October 3, 2000
Sophie tells me about an aunt with arthritis in her leg. Eventually, this woman developed leg spasms and could not walk or move about. The spasms became so severe that she was in danger of injuring herself. She had to be in bed with her leg tied down, preventing all movement.
This woman eventually decided this was not the way to live her life. She insisted that her doctor amputate her leg. He did. She is now mobile, of course with the use of a wheel chair.
Not long after talking with Sophie, I read a section of the New Testament where Jesus talked about cutting off offending body parts. He said, “If your right hand causes offense, cut it off and throw it away.”
Of course I thought of Sophie’s aunt. Her leg definitely offended her — so she cut it off. But after reading the context of this verse, I realized Jesus was not expecting a literal amputation. He had something else in mind.
The occasion was His well known Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew, Chapters 5 to 7. The section that contains this verse about offending body parts is Jesus describing God’s intention when He gave His people the Old Testament Law. Jesus wanted His Jewish listeners to understand that their interpretation was off base. They were concerned with outward observance in a literal sense but failed to consider what was going on in their hearts. That is, they thought they were keeping the Law but they really were not.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
They were startled. They knew adultery is wrong but had no idea that even thinking it was also a violation of God’s Law.
Besides that, Jesus wanted them to know that sin is serious. He continued, “If your right eye causes you to sin (another version says ‘causes offense’), gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Did He want them to actually cut up their bodies? No, for two reasons. First, self-mutilation cannot cure lust. Lust is a condition of the heart and mind. A blind person can lust.
Second, the Bible forbids that we make cutting marks on ourselves or mutilate ourselves as the heathen did (Deuteronomy 14:1). God’s people are supposed to be set apart from heathen or worldly practices, and be holy and distinct in the way we live.
Instead, Jesus uses this strong illustration to get across that sin is far more serious than our personal comfort. We are to avoid sin even if it means denying ourselves in some other way. That denial is important. When we sin, we sin against God but we also sin against ourselves. God tells us to stop, not because He is being mean or vindictive but because He loves us and He does not want us to harm ourselves or ruin our lives. His commands against sin are like diets for grossly overweight people. Those restrictions are intended to save their lives, not ruin them.
Sophie’s aunt realized that her leg was ruining her life. To her, living life was far more important than keeping her leg, so she willingly had it cut off. Living the life God intends ought to be just as important to us as it was to Sophie’s aunt. However, we cannot do it and keep our sin too. Whatever causes it must be cut off and since we are not able to do this kind of amputation ourselves, God provided Jesus to help us with the surgery.