When I was a teenager I had an excruciating experience. Due to an inflammatory bowel disorder my intestine had hardened and would no longer allow food to pass through my system. After enduring this pain alone on the floor of my bathroom for several hours, I finally dragged my aching body up the basement stairs and down the hall to my parents room. It was the middle of the night and I really didn’t want to bother them (which is why I stayed downstairs as long as I did) but I knew I had no choice. I needed help and I needed to get to a hospital quickly or this thing was going to kill me.
My dad drove me to a specialized Children’s Care facility over an hour away from our home where I could be treated by one of the leading paediatric physicians in Canada. Within hours I had tubes and wires all over my body and they began a battery of tests which required a lot of poking, prodding and physical discomfort. It was a horrible ordeal, but one that led to them finding a solution. The doctors were going to cut out 15 cm of what was essentially dead small intestine (along with my appendix) in order to give me my life back.
I don’t recall having a discussion around whether or not to have the operation; it was a no-brainer, we were going to say “Yes”. Yes, to be a big scar on my stomach. Yes, to making it more difficult to process foods. And yes, to many other potential side effects such as the ability to participate in sports and other physical activities. There were a lot of things we said yes too, but there was never any question as to the merit of having it done. I could either cut it out and live or leave it in and die.
I could either cut it out and live or leave it in and die.
My story is not uncommon in our day and age. Whether it’s Cancer, liver failure, appendicitis or gallstones there are no shortage of people who’ve waged bold fights against enemies who threaten to destroy their body. We are well acquainted with the wisdom of suffering a small loss in our flesh to prolong or improve the quality of life.
But what about the soul? What about the Spirit?
“What profit will a person have if he gains the whole world, but destroys himself or is lost?” Luke 9:25 (ISV)
When my doctor said we needed to cut out a part of my body in order to save my life I did not question his wisdom nor the benefit of the procedure. I knew it was for the best. Jesus also gives us instruction on this matter. Listen to what the Great Physician says regarding the greatest of all killers:
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you. It is better for you to lose one of your body parts than to have your whole body go into hell.” – Matthew 5:30 (ISV)
Wow, that’s a radical statement! (or is it?)
For so long I have heard teachers and preachers claim that Jesus was merely trying to make His point by using extreme and graphic imagery. After all, Jesus does not want us to inflict physical harm upon ourselves. Right? Before you answer that question, let us not forget that this is the same Man who came to lose His life so that we could find ours. Let us also not forget that He was the One who was cut off so that our sin would no longer have to separate us from the Father.
I think we have wrongly concluded that Jesus was exaggerating to make a point. Jesus doesn’t need to exaggerate. He speaks and whatever comes out of His mouth happens. He has all authority and His words are truth. Exaggeration is not truth, is it a form of lying. No, Jesus was speaking a profound truth to us that we need to lay hold of. It is the truth that sin is our greatest enemy and we should take whatever measures available to us in order to overcome that enemy. That enemy is not our hand nor eye, it is our will and the desires of our hearts (James 1:14-15)
It is better for you to lose one of your body parts than to have your whole body go into hell.
Are we so foolish to think that our wisdom in dealing with physical ailments does not apply in the realm of the soul and spirit? No! Sin is the greatest killer and sin requires us to take radical action. We need only listen to the Great Physician of our souls to find the suitable treatment; it is the treatment of Matthew 5:30. It would be better if we cut the things out of our lives that are producing a harvest of unrighteousness. It would be better if we adopted a Biblically vigilant attitude towards sin that reflects our radical approach to diseases like Cancer.
Sin is a disease much greater than Cancer, and it’s robbing the Church of her power and glory — yet few want to do anything about it. Often when asked to deal with the problem of sin we hear responses like “It’s too costly”, “If we did that we would lose SO many people”. Beloved, are we not already losing them? Are we not already paying a huge price for the epidemic of untreated sin? If it does not profit a man to gain the world while forfeiting his soul, what are we gaining by having pews filled with the sick and dying while proclaiming that we walk in the council of the Great Physician.
The instruction of Matthew 5 is not radical when we agree with Jesus on the devastating power of sin. We have wrongfully assumed that His prescribed treatment was too harsh, when we should have understood that He was revealing the catastrophic nature of the disease along with the no-holds-barred attitude we should have towards it’s presence in our own life. In Jesus’ eyes, the prescription fits the problem.
John Piper in his book “The Pleasures of God” comments on this very situation:
“…Jesus, the Great Physician is ready and waiting to prescribe the best healing process available. It may have painful side effects, but that does not mean it is the wrong prescription, only that the disease is so bad that severe intervention is required.”
Is our attitude towards pervasive sin in agreement with Jesus? Are we perhaps dealing with our physical ailments more aggressively than are spiritual ones? As I think about these things I am reminded again of my surgery and the decision that was presented to me. I could cut it out and live, or I could leave it in and die. I believe that is precisely the question Jesus was raising when He advised His listeners with the words “it is better’.
We need to ask ourselves a tough question: “If I dealt with a life threatening health issues in the same manner as I deal with my sin issues, what would happen?”
Isn’t it time we gave that same kind of attention to our spiritual health?
It may have painful side effects, but that does not mean it is the wrong prescription – John Piper
We have long championed those who’ve overcome medical adversities. We hold parades and proudly march wearing pink ribbons in remembrance of those who fought and won (and even those who fought and lost). Many of us, like myself, use the scars we bare in our flesh as opportunities to tell our stories; stories of perseverance in the face of adversity and how we overcame. I believe it is time for the Body of Christ to stand up and put our battle scars on display. It’s time for us to boast in the blood red cross of Jesus and declare to the weak and dying that we have overcome by His blood and that they can too. We need only acknowledge that we are sick and in need of a doctor, turn from our sin and receive the prescription given to us by Jesus the Great Physician.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:1-3
We all have things that require spiritual surgery. It is my prayer that you would be filled with the grace and faith to believe in the goodness of Jesus, the Great Physician, and that His words and ways are the best prescription for experiencing life to the full. He said it was “better” that we suffered the pain of carnal loss than to experience the eternal loss produced by our sin. Let us not be afraid to go under the scalpel of His word and receive the promise surgery spoken by the prophet Ezekiel:
“I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” – Ezekiel 11:19-20