The Costly Consequences of Sin… Christ’s Solution

January 25, 2012

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

-Matthew 5:29-30

Is there any Old Testament precedent for Jesus’ teaching on removing stumbling blocks for oneself (in this passage the right eye and the right hand).

There is no specific example of this (mutilation) being done; but its absence is key in and of itself.  Would that Israel had that mindset; that the Jews would have chosen to flee sin and idolatry instead of indulging it.  “Several Old Testament prophets used adultery as a metaphor to describe unfaithfulness to God. Idolatry (Ezekiel 23:27) and other pagan religious practices (Jeremiah 3:6-10) were viewed as adulterous unfaithfulness to the exclusive covenant that God established with His people. To engage in such was to play the harlot (Hosea 4:11-14).”[1]  Jesus is reminding and re-emphasizing the seriousness of adultery; whether physical adultery, mental adultery or spiritual adultery.  Israel, as a people, had been unfaithful to God, and as a result many had found judgment and condemnation.  Better to incur loss and stay in God’s blessing than remain whole and stand outside his presence.

The point of this hyperbole is to communicate the willingness of the individual to flee sin even at great personal and perhaps even physical cost.  There are two examples in Scripture that bear witness to this in principle; a positive example and a negative one.

The positive example is that of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:10-20).  Joseph, though single, viewed sexual relations with the wife of another man as a heinous act.  He fled and did so at a great cost to himself and his well being.  In this case it was not his hand that was causing him to sin, nor his eye but his proximity to Potiphar’s wife.  So he fled and eliminated that proximity.  As a result he lost his position, his job, and was cast into prison, but maintained his character and was ultimately restored.

The negative example would be that of David.  He gazed out over the rooftops of Jerusalem and saw Bathsheba. (2 Sam 11)  Instead of fleeing, he indulged the look, lusted and finally acted.  As a result of his sin; she became pregnant, David killed her husband, their child died at birth and David’s kingdom was greatly troubled.  If David had known the consequences that would come and could have chosen, one might assume that he would have been willing to loose an eye or a hand to prevent such evil from occurring.

What did Jesus mean when he said ‘tear out the right eye and cut off the right hand’?

Most scholars today take this statement is hyperbole, or extreme speech that was not intended to be taken literally.  Jesus mentions the ‘right’ hand and the ‘right’ eye, the right hand “typically had greater strength, dexterity, and purity.  The right hand was used to greet others, bestow blessings, and establish legal agreements.”[2]  Thus the right hand was seen as more valuable and useful, its loss would be greater than the left.  The point being that the Christian should be willing, not only to make sacrifices, but genuine even costly sacrifices to avoid sin.  For a life that does not avoid sin is a life lived in sin, a life bent for judgment.

“Avoiding spiritual downfall is worthy of any sacrifice, no matter how great!”

So if we think about this in modern terms; if your job is causing you to sin i.e. coworkers tempting you to steal or cheat etc. better to quit your job and maintain your integrity than to stay and engage in sin.  If your friends are tempting you to sin i.e. drink, have sex, do drugs, look at pornography etc.  better to remove those friendships and follow Christ than place those friendships above your relationship with Jesus.  If you are tempted by pornography or internet gambling etc. to the point that you can not sit at a computer without engaging in it, better to get rid of your computer and enter heaven; than to keep your computer and continue to live a life of sin.  Either way your actions reflect the orientation of your heart.  A pure heart endeavors to be pure in action; an impure heart is careless and inspires sinful action.

[1]  Butler, Trent C. Editor.. “Entry for ‘ADULTERY'”. “Holman Bible Dictionary”.
<http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T140&gt;. 1991.

[2] The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), dexioV 2:37-40.

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