Allen Raynor Weblog: “How Do You See Things?”
(Jan. 24, 2019)
A man was planning a visit to New York City and he asked a friend who knew the city well to tell him what kind of city New York really was. The friend told him that New York is both the best city in America and the worst city; he told him it would depend on what he looked for. In New York he could find some of the most beautiful churches in the world. He could hear some of the greatest preachers. He could see in the art galleries some of the most beautiful paintings. He could hear some of the world’s most glorious music played there. He could attend some of the finest dramatic productions the world affords. He could eat in some of the nicest restaurants. Indeed, if he looked for it, he could find in New York the good and the beautiful and the true. His friend told him on the other hand, in that same city, he could find some of the worst slums. He could see some of the most hardened criminals. He could visit some of the cheapest and the most vulgar night clubs. There he could associate with people who had sunk to the lowest level of life in every respect. If he wanted to look for it, he could find New York to be the very worst city there is. Therefore, whether his visit to New York was to be one of joy and inspiration, or one of despair and discouragement, ultimately depended on what he looked for.
People will often refer to something (politics; economy; a news story; a personal story; etc.) by saying “The way I see it . . .” then they will go on to share their opinion (give their 2 cents worth). The way people see things is based on such factors as their experience, their stage in life, their perspective, and much more. All of our senses come into play when we try and “perceive” or understand something. Perhaps, none of our senses plays a bigger role than our sight (seeing). A person may not believe what another one is telling them and, as a sort of “proof that no one can argue with” one blurts out with frustration “I have seen it with my own eyes.” I have made the statement on a few occasions myself that “I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes.”
People in ancient times saw things much like we see them, but they were much more superstitious where the “eye” was concerned. Today we can look at eyes, examine them, get corrective lenses, treat diseases of the eye, and more. Most of us probably see an eye doctor on a regular basis. But, for most all of human history, the eyes were very mysterious and little was known about them other than just very basic things. There is a very real sense though (they had it, and we still have it) that “seeing” and how we “see” and “perceive” things is very, very important. The “eye” is the organ with which we do that, but it is so much more than just the organ called the “eye.” When Jesus spoke of the “eye” in Mat. 6:22-23, He was talking about much more than the physical eyes. He says “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But, if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Mat. 6:22-23)
With the eye, we can do a lot of “good” things. It would be impossible to name them all but our eyes are used to glorify God. We are a very visual society. Everything from T-shirts to pick-up trucks come in different colors. Those who make the products know that people will make purchases based on color preferences. Over 20 years ago I worked for a period of time in a shoe store. Every day, without fail, someone would look at a shoe and ask “do you have this in a lighter/darker color?” “Do you have this in brown/black?” If you allow your eyes to do so, they will control your life. If you insist on having everything in the exact shade you desire, you are letting your eyes – your appetites – control your lives. But, if you have a good, disciplined, well-trained eye it will “serve your body, your mind, etc. If your eye desires dark/sinful things the eye will lead you down the wrong path into darkness. Jesus said it was better for a person to pluck out an eye, and live without it than to have both eyes and let them destroy your soul. In Mat. 5:29 He says “If your right eye [dominant eye] causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
Sadly, people are prone to want to look upon dark things, but several places in Scripture they are told to look away from sin and sinful things. Jesus says, for instance in Mat. 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
If a person has a “bad eye,” one that controls the body and leads it astray to sinful purposes, it can utterly destroy the whole person right down to their very soul! People can allow lust/desire for “things” to lead them to steal, manipulate, and become obsessed with how to get it. They may have to lie, cheat, or do who knows what to get it, but their eyes lust after “things” or “objects” so much that they become consumed. People allow lust, desire for sex, desire for a relationship with a man or a woman due to the lust of the eyes to lead them into bad (even terrible) unhealthy, hurtful relationships. People allow lust to lead them to pornography, to strip clubs, prostitutes, adultery, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and every sort of “pornea” which is the general term used in Scripture for sexual sin. People allow the lust of the eye to lead them to eat too much, drink too much, buy too much, get into too much debt, and watch too much TV. People allow the lust of the eye to put more emphasis on the “physical” realm ruled by Satan than on the “spiritual” realm ruled by God. Paul warned in Rom. 1:25 of a day when there would be those “Who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature [created things] rather than the Creator [God] who is blessed forever Amen.” John wrote in 1 John 2:16-17 “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
I have been both amazed and discouraged, along with other pastors and youth ministers I know, at how quickly strong kids in the youth group turn away from God and toward the world once they graduate high school, go off to college, or generally begin life on their own. Before you know it, many of these kids have dropped out of church, are having pre-marital sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and may not even really believe some of the most basic and fundamental tenets of the Christian faith any longer. Many of them quickly become money and/or possessions oriented and life becomes about fulfilling the “American dream,” and the Scripture they had been taught for years fades quickly out of sight. What causes this to happen on such a consistent and predictable basis? Nothing short of what John calls “the lust of the flesh” and “the pride of life.” They let their eyes take over their bodies, thereby allowing their eyes to take control of their whole lives. This is certainly not limited to young people. I have baptized people who gave every indication of having a true change of heart who were only months later posting vile things on social media and acting in all sorts of ungodly ways. I have seen and even counseled many young women who were committed to God and growing in their faith and service to the Lord by all appearance, yet a guy comes along into their lives, they believe the lies he tells them and almost instantly they drop church like a burning hot coal. What happens in these common instances? Quite simply, the devil has taken control of their eyes and their eyes are now controlling their bodies.
Maturity, dedication, and resolve are all things that help us control our eyes. If our strategy is to just be strong in the moment, when it comes, we are packed and ready for a trip to failure! Just as the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner comes to repentance, I believe it is safe to say, Satan and all his demons rejoice when people let what their eyes see, and lust after, be their god. In the last sentence of Mat. 6:23 Jesus is telling them that if the light inside them, the thing that keeps them going, is really a dark, devious, sinful thing then there are hardly words to describe that level of darkness. You then are identifying with the Prince of Darkness – Satan.
Commentator R. Kent Hughes writes, “The believer who has a generous spirit, who is not tightly grasping the things of this world, maximizes the reception of light (divine truth) in his life. The Scriptures are open before such a heart, for his is seeking the things above. Then not only does the eye of such a person receive light, but it radiates light to those around. This person is ‘a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.’ (Mat. 5:14). This person’s light shines before others in such a way that they see his beautiful works and glorify his Father in Heaven (Mat. 5:16), and as we might expect, a person with a generous spirit holds the things of life loosely bringing great joy to others and experiencing it himself.” (R. Kent Hughes; The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom; 220)
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor