Thursday, May 8, 2014

Seeing with Clear Eyes (Matthew 6:22-23)

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22–23, NASB95)

Earlier in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke about lust and the sin that comes out of our strong desires when we don’t control them and align them properly with God’s will for our lives—doing as would have us walk and think. Here He speaks about our eyes and how so much of what we struggle with is captured through our eyes. 

Last night as I was watching the news there was a lengthy piece on the tactics being used by some drive-through coffee stands in the state of Washington where the baristas are wearing as close to nothing as they legally are allowed. The owner of several of those stands, when asked how her business volume compared to those who were more conservatively dressed, thought for a moment and responded that she thought her volume was 200% of those other operations. While there was one female patron briefly interviewed who said she came because they served a great cup of coffee, I find it hard to imagine that this is the primary reason for many of their patrons and for them doing double the business. While I was pleased to hear that she reported most of her customers to be polite and pleasant, I also heard loud and clear that these stand owners are capitalizing on a well-known truth in marketing which is that sex and sexuality sells.

Every single one of us is different, but there are some general patterns. One of them in particular for men is that they tend to be visually oriented, which proves itself out by the abundance of pornography available and the tenacity of its grasp on the men who view it. Sexual temptation is huge, and allowing our hearts to cater to it by using our eyes is a major problem among men today. But men are not alone in the things that they allow their eyes to watch and then contemplate in their hearts and minds.

James wrote about the potential for destruction that comes with unguarded eyes and hearts. We read, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:14–15, NASB95) This is a picture of a downward spiral that starts when we allow what we see to become captured in our thoughts and pondered in such a way that we then consider what steps we might next take toward personal satisfaction or gratification. This does not mean that every man who goes to one of these stands or looks at woman with admiration or woman who looks admiringly at an item of clothing on the rack in a store or even on another person is going to allow those thoughts to spiral as James spoke. What it does mean is that the opportunity for temptation is there and it must be captured.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NASB95) The context of this verse is the battles that we engage in, while they may occur in the flesh, are really spiritual in nature. This is true in presenting the gospel and it is also true as we walk according to the truth of the gospel. The flesh is the vessel which presents itself to us as an enemy and it is also the instrument that we ourselves use for righteousness. Paul continues in verse 6 with, “and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 10:6, NASB95) This was true of the Corinthian church when they purified themselves of their own sinful actions and made themselves ready to purge those who would not do so, and it is true of us when we submit our lives to the obedience of Christ and purify or purge our own lives of those things which do not reflect our new identity in Christ.

Job, in speaking of his effort at moral integrity, said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? And what is the portion of God from above or the heritage of the Almighty from on high? “Is it not calamity to the unjust and disaster to those who work iniquity? Does He not see my ways and number all my steps?” (Job 31:1–4, NASB95) Job understood the power of the eyes to lead to destruction, and as such he made a covenant with himself that he would not permit his eyes to be used for such purposes.

I think we can all probably argue that there is a line between just looking and longing. But for each of us we must also struggle with just how fine that line might be for each of us and take measures to prevent ourselves not only from crossing it but playing with how close we can get to it in our lives. This was the problem of the Pharisees that Jesus spoke to earlier in Matthew 5, when He told over and over of how they had added to the law in order to demonstrate their righteous acts before men.

Joseph has long been an example to me of a man who dealt properly with all sorts of trials in life. While the circumstances of Joseph might have been extreme when Potiphar’s wife pursued him to have sexual relations with her, we all have those things in our lives where what is enticing through our eyes has to be dealt with by our ensuing actions. Scripture records Joseph’s response, “She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.” (Genesis 39:12, NASB95) Joseph knew there was nothing good that would come by him remaining in that situation and he purposed to remove himself from it without delay.

The example of Joseph is a reminder to me that when those red flags (and even yellow ones) go up that I should not ignore the potential storm that might be coming. In some ways and on some days I get deeper into the storm than I should, but I am thankful that God’s Spirit and His Word along with a pattern of practice serve as a continual reminder that it is never too late to board up the windows in order to avoid the fiercest part of the storm.

The other side of Jesus’ words in today’s passage point to the great light inside each of us who have trusted Christ for our salvation, which is Christ in us. We have been made spiritually alive and the Holy Spirit has been given to each of us to reside in us and to do the work of conforming us to the image of Christ and preparing us for service. We are made able to stand victorious when we walk in the light which is Christ.

Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12, NASB95) Later, speaking to His disciples He said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (John 9:5, NASB95) And earlier in this sermon which we are looking at He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” (Matthew 5:14, NASB95) These verses do not mean the light of Christ has been put out because He is not physically here with us. The truth remains that He is God fully alive sitting at the right hand of the Father with all of His eternal attributes. He was light from before the beginning and He will remain light throughout eternity. Light does not exist apart from God. But in a practical sense, as the God-man Jesus was a very real presence with those He came into contact with, and while He was present with them He was that light that drew people. But now that He has ascended we as Christians are the light of Him that the world sees. How we live our lives before them matters. The things we pursue matter. They matter to God. They matter to our spiritual health, and they matter to a world that needs to see the proof that God is real which is seen in His transforming power in us.

Spiritually, when we give ourselves back to sin we voluntarily submit ourselves to the slavery of that sin (Romans 6). We live as if we no longer hope in God and as if we were once again darkened. This does not mean that we can lose our salvation, but it does mean that the effects of sin are real in our lives. God says to us when we sin, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NASB95)

But if you have never trusted God for your salvation and you want to taste the freedom that comes from living in His light the answer is really simple. Scripture tells us that you just need to believe that Christ died from our sins and that He rose again just as the Bible says, and then ask believing that He will do what He said which is forgive your sins and give you new life in His Son. It’s that simple. “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (Romans 10:9, NASB95)

I pray for each of us that we might see know that light more and more and have the clarity of eyes with which Jesus spoke. “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.”

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