essential for the continuation of the human species. But as you read v27 at the moment most men here tonight, and some women too, are going into guilt mode aren't you? Because if they have not had a sexual feeling then they think something is wrong with them and if they have had a sexual feeling they fear they have broken the commandment at this point. Now there is nothing wrong with having a sexual feeling. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in seeing a beautiful woman walking down the street and being reminded that you are a male. It is not a problem if you have sexual feelings and drives, it may be a problem if you don't and there are all sorts of helps available in that department today- so you can see a doctor. You see it is the hormone testosterone that fuels the sex drive in both men and women. the thing is, men have over ten times more of it- as women know only too well-as do the men! Men also have more of the neurochemical called vasopressin which creates the persistent drive to find a mate-that is the way we are made. That is not what this verse is about. It is about looking in order to lust. The striptease show, the dirty movie or video, the internet pornography. That is becoming a real problem. Over 80% of internet users are men and 50% of them use it to seek pornography. The problem is that it becomes addictive, and again there is a good biochemical reason for this for it releases pleasurable neurotransmitters in the brain, but like with any drug-for that is what these are- higher doses are increasingly required to produce the same effect. Hence, addiction. And if this is a difficulty for you, then do talk to someone about it in confidence. You see, it is the intending to look in order to have that arousal that Jesus has in his sights. To notice that a girl is beautiful and think 'boy- I am still alive and not lost it' is good. But to go for another look and another look and another because I am enjoying it- that is the stepping over the mark. Now the Pharisee in us asks, 'Does that mean that the first look is Ok ,but not the second? Or is the second all right but not the third?' How many looks can I have?' That is the Pharisee who doesn't want to keep the law of God, but do the bare minimum.

But we need to go a step further, because the Greek says something different again: 'Whoever looks upon a woman in order to cause her to lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' This gets harder. If you are acting with a woman in order to arouse her, to lead her on sexually, then you are already committing adultery in your heart. That's the point. So the old age question : ' How far can we go?' is really a Pharisee's question because almost any distance along the way is attempting to arouse sexual feelings in the woman and when they are aroused they are far more difficult to turn off than in a man. You see, a man is like a gas cooker, one light and 'whoosh' - the flame is going and just as quickly again afterwards- the flame is out. Women are more like electric cookers- slow to heat up but once aglow, takes a lot, lot, longer to cool down. Pardon the crudity of the illustration but it gives you some idea of what I am talking about. So all petting comes under the ban of v27. All attempts at arousal of your girlfriend is what v 27 is about. It is simply not fair on them and Jesus expects his men to be caring enough not to put women in such an invidious situation.

So while we have sexual feelings because we are sexual beings- nothing wrong in that- we will find members of the opposite sex attractive, of course- it is what you than go on to do with those feelings that Jesus has in mind.

Is Jesus really serious when he says, 'If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.' The thing is, something of that 'hell' can be experienced here and now and Jesus loves us so much he would rather spare us from that. Not long ago a very well known Christian speaker and writer, a brilliant theologian and worker in the student world was sent to prison for sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy he met through an internet chat room. In court this man said that he started struggling with his sexuality five years ago after seeing images of gay pornography on a borrowed computer. He was married with a six month old baby. He went on to described his home life as happy and content but was excited by homosexual pornography. When the police raided his house they found hundreds of gay porn magazines and videos hidden from his wife. Imagine the effect that has had on his family, his friends and his church-let alone the poor man himself who is now serving three years. It is tragic and what is more the experience for all concerned -including the innocent was hellish. That is why Jesus is saying what he says. Play with fire and you will get burned. Best avoid it, maybe by making yourself accountable to someone, but we do have to be radical and help each other so that the good thing-sex, is enjoyed in its rightful place-marriage.

The Christian writer Dr Carl Trueman is a friend of the man I have just mentioned and in the aftermath of what happened with a heavy heart, he wrote these words : 'The problem with evangelicalism in the West is not its lack of intellectual credibility; rather it is its lack of moral integrity, its tendency towards materialism, and its lip service to a doctrinal position and code of ethics which it often despises and ignores in practice. The church needs men and women, boys and girls who are distinctively different from the world, who live for Christ, not for self, who maintain the absolute moral antithesis between the worship of the triune God and the crass idolatry of all that is not Christianity.. such an uncompromising attitude to their own morality is born out of a knowledge of their own sinfulness and God's glorious holiness and unmerited grace in Christ.' Mercy and grace in Christ-that is the key. And really, you could not get a better summing up of the Sermon on the Mount than that. Let us pray.

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