The Seriousness of Sin
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (v. 7). - Matthew 18:7–9
Jesus was largely a traveling preacher of the kingdom during His earthly ministry. Thus, He taught many of the same lessons again and again to different crowds. As such, we ought not be surprised to find that He used similar, though slightly different, analogies to convey the same truths, tailoring the metaphors to each specific audience and situation. For example, His warning about leading others into sin in Matthew 18:6 is remarkably akin to 5:19–20, wherein our Lord warns those who might teach others to relax God’s commandments.
Even more striking is the similarity between 18:7–9 and 5:27–30. What was earlier said about lust in the Sermon on the Mount is now applied more broadly to all manner of sins. Graphically, Jesus tells us it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven without a hand or foot than to keep what inclines us towards wickedness and find our whole bodies in hell (18:8–9). Again, as we said in our study of Matthew 5, Jesus does not commend self-mutilation here. It is possible to cut off a limb and still lose the battle with transgression.
Instead, Christ is using a powerful analogy to encourage us to cut off sin before it overcomes us. Depending on our situation, this may mean moving to another town, taking another job, or making some other righteous, but difficult, life change, if that is what it takes to escape the wickedness in our lives. Matthew Henry comments, “We must think nothing too dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience.”
Leading others into sin is particularly grievous, as John Calvin exclaims in his commentary on 18:5–6: “What dreadful vengeance then awaits those who by offenses shall bring ruin on their brethren!” Yet it also horrible to lead one’s own self into evil by refusing to put to death the sin in one’s life (vv. 8–9). Whether we cause others, or ourselves, to stumble, Jesus pronounces a great woe upon us (v. 7). It is necessary that trials come — they are a consequence of this fallen world that God, as part of His plan, uses to produce in us endurance and wholeness. But His sovereign permission does not absolve us of the guilt of our actions. We must never assume that our sin is the Lord’s fault because He allows it; sinners alone are culpable for their evil decisions (Acts 2:23).
Dr. John MacArthur echoes Jesus’ somber warning in Matthew 5:29: “Sin must be dealt with drastically because of its deadly effects” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,131). Refraining from speaking privately with a certain person might be what keeps you from gossiping; throwing away your computer may be the right course of action if you struggle with looking at pornography. Whatever it takes, all of us must do what is needed to flee sin and temptation.
Passages for Further Study
- Proverbs 5
- Galatians 6:7–8