As a new believer, I must have gotten into a dozen such conversations about these very amazing words of Jesus:
“If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.”
Matthew 18: 8
Jesus then goes on to say that if your eye causes you to sin, to gouge it out for the same reasons, it being preferable to enter eternal life blind than to miss eternal life and be thrown into eternal fire. To what believer have these words not caused some alarm? How have you dealt with this question? Do you take Jesus’ words figuratively? Do they simply show his hatred for sin? I remember one young man lamenting, “God, if my mind causes me to sin, may I chop off my head and get it over with?” He had been thinking lustful thoughts and his eyes were already closed at the time. Would gouging out his eyes help? He didn't think so.
I don’t think Jesus was speaking figuratively here, but please put the cleaver down. I don’t think He is advocating for just everyone who sins (that would be like all of us) to amputate anything. Reading these verses in proper context, we see that Jesus is talking specifically to child abusers and pedophiles.
Are you surprised? There is a reason. In most modern Bible translations, there is a man made subject heading between verses 9 and 10, which takes the wind right out of Jesus’ advocacy for children. Read right from verse 9, on through verse 10, ignoring the heading. That is how it was written! The original scriptures didn’t have verse numbers, chapters, or subject headings. These were added to help students of the Bible. Usually they are helpful, but in this case, the subject heading may actually do harm.
Jesus had started this discourse by calling a little child over to Him and declaring that we needed to become like a child. Then He severely warns anyone who might harm a child. Verse ten is not about the parable of the lost sheep as most captions say. Jesus continues about children, saying:
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.”
There is no greater advocate of the children than God! Jesus is stating in no uncertain terms, that God’s heart is so strong for children that anyone who sins so against a child, should not want to face Him at the Judgment. He says:
“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned into the depths of the sea.”
Millstones are huge! We have to start thinking like eternal beings when it comes to God’s judgment. People who whine, “How could God allow bad things to happen to children?” need to hear this. He doesn’t allow it! Judgment is set in place! Yes, He has granted men to have free will. But God is not surprised by human evil. See what Jesus says there in verse 7? He is not surprised at the level of depravity people are capable of:
“Woe be to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!”
Jesus says this while the child is standing before them. Jesus’ words of judgment are most severe, when talking about those who would harm a child. It is to such sinners that Jesus talks about cutting off hands and feet that would attack a child, or sick eyes that look at children with intent to sin. He is saying that if these folk want any part of eternal life, but they are leaning toward such wickedness, that they must do what it takes to see that they don’t hurt a child. Heaven is so very much what God wants for people, and hell is so not what we were created for, that it is worth taking extreme measures in order to be with God. In the Westminster Shorter Catechism we read: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” This is what Christians believe.
”Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.”
It is good to read scripture and to apply what you read to your own life. It is good to ask God if something you read may apply to you or not. But in this instance, Jesus is talking about those who might sin against children. He’s saying in no uncertain terms that they must not!
Scripture is very clear that believers are to speak up for those who cannot defend themselves. We must be extra diligent to be actively looking out for and speaking up for children who are at risk or in danger. These children need a voice and God expects us grown ups to be there for them.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
I’m told that men who are in prison, who have molested or abused or killed a child; are the most reviled men there. The other inmates, when they learn of that man’s crime, strive to make their lives miserable. These sinners against children are most hated, among others who freely admit that they too have been lawbreakers. One Christian brother there confesses that his anger at these men burns so, that he has to refrain from joining others in attacking known pedophiles.
I think that his rage is not ungodly. It just needs redirection. From what Jesus is saying, it is so vile to purposely attack a child that He presents these extreme measures to those who claim to want to enter God’s kingdom, and yet who might harm kids in this way. Yet our brother is right not to join in on the taunting and beating of those who have been convicted of such crimes. As children of God, we are to leave justice up to God. And we need to agree with Him, that He knows best as to what to do about such crimes against children.
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
Notice that the Lord Jesus, in telling such people to gouge out eyes and cut off feet and hands, is still extending heaven to even these vile sinners, should they comply. Does His mercy know no end?
Matthew 18:2-10 is a most wonderful passage of scripture, advocating for children. Cross out in your Bibles, that man-made subject heading between verses 9 and 10. And when the subject comes up, speak out for the children. God knows bad things will happen. But He assures that “woe be to” those who do this harm to children. He doesn’t allow it! Judgment is coming.
If you love children and mean no harm to kids, your eyes and limbs are safe. If you are struggling in other ways, fellowship with God’s people, prayer, and bringing dark deeds into the light of God’s presence, will bring healing. For more immediate results, simply set your shower dial to blue. Then cry out to God. He hears the repentant.