29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
-- Matthew 5:29 KJV
When I first started reading the Bible I’d get stuck on particular versus and couldn’t go forward. For example, when I read the verse above, I thought a couple of things. One was to engage in thought experiment trying to visualize it’s meaning. I started with a question. How could an eye offend me at all let alone to the point I’d want to rip it out of my head? Was it insulting me? I imagined it floating in front of my face taunting me, calling me names. That didn’t work. Another was to relate it to my past experiences. For example, I had heard of people actually plucking out their eyes while they were on LSD or some other hallucinogen. But, never when sober or straight. After hours of trying, thinking like that got me nowhere and to make some progress I had to accept that there would be verses I wouldn’t understand.
As I matured in my walk, I realized that Jesus often taught in parables and metaphors. Matthew 5:29 was an example. He, I came to understand, was speaking figuratively, not literally. He was using a concrete example to explain a spiritual concept.
For the above verse, the NIV translates the word ‘offend’ as ‘cause to stumble’. Which, means to sin. The verse really means that if anything in our lives causes us to sin, get rid of it. And not just things that are expedient or easy to part with, but also the precious things. Things as precious as our eyes.
I visited a man in prison one Saturday. Five times he’s been in. As his parole approaches, he’s becoming more determined that, this time, he’s going to stay out. He got in touch with me to help him formulate a plan to succeed.
When he first gets out of prison, he explained, things are fine. But, when he’s inevitability tempted, as everyone is, he almost always commits another crime. He said, “I know I it is ultimately my fault. But, I need to stay away from people that get me in trouble.” Those people are his ‘eyes’ and he wants to pluck them out.
We all have eyes to pluck out, some more or less than others. What kinds of things do we need to pluck out? Below are some common ones:
Drugs are idols. They are things that people run to when they’re stressed or tired or happy. What makes drugs an idol is that those who use them have faith in their power to make their lives better. And, like idols, they don’t work.
Of course, it’s a sin to get high or drunk. Drugs impair judgement, change personalities and are mostly illegal. They destroy families and hurt loved ones. In other words, they make people stumble.
Sex out of wedlock is fornication and fornication is a sin (1 Cor 6:9). Like drugs, it feels good but only for a little while and when the high dissipates you’re stuck with the aftermath. There are consequences like STDs and the simple fact that children born of fornication often grow up in poverty. Jealous partners might have to be dealt with, too.
Sex is powerful and can be used to manipulate others. Men and women will sometimes use their lover’s desires to fulfill selfish wants. Fornication causes people to stumble.
Having money is certainly not a sin. But, Jesus said it was hard for a rich man to get to the kingdom (Mat 19:24). That’s not because he had money but because the money became more important to him than God. The pursuit of money for the sake of being wealthy is a sin. And, it doesn’t work. All anyone has to do is to read about all the wealthy people who end up in jail or dead because money didn’t bring them happiness. Money causes people to stumble.
There is a biblical order to things: God, spouse then family. We are to love God with everything we have (Deu. 6:5). Then we are to love our spouses (Eph 5:22, 25). Then our Children. When marriages go bad, chances are this order wasn’t present. Following the most important commandment, we must pluck out anyone or anything that tries to disrupt it.
All of us had or do still have things in our lives that make us stumble. We need to identify them pluck them out.
How do you do that?
First, you must pray. The Bible doesn’t proscribe the number of times a day you should pray but I suggest 2. Pray once in the morning, having a conversation with God about the day that’s about to begin. Tell Him where you are going, who you might run into and what you are going to do. Make a plan with him for anything that comes up that might make you stumble. Second pray before going to bed. Tell God about your day, what you stumbled on and what you did well on. Ask him about the things you should do next time to prevent stumbling.
Second, you must read the bible. Read every day even if only for a few minutes. It’s by reading the bible that you learn to hear God’s voice when you pray. So, it’s essential to read.
Thirdly, find a man of God as a mentor: You need a man of God in your life. Paul said we battle not against flesh but against powers (Eph 6:12). It’s our minds that are attacked. By ourselves, we can take any piece of scripture and justify any behavior. You need a man of God in your life to hold you accountable, to make sure you are interpreting the Word properly (2 Tim 2:15).
Lastly, find a church. A church provides fellowship, instruction and correction. It is a community in itself filled with people who won’t make you stumble.