“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.”
Open mind and freedom. These are high values in our culture. And rightly so. To exercise one’s mind by staying open to new understanding and perspectives is a pathway for health and growth. And freedom to think and act and speak, unconstrained by outside forces, is a logical consequence of placing high value on individual lives. Open minds and full freedom are things to champion.
Yet, sin can take root in both. Jesus makes this clear when dealing with the seventh of the Ten Commandments: “Do not commit adultery.”
Adultery is such a physical act, one would think guilt or innocence would be entirely clear. For anyone who was carefully obeying the letter of the law, this would be a commandment to rack up points of self-righteousness.
But Jesus presses the commandment home into the realm of the mind. It’s not enough to simply avoid the physical act – sin can run free and wild in the open spaces of imagination. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The issue obviously applies not just to men with heterosexual lust, but to women and men equally, dealing with lust of any variety.
This activity of the interior life can go unnoticed by those around, but it wreaks havoc on the individual’s soul. It may remain festering in the mind alone, or it may spill forth into attitudes and behaviours that give more outward expression to sin. Either way, the intent of the commandment is broken, for it seeks to guard the goodness of sexual relationship within marriage, keeping sexual desire and behaviour from spilling out of this God-given channel, lest it flood other areas of life, whether in the mind alone or in the world around.
If the “open mind” has no constraint, sin can take root. Paul tells us instead to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The application is obvious when it comes to the issue of lust.
But further, freedom itself may also need to be constrained. Jesus uses the shocking remedy of gouging out an eye or cutting off a limb in order to inhibit sin. He’s using what is called “hyperbole” – deliberate exaggeration to catch attention. But the point is clear. If things that fill our eyes are creating a hot-house for lust (think of internet, movies, other sources of media), then we should freely choose to limit freedom. Cut-off the source of temptation. Close the website. Turn off the movie-streaming service. Tell a friend. Make yourself accountable.
For many of us, following this instruction will be an ongoing challenge. It’s an opportunity to lean into the Lord, relying on his Spirit, and yielding the arena of the mind into his gracious control.
“More than anything you guard, protect your mind, for life flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, CEV).
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).
“Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5).
May it be.
Lord, guard my mind. Strengthen me to take every thought captive to you, dear Lord. Make me wise to cut-off what leads to temptation and sin. May I honour you in purity. Amen.
Reflect: What will it mean for you this day to truly guard your mind? How will you “take every thought captive”? Further, is there anything that needs to be cut off?
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