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May 22 2012

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off

A number of years ago, I was reading an article about a Christian who was having trouble overcoming a sexual sin.  He was found profusely bleeding as he tried to hack off his sexual organ. Fortunately, he was found in time to be saved from bleeding to death. He apparently took  Matthew 5:29-30 literally which reads:

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.1

Is this a commandment that we are to take literally? I have heard non-Christians state either you take Scripture literally or not.  If we say that we take the Scriptures literally and are asked how do we decide which are literal or not, how do we answer that question? In reading Matthew 5:29-30, it would seem to be clear, we should hack off body parts that causes us to sin. If we say it’s not literal, how do we explain why it’s not literal and yet we say homosexuality is a sin because the Bible says it’s a sin. Why is one literal and the other is not?   Scripture will not contradict itself but it will also explain itself.

Most of us would agree that Jesus is not commanding us to start hacking away our body parts if we sin.  If that were the case, none of us would have any body parts left and yet, we would still not be free of sin.  So what does it mean?

In these two verses, Jesus qualifies the statement of cutting off of body parts with an “if” and “better.”  In other words, IF the body part causes a person to sin, it is BETTER to not have that body part than to end up in hell.  It is a conditional statement.  However, cutting off body parts will not prevent a person from eternal punishment for once we have committed our first sin, we are guilty of breaking the whole law. (James 2:10)

It is really important to understand the qualifiers that Jesus using (“if” and “better”) for these qualifiers explain what He means.

The root of sin is in our heart, it comes from within us.  The root of sin begins in the heart which influences our mind and our will which ultimately we follow through. (Mark 7:20-23)

And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Jesus is saying by using those qualifying words (“if” and “better”) that if the body part is the root of sin, then a person would be better off without that body part than to have the whole body thrown into hell.  The condition on which a person would hack off a body part is that the root of sin lies in that body part.  Jesus is saying that to His audience that IF they believe that a part of their body is the root of sin, then hack it off for it is BETTER to not have that body part than to  have the whole body go to hell. He is reasoning with them for they knew that the root of sin does not lie in an eyeball, a hand, arm, etc. We know that is not true for He explains in Matthew 15:15-20 that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” It is what comes from the heart that makes a man unclean.

Most of us have heard the statement “when pigs fly.” If I were to say “when pigs fly, I’ll grow 5 inches” relies on on a false premise (flying pigs).  I will not gain five inches to my height because pigs will never sprout feathers and wings and take up flying like a bird.  This is the type of conditional statement that Jesus used. If sin originates from a body part, then cut it off.  But sin does not originate from a body part, it originates from the heart.

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  1. Gloria

    I agree with the qualifying words “if” and “better”. It is also my understanding that extreme statements were used frequently to get a message across with the degree of serious attention that should be taken, generally extreme opposities of a situation. I wish I could remember exactly how the teacher explained it because he articulated so much better than what my clumsy attempt here is.

    The fact of the matter is as you stated, sin originates in the heart and as the apostle Paul speaks (in Romans 7, I believe), sin is in the flesh. Rom 7:17, 23 Paul stated that it dwelt within him. So cutting a member out is not going to rid the person of the sin. The work that paid our price of sin was executed on the cross our Lord Jesus died upon. He completed the work there and fullfilled the whole law in Himself. Praise God that it is He who is our propitiation, justification and righteousness! Rom. 3:23-26

    Thank you for your insight and for sharing with us.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi,

      YES! That’s exactly what Jesus was doing, He was using extreme statements. He was taking things to their logical conclusion. The Pharisees were into how things appeared but Jesus taught that the outside of the cup may be clean but it is what is inside that is filthy.

      1. Gloria

        Thanks for your reply. It’s nice to know I was on the right track. Keep up the good work of faith!

  2. Ed

    A common figure of speech used in the Bible is hyperbole, which can be defined as an exaggeration, or when more is said than what is literally meant.

    In this instance, Jesus used hyperbole to make a very strong point about the importance of avoiding sin. He did not mean that we should literally pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands, but rather that we should remove from our lives the things that lead us into temptation and sin.

    We should pluck and cut the things that lead us into sin out of our lives.

    Another example of hyperbole in the Bible would be:
    John 4:39 — Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”

    Did Jesus really tell the woman “everything” she ever did from the moment she was born, or was the woman using hyperbole to make a strong point?

    1. Tishrei

      That’s it exactly. As you pointed out, Jesus did that a lot. Like you pointed out, we are not to hack off our body parts but we should be removing the things in our lives that tempt us to sin. We would sin no matter what body parts we were without.

    2. Gloria

      Thank you. I didn’t know what stating, ‘as I put it, exaggerations’, was called. Now I have a new word in my vocabulary, “hyperbole”. You are correct, Jesus used it a lot because they got what He was saying. Our culture is so different and people will take it literally. I have spoken with people who do, yet common sense tells us that cutting a member of our body off does not get rid of the sin. Thank you for stating it so well.

  3. Ed

    Thank you for your post and comments Tishrei.

    I like your blog and your insight into the Bible.

    This topic made me think of the snake-handlers who have built their theology and worship around a couple of verses and have elevated their significance far above the remainder of Scripture.
    Mark 16:17-18

    Every year, there are deaths in these churches secondary to venomous snake bites.

    They ignore the part about drinking poison and surviving, preferring to take their chances with snakes.

    It’s a tragic thing, but the snake-handlers are a great reminder of what happens when people don’t read the Bible globally and ignore the checks and balances that God provides for us in His Word.

    Same thing happens with the gift of tongues in many denominations, to the point where it is taught that a person is not filled with the Holy Spirit, and even not saved, if they don’t speak in tongues.

    Ed

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Ed,

      I have heard about the snake handlers. That’s just so bizarre that I don’t even know what to think. I recently read about this pastor somewhere in another country that said he was going to walk on water just like Jesus did. It was going to be a miracle of all miracles. Anyway, a whole bunch of people showed up and he started to walk in the water. But he was not walking ON the water but on the ground and started to sink. He had to run for his life as the crowd became very angry.

      Don’t get me started on speaking in tongues, LOL. I could fill up a month’s worth of blogging just with that topic.

      Thanks for your kind words. I really appreciate it.

  4. Ed

    Thanks for your comments Tishrei and Gloria, and nice to meet you Gloria.

    Thanks for sharing that story about the sinking pastor Tishrei. I have to wonder
    what this pastor was trying to accomplish by this “miracle of miracles”?

    If he desired to glorify God, and it was in accordance with God’s will
    and plan, he could have walked on water without sinking.

    Hope he didn’t charge for admission :) .

    As I was writing this post, this verse popped into my head.

    Matthew 24:24 — For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.

    In the end times, there will be false Christs and false prophets who will be empowered
    by Satan and able to perform supernatural miracles like walking on water.

    2 Thessalonians 2:9 — The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders,

    I’m grateful to God that it’s not possible for the elect to be deceived or
    separated from His love.

    In Christ,

    Ed

    1. Gloria

      Glad to me you too, Ed. I have often thought of Mat 24:24 and 2Th 9:9. The false prophets and false christs have been around for a very long time. I think about Waco, TX as well as others prior to it. So many deaths in the name of what! Innocent children destroyed. Knowing what God’s word has to say, rightly dividing the scripture, expounding upon and correctly teaching it are the necessary tools of the child of God. We can not know truth unless we study it and listen to the Master who has provided it for us. 2Ti 2:15 Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth. I’ve not been one to swallow what another feeds me, I tend to dig into the Word to hear what God is saying to me and how it fits into the context of scripture as a whole. You guys keep up the good work of faith and the true knowledge of Truth.

      1. Ed

        amen, and thank you for the encouragement to stay close to God and His Word.

        I’m also not one to trust in what others say or write without seeing how it lines up
        with Scripture. God has shown me how fallible I can be, and He commands us
        to “test everything”.

        This is going off on a somewhat different tangent, but I don’t like to use a study Bible
        as my primary Bible, because I’m tempted to look down and read the commentary notes
        before the Holy Spirit reveals to me what He wants *me* to learn and understand.

        On the other hand, it would be foolish to not take advantage of what God has revealed to
        all of the gifted teachers and pastors throughout history, but I need to allow God to speak
        to me first.

        Thank you again sister.

        1 Thessalonians 5:11 — Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

        1. Gloria

          Ed, I so agree with you regarding study Bibles/Commentaries, etc. I too believe we should allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us “first” what God has to say to us personally and what He desires for us to glean with His help, then I believe it is important to glean from others what “truth” God has revealed to them and the historical and cultural knowledge they have learned. God gives us wisdom to know how to use knowledge that is available to us. Prayer is our greatest source of power in discerning truth in what we’re reading and knowledge along with wisdom to use that knowledge and share it correctly with others. We can do absolutely nothing of value without prayer, but with prayer…. ah! All things become possible with prayer.

          Personally I like to compare the commentary with the context of God’s word concerning the scripture they are expounding on. I’m not a seminary student by any means, but I have studied God’s word for the last 40 years. I was requested to teach the seniors in our church 10 years ago. It is not a service that I take lightly. It causes me to tremble. It is not difficult to remember that I am a servant of God and it is only through the Holy Spirit that I am able to do His work correctly. Without that…. I am nothing more than a talking head speaking forth a lot of noise.

          I pray that God will protect me from heresy and keep me as His most humble servant. Being in front of seniors who I believe know a great deal more than I certainly keeps me on my toes, holds me at a high level of accountability and truly keeps me humble. I believe God has a healthy sense of humor, because I see the humor in where He has placed me. I am grateful that the class He has given me is quite small.

          When you think about students of God’s word like myself, pray for us that we will always rightly divide the Word of Truth as we share what He has taught us and give the perfect answer when asked. I will pray for you and Tishrei too.

          1. Ed

            I agree Gloria. I need to remain teachable and open while simultaneously testing everything against God’s Word.

            1 Thessalonians 5:29 — Test everything. Hold on to the good.

            There are some believers who advocate that only Bible should be read and used in seeking God, and while I believe that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word and our absolute source of Truth, I’ve heard and read a lot of “good” from sources outside of the Bible, that after being tested, I’ve been able to hold on to and that have been a great benefit to my walk with God.

            Most recently, I’ve been reading and listening to John Piper, and I’m grateful to God for the understanding He has given this man. Nothing can replace or is more essential than the Bible, but why would one of the gifts of the Spirit be teaching if God did not intend for us to learn from teachers? Of course, we are still to test everything, since no one is infallible.

            Gloria, I’m certain that with your humble attitude in teaching the seniors, you’re a blessing to them, and God placed you in that position because He has faith in you. I’m also certain that being in that position of responsibility, although scary, has caused you to grow in your knowledge and faith.

            I’m a layperson also when it comes to the Bible, so I will be including myself in that prayer.

            God bless you sister,

            Ed

          2. Gloria

            Thank you Ed, for your reply. It appears we are both in agreement to the inerrant word of God and His blessed gift He has given to those He has chosen to teach. I too receive much benefit from John Piper. I have had the opportunity at times to hear him on Bott Radio. I agree that it is of the utmost importance to use God’s word as a plumline in testing all that anyone writes, preaches, and teaches. As you stated, only God’s word is infalible. I am so grateful to have His word. We are truly blessed in this nation to have it in abundance and still free to read it.

            It is true, teaching the word has caused me to strive for perfection in the understanding and knowledge of what God is saying to us and definitely has caused me to reach out in faith, leaning even more heavily upon God. As I pray seeking for God’s guidance with the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of His word in rightly dividing it, I will also add you to that prayer. God’s children must stand together or we will fall. He created us as a whole body, not to become a fragmented one that is displaced and dismembered. We are each dependent upon the other.

            May God bless you in your thirst for His word, Gloria

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