A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 5: 29-30. A Christians Righteousness: Avoiding lust – What to do about it.
In saying this I am very far from wishing to lay down any law or make any man-made rules about which books and magazines a Christian may read, which plays and films he may see (live or on television), and which art exhibitions he may visit. For we have to recognise that all men and women are made differently. Sexual desire is more easily aroused in some than in others, and different things arouse it. Sexual self-discipline and self-control come more naturally to some than to others. Some can see explicitly sexual pictures (on paper or film) and remain entirely unscathed, while others would find them terribly corrupting. Our temperaments and therefore our temptations vary. So we have no right to stand in judgement on others regarding what they feel able to permit themselves.
What we do have liberty to say is only this (for this is what Jesus said): *if* your eye causes you to sin, don’t look; *if* your foot causes you to sin, don’t go; and *if* your hand causes you to sin, don’t do it. The rule Jesus laid down was hypothetical, not universal. He did not require all his disciples (metaphorically speaking) to blind or maim themselves, but only those whose eyes, hands and feet were a cause of sinning. It is they who have to take action; others may be able to retain both eyes, both hands and both feet with impunity. Of course even they may need to refrain from certain liberties out of loving concern for those with weaker consciences or weaker wills, but that is another principle which is not enunciated here.
What is necessary for all those with strong sexual temptations, and indeed for all of us in principle, is discipline in guarding the approaches of sin. The posting of sentries is a commonplace of *military* tactics; *moral* sentry-duty is equally indispensable. Are we so foolish as to allow the enemy to overwhelm us, simply because we have posted no sentries to warn us of his approach?
To obey this command of Jesus will involve many of us a certain ‘maiming’. We shall have to eliminate from our lives certain things which (though some may be innocent in themselves) either are, or could easily become, sources of temptation. In his own metaphorical language we may find ourselves without eyes, hands or feet. That is, we shall deliberately decline to read certain literature, see certain films, visit certain exhibitions. If we do this, we shall be regarded by some of our contemporaries as narrow-minded, untaught Philistines. ‘What?’ they will say to us incredulously, ‘you’ve not read such and such a book? You’ve not seen such and such a film? Why, you’re not educated, man!’ They may be right. We may have had to become culturally ‘maimed’ in order to preserve our purity of mind. The only question is whether, for the sake of this gain, we are willing to bear that loss and endure that ridicule.
Jesus was quite clear about it. It is better to lose one member and enter life maimed, he said, than to retain our whole body and go to hell. That is to say, It is better to forgo some experiences this life offers in order to enter the life which is life indeed; it is better to accept some cultural amputation in this world than risk final destruction in the next. Of course this teaching runs clean counter to modern standards of permissiveness. It is based on the principle that eternity is more important than time and purity than culture, and that any sacrifice is worth while in this life if it is necessary to ensure our entry into the next. We have to decide, quite simply, whether to live for this world or the next, whether to follow the crowd or Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow: A Christian’s righteousness: fidelity in marriage and honesty in speech.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.