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Controlling Destructive Thoughts

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Controlling Destructive Thoughts

Matthew 5:27-30

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, 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.

In the sermon on the mount Jesus tells us how he wants us to live in every area of life.  

It sounds like Jesus is saying that if you have lust in your heart you are going to hell… But I want you to see what a misconception that is and what a compelling teaching Christ gives us.  

1. The driving principle of the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality 

The biblical sex ethic is that the sexual experience is reserved for covenant relationship. 

The Bible says:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  (Genesis 2:24)

The word “united” or “cleave” stems from the word “to cut”- it is where we get the idea of covenant- a covenant in ancient times involved various forms of cutting.   The implication is that the sexual act itself, becoming one flesh, is a sign of covenant.  It is like two tributaries coming together and forming one river.  

The difference between a consumer relationship and a covenant relationship is that consumers are bound by what feels best at the moment while the covenant relationship is a commitment to future love.  

Consumer relationship: Enjoyment of present love

Covenant relationship:  Commitment to future love

In covenant relationships you have security, health and freedom.  It is the opposite of consumer love.  

The world says sex is a consumer good but the Bible says it is a covenant good.  In the Bible, sex is a covenant symbol.

Sex is a sign of commitment and covenant- the tragedy of multiple sexual relationships is that it corrupts its original intent.  Many years ago I counseled a woman who had had multiple sexual partners- she told me something that I thought was very striking.  She said, “I feel like there are pieces of me all over the city.”  

The reason she felt this way was that the act itself has spiritual connotations.  C.S. Lewis put it well:

"The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.” C.S. Lewis

The sexual relationship was intended to be a sign of covenant.  That truth implies something very important: You should not do with your body what you are not willing to do with your whole life.  

2. Staying faithful requires commitment 

The Bible says the enemy “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus made the point that the enemy seeks to tie up the “strong man” (leader) of the house as a way of destroying it (Mark 3:23).

Couples must be proactive to protect themselves from inevitable temptations. The Bible describes this kind of protection very plainly in 1 Thessalonians 5:22:

Abstain from every appearance of evil. (1 Thess 5:22)

The Bible says this in Ephesians 5:3:

But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality or any impurity or greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. I am jealous for the integrity of God. (Ephesians 5:3)

How can you maintain moral boundaries as a leader? 

First, don’t be deceived about your own vulnerability.Many are the examples of men and women whom no one believed could possibly fall into sexual temptation whose lives and careers have been destroyed by decisions made in the heat of passion. Here’s the warning: If you think it can’t happen to you, you are especially vulnerable! 1 Corinthians 10:12 (LB) says, 

So be careful if you are thinking, “Oh, I'd never behave like that.” Let this be a warning to you, for you too may fall into sin. (1 Corinthians 10:12 LB)

NOBODY is immune. Proverbs 16:18 (NIV) says, 

Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

Leaders must proactively protect themselves from temptation, and the first step is to admit they are not immune. We have very strict rules on our staff about male and female interactions. It is not that I don’t admire and trust every staff member; it’s just that I know human nature. Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV) says, 

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9)

No matter how often we tell ourselves we would never succumb to temptation, the truth is that our hearts can’t be trusted. Stay vigilant and take the necessary, aggressive steps to protect boundaries. 

The second way to protect moral boundaries is to maintain our spiritual life and guard our mind. The battleground where the decisive battle is won or lost is in our way of thinking. Jesus taught that the seeds of moral impurity begin in the mind (see Matthew 5:28); therefore, taking control of thoughts is an essential skill for leaders. Strong discipline and a serious approach are necessary to keep thoughts locked into healthy meditations. Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously said: 

Sow a thought and you reap an action; 
Sow an act and you reap a habit; 
Sow a habit and you reap a character; 
Sow a character and you reap a destiny. 
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The simple truth is that we become whatever we think about the most. This is why it is exceedingly important to take control of the way we think and where our minds dwell. The apostle Paul put it like this:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

This passage teaches two very important things about how we discipline our minds: Thoughts can be controlled and redirected. Thoughts need to be continually discerned and monitored. Read these two verses:  

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23).

Continually monitoring our thoughts and how they impact our spiritual and emotional life is imperative. Here are three more verses that deal with guarding your mind:

Keep your head in all situations (2 Timothy 4:5, NIV).

Prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled (1 Peter 1:13, NIV).

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14, NIV). 

Third, work hard to keep a strong marriage. The best defense is a strong offense. One of my mentors in ministry once said, “Take care of the Lamborghini in the garage and you won’t be tempted by the sports cars on the street,” which was his folksy way of saying that tending to your own marriage is the most effective way to avoid temptation. I like Rick Warren’s thoughts here:

The greatest insurance for moral integrity is a happy home life. It’s important that if we’re married, we make sure that our marriage is growing and developing. Like the old saying, “The grass is not greener on that side of the fence and the grass is not greener on this side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it.” It’s very important that we maintain our own marriages. Song of Solomon 1:6 (NAS) says, “They made me caretaker of the vineyards, but I have not taken care of my own vineyard.” That’s an important point. There’s a danger in ministry of spending time repairing everybody else’s marriage but neglecting your own (Rick Warren).

Finally, be reminded of the damaging consequences of moral failure. Through my years of ministry, I have spent many hours counseling men and women after a moral failure. The devastation and regret I have witnessed in their lives and in their family’s lives serves as a constant reminder of the importance of staying constantly on the guard. A pastor friend of mine once counseled a church member who confided that he was seriously contemplating an affair: “Before you take another step in that direction, sit down and write out the names of every person in your life who will be negatively affected by this affair.” After long consideration of all the destruction that would come to his family, his career, and his many friends and influences, the man wisely came to his senses. 

Few decisions ruin more aspects of life more quickly than adultery. In every conceivable way, the course of action ends up feeling like death: spiritual death, moral death, marital death, and even sometimes, physical consequences as well. While it is true that not all sins make a person pay quickly, adultery presents the bill almost immediately. A similar warning is found in Proverbs 6:27–29: 

Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned ... without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29) 

The message is loud and clear: Adultery is playing with fire! You will always get burned! The apostle Paul declared that “a man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). The real tragedy of infidelity is that many marriages end in divorce. But even if the marriage survives, infidelity wreaks havoc in relationships. In the blink of an eye, the trust and security that is the foundation for a healthy marriage is destroyed. Sadly, years of dedicated work are needed to rebuild lost trust and security ripped away by an extramarital affair.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is the marriage covenant so important?
  2. How is a covenant different from the way the world view marriage?
  3. What makes an adulterous affair so damaging?
  4. What does it mean to “count the costs” in extramarital affairs?
  5. How does the Bible’s teaching on marriage increase human dignity?
  6. How does getting marriage wrong diminish human dignity? 

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