I once heard it said that marriage is like being on a diet at a smorgasbord. You can look as long as you don’t eat.
The irony of such a saying is that the last thing a person on a diet needs to be doing is going to the smorgasbord in the first place. After all, it seems obvious. You shouldn’t go where you’re the weakest.
The mental image of an overweight, starving dieter salivating profusely as he stares down the long line of warmed over mashed potatoes, lukewarm ham, and room temperature vanilla pudding is admittedly humorous. It’s also strikingly uncomfortable for many of us. We’ve been there. Done that. Maybe it’s been the smorgasbord. Maybe it was the beach. Maybe it’s the Internet. Regardless of the temptation, the temptation is real and it’s not so funny.
Looking is just the beginning. Looking is what got Eve into trouble. Moses tells us that she found the forbidden fruit pleasant to the eyes. David couldn’t stop looking at a bathing Bathsheba and couldn’t stop himself from taking what was not his. Once you look, it’s hard not to touch.
The sad thing is that so many Christians still insist on looking. Looking doesn’t hurt. Looking doesn’t pack on the pounds. Looking is just harmless fun. “I’m just people watching,” we explain. “I’m looking but I’m not touching,” we object. No harm, no foul, right? So we look and we look. Pretty soon, however, one look isn’t enough. We keep telling ourselves that we’re “just looking” all the while we look more.
It’s odd. Common sense tells us that when we’re tempted to overeat, that we should walk away from the table. Walk away from the scene before it becomes a crime scene.
The real problem is that we don’t want to walk away. We find guilty pleasure in the temptation itself. I may not be eating but “just looking” stokes that fire within me that brings me such pleasure from food. You see, you can’t just look without touching. You may never touch the object of your eyes’ affection. You may be able to resist that second candied yam. You might never act on your primal urges. But, you’ve already succumbed to the temptation. You’ve cheated in your mind. You’ve sinned with your eyes (maybe Job’s covenant with his eyes wasn’t such a strange idea after all (Job 31:1)).
Jesus knew a thing or two about temptation and he knew a lot about human nature. He knew that if we stood at the front of the food line with a plate in hand, we’d eventually load that thing up. He also knew that if we would “just look” at the other women around us, we’d eventually want to do more than look. To look with lust, he argued in the Sermon on the Mount, is the same thing as having committed adultery already. That’s why Christ explained that the best way to deal with a temptation is not to look at it in the first place.
If you can’t control your appetite, don’t go to the buffet. If you can’t look without lusting, look away. Don’t think you’re stronger than your desires. If you’re overweight from overeating, you’ve already proven you’re not. If you keep arguing with yourself about going back to that website that you found by “accident,” you’re not. If you’re reasoning with yourself about just one little look, it’s too late.
Don’t just try to close your eyes to sin. Open them to God’s provision instead. Ask God for help. Pray that you will be filled with the Spirit not with the things of this world. Keep your eyes on the grand prize not earthly consolations.
Published February 19, 2009
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (11) and Karis (6), live near Charleston, SC. Peter’s goal for his teaching and writing ministries is “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5).