The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
So far we have seen how Jesus has been teaching how certain characteristics should be expected of anyone who has come to the Lord in humility and wants to walk closer with Him and please Him. We have seen how Jesus challenged the religious and legal establishments by revealing how legalism and literalism falls far short of the standards required by the Father. He has challenged various forms of hypocrisy, revealing how the Christian walk is between the believer and the Father, not between the believer and the world. He has revealed that we are salt and light in the world, so that if we complain that the world seems a darker place, this is a judgement about Christians and not about the world.
Jesus challenges many things accepted as normal by the world – for instance to love and help one’s enemies would seem crazy to most people, even most who claim that they are Christian.
In this study we will see in the reading a lesson that is no less challenging. Although, to be honest, I have read and heard many different interpretations about the meaning of these words.
I think there is a degree of idiomatic speech here, and this is always going to be a challenge. Literal translation does not help to divulge the meaning when idiomatic phrases are used, and it is easy to miss the original teachings and emphasis. Even the ‘original’ language of the oldest manuscripts are not the same as Jesus spoke, because those were written in Greek, a language that Jesus did not use. This means that we even need to consider, for the sake of genuine accuracy, whether this is Greek idiomatic language or whether Aramaic idiom translated directly to Greek.
So, with this text, it is almost unavoidable to have to pray and ask the Lord to help with interpretation, and then to report what is revealed to the heart. First checking, of course, that the meaning is in keeping with the context of the rest of what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon. And anyway, to pray and dedicate a reading from scripture to the Lord, to ask Him to reveal truth to you through the inner speaking of the Holy Spirit, is something that is good to ask for each time you come to the scriptures.
OK, I think it is clear that the first thing to be said about this text is definitely not to taken literally. I have come across believers who feel that the scriptures should be taken literally and acted upon without letting human reasoning intervene. For sure, human reasoning can be subject to our fallen nature, but we saw in earlier studies on the Sermon that Jesus himself challenged literalism and proved the folly of it.
For one thing, to take this scripture literally just does not make sense unless the human body were somehow hollow and we existed in an exoskeleton. In that way, the light entering our body through our eyes would be like light entering a room through skylight windows. If those windows were filthy or covered over, then the room would be in darkness.
Of course, our biology does not work that way, and light entering our eyes makes no difference to the amount of light available to the microbes living in our gut. So it is clear that Jesus is speaking figuratively and that it is a nonsense to take this text literally.
For me, there are two levels of meaning with this text, one personal and the other corporate. In addition it is always important to consider the context of the text also. This is not the section where Jesus quotes the Old Testament and then reveals new meaning. This is not the section where Jesus speaks of the characteristics that should be developing in us. This is not the section where Jesus speaks about hypocrisy. But in this section we have comparisons to help us do one thing and not the other.
He begins this section with speaking about how we deal with wealth and what we seek for in life, and that we should be seeking to work primarily towards creating treasure in heaven rather than on the earth. He goes on after today’s text to speak of how we can’t serve two masters, and so must choose the good master that will keep us in the righteous path. He goes on to compare a life of worrying about needs with trusting that our needs will be met by the Father, if we walk as children of the Father.
So, in the context, we have comparison and a choice. And I think that we have a help to understand this choice in the words of Paul in Philippians 4:8
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
True, Paul talks here about what we set our minds upon and not about what we look at. But I would argue that the two things are closely related.
I believe that the light entering us, which Jesus talks about in today’s text, is spiritual light. That which comes from the Father in heaven. That which is full of holiness, power, strength, goodness, healing, purity, and much more goodness besides. We can allow this light into our lives, and control even our thoughts, by taking care about the things we watch – the images we allow into us through our eyes. We can also be affected by what we listen to. To an extent, even by what we allow through our nose, or to taste with out lips, or to feel with our fingers. Our senses can be used for carnal pleasure or for work or for learning or any number of things.
OK, let me quickly say here that there is nothing wrong with carnal pleasure. This is leaped upon by so many Christians so quickly, as if to find pleasure in something is of itself a sin. Rubbish!! This is part of how we are created, and God declared of this creation that it is good! So if you will call carnal pleasure wrong and sin, then you are in argument with the Father Himself. This is fully part of us and a gift from the Lord. I am very thankful for this, and I do not think that it is disrespectful, in my private praise to Him, to include thanks for this part of life.
But, of course, there is a problem – a problem that is not exclusive to carnal pleasure. It is the same problem with sugar, with smoking, with watching porn, and with quite a few other things. This problem is that our fallen nature, especially of the body, is an addictive nature.
Addiction causes so many problems. If it is an addiction to carnal pleasure, then it can lead to promiscuity, which can bring you into all kinds of sin. Or it can lead into addiction to masturbation, which is hard to do without visualisation and, as Jesus spoke of earlier in the Sermon, this is the same as adultery in the heart.
Addiction to sugar is a bigger problem than most people realise, because laboratory tests have revealed that it is more addictive than cocaine and heroine. People then try to side-step the problem with using ‘diet’ versions of products, but these usually contain a chemical sweetener like aspartame or something similar. This unnatural product is very sweet and has no calories, but interferes with receptors in the brain so that the hormones that let you know when you are sated do not communicate their message properly. So then you feel hungry when you are not hungry and eat more.
In the traditional teaching going back more than 1500 years, and still known about in the Orthodox and Catholic faiths, it is known that the senses and the bodily orifices associated with them are all entry points for devils. So that there is a need to protect yourself through the senses. And, personally, I can see how that directly relates to what Jesus is saying here.
Carnal pleasure is not sin, but there is the danger of addiction. To eat something sweet is not sin, but there is the danger of addiction. To drink alcohol is not sin, but there is the danger of addiction. To see a naked person is not sin, but there is the danger of wanting more and addiction. And so it goes on… Addiction can indeed be used as a feeding point for a demon, but to automatically assume that an addicted person needs to be delivered from a demon, in my opinion, is wrong.
Why do I make that last point? It is as a result of modern research into how the brain works and how it relates to psychology. The brain creates neural pathways, and some of them are for the sake of pleasure. There will be receptors along the pathways of pleasure for receiving of the pleasure hormone, dopamine. And these pathways could be described a bit like the dirt roadways of old. The passage of carts along a dirt road will produce ruts. The wheels will naturally follow the ruts. To make the wheels follow a different path becomes increasingly more difficult, because the ruts become deeper – but they must be lifted out of the rut to begin to move along a different path.
Our brains work a little bit like this. Our brains want the dopamine, to have the pleasure in our life. Indeed this is normal and natural, and other problems are created if there is insufficient dopamine ‘trade’ happening – and other mental sicknesses can arise as a result, and often the loss of control of emotions.
So, you can think of those addictions as the deep ruts that have been cut into the road over time, and that to lift the wheels onto a new path is going to be hard. This is why it is good to begin to apply discipline into your life. You will not be saved or sanctified by discipline, but you will begin to create new ‘ruts’ that are not involved with negative addictions, but are going to be useful for the sake of spiritual light shining increasingly more clearly into your life.
The truth is, all addicts feel guilty. They are prime targets for the accuser. They develop an increasingly low self-image, because they see themselves falling again and again, and each time feel as though they placed a division between themselves and God. Satan loves this and has you believe it – because that is useful to his purposes. It can bring fear into your life, and all the problems associated with that, including the increasing ineffectiveness of prayer.
It is better, then, to form some good habits. And Jesus names quite a few, if not in this Sermon, then elsewhere. Things like take up your cross daily – that daily recognition that you have no righteousness of your own, no matter how well you manage to live according to the law. That there is only one who is righteous, and he died because of my sin and your sin.
Then there is the recognition that, if our life is in Jesus, then we have a wonderful Father in heaven who cares for us – and we can approach Him with our requests. So why not be simple, like little children, and speak with Him often each day, and listen to Him?
Why not also, as we are fortunate and able to read and live in a time when the availability of scripture is so easy, why not spend some time each day reading about our Lord and our faith in the scriptures? Why not be thankful to the Lord for everything each day? OK, you may be poor and feel that you have nothing, but you are still breathing, right? How about your health? Do you thank the Lord for it? You can still walk? – then praise God! You can still see? – then praise God! You can still hear? – then praise God! You have all your faculties? – then praise God! You have your bodily functions working? – then praise God! Believe me, there is never a shortage of things to praise God for!! And there is power in praise!
But so many complain, and do not speak positively. So many are quick to see the sin and problems in others. So many build walls around themselves, so that love can’t go through and touch the world. Brothers and sisters, these kinds of things bring darkness to your soul and to the world around you. Why? Because you are shutting out the light!
As I have explained before, darkness cannot grow of itself, because darkness does not of itself even exist. It is a lie from Satan to think that darkness is something tangible, as though it is a created thing, and that it has power. Listen, darkness is nothing, it is not created, it does not exist. Darkness is not something, but it is rather the absence of something. It is the absence of light. And so to be filled with light, you need to go to the sources of light, with praise and thanksgiving.
Deny yourself light, and you will be dark indeed.
I said that there were two aspects to this: personal and corporate. I hope that it is obvious from what I have shared how you can take personal responsibility and so change things. But corporately we tend to follow the leader. But if the leader is not paying attention to these personal things, then the light will be denied not only to his or her life, but to the body of believers together. This is why it is always dangerous to have only one person with all the authority in a church.
We all have times of attack, and times when weak. We do not want to be the blind leading the blind or being led by the blind – the result will certainly remove the light and bring a fall.
From this we can see the value of a team of leaders (for instance, even the Apostle Paul rarely travelled alone), and for everyone in the church community to be praying for their leadership team. By this you can help to ensure you continue to be shown light – by keeping the leaders in the light.
And finally, from all of this we can see again that there is a real sense of family participation and mutual responsibility, all covered with love, that exist in all of his teachings in this sermon.