Of all the commands of the Bible, this has got to be just about the most countercultural. Our whole entertainment industry is largely based upon violating these instructions. When I was in the Army, I got into discussions with other guys about God’s standards for Christian men, and I might as well have been speaking Swahili to them. You’ll find a lot of agreement with nonbelievers when it comes to Christian ethics: don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t commit murder (and even hatred is frowned upon). But when it comes to this, you’ll find almost no one-except for Bible-believing Christians-who'd agree that lusting after women is wrong.
First, I think it would help to clear up some misunderstandings about this. I don’t think that Jesus meant that we can’t appreciate female beauty. If I see a TV show or movie and recognize that the actress is physically attractive, I don’t think that’s wrong. But where does it turn into lust? When I fantasize about what I’d like to do to her if I had the opportunity. I know it’s a well-worn cliché, but it’s still true: There’s a difference between a bird flying over your head and letting it nest in your hair.
Again, does this mean that God equates lust and physical adultery? I don’t think so, for the arguments we made yesterday. But what Jesus is targeting is the mental attitude that leads to actions. Just like there was never a murder that didn’t begin in the heart, there's never been an act of sexual immorality that didn’t begin in the thought-life.
Does this command apply to single guys as well? Sorry gentlemen, the answer is yes. If I’m gazing upon women, even as a single man, how can I claim that I’m respecting them as image-bearers of God? The proper expression of sexual desire is towards your spouse, and if you don’t have one, then you need to seriously consider getting one. That’s why Paul advised singles to marry if they're having trouble controlling their sexual urges.
On a side-note, I’ve actually used this passage as a tool in witnessing. When I’ve been talking to a guy who’s lost, part of the problem is to make him realize that he’s lost. Most people assume that if they haven’t murdered anyone and they’re basically an honest person, they’re all right in God’s eyes. In order to disabuse them of this notion, I’ve shown them this passage, and I’ve had guys look at this and say, “I guess we’re all in trouble [this is the edited version].” And I’ll reply, “Exactly! That’s why Jesus had to die, because none of us can meet his standard!”
This is tough command, and I’ve never met a Christian guy who could claim that he obeyed it all the time. The good news is that our God is compassionate and gracious, and as believers we have access to the strength of the one Man who actually succeeded where we fail. But where it starts is taking our thought-lives seriously. You can’t read this passage and come away with the idea that Jesus doesn’t care about what we’re thinking about. It’s an ongoing battle, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Lord Jesus, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.