“If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off”! What did Jesus mean?
You’ll be pleased to know I come this morning free of sharp instruments except for …the Bible I am holding. The Bible says of itself that ‘the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
St Paul writing to the Church in Ephesus encourages Christians in the battle of good against evil, right against wrong, to take up a weapon – “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Jesus advocates one weapon for Christians, and that is the Bible, the sword of the spirit, the word of God; and it’s relevant for the battle out ‘there’ and for the battle in ‘here’ – our hearts and our minds.
So what did Jesus mean? “If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off”. Well, the phrase appears in the midst of a sermon of Jesus about the ethics of God’s kingdom; ethics Christians are called upon to adhere to in the ‘here and now’, even though much of the world does not yet recognise the kingdom of Jesus.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey would regularly say to new Church of England Vicars that he wanted them to go in order to “comfort the distressed, and to distress the comfortable.” That was the way of Jesus! Comfort for the distressed, and distress for the comfortable.
These words of Jesus apply directly to the believer, to the disciple of Jesus, both then and now. Those hearing him would have agreed that God’s plans for stability in family life and in society require that marriage is for one man and one woman. Marriage is a protective fence around that relationship, and sex is reserved entirely for within the marriage relationship.
Those hearing Jesus would have agreed that sex is the gift of God within marriage and I also agree.
Some of you may now be thinking, “OK, so what does that mean for me? What about my current situation, or situations and relationships from the past?” The fact is that there is not time this morning for me to try to cover ever eventuality so I want to say clearly that Jesus wants to get to the heart of the matter, and Jesus wants to lovingly, graciously change our hearts, just as he sought to reach the hearts of the eager crowd that gathered as he first spoke these words.
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” (5:27-28). Jesus refers directly to the 7th Commandment ‘Do not commit adultery’ and implies also the 10th Commandment ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife’ (Deut 5:18, 21).
Just in case you’re wondering, this also applies to a woman’s thought-life! And it applies in regards to anyone that you or I are not married to.
Those who heard Jesus agreed that sex outside of the marriage relationship was wrong and agreed that a mind full of the desire for sex outside of the marriage relationship was also wrong because the marriage relationship is the place for it.
According the media the Church only wants to talk about sex. I don’t agree with that, but it’s not something to avoid either!
God is not a kill-joy! God asks us to live in a certain way in order to preserve joy, to protect marriage, in order to protect vulnerable young men and women, and in order to preserve family life because, quoting the marriage service, it is faithful Christian marriage that “enriches society and strengthens community.”
For the good of you, and me, our families, and for the good of the whole community Jesus therefore said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (5:30). He also said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (5:29). What did Jesus mean?
Jesus was using a common method of teaching. He was using hyperbole. He was using exaggeration in order to make a point. He does not want us to cut off arms or poke out eyes! However, the force of Jesus’ words must be heard; it is better to face the pain – possibly severe pain - of dealing with the issues that threaten to trap us now, than to face Hell - the eternal pain of being separated from God due to a stubborn, persistent refusal to live life His way.
A young man had a terrible falling out with a neighbouring farmer. One night, in an act of cruel vengeance, he crept through the neighbouring fields.
As he did so, he scattered seeds of a persistent, virulent weed. Very soon, the weeds sprang up, and no amount of effort would eradicate them. Years passed, and eventually the young man fell in love with the farmer’s daughter. He married her and, at length, inherited the farm. He later confessed that he was spending the rest of his life reaping what he had sewn in that one act of angry folly.
Whether it is Internet pornography, films with high levels of sexual content, or overindulgence in gazing lustfully at any person you or I are not married to, Jesus very firmly tells us, implores us, to deal with it however painful dealing with it may be. Acknowledging it before God is painful, owning up before God with a friend is more painful, and taking the right steps to deal with it long-term may be painful but in the end will be eternally fruitful. Remove the offending eye or offending arm. Throw away particular books or DVDs? Remove that channel from your TV?
Train yourself not to look at those magazines in the shop. Stop putting yourself in that ‘situation’ with that person. Remove the problem & meditate upon Jesus.
Many years ago a group of small farmers, being particularly superstitious, kept a corner of their fields uncultivated in order to pacify certain evil spirits. They believed that by sacrificing this one corner to the spirits, the remainder of the field would be left undisturbed and fertile. What really happened, of course, is that the weeds in the uncultivated corner went to seed, which was in turn carried by the wind and scattered across the entire field. And so it can be with us. The whole of a person’s life and witness can be infected and ruined by allowing unrestrained sin to dominate even one small corner of their life.
The Good News is that Jesus willingly became Sin for us. He took it all upon his shoulders on the cross, willingly paying the penalty for sin.
Jesus paid with his physical, earthy life so that we do not have to pay for eternity. Forgiveness is ours by believing in the work of Jesus, and then by obeying his commands, dealing with the weeds that can gather, so that they do not take us over, and cultivating a life that rejoices in being faithful.
And help is at hand! The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are yet was without sin. He remained single all of his life yet faced every type of temptation that we do. He is therefore fully able to sympathise with us in our weaknesses, and the Bible also tells us that in every situation God will provide a way out for us so that we can walk with his plans for living. We play our part by taking the way out that God gives us, and by removing or dealing with situations that drag us down.