Recently I was watching an old science fiction television show. During the episode, the intrepid crew of our technologically advanced space ship was visiting an alien planet. During the visit with this alien civilization, one of the crew members was arrested for having “evil thoughts”. This alien species had laws not only against evil behavior and acts of violence, but also had laws against evil thoughts and thinking about violence.
It is interesting to study the teachings of Christ and find the same prohibitions – that our thoughts are just as important, and even more so, than our outward acts and deeds. Three examples from the teaching of Christ come to mind, and I am sure there are more.
I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28
For thousands of years, the seventh of the Ten Commandments forbade the act of adultery. In God’s order, marital faithfulness and the family are of high importance. Technically, adultery is an outward act. A behavior that could be seen and evidenced. Jesus turned the tables on the interpretation of this important moral law. His standard was much, much higher. Thinking lustfully about another is a violation of this important moral law, just as was the physical act. Jesus was concerned about matters of the heart and the mind, what we think about and feel. It is in the heart and mind that the battle for righteous living begins.
It was not just the seventh commandment that Jesus expounded upon. How we interact with other people was most important to him. The Commandments say do not steal and do not murder, but Jesus takes this moral code to a much higher level.
I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22
What we feel and think inside our hearts and minds is of utmost important. Just because we don’t strike another or steal his possessions nor say evil words doesn’t mean we have the correct moral behavior. Rather, Christ calls us to forgive our brother, even though we may have cause to be angry. He calls us to speak words of compassion to our brother, even though we feel he doesn’t deserve such kind treatment. Christ even goes as far as condemning a man to the fire of hell for slandering another. Our thoughts and our words are important. Christians are called to a very high standard of moral behavior. It is not just our acts and behavior that matter, but our thoughts and spoken words are extremely important.
It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person but what comes out of the mouth …. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. Matthew 15:11,18
The religious leaders during Jesus’s walk on earth were more concerned about tradition and ceremonial cleanliness. Jesus corrected their wrong thinking about righteous behavior, and this teaching holds true for the modern Church. In many places we expect a certain correct “outward” behavior in our churches, and yet neglect the more important matters such as compassion, charity, and forgiveness.
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
What do you think? How can you transform your thinking and be more deliberate about adopting Christ’s thoughts rather than focusing on outward appearances and behavior?