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The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Column: First Truths from the First Gospel by David Hall

Looking for Loopholes in all the Wrong Places

October 24, 2014 •

Read Matthew 5:27-32

In our previous study, we examined Jesus’ first example of how the Pharisees had distorted the Law and how Jesus actually was in harmony with it. This first example was from the 6th Commandment, which negatively states “Thou shalt not murder.” We saw the positive side accentuated by Jesus, although the Pharisees concentrated exclusively on the negative. Jesus taught positively the sanctity and dignity of human beings created in the image of God. Thus we can say that not only is murder wrong, not only is abortion a violation of the sanctity of human life, but also anger and hatred and insulting human beings in the image of God is equally wrong. Furthermore and positively, we are to put a priority on eliminating enmity and making right our relationships with others. Thus Christ expounded the 6th Commandment on the sanctity of human life.

Next we move on to examine Jesus’ exposition of the 7th Commandment on the sanctity of sexuality. Remember this command, like the previous one, is not merely prohibitive or negative. It is also positive. We are not merely to avoid adultery, but beyond that we are to appreciate sexuality and thankfully enjoy it within the confines God gives.

In this part of Jesus’ sermon we’ll look briefly at two examples: Lust and Divorce. Both are related to God’s plan for sexuality within marriage.

Both also take the form we have observed in previous verses. “You’ve heard it said” refers to oral tradition put forth by Scribes/Pharisees. “But I say” gives Jesus’ true, authoritative meaning of Law

In each example we would do well to analyze:

A.   What the Scribes’ oral tradition put forth. There were two problems with their approach:

1.     Regulations only were considered.

2.     That approach reduces matters to punishments of their own devising.

B.    How Jesus is opposed to that and seeks to restore a true interpretation and application of the law.

C.    The true and positive thrust of the original law.

First a word of caution. To whom does this message in Jesus’ sermon apply? No reader should say, “This passage does not apply to me.” Don’t dismiss these applications just because you’re married or past the heyday of hormonal outburst. This sermon may well apply itself quickly to our high school and college students. It may immediately speak to those beginning a marriage or on the brink of a divorce, but it also applies to all of us because each commandment has an inward scope also.

The culture in which we live is one largely at direct odds with what Jesus teaches on sexuality. Think of how our movies, our advertisements and commercials, much contemporary music, TV, and literature (50 Shades of Grey), magazine racks, current thoughts on divorce -- all of these have a unified thrust and appeal. The internet is creating new problems in this area, and parents should take precautions. An older minister confessed his lust to me, after finding pornography on the internet. He said he had a new understanding of Paul’s command to “flee youthful lusts.” Lust was not, he rediscovered, merely a problem for young people. All these appeal to one’s unbridled sexual pleasure. With this stimulation all around, we must beware of the problem and learn how to handle it. All of us at times are confronted with the temptation to ignore God’s teaching on the sanctity of sexual fidelity and we must learn how to defeat those temptations.

Let’s look at the first example concerning Lust.

In this example Jesus is not content with mere formal adherence to the 7th commandment; he stresses purity of heart. As with the last study, we quote from Barclay, “It is not only the forbidden action, but also the forbidden thought that is guilty in the sight of God.”

As we’ve seen above, the religious teachers were restricting the meaning of the 7th and the 10th commandments. Coveting another person’s spouse was clearly prohibited by the last commandment of Sinai. However, these rabbis limited the application of the “do not commit adultery” command to physical adultery with another married person. This had become a mangled ethic and a loose definition of sexual morality. Still today, if we define this sin pharisaically enough, why, we can convince ourselves we are innocent.

The scribes would define adultery strictly as a married male seducing another man’s wife. That is all that is forbidden according to their own distorted legalistic view. They reduced the 7th commandment to that single prohibition and thus were innocent of other sexual sins. It is not hard to see what other cases of sexual infidelity get off scot-free by this. A scribe back in Jesus time, looking for loopholes, might say that:

1.     A married woman seducing a man is not forbidden by 7th commandment; or

2.     Sexual relations if one person was unmarried (fornication) is not forbidden by 7th commandment; or

3.     Homosexual relations are not forbidden by 7th commandment; or

4.     All other sexual acts except the act of sexual intercourse itself were not forbidden by 7th commandment.

This is man remaking God’s law to suit himself better. It is looking for loopholes in all the wrong places. How many ways do modern scribes do the same?

You see what happens when the law is separated from knowing God and his Holiness? It becomes a blunt instrument, a meaningless brute. The Scribal, oral tradition only stressed the reduced, shrunken, and negative view of the ‘Thou shalt only not commit adultery’ Commandment. They should have known that it is not merely the external culmination forbidden but also the internal origination.

But Jesus cannot countenance this. With the authority of the Law given on Sinai, with all the authority of God himself and without quoting a single author, he says, But I say: “anyone who looks at a woman with a view or purpose to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Are you looking for loopholes in this area or listening to Jesus on moral purity?

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