Category Archives: Christian Living

Of Right Eyes and Right Hands

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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 5:27-30

In the passage cited above, our context is the opening chapter of what is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.  Here, our Lord is instructing His disciples (the Twelve; see verse 1) by correcting the faulty teaching of the Jewish religious leaders concerning the law.  To this, He adds several points of interpretation and application of the Law of God.  It’s important to understand that Jesus is neither changing the law, nor is He reinterpreting it, as some have asserted.  He is, however, restating the law and providing much needed clarification to the original meaning and intentions behind the law as opposed to the erroneous teachings of the law by the Scribes and Pharisees.  Their focus on external (Matt. 23:26) deeds had created a culture of legalism.  Jesus’ exposition exposes these errors and provides for us a clear understanding of how the law is to be applied.  Additionally, we must note that in His exposition on the law, our Lord is not abolishing the Law, rather He fulfills and upholds (see vs. 5:17-20).

His first point of explanation concerns murder and while the physical act is certainly in view (6th Commandment), the spirit of the law indicates that anger in the heart towards a brother is worthy of equal judgment in the eyes of God.  Despite so many thinking that Christ has added or reinterpreted the law, His explanation is precisely what the law teaches.  The 10th Commandment, Exodus 20:17, states, “You shall not covet….”  One cannot covet by external actions; instead this is an act purely motivated by sinful desires of the heart and should’ve clued the religious leaders to the “heart” of the law.

Moving to the next section of the sermon, we arrive at our passage cited above, where our Lord turns His attention towards adultery, with a specific application of lust.  Here we see the 7th Commandment in view, as Jesus applies it directly to the heart and the intentions of men.  Just as the act of physical adultery is worthy of punishment in the eyes of God for violating His law, so too is adultery of the heart, or lustful intentions of the heart.  The error of the Jewish religious leaders was to strictly interpret this commandment to apply only to the married (adultery) and then only to the physical act.  In viewing this in such a strict manner, it actually created a liberal application and opened the avenue for unbridled fornication.

Within the same passage, we have what might be summarized as The Principle of Elimination.  It’s an extreme illustration of how to deal with those members that offend, presumably as it relates to lust (remember the context).  The first offending member is the right eye.  With the eye, we are told that should it offend, or lead the rest of the body into sin, eliminate it by plucking it out.  Clearly this is meant to imply that the eye is the window or the avenue through which objects of lust enter.  By plucking it out, the avenue for this access is eliminated.

Next, the right hand.  Should it offend, or act out in sin, eliminate it by cutting it off.  The implication here may be broad, but certainly it includes any physical manifestation of lustful intentions that the hand (or actions) might bring about.  In order to avoid this, Jesus says the offending member should be cut off.  Each instance of elimination is summarized with the following statement, “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”  In summary, should gangrene (sin) infect the hand, cut it off before it spreads to the rest of the body.

While it’s important to understand that Jesus isn’t instructing his disciples, or by extension those who read His words today, to run home and begin plucking out their eyes and cutting off their hands, we needn’t dismiss the seriousness and extremeness of this language.  Given our Lord’s previous words, that both murder and adultery are matters of the heart and not just physical actions, we know restraint should be exercised before we go plucking eyes and sawing off hands.  This was the error of Jews, Origen, and many of those who enlisted in the ranks of the monastery, each of whom engaged in some form of self-flagellation.

However, if we consider that Jesus’s focus is on the heart, what do we make of this figurative language that focuses on the physical body, i.e. offending members?

First, we shouldn’t neuter the passage of its shocking implications.  Jesus is being extreme for the purpose of saving our souls at the expense of our bodies, that point should not be missed.  Aside from actually maiming our bodies, which would still leave an active and sinful heart, I do think that there is a principle of elimination at work here, as we previously mentioned.  This principle states that if something is causing us to sin, we should radically eliminate it, stopping short of physical harm to ourselves or others.  Yes, this still leaves a heart whose desires need changed, but it also removes opportunities to feed the flesh and opportunities to act out desires of the flesh.

In Romans 13:14 we read, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  This idea of provision here refers to plans, accommodations, etc.  It is these avenues or opportunities for sin that I’m suggesting our Lord has in mind for us to eliminate, i.e. to cut off.  Meanwhile there is work to be done, heart work, and that work is not completed by removing temptations or opportunities to sin from our lives.  That work is completed by the ongoing sanctification of the Holy Spirit to purify the heart, change desires, and set a course of passionate pursuit for the Almighty God.

It is with Him that we must plead for our hearts to change; that the Lord would, “create in us a clean heart” Psalm 51:10; that He would continue to work in us, “both to will and to work and to do His good pleasure” Philippians 2:13; that “He who began a good would bring it to completion” Philippians 1:6.

What avenues in your life need radically eliminated?  This may look different for each person, but if there are specific areas that are causing you to sin or be tempted to sin, don’t wait.  Cut. them. off.

Then seek the Lord pleading for Him to continue to purify and cleanse your heart of idols.

Soli Deo Gloria

Consumerism, The Stumbling Block of a Generation

The post below used to be an annual re-post from the original made in 2010.  It’s still relevant and remains largely unchanged, with a few minor edits.

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.  You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:1-5

 

Today consumers nationwide are partaking in what has affectionately become known as “Black Friday”, a national marketing campaign in which “big business” lowers prices and quantities to increase demand, and subsequently profits, all in the name of “holiday shopping”.  Next week, many of these same buyers will move their shopping frenzy to the internet for the online equivalent known as “Cyber Monday.”  What’s alarming is the captivity which the desires of people’s hearts claim over them during these mass marketing events as buying and spending become as addictive as any drug.  How far we have come from the simple prayer of “Give us this day our daily bread” to give me this, that, and the other and make it two of everything.  As a society we have moved further and further from the purchases of necessity and the reliance upon God to fulfilling the desires of our hearts with wants, demands, abundance and the “Have it your way” mentality.

Even though I don’t participate in “Black Friday”, I can be just as guilty of this attitude.  Now I realize that many purchases during these events, and more specifically this time of year, are made with “gift-giving” in mind, so I’m not attempting to drive you to guilt simply for shopping for loved-ones, but at some point we must stop and ask, does the recipient of the gift really need what we are buying or has the entire gift-buying/giving process become a product of the consumerism mindset?

If you’re unsure, ask yourself what would happen if you purchased no gifts for anyone, but instead made them something or provided your time towards a service for them?  Would you likely be labeled a scrooge or miser perhaps?  The fact is that we buy and give out of compulsion to conform to what society says we are “supposed to do” and worry about how someone might feel if we do not comply.  This time of year is filled  with mass consumption from the gifts to Santa to trees and candy.  Many of today’s retailer’s use this commercialism for major profit, reporting sometimes as much as 1/3 of their annual earnings during the “Christmas Season.”

No doubt some will debate this point with me, likely even labeling me a “grinch”, but before you do consider this, the spirit of consumerism is no more than a cleverly devised plan of Satan through the instrument of deceitful men in order to distract the masses from God.  Think this isn’t the case?

In the 1920’s a man by the name of Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, used the propaganda methods employed during the first World War combined with the knowledge of his uncle’s ideas about human being’s behavior to show American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.  Bernays’ strategies laid the groundwork for new political ideas to control the masses and ultimately helped transform America from a nation of producers to a nation of consumers.  This approach led to “The Century of Self” and started the “all-consuming self, which dominates our world today.”

You may be asking how this brief lesson in history on consumerism combined with consumer events such as “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” have any relevance on how Christians are to live within a biblical worldview.  Read carefully our subject passage above from James and note the destructive forces that gluttonous desires have on the hearts of men.

James states in verse 5 that those who live in “luxury and in self-indulgence” have “fattened [their] hearts in a day of slaughter” a strong condemnation against modern consumerism.  Note also the warning Jesus provides in describing those who place emphasis on treasures of the heart, 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21.

Jesus is saying that what we value most in life will capture our hearts.  His admonishment is for an eternal perspective and to focus on heavenly treasure, which comes only through a relationship with Him.  Quite simply there is no Biblical basis or “liberty in Christ” that supports the overabundance of material possessions for believers here on earth.  In fact, it is to the contrary.

Puritan Thomas Manton in his excellent commentary on James offers some instructive insights to the passage from above.  Manton refers to the rich people mentioned in James 5:1 as “worldly rich people, drowned in pleasures, puffed up with pride.”  He warns that “it is hard to possess riches without sin” and says “do not covet riches so much or please yourselves in the enjoyment of them; but look at your hearts with all the more care.”  Thomas Manton reminds us of Proverbs 30:8-9, 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches;  feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

To James 5:5 Manton adds

“they were reluctant in giving to the poor but easily and liberally spent their money on pleasures and gratifications of the flesh.  Worldly desires, though they argue every inch with grace, easily give way to corruptions.  To live always at the full is mere wanton luxury.  God gave wealth for another purpose than to spend it on pleasures.”  Finally, he advises that with our material blessings we “1. Prize them less; when you possess them, do not let them possess you. 2. Do more good. 3. Seek God all the more earnestly for grace. When you are full, you need it much.”

Consumerism reigns supreme in this country year round reaching its apex during the Christmas season and as such has become the stumbling block to the Gospel for the majority of people born in the last 100 years.

Christian do not let the world distract you with her flashy lights, her savory ads, low prices, and next “big thing”.  It’s ok to give gifts to one another as long as it’s done so within reason, but ask yourself am I contributing to the vicious man-centered cycle of consumerism? Or am I looking for opportunities to glorify God and show the love of Christ to those whom the Lord has surrounded me with and ultimately share the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, with someone who has not yet received that gift.  The “good news of great joy” of which the angel speaks at the time of Christ’s birth in Luke 2:10 has nothing to do with any material gifts that fade away, but instead the amazing, awesome perfect gift that is Jesus Christ and the eternal life given to all those who repent and put their trust in Him.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

Killing Sin at the Desire Level

 

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Galatians 5:16-17

One of the primary strategies for killing sin (Romans 8:13), perhaps the only real legitimate, successful way, is to attack it on the level of desire.  This puts engaging sin squarely on the battlefield of the heart, rather than a battlefield of the hands (see Matthew 5:29-30).  It becomes then much more a matter of properly setting the affections on things above rather than simply exercising will power over deeds.  The latter can only happen properly when the former is given priority.

In the passage above, the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle is instructing us in the way that these sinful desires operate while also  providing for us the means by which to kill them, namely by walking in the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?  How does one maintain that walk?  Paul does not offer an explanation here, and perhaps for good reason so that we simply won’t create a to-do list.  However, by combing through Scriptures, we may arrive at a helpful strategy to keeping in-step with the Spirit.

First, by engaging the heart and mind in the Word of God.  The Psalmist, who knew a thing or too about fighting sin, informs us that a young man may keep his way pure by guarding it according to the word of God.  He follows this thought with, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11  Additionally, in Psalm 37:31 we read, “The law of God is in his (the righteous’) heart; his steps do not slip.”

Secondly, by meditating on the Word of God.  We must note that it is insufficient to simply read the Word of God.  Rather Scripture must be contemplated, ruminated upon, churned over in the belly of the mind until it has been properly digested sending the spiritual nutrients throughout the soul.  In the previously mentioned Psalm 119, we find no less than 6 mentions of the word “meditate”.  This may be summarized in Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”  The classic passage for the example and consistency of meditation by the godly is the familiar Psalm 1:2, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Third, by offering continual prayer.  The apostle gives us the simple directive for continual prayer in 1 Thess. 5:17 with three little words,pray without ceasing“.  How can one pray without ceasing?  This isn’t instructing us to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in prayer to the neglect of life and duty.  Rather the implication is to have a heart prepared constantly for prayer and a tendency to turn to God in prayer on every occasion.  It may be easy to go through the motions in Scripture reading, doubtful for meditation, but fundamentally impossible to go through the motions in having an attitude of continual prayer.  Again, this is not simply 5-10 minutes in prayer, in which the mind may be easily derailed or where a rote prayer is offered.  We are talking about a spiritual frame in which the mind awakes to prayer, be it thankfulness or praise, goes throughout the day in prayer, and falls asleep at night on the pillow of prayer.  It simply cannot be faked, cannot be counterfeited, and it belongs only to the truly regenerate.  In fact, it may be the best gauge for determining whether one is maintaining a consistent walk in the Spirit and might well be the first to disappear should that walk slow or come to a stop.

Fourth, through the fellowship with other believers.  One of the detriments to the “structure” of the contemporary church is that we have come to treat it as a weekly obligation.  Even those who still hold to Sunday and Wednesday evening services neglect the fundamental meaning of ekklesia and the pattern that the early church provided, namely the daily or habitual interaction of “one-anothering” that occurred much like that within an immediate family as opposed to 3rd-cousins at a dreaded family reunion.  Hebrews 10:24-25 is instructive here, 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Habitual, routine, stirring up, meeting together, encouraging one another.

There could be additions to this, but the objective is clear, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  It is not “may”, nor is it “could be possible”, but “will not” gratify.

Yet the Apostle presses further to define the motive of these desires by stating their opposition, indeed that they war against the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit that that has renewed the inner man through the power of regeneration.  The contrast is not between the Holy Spirit (as used in verse 16) strictly speaking, but between the new nature brought about by the Spirit and the old nature.  Sometimes called the new man and the old man, i.e. the spirit vs. the flesh.  The Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit.  Literally they are hostile adversaries.

Finally, notice the purpose of this hostility, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do“.  I’ve understood this before to mean that the flesh keeps the spirit (see earlier) from doing what it wants, but that is not the natural flow of the passage and only half of the meaning.  It is actually stating that the flesh keeps the spirit from doing what it wants and the spirit keeps the flesh from doing what it wants.  There is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia taking place within believers.  A tension so to speak, however not one of neutrality.  If left unattended, the spirit will give way to the flesh.  Paul does not leave an option open to stand still in the Spirit, but to walk in the Spirit, an ongoing, lifelong action.

Let’s close with a word from Charles Spurgeon on this passage,

“The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body: but although we are closely beset, and often in sore conflict, we have an Almighty helper, even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who is ever with us, and who assures us that we shall eventually come off more than conquerors through him.  With such assistance the newborn nature is more than a match for its foes.  Are you fighting with the adversary today?  Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you?  Be not discouraged nor dismayed.  Fight on!  For God himself is with you; Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of your wounds.  Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence?  Fight on, looking unto Jesus, and though long and stern be the conflict, sweet will be the victory, and glorious the promised reward.”