Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:29a “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from
thee:. . .”
Never try to minimize the evil of heart-adultery by thinking, “Nobody knows my thoughts”–nobody but God, and as Jesus shows here, God’s knowing is frightening enough. Our society condones the stimulation of inner sexual impurity, and deems impure thinking a light sin, but to God it is abomination, as our text shows.
The literal interpretation of Jesus’ words here has been unanimously rejected, with a few sad exceptions. Democritus pulled out his own eyes. A man burdened with fleshly lusts once held hot burning coals to remind himself of hell fire. Origen (195-254 A.D.), an early Church father, used this text to justify castrating himself to avoid temptation. Some have cut off hands, beaten self with whips, mangled and deformed self. No, no, a million times no. Christ does not want us to mutilate our bodies, but to control them. His words could not have been meant to be taken literally, for if we remove our right eye and hand, we still have the left ones, and if we remove both eyes and both hands, this would not end sinful thoughts in the heart.
Having acknowledged we do not take Jesus’ words here literally, we hasten to say we do take His intent literally. Do not try to explain away the seriousness of His meaning. He demands nothing less than absolute meekness, God-controlled self-mastery. The cost of being a Christian is willingness to forsake anything for God’s sake, to deal sternly with desires, holding them in check under God’s sway.
Our text is Jesus’ way of telling us we must be willing to give up even our most prized possessions, aspirations, ambitions, and wants if they in any way endanger our being pure before God. Why did Jesus list “eye” and “hand” (v. 30) as opposed to other body parts? One reason is, eyes are the organ through which sinful thoughts are often stimulated, and hands are the limb these sinful thoughts often excite into action. A more pressing reason for mentioning “eye” and “hand” is their extreme value. “Through the eye a man sees; through the hand he seizes” (Glover). Being useful and important to us, we cherish them. Why emphasize “right” eye and “right” hand as opposed to left? Since most people are righthanded, the “right” side is deemed strongest and most important, thus organs on that side are most valuable.
“Right eye, right hand”–Jesus’ meaning is clear. We must let God strike a parting blow between us and our right-side sins, our favorite sins. Even the dearest objects of life, if they cause us to sin, are to be abandoned. No sacrifice should ever be deemed too great to secure cleanliness before God. To avoid sin, be willing to give up anything, including the most important and precious things in our lives.
Discard favorite sights and sounds if they stir passions. Avoid entertainment, fun places, and reading material that makes light of indecency. Flee vulgar, suggestive conversations. Avoid sinful companions in circumstances that could facilitate our compromising ourselves. Though these things be dear to us, never count the cost of holiness too high. For us, Jesus did not count the cost of Calvary too high.
Matt. 5:29b “. . .for it is profitable for thee. . .”
To keep us from thinking His words harsh, Jesus called our attention to His kindness. His warning here “is profitable for thee.” He calls us to self-denial in order to save us from self-destruction. In our text, the words “offend thee” are literally “ensnare thee,” picturing an animal caught in a hunter’s death-trap. Jesus kindly warns us not to be caught in sin’s deadly web. Godliness is to our advantage for it promotes our truest self-interest. We are made winners and gainers by it.
A terrible trait of sin is it means we think God wants to deny us good things. By sinning we in essence say our selfish desires are better for us than God’s ways. Sin is a conscious choice to make God out to be the bad guy, the selfish one, whereas the reality is expressed in my dad’s remark, “Jesus is the best boss I ever served.”
Friends, Jesus loves us. His focus is on our welfare, as proven by the twelve-fold use of the second person pronoun in verses 29-30. Jesus is speaking here in our behalf, for our good. Self-denial is our friend, painful for the present moment, but a blessing in the end. Sinful self-indulgence is our enemy. Though fun for a time, it in the end seriously endangers and destroys lives, shattering them to pieces.
Matt. 5:29c “. . .that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy
whole body should be cast into hell.”
Again, avoid the literal interpretation. Jesus is not saying a sex sin will send one to Hell. He is rather telling us to exercise self-judgment on the parts of our lives before we undergo God-judgment on the whole of it. Sex sins are one part of life which can ruin the whole life. Do not let one spark, one flame of lust, consume the whole. Anyone who plays with fire long enough will eventually be burned.
A limited, yet moral, life is better than a fuller life which includes sin. Do not let sinful curiosity cause us to toy with a particular sin. Never opt to come as close to sin as possible without actually committing it. Always run from evil. To seek to draw near to a sin, tampering and dallying with it, is to be guilty of the sin.
Early on, deal drastically and decisively with sin. Do not pamper it or flirt with it. Hate it, crush it, dig it out before it flourishes. Never delay, for once lusts and desires become masters within us, they are extremely difficult to dethrone.
The cost of being a Christian is saying no to ourselves more and more each day. Ever ask, what spiritual amputation has been performed on me lately, have I recently sacrificed anything of value to climb up to a higher spiritual plane?
Everything else in life must be made subservient to pleasing God. Our spiritual life must have priority over anything else. We may have to lose a promotion at work, or not be able to marry the one we want to marry. One of the godliest men I ever knew fell in love with a beautiful lady whose commitment to God did not match his. The relationship brought him to a crisis. Forced to choose her or his calling from God, he broke the engagement. Later, at my house, as he talked, he began to tremble, fell out of his chair, and rolled back and forth on our living room floor. He wanted her, but could not have her and please God, thus he gave her up.
For the cause of Christ, I have seen people give up money, jobs, friends, habits, lifestyles, hobbies–I have seen in people the very death of fleshly desire, the crucifixion of self, and have later seen in them the joy of new life, of resurrection. None is ever a loser for giving up things for Jesus. He will not be in anyone’s debt.
Our calling is to take up our cross daily and to follow him. To us is given the task of duty, to walk in the way of the cross. We leave to Jesus the determining of consequences, the timing as to when the joy of resurrection will enter our lives. By participation in “his sufferings” we find “the power of his resurrection” (PH 3:10).