“Woe 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! 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. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (verses 7-9)
Oh, don’t we know that the world creates “things that cause people to sin!” It’s continually at work, creating more and more. Our lives get inundated at every turn.
There are so many angles on this, but let’s narrow the focus to media. I’m thinking of digital media of all kinds, including internet, movies, social, streaming services, you name it.
How does media “cause people to sin”? Let me count some of the ways. Social postings that stoke gossip or bigotry or hatred or inferiority. Movies that stoke ungodly worldviews. Political stories that stoke divisive partisanship. Sexual images that stoke lust. Advertisements that stoke greed. “Lifestyles of the rich and famous” that stoke covetousness. Can you think of others? Please further the list yourself.
Is any of this a problem for you? Certainly, some of it is for me.
Jesus’ statements about cutting off appendages or gouging out eyes are metaphors. He’s not urging us to physically maim ourselves. But he is urging us to take decisive action. Don’t just put up with the deluge of “things that cause people to sin.” Put up barriers. Avoid. Resist.
How? The answer seems clear: cut-off the offending input. It’s awfully hard to entirely eliminate media from our lives, given society’s dependence on it for communication of all kinds. Though, it seems that Jesus might look us in the eye and tell us that it’s better to experience such inconvenience, and perhaps even social isolation, than to be pummelled by input that keeps hampering our ability to follow him as closely as he desires.
But there may be other steps we can take that are slightly more surgically focused. Back in the days (long, long ago!) of video cassettes, I remember a friend saying he had made the decision never to go by himself into one of the stores that rented them – he would too easily linger in the aisles, captivated by the sexual images on many of the movie covers. It did his soul no good. So, he cut-off his own freedom of unrestricted entry and would only enter a video store with his wife or a trusted friend.
That story has stuck with me. I need to reactivate it, reshaping it for the present day. Scrolling through Google Images or Netflix listings on my own isn’t helpful – I’m too easily distracted. Reading a slew of news commentaries about political antics on either side of the border (Canada or USA) too easily causes prideful thinking, despising those on the other side of the political divide, causing me to set aside love-of-neighbour. How about for you? Are there streaming services that need to be avoided, Facebook feeds that need to be un-friended, or advertising flyers that need to be trashed? Or do you need to break the habit (and power) of media entirely, taking time off to fast and de-tox?
Ultimately, this is not an area for rules and legalism. Rather, it’s an opportunity to listen to Jesus afresh. He’s the one who’s given the instruction. He knows the current climate. He knows “the things that cause people to sin” much better than we do. So, ask him for his tailor-made instruction for you, right where you are.
Lord Jesus, I confess that I am often swamped by images and stories and worldviews from the media which distract me from following you as closely as you desire. Give me eyes to see the sources. Give me wisdom to know how to “cut-off” what needs cutting-off. Strengthen me by your Spirit in my inner being. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: What’s giving you problems at the moment? Take time to ask Jesus for his specific instruction. What needs to be cut-off? How is he asking you to do it?