Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:23a “But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of
In this metaphor, Jesus uses the “eye,” the organ which enables us to receive light into our body, to symbolize our ability to receive stimuli from the world around us, to perceive them through the filter of our heart, the determining force in our spiritual lives. Christ’s emphasis here is accurate perception, true discernment.
Our “whole body” encounters trouble doing things if the eye is “evil,” which in this context means being not right or abnormal. If an eye is dysfunctional, sick, near or far sighted, has astigmatism, or sees double, everything gets dim, blurred, and confused. The impression coming into the body is thus false, misleading and misdirecting all outgoing action. If the eyes become disoriented enough, things start spinning, and a person falls down flat, becoming totally incapacitated.
One morning my sister telephoned, barely able to whisper, “Come help me, please.” Ruth and I ran to the car, drove two blocks to her house, hurried inside, and found Esther lying totally helpless on the floor. Stress was waylaying her inner ear, causing her vision to spin, resulting in her body being unable to function.
The spiritual application of this metaphor is clear to see. If our heart, the central eye and command center of our personality, perceives truth wrongly, our whole lives will be wrong before God. If spiritually nearsighted, we see only the surface of things, and are unable to penetrate to real substance, to see anything of heavenly distance. Spiritual astigmatism blurs understanding of spiritual truths.
This is perilous, for reality misperceived makes all of life go awry. I knew a man who worked on electric wires atop telephone poles. One day he stretched his safety belt around the pole to attach it to the ring on his belt, as he had a thousand times before. But this time he wrongly perceived reality. He attached the safety belt instead to a wrench sticking out his pocket and fell to his death. He thought he was right, but was wrong, dead wrong. The same fatal error of misperception also happens to people spiritually. Thus, Jesus makes a somber pronouncement.
Matt. 6:23b “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is
A person who is blind, and knows it, can adjust behavior properly and appropriately. But if oblivious to our own blindness, if we think we are in light, yet what we perceive to be light is actually darkness, we are on the path to destruction. He who mistakes night for day ends up following darkness toward a fatal crash.
Many believe their heart’s loyalty to God is deep and genuine, but it is really shallow and counterfeit. They are self-deceived, yet have only themselves to blame, for Christ gives Scripture and objective tests (eg. 6:21) to evaluate self.
People often mistakenly create a god in their own image. They feel they have an intrinsic right to be their own law, to decide what is right and wrong. In other words, instead of being led by God, they opt to be led by their old self, their sin nature, their own base, inferior, animal lusts. It is imperative we accept the Bible’s verdict regarding human depravity. It is folly to say we are good or wise enough to guide ourselves. “It is not for the creature to say how the Creator is to be worshipped, nor for the sinner to determine how he shall be saved, yet such is their blind presumption that men will be their own masters in such things” (Pink).
Even as eyes do not pretend to generate their own light, but depend on light outside themselves, even so our hearts must be not innovatively trying to create their own new truth, but must rather depend on spiritual light outside themselves. The Psalmist (119:105) chose a guiding principle and rule outside himself: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” He was inwardly ruled by an outward law: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (119:11). The heart must choose to look outside itself for spiritual guidance. Otherwise, an individual’s crash will be total and absolute, without remedy.
A heart’s choice as to where to find light for living determines the course of one’s whole life. The heart governs all. If this inward pilot, the guiding navigator, gets lost, the whole plane is lost. If the inner teacher strays, the whole student body swerves out of control. If the leader errs, the follower is lost, and all hope is gone. If a thermostat goes bad, a whole air conditioning system grows worthless.
Do not let our heart, which is meant to guide us aright, mislead our whole life by choosing a wrong light. If we choose to be the ultimate determiners of our own choices, destinies, and standards of right and wrong, how great is our darkness! We are adrift on a midnight sea without compass, map, rudder, or pilot.
Guard the heart. Let it love only true light. Even as a small object held near the eye can block our view of the largest mountain, even so a trivial object held near the heart can block our view of the momentous will of God. Earthly trivia can overshadow and cloud out great excellencies shining from God. However bright the heavenly light of Scriptural truth, if our heart opts to hold some other object closer to itself, we will not see God’s light and thus not benefit from it.
How can smart people value bald eagles above a child in the womb? They choose to close their spiritual eye, to live solely in the darkness of the closet in their own heart. How great is the darkness! How can intelligent people see nothing wrong with homosexuality? They choose to close their spiritual eye, to explain away every Bible verse dealing with the subject. They know every society in history which has accepted this evil wholesale has slipped into oblivion, but they love their sin not only more than they love the Bible, but also more than they love their own country. They would rather a whole nation die than be denied their own personal indulgence. How great is the darkness! How can smart men and women live together without marriage? They choose to close their spiritual eye, telling themselves they are exceptions to the rule. Their mitigating circumstances make them different. The words of Jesus and the preacher apply to all others, but not to them. Once God’s law is cast off and the Bible explained away, one can sin greedily, with both hands eagerly, without remorse. How great is the darkness!
Once a heart becomes its own master, determines its own light for living, an individual is no longer capable of judging aright the true nature of spiritual things. A great advantage of being a Christian is it brings us the option of judging things in life accurately. It gives us the chance for true discernment (1 COR 2:14-16 and PH 1:10). We have a Holy Spirit in us to empower and guide us, plus a Bible and objective tests to evaluate whether or not we are following the Spirit’s leading aright. Do not squander this precious ability; otherwise, how great is the darkness!