Valentine’s Day was a week ago. Many men showed their love with flowers, a nice Hallmark card, some chocolates, maybe even a night out. Some really romantic individual may have spent months collecting photos, downloading music, and editing video software in order to get his love a ‘movie’ about their time together.
Sweet, right? At least, I bet you’d consider him more sweet than the guy watching Olympic curling, drinking a beer, who, when asked about Valentine’s Day, simply says, “Yeah, I didn’t do anything for you, but I did think about you. That counts, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
It doesn’t work in our world to say, “Honey, I thought about picking the kids up from school.” “Boss, I thought about finishing the project before the deadline.” “I thought about getting groceries, that’ll keep you from starving, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
And yet, today Jesus says that when it comes to morality, God views our thoughts to be the same as our actions. In other words:
Thinking wrong is the same as doing wrong.
Look at Matthew 5: 21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall no t murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Again in verse 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
This is not what the world thinks. Society believes that thinking bad things is not the same as doing bad things.
We don’t put people on trial for thinking about stealing.We don’t scold kids for thinking about taking a cookie. We don’t write someone up at work for thinking about touching a coworker inappropriately.
We don’t and (consequently) we can’t. We have no proof about what they are actuallythinking, until it becomes action.
Consequently, because there aren’t immediate societal consequences for thinking, a stigma has developed that “as long as I don’t actually do it, I haven’t sinned.”
- “Yes, I have thought about kissing that person. But I would never actually do it. I won’t cheat on my spouse! Unlike some other people I know.”
- “Yes, I have thought about telling my boss off. But that would be foolish. I have enough self control.”
- “Yes, I look at pornography. But it’s just looking and thinking. I don’t see what the harm is. It's certainly not as bad as all those people out looking for sex at the bars!!”
- "Yes, I hate going to church. It's boring and when I'm there I don't listen at all. But at least, I go. I know others who don't!"
In other words: “Yes, I have sinful thoughts. But I haven’t acted on them. Aren’t you impressed, God?”
Society believes – and I fear that we believe – sinful thinking isn’t really sinful at all!
But God says differently. He treats evil thoughts in the exact same manner as evil actions.Take a look at His first example from the 5th commandment. In Matthew 5:21 Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not murder,” and that murderers are subject to judgment, and then in the same breath, anyone who is angry with another will be subject to judgment."
You might say, “Well, this judgment must be different. Death penalty for the murderer, a slap on the wrist for the hater.” But Jesus goes on to describe that judgment in verse 22, “Anyone who says ‘you fool,” will be in danger of the fire of hell!”
God says the same thing about the 6th Commandment sins. He says, “You have heard, ‘Don’t commit adultery.” –That’s having sexual relations with anyone that you aren’t married to in a God pleasing one man and one woman marriage.
Then he says, “If you look lustfully at a woman (or a man, or anyone you aren’t married to for that matter) then, you have committed adultery." The penalty for adultery? Well, it’s so bad that Jesus says, “You’re better off losing your eye than suffering the punishment for lust!”
In other words:
God treats bad thoughts the same way that he treats bad actions! As sin.
Why does God treat them in categorically the same way? From Scripture, I think we see three reasons for this:
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says this, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” This makes sense. If you do something bad, you have to first think about doing something bad.
- If you bad mouth your boss with your coworkers on instant messenger, the problem started in your heart.
- If you run to a steamy romance novel for an intimate encounter, the problem started in your heart.
- If you bring someone you aren’t married to home from the bar to have sex with, the problem started in your heart!
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
This even happened to the great King David. He saw a woman from the roof top of his palace. Instead of averting his eyes, he began to think about her. He began to lust after her. He thought it would be nice for him to sleep with her.
So guess what he did? He acted on his thoughts!
Then, when it came out that she was pregnant. He thought it would be nice to not be embarrassed by his sin. So, he sent for her husband. He tried to get him drunk. He tried to make him sleep with his wife. (This was before the days of paternity test results on Maury.) When that didn’t work, he sent a letter to his general. He ask for this man to be left alone in the fighting. The man was killed and David had committed murder.
2) Bad thoughts ruin relationships.
Another reason that sinful thoughts are treated with hatred by God is that these thoughts ruin relationships! This is why Jesus says in verse 23, “Settle matter quickly with your adversary. Go and be reconciled to him!” Because without reconciliation, hatred will ruin your relationship! It festers. It causes distrust. It prevent relationships from growing. It hardens your heart and ruins a relationship OR stops one from starting.
Lust is similar. It literally, chemically, rearranges your brain’s neurons. Suddenly, you rewire yourself to find sexual happiness, not in your beloved spouse, whom you promised to only have that special happiness with, but with the secretary down the hall, the pixelated image on the screen, or the character written about in a steamy romance novel!
That doesn’t improve your relationship with your spouse. It ruins it! It’s not like it should be and at worst non existent.
Sinful thoughts ruin relationships!
3) Sinful thoughts, are in and of themselves, sin.
This is the biggest reason of all. Sinful thinking is appalling to God. It’s a open rebellion against Him.
And you can figure this out simply by doing some simple math. If A = B, then C.
- If sin deserves hell, and hatred deserves hell, then hatred is sin.
- If sin deserves hell, and lust deserves hell, then, lust is sin.
- If sin deserves hell, and any evil thought deserves hell, than evil thoughts are sin.
Sin is nothing more than open rebellion against God. Consider that. When we think contrary to how God would have us think, we are in essence saying, “Get out of here God! You can have and be anywhere in the whole universe, but stay out of my head. I want to think about what I want to think about it. I want some privacy. I want to hate and lust and be greedy without your stupid rules! Leave me alone.”
If we continue to choose our own thoughts over God, he will leave us alone.
But now I'd like you to combine what we've learned from this portion of Scripture with a few thoughts from other parts of Scripture. It is clear from this section that God hates sinful thoughts. It is clear from other portions of Scripture that God also knows all of our thoughts. Jesus revealed this in Matthew 12:25 when he said that people were thinking that he was the devil. (and he was right!) In John 1:48, He impressed Nathan by revealing that He knew Nathan had been under a fig tree across town before coming to meet him. He told the disciples to toss their net overboard, because he knew that a ton of fish would be caught at his direction.
The point? Jesus preached our portion for today on a mountaintop surrounded by people. He must have known that these people struggled with what was common to humanity-- evil thoughts.
So...in math terms again.
- Jesus knew the people's thought sins.
- Jesus hated the people's thought sins.
- These thought sins deserved hell.
And you know what else? As we read scripture here today, we do so as people plagued by the human condition of sinful thought. Yet God hasn’t destroyed us. Instead, he has brought us here today and through the words of Scripture he has warned us! Why?
Because while God thoughts were filled with hatred for sinners, at the same time, his thoughts were consumed by an even greater thought:
“God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In other words, his thoughts were consumed with love for humans…for you.
But God didn’t sit back on his divine couch, pop a can of Pringles and simply say, "I am thinking about how much I love you." No way! God actually acted on it.
- He gave up the only begotten Son that never thought him any harm to death!
- He dealt with the hatred of an entire group of people that hated him for his comments such as the ones we read today.
- He suffered a hate induced crucifixion at the hands of the very people he came to save!
- Worse, he suffered God’s hate-filled wrath against all of our evil thoughts. (i.e. That wrath-filled judgment for your hateful thoughts and the better-to-lose-an-eye than suffer in hell punishment for your lustful thoughts.)
To put it simply: Jesus thought it was better for him to die than for you to.
This means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your hate filled thoughts. It means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your lust filled thoughts. It means, that God, in Christ, forgives you for all your evil thoughts!
And thank God Christ knows all your thoughts! This is scary at first, because you can’t get away from his knowledge, but the comfort is that he didn’t miss one of your evil thoughts. God won’t do an autopsy of you before letting you into heaven, where he says, “Ooops. We missed a lustful thought for his high school classmate in the upper corner of his heart. Guess he can’t go to heaven.”
No! Jesus knew all of your sin –even your thoughts – and he died for all of your sin – even your thoughts. He didn't miss paying hell for even the deepest, darkest, most awful secret thought that you might have.
What an awesome thought! What an awesome action! What an awesome love!
May this love motivate you to act–against thought sins. Instead of continuing in your evil thoughts, do what it takes to prevent those thoughts!
If hatred, go and talk peacefully to the one you hate. Go reconcile with your brother. Go speak kindly to your sister. Get what’s bothering you onto the floor (and do it peacefully). Do what it take, however hard, in order to not have hatred in your heart.
If your problem is lust, then cut out what causes you to lust! Put a filter on your internet. Cancel the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Stop paying for cable. Put all of your steamy romance novels into the recycling. Do what it takes, whatever it takes, to not have lust in your heart.
Now you might be thinking, but if I don’t have this hatred what will I filled my thought life with? If I don’t have this lust, how will I go on? What will I think about?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is God-pleasing, my brothers, think about such things.”
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing nobler, purer, more lovely, or more God pleasing than the work of our Savior Jesus Christ. Fill your hearts and fill your thoughts with him – the one who filled His thoughts with you.
This is my prayer for you this week and always. Amen.