The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
The text of Matthew 5 – 7 comprises the whole of the Sermon on the Mount.
The first 18 verses of Matthew 6 address the way we are to worship and practice our religion. Our Lord said:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)
He told us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer and how to fast:
17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)
The second half of the chapter records Jesus’s instruction about treasure and anxiety as to our daily needs. It ends as follows:
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles [heathens] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34)
With regard to the verses on treasure, they begin with:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
and end as follows:
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses lie between the two.
Our Lord told His audience that the eye illuminates and informs the state of the body (verse 22). A healthy eye indicates a healthy body. In the KJV, the word ‘single’ is used for ‘healthy’. ‘Single’ does not mean one-eyed, it means a fully working, normal eye.
Matthew Henry explains (emphases in bold mine):
now if this eye be single, if it make a true and right judgment, and discern things that differ, especially in the great concern of laying up the treasure so as to choose aright in that, it will rightly guide the affections and actions, which will all be full of the light of grace and comfort but if this be evil and corrupt, and instead of leading the inferior powers, is led, and bribed, and biassed by them, if this be erroneous and misinformed, the heart and life must needs be full of darkness, and the whole conversation corrupt.
How we view the world informs our hearts and our minds.
On the other hand, if our eye is unhealthy, we do not understand the world or God’s purpose properly (verse 23). John MacArthur says it is a metaphor for spiritual illness:
if your eye is dark it is black, there’s no light that comes in you perceive nothing. And that’s the way it is with the heart, if your heart is toward God it lights your entire spiritual being, if your heart is toward the material things, toward the treasure of the world the blinds come down of your spiritual perception and you do not see, spiritually as you ought. Tremendous principle. He takes a physical illustration and He says that the eye is like a window, if that window is clean and clear the light floods the body, if the window is blacked out no light enters. This is a spiritual metaphor.
In this, as in so many other parts of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord is criticising the Pharisees’ practices. MacArthur tells us:
Now for the Pharisees, their heart was in the earth. They were phonies everyway you cut it, their morality was totally external, that’s what chapter 5 was saying. Their humility was nonexistent, instead of being salt and light they were part of the corruption and and the darkness. Instead of believing in the law of God they defied the law of God and substituted for it their own tradition. Instead of having a really internal heart set of principles they had nothing but an external code of sort of semi-spiritual ethics. Instead of having genuine worship they had a false standard and it was pure hypocrisy. Everything about them was outside, external, self-centered, and self‑motivated. And in contrast to that the Lord is saying, you must have a right heart. That’s why in chapter 5 verse 20 the key verse in all the Sermon on the Mount He says, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.'” Theirs is an external righteousness without a right heart, and what I want is a right heart. So your heart and your treasure go together and both need to be toward heaven. What our Lord is speaking of here is a single minded devotion to God and His causes that is undistracted by the world.
MacArthur says that Jesus gives us three messages about treasure.
The first concerns two treasuries. In this case, we are to resist the urge to pile up possessions which can deteriorate or be stolen. We should be providing for ourselves, our families and the future in self-sufficiency as well as exercising charity towards God’s people:
It is not wrong to accumulate money, it is not wrong to accumulate possessions which are then invested in divine causes and in God’s purposes, and God’s purposes are to care for our family and to care for our extended family in the church and to care for even those who are not of the family of God but have need, and to care for the causes of God around the world, and to invest in souls, those things are needful uses of what God gives us. But to stockpile selfishly accumulating with greed and covetousness, piles and piles of things treasuring up for ourselves on earth these commodities is that which our Lord says not to do …
The second — today’s verses — is two visions: one with light or one with darkness. The word ‘single’ (‘healthy’) comes from the Greek word haplous, which means generous. We have seen charity appeals which read, ‘Please give generously’. We have also seen instructions for topical creams which say, ‘Apply liberally’. MacArthur unpacks ‘single’ for us:
It is a word that means generous or liberal. He is saying then, if your eye or your heart, because the eye is illustrating the heart, if your heart is generous your whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding ...
Verse 23, “If your eye is evil, your whole body’s full of darkness.” And there you’re introduced to the evil eye, you’ve heard that phrase, haven’t you? Gave ’em an evil eye.
You know what the evil eye is? That’s a Jewish colloquialism, to mean grudgingly. For example in Deuteronomy 15:9 it talks about when you have a slave and it’s coming to the Jubilee Year and he is to be freed, that you have an evil eye toward him. That is you are ungenerous, stingy and you grudge him that freedom. In Proverbs 23:6 it says, “Eat not the bread of him who has an evil eye.”
The third involves the impossibility of serving two masters. ‘Serve’ in this context comes from the Greek doulos, implying slavery. Yes, we can work two jobs with no problem. However, in our Lord’s time, everyone understood the concept of bond slaves — bondservants — who were bound to one master. They could work for no other:
To be a bond slave, to be the property of a master was to be constantly, totally, entirely, 100% devoted to obedience to that one master, it would be utterly impossible to express that to two different masters.
That’s the illustration used in Romans 6 when it says, “Now that we have come to Christ, we must yield ourselves servants to him.” Because we are His slaves, we are no longer the slave of sin. God can only be served beloved with entire and exclusive devotion, He can only be served with single mindedness and if you try to split it with money you will either hate one or the other.
To conclude on the eye, Henry offers this analysis:
The eye, that is, the aims and intentions by the eye we set our end before us, the mark we shoot at, the place we go to, we keep that in view, and direct our motion accordingly in every thing we do in religion there is something or other that we have in our eye now if our eye be single, if we aim honestly, fix right ends, and move rightly towards them, if we aim purely and only at the glory of God, seek his honor and favour, and direct all entirely to him, then the eye is single[.] Paul’s was so when he said, To me to live is Christ and if we be right here, the whole body will be full of light, all the actions will be regular and gracious, pleasing to God and comfortable to ourselves but if this eye be evil, if, instead of aiming only at the glory of God, and our acceptance with him, we look aside at the applause of men, and while we profess to honour God, contrive to honour ourselves, and seek our own things under colour of seeking the things of Christ, this spoils all, the whole conversation will be perverse and unsteady, and the foundations being thus out of course, there can be nothing but confusion and every evil work in the superstructure … The hypocrite soars like the kite [bird], with his eye upon the prey below, which he is ready to come down to when he has a fair opportunity the true Christian soars like the lark, higher and higher, forgetting the things that are beneath.
However, the metaphor of bad eyesight — poor spirituality — affects not only those accumulating material goods but those who are eager to see them stolen or redistributed. To the latter, materialism is as all-consuming as it is to owner of ostentatious bling. Coveting others’ goods violates the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17):
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Next time: Matthew 7:1-6