Community Group Study Guide — The Eyes and the Heart
Jesus, in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, focuses on whole person righteousness. The Scribes (teachers of the Law) and Pharisees focused on their own external righteousness and used it as a means to measure their religious standing and as a tool to judge others. Jesus tells them that they are actually “relaxing” the Law since they’ve missed its point (Matthew 5:19). God desires more for you than just you doing the right thing, he desires for those actions to flow from a new/changed heart; or in other words, the Lord desires whole person righteousness. Jesus gives six examples of this in Matthew 5:21-48, this study guide focuses on Matthew 5:27-30 where Jesus discusses the 7th commandment “you shall not commit adultery”.
A faith that is focused on just outward righteousness would look at the 7th commandment and say “as long as you do not commit sexual immorality you’re obeying this command.” However, that is a false righteousness and an inadequate view of sin. Having this deficient view of sin impacts your holiness and put you in a place of pursuing a righteousness like the Scribes and Pharisees which was an external righteousness.
Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:27-30 that true obedience to the 7th commandment, and its original intent, is a purity of heart (Matthew 5:8, 5:27-28). It is not just about not committing adultery, but rather obedience to God would have us view each other with the image of God in mind. Looking at another with lustful intent is a giving into the pursuit of pleasure without commitment and to see the other as an object for selfish use. Both of these things radically go against the sacrificial love God calls his people to have, the Lord’s view of sexual intimacy as a gift to be expressed in covenant love (marriage), and what it means to treat others as people who bear the image of God.
Jesus highlights that physical acts usually start with the heart and the eyes and that we should be concerned with whole person righteousness which means having the right heart and the right actions.
This was an apparent challenge for the 1st century where modest dress was more common, family culture was stronger and the digital revolution was still millennia away…, how much more should we be aware of what kind of problem we have today with whole person righteousness related to adultery and lust in our heart? It is no secret that we live in a highly visual and sexualized world in the 21st century. Images are digitally enhanced, we are saturated with advertisements, movies, and other forms of media. Yet at the same time, our culture has become increasingly aware of abuse of power and the objectification of people. For example, it is interesting to note that Jesus specifically addresses men in this passage. This does not mean that he implies that women get a pass on this, or that they are not tempted to look at others with lust in their hearts as well. However, by addressing men Jesus is calling out existing power structures and what could be 1st century #metoo moments. Men typically were not busted by the community in these adultery scenarios (see John 8:1-11). Jesus addresses the heart and elevates the societal value of women at the same time.
But this leads to an important question: What are some ways you can guard your eyes and your heart in the area of sexual sin?
In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus calls us to deal with sin drastically. Coddling your sin and making excuses for it will keep you enslaved to it. When Jesus talks about gouging out your eye or cutting off you hand, he is not giving you a command for self-mutilation, instead he is commanding you to pursue freedom from sin. Imagine being locked in prison shackles in a concentration camp where you enslaved and tortured. However one day you have the opportunity to escape but it requires you to cut off your own hand to get out. Would you take it? This is a difficult thing to imagine doing, but such is the metaphor Jesus is using here to talk about our enslavement with our sin. What if your sin is keeping you enslaved and you are not fully experiencing the vibrant life Jesus offers you? Jesus does not go easy on us but he tells us the truth when he says “it is better to lose one of your members than that your whole body is thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). Jesus is not advocating for self-mutilation, but that we would mortify (put to death) our sin.
How can you put this kind of sin and other sins to death?
First, think of the positive implications and see sexual intimacy within marriage as a gift to guard and not as a constraint. Our culture would tell you that you need to follow your passions, test out your sexual chemistry, not limit yourself to just one partner, etc, etc, etc… In this vein of thinking, confining yourself to just one partner for life in a committed marriage is seen as a constraint. God instead tells you that sex within covenant marriage is actually freedom and a gift. When you are in a loving, committed and covenantal marriage you are free from needing to perform, you are free to be vulnerable and you’re free to flourish in your sexual intimacy. God is not repressive in his view of sexuality; the boundaries he places on sexual intimacy are meant to help us guard and cherish it as a valuable gift he has given.
Second, What you take in with your senses will form and shape your heart. Philippians 4:8-9 emphasizes this point as Paul pleads with the Philippians to dwell on what’s pure, excellent, just, honorable, true, commendable and worthy of praise. We can often rationalize what we watch, what comes up in our social media feeds and what we listen to as “not that bad”. Instead of setting the bar as “not that bad”, why not set the bar for what you intake with your senses as “what is honorable, praiseworthy, and excellent”? Does it stir up your love for God and love for others or does it push you towards self love and seeing others as objects and not image bearers? This principle can be expanded out to when you look at others who pass by and if your eyes linger… or if you emotionally dwell and fantasize about what it would be like to be married to “so and so” (even if you’re currently single) or have a different spouse other than your own. What we take in with our senses and dwell upon forms us, which is what Jesus is showing us here as he addresses not just the action but the heart behind it.
Finally, deal radically with your sin. God has given you your heart, your eyes and your hands to serve him with, and sin’s desire would be to distort those as a tool for evil instead of good. Cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye was a favorite saying of Jesus. Maybe he loved the shock value of it?! It is a phrase that he actually uses elsewhere in Matthew and in other gospels. He is not advocating for self-mutilation, but that you would see sin in your life and stop being gentle with it. To put sin to death means to stop feeding it and to cut it out of your life. When Jesus says to cut off your hand and gouge out your eye he is telling you to not look at or physically do things that lead you into sin. This man mean that there are people you need to stop hanging around with, apps you need to remove, boundaries you need to have in your relationships, phone numbers you need to delete and items you need to throw away. Instead we’re often far too gentle with our sin or assume we have more self control than we do. Sin is not tempting when we’re doing “well” spiritually, it is tempting when you’re tired, frustrated or feeling apathetic. When you try to live in “gray areas” or when you’re too gentle with your sin you will find yourself susceptible to being led into sin.
Ultimately what enables you to do all this is the gospel, that Jesus has given his very life to purchase your forgiveness and reconciliation to God. By his grace, he sets us free from sin and has given us the Holy Spirit and the people of God to empower us to walk in freedom. Do not go back to what you’ve been set free from, but instead deal drastically with it as the Lord empowers you to move towards freedom.
Whole person righteousness does not merely obey the outward command, but looks to the heart to examine motives and hidden sin. Jesus pushes his disciples to think about their view of others as either objects or image bearers of God and he desires for us to stop entertaining lust in our hearts that would lead us to sin. Rather we should be quick to deal drastically with sin so that we’d be free from it and not enslaved to it.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 5:27-30
What does true obedience to the 7th commandment (“you shall not commit adultery”) look like? Why is Jesus so concerned with whole person righteousness?
Christianity can often be called culturally repressive by people in our world today. Often our world ignores parts of the Bible that elevate women compared to their value in ancient culture. How do these words of Jesus elevate women and go against what the ancient culture thought?
Read Matthew 5:29-30. In what ways can we be too casual with our sin?
As a group read Colossians 3:8-14. This passage uses the phrase “put off” and “put on” or another way to think of it is “put to death” and “bring to life”. What is the main idea of this passage? What are some of the theological focus areas (look at verse 10-11 for example)? And in what ways are these actions related to heart righteousness?
What is one step you can take this week to help “put off” sin and “put on” righteousness?