As I describe the story below, you’ll thank me for not providing a picture. If you choose to go look this up, you won’t like what you see.
Have you ever heard of necrotizing fasciitis? It is a bacteria that feeds on flesh and spreads fast. In almost every case, the only solution is to cut off the affected region in order to save the life of the patient. This is a real disease that is very rare, less than 1000 cases a year in the US. Once this disease begins, it almost always leads to either the loss of a limb (cut off the affected area before it spreads) or death.
Why do I bring this up? Because Jesus did. Well not exactly by name but certainly by symptoms. These verses taken on face value have always been hard to swallow. However they are set with other parables where Jesus uses analogies to teach a point.
“And 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 crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matt 18:8-9)
Much like the disease, the affected part must be cut off and discarded quickly in order to save the rest of the body. This analogy has actually two applications. In both cases, we are not talking a small wound. We are talking about a life threatening disease that if not handled properly, will destroy the body.
Since there are several places where both Jesus and Paul talk about us Christians as the body of Christ, we can apply this analogy to the Church as a whole. In real life, our body will have injuries and diseases all the time, but in extremely rare cases, these can become life threatening. Likewise, the body of Christ will often have parts that are injured or diseased. And usually these are treated and cared for to restore to the best possible health. However, there are rare cases where this diseased part of the body is so devastating and destructive, that it must be ‘cut off’ in order to protect the body.
A great example of this would be a false teacher. Paul mentions some false teachers who still preach the gospel but for selfish purposes. But these would not be the cases Jesus suggests need to be cut off. Paul says, “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:18) However there are false teachers who actually preach false doctrine. While the first group still teaches truth but for selfish purposes, the second group is teaching a lie.
Paul mentions this second group in his letter to young Timothy. “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim 6:3-5) These are the ones that Jesus is saying must be cut off of the Body of Christ.
There are times where we hold something in such high value it is like a part of our own body. Things in our life that we see as so vital it is as important to us as our own body part. Sometimes this ‘precious’ things can be causing us to stumble and therefore need to be cut off.
A common example could be (for some people) our very freedom of choice we have in God’s grace. Because of God’s grace, because His love is completely unconditional, we have the freedom to live as we choose. For example, this means we can eat what we want and drink what we want without care of the Law. By itself, this grace is wonderful and freeing. However, if this freedom reaches a point where it begins to cloud His glory from others, then that freedom has become like a flesh eating disease and must be cut off.
The churches of Corinth were extremely strong about their freedom in grace. Paul points out in one of his letters that while they are right, there are still limits.
“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Cor 13:8)
Paul is saying that while he has the freedom to eat meat, he would forgo that freedom (cut it off) if that freedom were to cause a brother to stumble.
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