Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Matthew 18:7–9

Matthew 18:7–9 (ESV): Temptations to Sin

Synopsis

It turns out I probably should have included this passage along with the previous passage, since it continues on with the same thought. Funnily enough, it starts with this verse:

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (verse 7 (ESV); Jesus speaking)
The reason that’s funny is that I was looking for this verse when I posted the last passage. In trying to find it I was looking for the alternate versions of the last passage in the other Gospels, assuming that this line was in one of them. I didn’t even think to look at the very next verse in Matthew…

Since I’ve already quoted a third of the passage, I’ll quote the rest as my “synopsis:”

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (verses 8–9 (ESV))

Thoughts

As mentioned, the first verse in this passage continues the thought with the previous passage: Yes, it’s true, there are going to be temptations in life—but you don’t want to be the one that caused those temptations!

The second part that I quoted is a very famous passage. (At least to Christians; I don’t know if non-Christians are familiar with this one or not.) Jesus now turns things around: Rather than warning us from causing others to sin, he now warns us to eliminate the things that cause us to sin.

The only “debate” I’ve ever heard about this passage is whether Jesus is being literal or not: does he really mean to gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin, or to cut off your hand or your foot? Or is this hyperbole? It’s probably hyperbole, although I have to admit, the logic holds even in a literal sense: It really would be better to “enter life” and not have a hand or a foot or an eye than to be thrown into hell—however, that depends on a temptation to sin that you could actually get rid of by getting rid of your hand or your foot or your eye. I don’t think that’s likely; I don’t think there’s a sin that you could encounter that you could pluck your eye(s) out, and suddenly you wouldn’t be tempted by it anymore. If there was… well, what would you value more? Your eye(s), or your righteousness? (I’ve never been tempted to cut off any body part in order to eliminate sin, so don’t read this and think that I’m walking around with a cleaver just in case I need to start doing some trimming. As I say, the theoretical situation in which this might actually eliminate a sin is pretty unlikely, in my mind.)

Whether it’s taken literally or not, however, there is an extension to this verse: if Jesus is saying that you’d be better off cutting off a part of your body than letting that part tempt you to sin then we have to ask ourselves: what else do we have in our lives that it might be better to “cut off” rather than be tempted to sin? Are there friends in your life that are always leading you to sin? Is there a place you go regularly, or a show you watch, or a website you go to that tends to lead you to sin? Wouldn’t it be better to cut those activities out of your life, rather than constantly deal with those temptations? Whether you think Jesus is being literal or not in this passage—and I’m sure most people don’t, and I wouldn’t argue with them—he is saying something. We can’t assume that Jesus was simply talking for the sake of talking; there are definitely “things” in our lives that will cause us to sin that we should eliminate. Ask yourself: If Jesus isn’t literally talking about cutting off hands or feet or plucking out eyes, then what is he talking about? Then examine your life and see if any cutting needs to be done. If you’re a human, and haven’t died and gone into His presence yet, then the answer is probably yes…
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