“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 And if thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offends thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
The words Jesus spoke fell upon the ears of His listeners with stunning impact. All their lives the people had lived by the letter of the Mosaic law, because that was what was emphasized by the Pharisees. The Law said,
“Thou shalt not kill”
and so physical murder was avoided.
A person could consider himself righteous in this area.
The Law said,
“Thou shalt not commit adultery”
and those who remained physically faithful to their spouse felt righteous.
In contrast to the teaching of the Pharisees, with insightful words, Jesus spoke and revealed that besides the letter of the Law there was the spirit of the same, and it is the spirit which gives life. Jesus said that the words on the Tablets of Stone, written by the finger of God, contain more than a literal meaning. There is a spiritual facet to the Moral Law. Therefore, in context, when Jesus speaks about violation of the Seventh Commandment,
“You shall not commit adultery,”
He goes beyond the physical dimension, to include the intense desires of the heart. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that the law against adultery also forbids “all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions” (Q. 72).
Besides adultery, then, the Seventh Commandment outlaws’ incest, sexual abuse, homosexuality, bestiality, pornography, and simply lust in general. If we were to make cultural or personal application, we would have to confess that our hearts have violated this commandment in various ways. In some situations, the evidence is an open scandal.
Many Catholic priests in several nations, including America, Africa, Ireland, and France, have been fined, or sentenced to a prison term, for deviant behavior with children.
Pedophilia is a violation of the Moral Law of God, and so is the mutilation of children through the Transgender Agenda.
Those who do not engage in physical immorality will sometimes watch movies or read literature that stirs up the imagination in the name of entertainment.
This too is a violation of the Seventh Commandment.
So, Jesus teaches that anyone can be guilty of living out an improper relationship vicariously.
What can be done?
What should be done when the Seventh Commandment is violated? The response is that the Lord said that sin must be dealt with radically. To deal radically with sin, the organ or instrument of sin must be dealt with. The instrument of sin is to be torn out.
If the right eye is the culprit, and it causes the heart to covet, or it causes the mind to commit lustful thoughts, then the right eye is to be ripped out.
If the right hand, the primary source of strength, causes the whole body to engage in a violation of a holy commandment, then the right hand is to be cut off.
By saying these things, the Lord’s teaching does not condone physical self-mutilation of the body, though some have taken the words of Jesus literally. One of the early Church Fathers, Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 – c. 253) engaged in a foolish act of self-gelding in order to deal with his lustful thoughts. I have seen pictures of religious zealots in the Philippians who flagellate their backs until the blood flows, as Martin Luther did in his desire to cease from sinning. Other people have been known to carry a large cross for miles in hopes of atoning for their sins. Some will allow themselves to be nailed to a cross, literally.
Unfortunately, these practices do not touch the spirit of the Moral Law with authentic humility. Such acts can give birth to pride. Nothing is gained by physical mutilation. However, the principle to deal radically, and violently, with self, in order to gain the favor of God is a valid truth. God will always be honored when a person decides to do something about anything that is morally wrong.
Satan, of course does not want this to happen. The Old Serpent begins to whisper lies into our spiritual ears to stop us from doing something about sin in our lives.
The First Lie is that of Relative Righteousness.
The thought comes,
“I may have done wrong, but I am better than other people I know.”
“You are better than most,”
the Enemy says to our heart.
“In fact, you are fine.”
“You do not need to change.”
The Second Lie is that of Denial.
A person who clearly hates another individual will smile sweetly and say,
“I only have your best interest in my heart.”
“I love you.”
A lustful person will suppress guilt and shame, and promise they will not misbehave again.
“You are normal,”
“You do not need to change.”
“Do not do anything drastic.”
The Third Lie of the Devil is that of Total Helplessness. Satan whispers to the Christian nothing can be done once the Moral Law has been broken.
“You are too weak,”
“Your addiction is too strong,”
“You have tried many techniques to gain mastery over your behavior, to no avail.”
Then, Satan dances a gig in great delight.
Some individuals, some Christians, weary with the inward struggle, begin to agree with the Devil. One wit has said, “The easiest way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it” (Oscar Wilde). Jesus said that what is morally wrong in life must be dealt with in a radical manner. In acting upon the decision to deal in a drastic manner with an unwholesome area in life, the following steps will help.
First, have a clear understanding of what sin is. A formal study of Hamartiology in Scripture will help. For some, the English word, sin, is meaningless. The only right is what a person says it is, and the only wrong is what goes against one’s self-interest.
For others, sin is an expansive word that can be used to control individuals, especially when they define what is right and what is wrong, like the Pharisees did.
When I was a young person, the word sin was used as a synonym for broken standards. The problem was that many of the standards I was told to keep were discretionary, and constantly changing.
Women wearing slacks, or bobbing their hair, going to the movies, going to the pool hall, listening to the Beatles, was considered sin. Listening to the Beatles may have been in poor taste musically, but it was not sin. A cultural list of rules and regulations was established, and many people were made to feel spiritual by what they did, or did not do.
While there is certainly a need for personal and societal standards, sometimes artificial rules can be established which do more harm than good.
In contrast to arbitrary commands of men, the Bible clearly defines sin.
Sin is lack of conformity to the will of God.
Sin is a transgression of the Moral Law.
Sin is a defiance of God’s revealed will.
Sin is a refusal of God’s righteousness.
Sin is an abuse of God’s goodness.
Sin is a repudiation of God’s grace.
Sin is a rejection of God’s mercy.
Sin is a betrayal of God’s love.
Sin is not limited to what a person outwardly does, or does not do. Sin includes the talk of the tongue and the contents of the heart.
Sin touches the innermost part of a person’s essence.
While man looks on the outward appearances, God looks on the heart. The Lord sees every form of bitterness and resentment. God knows all about unwholesome thoughts, and covetousness, and inward rebellion. Some things which God knows is almost too painful to admit. As a result, there are individuals who deny they have done anything wrong against God, against self, or against someone else. Others minimize sin, which means that some things are left unconfessed, and unresolved. The person who wants to deal radically with something they know is wrong in their life must recognize what is biblically sinful.
“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
~ Alexander Pope
Second, to deal radically with sin, establish the root of the problem. This is not easy, because sin bears’ fruit. The fruit of bad behavior is easier to deal with than the root cause for the transgression of God’s law.
For example, a person who is upset and easily irritable may really be reacting to unresolved guilt in their heart. They are doing something in secret, and are terrified of it becoming known to others.
A person who is angry without a cause, may be lashing out because a seed of bitterness from the past has been allowed to grow. Without getting to the root of a problem, there will not be any radical life changing experience. Labels will simply be slapped on anti-social behavior. Outward symptoms will be superficially addressed, and there the situation will rest.
When James and John, the Sons of Thunder, wanted to call down destruction upon a village of the Samaritans that rejected the gospel, Jesus turned to them and said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
The real problem with James and John was not that they were angry personalities, but that they did not know themselves. They did not know that the root of their anger was lack of love. They had been taught to hate the Samaritans, and had yet to renounce their cultural baggage, made possible by the natural darkness of their souls.
Once the Sons of Thunder understood, who they were, and the meanness of the moment, they were able to make a radical change in their lives. John became known as the apostle of love. James was the first apostle to die a martyr’s death and receive the Crown of Life (Rev. 3:11). These men stopped killing others. They also stopped wanting to hurt others. That is dealing radically with hatred in the heart.
Third, to deal radically and violently with something wrong in our life, there must be a willingness to endure the emotional pain that comes with exposure. There must be a moment of honesty, with self, with others, and with God. When Satan lures a person into the dark world of evil, he shows only the beauty, power, and glory of the moment. The Devil tells people how good it will feel if they openly vent their anger. The devil tells people how much pleasure they will have by freely expressing the various passions that stir in the body. “If it feels good, just do it!”cries Satan.
The Devil never reveals the heart aches, the moments of self-loathing, and the acts of self-degradation that always accompanies the act, at least to a sensitive heart. Satan does not tell people that the way out of the darkness is to come to the Light. The emotional pain of exposure is Satan’s little surprise.
The sad truth is that no one has ever been cured of any love for a particular moral transgression without paying a violent, emotional price. A great divorce takes place in the heart, when sin is biblically addressed. There is a tearing asunder of the soul. There is a sense of great loss. The Bible speaks of this emotional experience as a form of death, and the command comes, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5, ESV).
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress confessed that he did not want to deal strongly with his profanity until one day while playing in the village he heard an inner voice asking, “John, will you keep your pleasures and go to hell or give up your pleasures and go to heaven.” John Bunyan writes that he decided to deal radically with his favorite sin and go to heaven. Bunyan became emotionally committed to righteousness.
A fourth step in dealing violently with a personal transgression is to realize that it is more profitable that sin be slain in time, than that the soul perishes in eternity. It is better to limp as a cripple into heaven, than to walk upright into hell. Here then is the gospel message.
The God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for sinners will not hesitate to cast the whole body and soul of the unredeemed into the Lake of Fire.That is what Jesus taught, and that is what He meant. God will not play games with sin. He hates it with a pure and holy hatred.
It has been said that God loves sinners but hates their sin. That is a sweet distinction that preaches well, but it is not true. When a soul will not be separated from a beloved wrongful behavior, it is the whole sinner, body and soul, that the wrath of God abides on. John 3:18 say, “he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Individuals are condemned because they love darkness rather than light (John 3:19). The love for spiritual and moral darkness is rooted in two things.
First, there is the will to power. John Milton noted in Paradise Lost: “It is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
Since the Fall, individuals have an insatiable need to dismiss God, and rule in power in His place.
Second, there is pleasure in sin, the Bible says (Heb. 11:25). The great Hollywood actor Errol Flynn (1909 – 1959) flaunted his lifestyle, and then wrote a book entitled My Wicked Wicked Ways.
He died at age 50. I can assure you; Errol Flynn has no pleasure now.
What shall be said to those who argue to the last moment for their philosophy of hedonism? What shall be said to those that love to do wrong? Jesus said they shall perish unless they repent.
The appeal of Jesus in our passage is an appeal to common sense. It is reasonable to deal radically with one part of the body rather than to lose the whole body.
On April 26, 2003, during a solo descent of Bluejohn Canyon in southeastern Utah, Aron Lee Ralston dislodged a boulder, pinning his right wrist to the side of the canyon wall. After five days, he had to break his forearm, amputate it with a dull pocket knife to break free, make his way through the rest of the canyon, rappel down a 65-foot drop, and hike 7 miles to safety.
Jesus taught that spiritually minded disciples must do the same. Our Lord does not understand the language of today, which advocates professing Christians be allowed to practice evil.
Justification to do wrong is found, for some professing Christians, who have embraced the Doctrine of the Carnal Christian.
“Put away all that is wrong,” says Jesus.
“Why will ye die?”
“Before the cross in awe I stood,
Beholding brow and pierced hand;
For me it was he bled and died,
No other price for sin beside
Could pay the price for me.
His precious blood, there flowing red,
Was love’s best gift, most freely shed;
No one but He the price could pay,
Or save from death and point the way
For sinners, you and me.
And as I gaze, I seem to hear
Him gently say, “My son, draw near;
New life I give and power withal,
Free unto all who on Me call,
Now and eternally.”
~Ernest O. Sellers
There is another thought to be found in this passage: private sin must be dealt with personally and quickly. Self, not others is involved in the sanctifying process. You cannot deal radically with my sin, and I cannot deal radically with yours. As soon as the church learns this, a lot of people will become much happier, and more relaxed.
Our text reads, “If your right eye offends you, then you tear it out and throw it with force from you. If your right hand offends you, then you cut it off.” That is what God wants His children to do. God has made man a moral agent, and as a moral agent man is responsible for every attitude and every action. The comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The Devil made me do it,” and laugh, but God is not laughing.
God is not laughing at sin and God is not pretending that His holiness and His law is not violated.
In the day of judgment, it will do no good to plead weakness of character. Jesus will simply say,
“I told you to deal radically with sin.” This command is extensive.
No sin is too large to be left alone.
No sin is too small to be ignored.
To allow sin to go unmortified is to invite destruction.
It takes courage to deal radically, violently, immediately, and personally with sin. To rip from the soul a favorite pleasure is painful. Courage and spiritual strength can only be found in a willingness to obey Christ based upon a love for who He is, and what He has done. The time to deal radically with what is wrong in our lives is, today. Someday will never come. Tomorrow may never come. As we hear His voice, as the Holy Spirit brings personal conviction, as the word of reason is heard, may God grant all of us the grace to deal with sin as it involves us.