1. The 'Problem' Text.
Of course there are no "problem" texts - I know that! The problem is us! But here it is (Matthew 18:8-9);
"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell".
Obviously this is Jesus talking.
2. What 'They' Say about it.
So the first hero that I heard use this text was Terry Virgo when Scott and I visited CCK earlier in the month. Now I fully admit that he didn't say; "Go out and do likewise". But he also didn't explicitly say that Jesus was not advocating this practice in the New Covenant. He said;
"Jesus is looking for ruthlessness. He calls for a radical commitment! Loving but truly revolutionary! We are saying "Jesus whatever you say".
And then went onto use Matthew 18 as an example of that radicalness.
John Piper also used this text. He was speaking in the panel discussion at the "Sex and Supremacy of Christ" conference back in 2004. And he said this;
"Jesus used things like 'Cut off your hand and gouge out your eye' ... but because if you have a good heart you will have the guts to gouge out your eye. We are in war here and tactics to manage your television tonight will either be fruitful or not fruitful".
Now hear me out. I think I can understand what both Piper and Virgo were saying and were trying to do. They were urging and encouraging a radicalness and an approach towards holy living that is no compromise. But why are they using that verse as a mark of that radicalness?
The other use of this verse was when I was in the SGM church. It was in my final meeting with the church pastor and elder and they were doggedly insisting that they "suspected" I was living in sin. I kept on insisting that I had never confessed to such sin and they had no proof of such sin. At that point the church pastor used another saying of Jesus which again I believe is totally out of context. He said; "Oh yere but Jesus said if you even look at another man with lust in your heart then you have committed adultery". I didn't like to point out that actually it said "another WOMAN". But he went on to say "the Bible says if your hand causes you to sin then you must cut it off or if your eye causes you to sin then you must gouge it out".
Let me be candid - I don't see either John Piper or Terry Virgo or SGM pastors missing arms or legs or eyes. So therefore logically we are left with three conclusions. Either their arms, legs and eyes do not cause them to sin. Or the parts of their bodies that they removed are covered by clothes and we cannot see the abscence of said parts. Or thirdly they are being disobedient to what Jesus said and they are not practicing what they preached.
Let me also say that I am not by any means trying to be disobedient to Scripture and distort it as some Lesbian/Gay Christians do. I fully accept and agree that these verses are clear in the Bible. But I was distressed and upset to listen to Al Mohler's lecture - "Homosexual Marriage - A Tragic Oxymoron" - recently at the "Sex and Supremacy of Christ conference" hosted by John Piper. I wanted to listen to it to see if he had anything useful to say to the gay community - for which I have such a heart for. Some of what he said was good. He urged Christians to;
"Love homosexuals more than homosexuals love homsexuality".
Would that happened! In the three churches I have been in so far in my life if you confess you struggled with homosexuality they usually tended to turn pale and run away. But Mohler disappointed me. I hear C J Mahaney and SGM-ers wax lyrical about what an amazing scholar of the Word he is. Yet he did a very cliche Christian thing and quoted all the texts against homosexuality without making it clear that it comes set in a list of all other sins. One such text he used was 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Yes indeed it does say that homsexuals will not inherit the "kingdom of God" (although I'm not sure that means they won't go to heaven if they are truly born again).
But it ALSO says that fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will either inherit the kingdom of God. So am I expected to believe that ALL Christians have been sexually pure? That ALL Christians have NEVER looked at someone other than their wife with lust in their hearts? That ALL Christians men have ALWAYS been butch and macho - loving sports?! That ALL Christian men have never stolen a bit of extra tax where possible or the odd hour on a timesheet? That ALL Christians have never looked at someone else's possession with desire? That ALL Christians have NEVER got drunk? That ALL Christians have never used a swear word?
I know some may say I am being petty. But these are the neighbors of homosexuality. And if we are going down for having a same sex attraction then so are those pointing the finger. That is the beauty of the Law! It is a "composite whole". And frankly - if any Christians trying to live under law have done any of the above then you have as good as committed homosexual sin as well. What I am trying to say is that it is time that homosexuality stopped being exalted to a position that it does not deserve.
It isn't a "superior" or "worst" sin than any of the others because if it was then Jesus would have had to have done something more than simply dying on the Cross. But He didn't! He stretched out His arms and said; "It is finished!". God didn't add any extra repenting that homosexuals have to do post-conversion. He simply said "Repent and believe!". There's an interesting discussion going on at "Grace Revolution" where someone asked "Will practicing homosexuals go to heaven?". I felt God saying the issue is not "will practicing homosexuals go to heaven?" but rather "will practicing SINNERS go to heaven?". Because if you die on your deathbed a consistently proud and arrogant man who really believes deep down you are better than everyone else even though you constantly admit it and tell everyone you are doing "better than you deserve" then are you any better than the practicing homosexual who can't "mortify the flesh"?
I am digressing ...
3. What I tried to Do.
Why do I care so much about this? Because to me it isn't just a cerebral matter. I shared my testimony a while back and I actually tried to do what Jesus said in this passage. My apologies to the squeamish here! A part of my body was causing me to sin and I couldn't seem to control myself and I tried all sorts of ways to "mortify the flesh". I tried prayer, fasting, exorcism, I tried going to a Christian celibate group (which ended disasterously) and running out of options I couldn't see any other option than what Jesus said here.
I wussed out but I still bear the scars and got referred to psychiatric services from my G.P for my troubles!
My point is this. Does that make me a better Christian for at least trying? Or am I more of a failure for not having the guts (as Piper and Virgo both said) to actually do it? What really worries me is that some Christians may just get desperate enough to begin cutting and plucking. And then when they are done, they will find that their mind causes them to sin quite easily enough without arms or eyes. And then being panicked by the Scripture that says; "I say to you if you look at another woman with lust then you have committed adultery in your heart". The only option then is suicide.
4. Maybe There is Another Answer?
Rob Rufus showed me for the first time in 30 years of sitting under so-called "Word ministry" another way to view how Jesus was preaching and teaching. When he was speaking at the Newfrontiers conference in Europe with Dave Holden, he said this;
"Now I believe in living a holy life. But as soon as you focus God's people on trying to live upto something higher, you are no longer preaching the New Covenant - you are preaching the Old Covenant. When Jesus Christ said; "It was said you shall not commit adultery but I say if you even look at something with desire you have committed adultery". People say; "See He was preaching the highest standard of the New Covenant". He was preaching the New Covenant! He was preaching the true spirituality of the law of Moses. If you believe that is the highest standard. He was preaching the New Covenant - to be honest and consisten with that belief - you must pluck your eye out, cut your hand off next time you sin with it!
He taught that too! He was preaching to the bigoted, arrogant Pharisees. You think you can be ready for the New Covenant by your law keeping? The standard of the law is so high that you have no hope but to turn to grace! You need the New Covenant! You had no miracles for 300 years between covenants. The God of miracles doesn't work through your law-keeping anymore. You have got to wait for an angel to come and stir the waters to get healed. There is a reason why this message sounds so radical to some people.
It is because we have had centuries of mixing Old Covenant and New Covenant. It is a confusing cocktail that cripples the Church with condemnation and throws a sack of hopelessness over God's people and suffocates faith".
Jesus was trying to show the Pharisees that even their attempts to keep the Old Covenant law wasn't enough. There is only one option! There is only one answer! And it is the best answer of all. That we begin believing a total message of grace. That we begin believing that God isn't mad with us anymore and that the war is over! That we begin believing "It is finished!" really means just that - it is finished! And that we begin believing that the more sin conciousness we have, the more we are going to struggle living upto a standard we simply cannot. But once we begin to relax and enjoy the benefits of our inheritance then we will see holiness begin to come so easily.
PS: I suspect that others are out there who are also crippled by condemnation and have resorted to mutiliating your body through self-harm to try and "be holy". I just wanted to share that I know what you are going through and what you have tried to do. If I can be of any help at all, please do email me. I would be glad to chat.