In Context

'When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the double-drachma tax approached Peter and said, "Doesn't your Teacher pay the double-drachma tax?"

"Yes", he said.

When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, "What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons, or from strangers?"

"From strangers," he said.

"Then the sons are free," Jesus told him. "But, so we won't offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish you catch. When you open the mouth you'll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you."

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them. "I assure you," He said, "unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child - this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.

"But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me - it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea! Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses must come, but woe to the man by whom the offense comes.

"If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and thrown it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes  and be thrown into hellfire."
Matt. 17: 24 - 18: 9

I don't know how many bazillion times I've read this passage, but I don't think I ever really paid attention to the context until my most recent read-through. People like to talk about Matt. 18: 8 - 9 a lot. 'If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off...' It's scary, and harsh, and, somehow, it never really clicked with me. I understand the concept of weeding things that cause you to sin out of your life...but cutting off body parts? Really? I know this is probably just a word picture for things that have become a big part of your life, not literal body parts. But still...

Then I sat back and looked it this in a different way. I looked at the context. My mind kicked into high-speed thinking mode. Things started clicking into place.

What if the 'downfall' caused by the erring body part is a reference back to the 'woe to the man by whom...offense comes'? What if this passage is less about weeding out sin, and more about looking out for other Christians?

'Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don't eat, and we are not better if we do eat. But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, won't his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ dies, is ruined by your knowledge. Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won't cause my brother to fall.'
I Cor. 8: 8 - 13

Sound familiar? I thought it did!

Body parts are not, in and of themselves, evil. They can cause evil, but they are not evil. There are things in my life that are not, in and of themselves, evil, but they can cause evil in the life of another believer. I need to be aware of this, and be willing to cut things out of my life that will cause the downfall of a fellow-Christian.



Beautiful, because of the emphasis placed on authentic, sacrificial love.

Sobering, because of the enormous responsibility being placed on me. It's a God-size responsibility.

Thankfully, I know the God who can show me how to carry it.

'No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.' John 15: 13

Lay down my entertainment choices...for my friends, my family in Christ. Why? Because slowly, slowly, day-by-day, I'm learning to love you like Jesus does. Sacrificing fleshly pleasure for your greater good is a small price to pay in light of what Jesus sacrificed for me.

I'm not going to say that I've found the best interpretation of this Matt. 18: 8 -9 passage, because I don't know that I have. All I'm saying is that I've looked at the amputation described there with new eyes, and discovered beauty and responsibility where I'd only seen confusion.

Isn't that worthwhile?