You may have heard it before “If your eye offends you, pluck it out! If your hand offends you, cut it off!” These words spoken by Jesus are absolutely true and necessary – however when these verses are quoted, they are unfortunately extolled in a very negative and condemning way which fails to demonstrate the love of Jesus and reveal His heart.
That’s why today we are going to examine these famous words of Jesus, and see the details in what He said which will allow us to see that He was not speaking out of harshness or hardness but that He said these words out of His Perfect Love and care for us.
Let’s begin by reading Matthew 18:1-11:
“At the same time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
And Jesus called a little child to him, and set him in the middle of them,
And said, Truly I say to you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoever shall receive one such little child in my name receives me.
But whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe to the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
Why if your hand or your foot offend you, cut them off, and cast them from you: it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
And if your eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: it is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”
Now in verse 1 we have a time indicator, in this particular case it says: at the same time. So it would benefit us to find out what time this was. At the end of the previous chapter of Matthew 17 (remember that the Bible originally did not have chapters and verses, those were added by translators) Jesus had just finished speaking about paying temple tribute and how the children of the king were exempt, but that they should pay it anyway to not offend the religious leaders since Peter spoke incorrectly.
Earlier in chapter 16, Peter had a God-given revelation that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Then, six-days later, Peter James and John saw Jesus transfigured and had another revelation about how Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah, and how the Father God is well pleased in Jesus. After this, Jesus casts the demon out of the possessed boy. So they were receiving glimmers insight regarding the Kingdom of God and the awesome magnificence and power of God’s Kingdom. And at the end of Matthew chapter 17, as we saw, Jesus takes Peter aside and corrects him regarding the rights and privileges of the children of the Kingdom of God. Notice that Jesus did not speak solely of Himself in verses 26 and 27 – so this was the first flash of understanding given to the disciples that they too are a part of this kingdom… that they are destined to also be children of God.
So now we move to Matthew 18 verse 1, and we see that this realization starts to get the wheels of their minds turning and it even starts to awaken some prideful ambition. They have seen the power of the Kingdom of God through the works of Jesus, and now start to realize that they are also children of this same Kingdom. This leads them to ask this question: Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? They were not asking about Jesus, but about themselves. They wanted to know which of them would hold the highest position of honor, and this is why Jesus answers the way that He does in verse 2.
Jesus calls a little child to Him and set him in the midst of them. And in verse 3 Jesus says: Truly I say to you, except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Now there are some things to note about this. First that Jesus called the child to Him. Jesus called, the child came; see the application there. Little children trust in and are totally dependent on their parents, as we should be towards God. Furthermore, little children have a sense of wonder and unhindered belief and dreams that most adults think are foolish. When I was a child, I believed that I could fly, I believed that superheroes were real, and that my finger was a laser-gun. Now what is the application for this? Jesus wants us to have that same kind of child-like belief in Him. That when He says a thing it is true: like come walk on the water, heal the sick by a mere touch, cast out demons and even raise the dead. This is reality, not fantasy! Jesus goes on to say in verse 4 that Whosoever humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. These are the ones who will have the unlimited, unconditional trust in Jesus to be used in great and mighty ways. Note also that humbling yourself is involved here. This is because our human mind and human ideas and human reasoning tend to get in the way. Heal the sick by laying on of hands? That’s ludicrous! God didn’t really split the Red Sea, it just was shallow enough to walk across! Jesus really didn’t die on the cross, He just passed-out or swooned! You see, our natural human minds war against the supernatural. But God is greater than we can possibly imagine, and those who have the unconditional trust in Him as little children are the ones who will experience His miraculous wonder-working power in their lives. Those who humble their own natural self are ones who will see the supernatural.
Moving on to verses 5 and 6, these are both a blessing and a warning. The blessing is in verse 5 and it is twofold. Jesus says that anyone who receives one such little child, receives Me. The word receive in this context means to accept. Whenever you accept someone and treat kindly someone who has such childlike faith in Jesus, then Jesus counts it as being done to Himself. This is both a blessing to the one who is showing the kindness, because Jesus counts it as being done to Himself, and it is also a blessing to the one being shown kindness because it is a reminder how “one with Christ Jesus” they are as stated in John chapter 17.
Verse 6 is the warning. Jesus says that But whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me… and in this context the word offend means to cause to stumble. Jesus is saying that whoever shall tempt those who believe in Jesus to turn away from Him, to get someone to doubt Him, or lay an obstacle in their path to make their journey more hazardous or difficult, whoever does that, is going to get a sentence from God, because He avenges His children, as any good and loving parent would. The sufferings of His children do not go unnoticed from His eyes. And pastors and leaders are not excluded from this – be sure that you are not placing roadblocks of fear, doubt and condemnation in the paths of the little ones who believe in Jesus.
Continuing in verse 7, Jesus declares a woe on the world because of such stumbling-blocks. Such things increase the misery and the desperate state of the world; because anything when it is separated and turned away from God, will naturally be in desperation – and that includes us. But Jesus declares another woe on the person by whom such stumbling-blocks are laid. This person is not only separated from God himself, but is actively hindering others as well! Jesus says that offenses must be in the world, we know that because the natural state of the world and mankind itself is sin, and we have an active enemy.
Now verse 8 begins our famous statement by Jesus about plucking out the eye and cutting of the hand and foot, but it was important for us to read and study the preceding verses to see the context, and in doing so we can now see the true heart and love of God in these verses as well.
Jesus says in verse 8 that If your hand or foot offends you (causes you to stumble, or turns you away from Jesus) you should cut it off because it is better to enter into Life maimed than to be thrown into hell.
We must break this apart and see the details here to understand what Jesus is really saying here. First, He is not talking about physical mutilation! Some people think that if they have a problem with lust, that they should either gouge their eyes out or castrate themselves. This is not true, and honestly it would not even help because the real problem is not the members themselves but the sin-nature on the inside. How many understand that it is not the eye itself that causes people to look lustfully, it is the sin-nature that causes the eye to look. This is not even what Jesus was saying here, and today there are some people abusing their physical bodies because of the misinterpretation of this verse.
Notice the context here, Jesus was just speaking about people causing His little children to stumble. And woe to the ones by whom those stumbling’s come. Now see the details, all of a sudden, He personalizes it. He says “If your hand or foot offends you…” – He did not say if it offends God, but if it offends you personally. Whatever is personally causing you to stumble or personally turning you away from God, that is the thing which needs to be cut off.
An example of this from my own life, is the same week that I came home from the hospital after being healed, filled two big garbage bags with all of my old heavy-metal and death-metal CD’s and threw them all away. I did not do this because I was concerned with law-keeping or because I was trying to impress God in any way. I did it because I recognized that the Holy Spirit was trying to fill me with His Life, and that kind of music was filling me with death; it was counter-productive. It was offensive to me personally in a metaphorical way. As stated in 1st Corinthians 10:23, Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial.
This is the message of Jesus here in these verses. They are not spoken from harshness, but from love. He desires that all enter into His Life, even those who would cause stumbling, and so He gives advice here designed to cut away those things which are counter-productive to His Life. This is His heart, that all would receive His Life.
So we have three distinct types of counter-productive things in verses 8 and 9, the hand, the foot and the eye. Remember that there are no insignificant details in the Bible, nothing is there as just filler, it all has meaning. And here each of these things represents a different type of stumbling or turning away from Christ.
First we have the hand, and in the Bible the hand typically represents actions and things that we do. (Psalms 19:6). This symbolizes anything that we do or action that we take which turns us away from Christ or in any way stumbles us by introducing fear, worry, doubt, guilt or condemnation it should be cut off. Many believers have religious rituals that they perform, but these rituals are not performed from a position of faith, but usually from fear or guilt For example, many people pray every night, but not because they enjoy talking to God, but because they believe that if they don’t pray nightly (as a ritual) God will become angry with them. This really is nothing new — Job in the Bible is a wonderful example of this: In Job chapter 1, it is mentioned that after his sons had their regular days of feasting (see, God blessed him with riches) he would offer sacrifices on their behalf saying “perhaps they cursed God in their hearts.” Now it was right and proper for Job to do this as the spiritual leader of his household, but the manner and attitude by which he was doing it as he admits in Job chapter 3, is not based on faith, but from a position of fear. And many times we still operate this way today; Jesus says, remove those things that minister fear which turn you aside from Him.
Next we have the foot, which represents the place where you stand, and where you find your rest (Genesis 8:9). If you stand in anything other than the solid foundation of Christ, then that thing needs to be cut off. Many people try to stand in their own good works. Many people find their rest in their finances, or alcohol or drugs. But in the end, only Christ Jesus offers security.If you have this idea that you have to maintain your good standing with God through your own works or effort — a popular misconception today — than you will always find yourself wondering “did I just lose my good-standing by what I just did?” You will never be able to stand in a position of security if the foundation is based on yourself or your own performance. Remember this always: You can not live the abundant life of Christ with one foot on Mount Sinai (Law) and the other foot on Mount Zion (Grace). Mount Sinai is a place of trembling and fear (Hebrews 12:20), and the Bible says that we, have not come to that mountain (Hebrews 12:18), but we have come to Mount Zion, and Jesus Christ alone. (Romans 3:21)
Last, we have the eye, which represents, perception and things you receive into your soul. (Psalms 119:18) This is often in the form of media and entertainment. If the things that you perceive and receive are contrary to the life of God, they should be plucked out, because they are counter-productive. This includes legalistic, condemning preaching and teaching as well. If the preaching and teaching that you hear is ministering fear, making you afraid of God, beating you down and condemning, then it is actually contrary to the finished work of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 4:29). We are made able ministers of the New Covenant of Grace and not the Old Covenant of the Law (2nd Corinthians 3:6). This does not mean that we cannot teach or preach or learn from the Old Testament writings; but we should always interpret them in the light of the finished work of Jesus Christ.
So when Jesus said these things, He was giving advice to stay focused on Himself, and not let anything drive a wedge between you and Him. Again, this really has nothing to do with law-keeping. We are not earning righteousness or favor with God by following the advice of Jesus here; and He did not say these things for that purpose. It is vital that you see His intention and heart here. He is sharing these things so that all of the obstacles that would keep us from experiencing His Life would be removed from us. Would you rather travel a rocky path or a smooth path? And please don’t be prideful here and say “I like a challenge!” No this is spiritually-speaking here. Just because Jesus says that the obstacles exist, does not mean that we must stumble over them! In-fact He shared this advice with us so that we would avoid them!
This is His heart of love and care for us. He could have said “You’ll learn by trial-and-error and pain is weakness leaving the body.” and just left us to struggle and strive and fight with agony, but that is not what He wants… He has given these words because He cares deeply for each and every person.
He protects His children, and He even cares for those who would cause others to stumble, which is why He gives these warnings and advice to ensure that the source of the offense is dealt with before it leads to hell.
His heart is that all would be saved.
I pray that this study today has encouraged you to see more of the love and grace of Jesus in Matthew 18, and that these verses will no longer be a weapon of fear and confusion, but a source of strength and edification in the love of God for you.