Are you ready to pull your eye out?
Nice opening line. Let’s look at Matthew 5:29 and what Jesus says here.
“Now if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
I always had trouble with this verse when I was a kid. Sunday school teachers would put the fear of God in me for needing to pull my eye out if I looked at a picture of a girl in a bikini or anything else that would cause “temptation.” But as we look deeper into the verse, we find Jesus using a common technique.
It is formally named hyperbole, or “exaggerating for effect.” When a mother says, “I’ve told you a million times,” this is an examples of hyperbole. Those who hear or read those words understand them to be non-literal and meant to make a point about the situation at hand.
What’s interesting about this statement is that Jesus is already overturning cultural assumptions. Saying lust is adultery of the heart, and anger is murder of the heart, would seem extreme and unsettling to His audience. At first, some might have wondered if Jesus really meant this as a literal, physical command. Quickly, though, it becomes obvious—especially in context with His other teaching—that this is not meant as a literal command.
However, Jesus is making an important point about how dangerous our thoughts and desires can be. Being led by our urges, rather than keeping our desires under control, is a path to destruction. In that vein, He says that it’s worth losing an eye rather than letting that eye drag someone into sin, and by extension into hell. The immediate context of this remark is the idea of lust: “looking” at someone with sexual intent.
Where Jesus is certainly not exaggerating is the idea that “looking with lustful intent” is enough to earn someone hell. God’s will for His people is that they do not engage in lust. The kingdom of heaven requires righteousness that is perfect (Matthew 5:20), just as God is perfect. A major aspect of Jesus’ gospel is that nobody can be righteous enough on their own to earn a place in the kingdom of heaven. His mission on earth included dying on the cross as the final blood sacrifice for sin. Without that covering and being declared righteous by God through faith in Christ, nobody will be saved.
So once again we see that it’s absolutely impossible to gain the Kingdom of Heaven without the intervention of Jesus. This righteousness on our own is impossible. This righteousness with Jesus as with all things, is very possible.
Another reference that I looked into on the meaning of this verse said this:
God takes sin seriously—seriously enough to sacrifice His only Son to destroy it. We must take sin seriously as well. A lack of repentance is a crime punishable by eternal death. It is better to deny our flesh—to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand, as it were—than to risk sinning against God. God demands holiness (1 Peter 1:15), but we naturally tend to pamper ourselves and excuse our sin. That is why we need Jesus’ shocking, radical hyperbole to wake us from our spiritual complacency.
So, our walk with Jesus requires exceptional sacrifices. Exceptional.
Are you willing to make them today?