Scripture is interpreted in many ways, and the scripture talking about plucking your right eye out or cutting your right hand off is no exception (Matthew 5: 29-30). What it sounds like and what it means are two different things. You can take it literally or metaphorically. God says that he only spoke plainly to one person (Moses, Numbers 12:6-8), so why would any of us believe that he would speak literally through others? God spoke to people in the old and new testament in stories, dreams, imagery, miracles, and signs. Jesus taught mostly in parables. So, knowing that, why would we believe suddenly he is going to speak to us plainly?
The intention behind the word of God is not for us to get attached to the specific words, but to aid our understanding of the reason behind the words. The unfortunate consequence of not speaking plainly is that many of us will understand the stories based on our own knowledge and experiences. There are also issues with having a lack of relatability and empathy, which can cause us to view these stories differently.
The Body Of Christ Is Not Related
There is a misconception that cutting a body part off and discarding it is related to the body of Christ. Such a belief allows us to expel people we see as bad influences on living a righteous life. If someone in the church sins, cut them off the body and throw them aside. This interpretation is much closer to a literal interpretation than a metaphorical interpretation of Matthew 5:29-30. This interpretation contradicts how Jesus explains we should deal with sin in the church (Matthew 18:15).
Advocating Self Mutilation?
You could also believe in the exact literal interpretation that if your eye or hand causes you to sin, remove them from your body and throw them away. An example of this might be if you look at another person lustfully, cut your eye out to prevent it from happening again. If your right hand is used to kill someone, cut your hand off to prevent it from happening again. This self mutilation would also be contrary to other biblical scripture, such as the teaching that our bodies are temples of the holy spirit. Why would God ask you to desecrate your temple that belongs to God? [Philippians 3:2, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Leviticus 19:28, Deuteronomy 14:1, Proverbs 8:36]
Interpretation That No Scripture Speaks Against
This is what biblical scholar and Theologian Adam Clarke says about Matthew 5:29-30:
We must shut our senses against dangerous objects, to avoid the occasions of sin, and deprive ourselves of all that is most dear and profitable to us, in order to save our souls, when we find that these dear and profitable things, however innocent in themselves, cause us to sin against God.
There is no law against removing yourself from a situation that is causing you to sin. Keeping yourself from temptation is actually very scriptural. However, this scripture is referencing things that we grow a very deep attachment too. That could be anything in your life that on its own is not a sin, but in connection to the way you are doing it has become a sin.
For example, dancing is not a sin, but if you use dancing to convey a sexual message that leads to adultery; you should probably stop dancing. Drinking alcohol is not a sin, but if you drink until you are drunk, that is a sin. Working for money is not a sin, but if working for money prevents you from always doing as God wants you to do, that is a sin.
These things that cause us to sin become very important to us. We get so attached to them that they are like a body part that we just can’t do without. Asking ourselves or others we love to do without them becomes like the suggestion we need to lose a limb to save our lives. It is a very tough decision for many and involves a lot of discomfort and fear. However, avoiding things that cause us to sin save our eternal lives. This is also not an excuse to cut yourself off from a sinner.
Dealing With Sin or Escaping Sin
We aren’t always equipped to help others with sin. Additionally some sins might be especially hard for us to help each other through. If a man who has trouble with sexual immorality met privately with a woman who has trouble with sexual immorality to help her avoid this sin, that is likely a dangerous and inappropriate situation. It creates a temptation for both parties to fall back into sin instead of creating a way out.
Some of us are not particularly helpful, we aren’t good listeners. Additionally, we struggle with empathy and understanding. We also have trouble communicating our message correctly. Those of us that fall in this category shouldn’t be put in the position of trying to help others through sinful situations. This could backfire and push those people further into sin.
There is HOPE for all!
All of us are sinners and we cannot live beyond our mortal lives except through Jesus. If you are struggling with sin due to one of these “body parts”. You should know that Jesus is also aware of your situation. Jesus will provide you help and a means for escape, look for it and accept it. If someone you know is dealing with these attachments that cause them to sin, don’t end the conversation with them by ending your relationship. They need you and they need the Lord.
A person with these attachments may never decide to remove that attachment, but you don’t want to believe one day that you could have done more to help them. Even worse, you don’t want God to ask you why you stopped trying when you could have done more.
1 Peter 2:1-3
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
We can mature in our salvation if we work together. We can’t do it without each other and we can’t do it without Jesus.