By Michael E. Brooks
“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30 NKJV).
A construction crew is building a culvert across the road in front of our KBC campus. While digging out the ditch they encountered a telephone cable, and scraped some of the insulation from it. Later the engineer from the sub-district came to inspect the site, discovered the damaged cable and promptly cut through it completely. He obviously was preventing future trouble which would develop if the bare cable should be buried as it was, with no repair.
It goes against our nature to throw away or destroy something that is at all useful. Even with a little damage, we instinctively think “Save it, it might be good for something sometime.” We are much less willing to do something as radical as Jesus taught – cut off a part of our body that leads us into sin.
The Bangladeshi engineer knew it was better to cut the cable completely than to cover up a potential problem. The bare wire would interrupt service, sooner or later. His action forced immediate repair, and prevented greater difficulties in the future.
Though this may not be Jesus’ main point (rather it was the extreme seriousness of sin), his command also points out the need for facing problems immediately, at a time of less severity, rather than waiting until the full consequences come. If we face sin and temptation now, dealing with them as severely as required, we will avoid eternal punishment later. No physical cost is too great to pay for salvation.
We legitimately doubt that Jesus was recommending or condoning self-mutilation. His language might well be, as many suppose, hyperbole (intentional, excessive overstatement for dramatic effect). If so, this in no way reduces the extreme seriousness of his intention. To be righteous before God we must practice self-control, and must resist sin in all its forms. James taught that “pure religion” includes “keep[ing] oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Paul commanded, “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
There are other things which lead us to sin, and which we should cast away or cut off as a preventative, besides our body parts. These include some friends or companions (1 Corinthians 15:33), certain recreational activities (including some movies, television or music), personal habits (like smoking?), and anything which is not conducive to spiritual growth and moral living. There may be some good which one can find in some of these things, but the harm inherent in them will lead to problems if covered up and left alone.
Jesus is asking us to take our spiritual life seriously. Heaven and Hell are real places, for real people. What we do now determines where we spend eternity. When we consider our activities let us ask, “Is doing this worth risking my soul forever?”
By Michael E. Brooks