Your talk is cheap.
If I want to know what matters to you, I’m going to pay closer attention to what you do than to what you say. I’ll pay attention to where you are willing to put in extra time and effort. When are you willing to suffer? When do you give up easily?
The IU Jacobs School of Music is world famous, and the students here have to be a little crazy to make it. They clearly do care about their craft, because they practice and practice… and then practice some more.
Our whole nation is crazy about sports. We are happy to watch grown men suffer and strain as they battle for glory on the field or in the ring. And we have no patience for the losers! Feel bad for the losers? pffft!!! They’re losers!
Everyone knows that it takes pain and discipline and hard work to achieve great things. We believe it for sports and music. It’s not only accepted, it’s encouraged and celebrated.
Sometimes, though, we think hard work and discipline are downright evil. How do these words from Jesus, for example, strike our modern ears?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
What do we think about suffering for sake of sexual purity?
I’ve spent the better part of this afternoon trying to imagine how a typical student at Indiana University – the home of the Kinsey Institute – would react to these words. I don’t think the reaction would be indifference. I think the general reaction would be hostile.
There was a time not long ago when we Americans decided that sexual purity was neither possible nor desirable. Instead, men and women alike were exhorted to let their primal urges run the show. Cute girl in your statistics class? Why not hook up this Friday?
More recently, we’ve gone beyond that. It is now common to think that if we resist sexual urges at all, there’s something wrong with us. If a minor wants to have a sex change operation, it’s illegal in many cities in this country for a pastor to try and convince her otherwise. It is commonly believed on many campuses around the country that sexual “health” can only come with varied sexual experiences with many different people. Swipe right for sexual “health” and “freedom”.
This is not our Lord’s teaching.
Throughout the sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches that God’s law is good.
The law of Your mouth is better to me
Than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Next, he teaches that we are required to obey it, down to our thoughts and intentions. Murder itself is sinful, of course, but the anger that burns within us, and which leads to the murder, is the root of the matter. Jesus teaches that we are guilty of adultery if we lust after a woman in our hearts.
Finally, he’s teaching us the extent to which we are supposed to strain and work to obey God’s law. We should be willing to part with an eye or a hand rather than lose the battle with sin.
As a good little Evangelical, every bone in my body wants to qualify the previous paragraph. At this point in the post, I’m supposed to talk about how the law leads us to despair of our own ability and to rest in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. I’m supposed to explain precisely how it is that Jesus didn’t really mean that we should cut off our hand or pluck out our eye.
Relax. Take a chill pill.
I don’t want to do that, though, because that’s not what Jesus says. What does Jesus actually say?
If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
Motivation is key when battling with sin, and Jesus regularly teaches with both negative and positive examples to motivate us. Here, he uses a negative warning about the coming judgement. It would be better to lose a hand or an eye than it would be for us to face the punishment of hell for eternity. It takes a particularly stubborn fool to ignore such warnings.
Next, Jesus is teaching us the lengths to which we should expect to go in our fight against sin. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Romans 13:14) We are to be relentless in our fight against sin. Like a boxer who has his opponent on the ropes, we are to keep pounding until the guy drops to the floor.
Christians will accuse you of legalism, and pagans will probably accuse you of worse. But remember that those are Jesus’ words. Jesus knows it’s hard for us to fight against sin. He’s familiar with our weakness. Remember how He said that His burden is light? Jesus is not trying to crush us with this teaching. He’s showing us how to fight our sin.