THE LAMP OF THE BODY IS THE EYE
I-Bing Cheng, M.D., M.A.
We will study today the passage in Matthew
6:22-23. Here the Lord Jesus uses a metaphor to teach us something very important
about spiritual perception.
6:22. The lamp of the body is
the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of
23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body
will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness,
how great is that darkness!
The center of perception
What is the Lord Jesus trying to say to us here? The eye
is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, if your eye can see well, then
your body is going to be full of light. But if your eye is bad, if it is
sick, then your whole body will be full of darkness.
First, let us understand this picture very literally.
Then we will move from the physical to the spiritual. The eye, physically, is
the lamp of the body. If you look around you, you see light. The light is
being conveyed into your whole person, into your body. If you close your
eyes, what happens? Everything gets dark. You are in darkness. If you open
your eyes, everything is bright. You close your eyes, and you are in the dark
Jesus uses this common experience to remind us that the
eye is the center of our perception. It is the organ by which light enters
the body. And what our body does depends largely on our ability to see because
our eyes give us spatial orientation. Therefore the eyes guide the motions of
Now, let us move from the physical to the spiritual.
When Jesus speaks of the eye, He is of course not just talking at the
physical level. What is used here in its literal sense has also a spiritual
meaning. And the eye has an important spiritual sense in the Bible. It is
used in connection with our spiritual eyesight, i.e., the capacity to see and
to understand spiritual things.
We often make this kind of connection about the eye when
we refer not to the physical eye, but to the mind’s
eye. When I say, ‘Do you see what I mean?’ obviously I am not asking whether
you can see it with your physical eye. Words are not things that the eye can
see. When I ask that question, I mean, ‘Does your mind, the eye of your mind,
perceive what I said?’ In this case, you see with your intellect. Your mind
is now serving as your eye. Now, with spiritual eyes, you can see
spiritual truths. You can perceive the glory of God. And that is what Jesus
wants to talk to us about in this passage.
You remember that when Paul was commissioned to preach
the gospel, he was commissioned ‘to open the eyes’ of the blind. The Lord
Jesus said to him, I now send you,
to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light (Acts 26:17-18). Obviously, this
was not a question of opening our physical eyes, but to enable us to
understand the word of God so that we may receive forgiveness of sins. Jesus’
mission was also to open the eyes of the blind. When He quoted Isaiah, He
said, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery
of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18). Here again the reference is not to
physical eyes, but to spiritual understanding. In the same way, we read in
Ephesians 1:18 that Paul says to the Christians in Ephesus, ‘I pray that the
eyes of your understanding may be enlightened.’ The eyes of your spiritual
understanding being opened.
Many people do not understand the gospel not because
they lack intelligence, but because they have no spiritual perception. They
are spiritually blind in the sense that they do not understand spiritual
things. You may have physical sight. You may have intellectual sight. But
that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have spiritual sight. You can have a
perfect vision and be as blind as a bat when it comes to spiritual things.
You can be a very intelligent person but you are unable to make sense of the
spiritual truths of God. But when your spirit is alive, you have the capacity
to know God and to know yourself in relation to God.
This is what we find in Proverbs 20:27 where man’s
spirit is compared to a lamp. The
spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inner depths of
his heart. The human
spirit can have a certain knowledge of its condition
and state in reference to God and to salvation. This helps us to understand
the Lord’s teaching because we can see a parallel between the spirit and the
eye. We realize that as the eye is to the body, the spirit of man is to his
soul. Just as your eyes perceive material things, your spirit can perceive
spiritual truths. And the Lord Jesus, in our passage, is talking about
So it is about
vision, whether physical or spiritual. Let’s continue to look at the meaning
of this metaphor. We all know that the physical eyes can see sharply only if
the vision is focused. If they are not focused, we have a blurred vision.
That is why some people need glasses. Those of us who wear glasses can test
that very easily. You take off your glasses and your vision is blurred. Why?
Because your eyes do not focus well. And you have lenses in order to help
your vision to become sharp and focused.
The same is true
in the spiritual realm. When Jesus says, ‘If your eye is good,’ He means, ‘If
your eye is single.’ That is the translation that you will find in the
King James Bible. If you are going to see anything spiritually, then your
vision must be single. And the word ‘single’, applied spiritually, means singleness
of devotion, singleness of attention, singleness of heart.
The heart is
sometimes equivalent to the eye in the Scriptures. To ‘set the heart’ and to
‘fix the eye’ on something are parallel expressions. An example of this is
found in Psalm 119.
Psalm 119:10. With my whole heart I
seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments.
Psalm 119:15. I will meditate on your
precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.
In the same way, the Lord Jesus passes from the
importance of having our heart in the right place in Matthew 6:21 to
the importance of having an eye that is single in the following verse
(v. 22). If you are going to see anything clearly in the spiritual life, you
must focus totally upon God. Your eye must be single. And singleness of the
eye and heart means that you set your attention upon God for the purpose of
doing His will. This is a fundamental principle of spiritual vision.
The opposite of single vision is of course double
vision. The problem of double vision occurs when our two eyes do not look in
the same direction. One eye is looking at an object and the other eye is
looking at something else. And the result is that you see a single object as
two objects. This can also happen with our spiritual vision. Instead of having
our whole attention focused on God, we have one eye on God and another eye on
the world. Your loyalty is divided between God and someone or something else.
That is spiritual double vision.
In the immediate context of our passage, the other thing
is called mammon, i.e., the riches of the world. The loss of vision is caused
by the selfish ambition to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth. It plunges
us into moral darkness. But if
your eye is bad (if your
eye is not single), your whole body will be full of darkness. Here the
Lord Jesus deliberately uses the word ‘darkness’ because it is a picture of
blindness in the Bible. You find that in Psalm 69:23 for example. Let
their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see. Or in Acts 13:11 where
we read that a magician was trying to oppose Paul. Paul had to deal severely
with him and blindness came upon that magician. A darkness fell upon him
(that is, he became blind), and he went about seeking those who would lead
him by the hand.
When a man looks with a double interest upon both
earthly and heavenly treasure, it makes him double minded. In fact, he is
called a double-minded man in James 1:8. He is unstable in his commitment.
The double-minded person, the man with spiritual double vision, this kind of
person gets nowhere in the spiritual life. His whole life is in darkness.
The Lord Jesus warns us that we have to make a choice. A
choice has to be made between serving God and serving material things. Every
man without exception has committed his life to one of two treasures: mammon
or God. His heart, his eyes are focused upon earthly things or upon heavenly
things. And God does not accept a person who can’t make up his mind and end
up giving his attention to both. You have to make a definite choice. You
either serve God or you serve material things. But you cannot serve God and
mammon at the same time. When two masters call upon a man at the same time,
that person has to choose which master to favor. In
cleaving to one, he automatically rejects the other.
You cannot have one foot in the kingdom of God and the
other in the world. God does not accept the divided man. James says, let not that
man (the double-minded
person) expect that he will receive anything from the Lord (James
1:7). The only kind of Christian acceptable to God is the person who is
totally committed to God, whose eye is single.
light in you
So the warning
is that we have to choose between God and mammon. The implication is obvious
and it is this: make sure that you chose God instead of mammon. Now in the
parallel passage in Luke, we have also a warning, which has some similarities
with the one in Matthew. There in Luke 11:35, we read, Therefore take heed
that the light which is in you is not darkness. This is preceded by v. 34,
a verse that is almost identical to the passage in Matthew. The lamp of
the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also
is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of
darkness (Luke 11:34). And then comes the warning: watch out
that the light in you may not be darkness. Be on the watch that what you take in is light, not darkness.
You see, every
man thinks that he sees and that he has light. Every man thinks that what he
sees, what he believes, what he perceives is the truth. Jesus tells us that
it is not always the case. You may think that you see, but in reality you are
in the dark. It is like a person who is nearsighted but he doesn’t know that
he is nearsighted. He thinks that he sees well, but in reality, his vision is
It is all a
question of perception, whether we see with a healthy eye or a diseased eye.
The good eye is the single eye, the eye that concentrates on seeing the
light, the way of God and His righteousness. It can take in spiritual truth.
The bad eye is the evil eye. It centers upon the world and material things.
Its focus is on self and wealth.
the health of the body, whether it is full of light or full of darkness
depends on the content of what we perceive. In other words, what we are is
related to what we take in and accept as true. That is why having healthy
eyes is so important. If our eyes are good, we will see the light that Jesus
offers. If our vision is clouded by evil, we will miss that light.
Jesus’ light is
shining forth upon all of us. If we don’t see that light, it is not because
the light is not there. It is because something is wrong with our eyes, our
spiritual eyes. Our eyes are bad. And Jesus gives us this warning. Make sure
that what you see is seen with a good eye. Make sure that what is in you is
light and not darkness.
perception determines our spiritual fate. Therefore great care must be taken
to respond to the light that leads to truth. Jesus is the light of the world
and He has been placed for all to see. His teaching is given openly, but it
must be received. We are responsible for our spiritual condition by how we
respond to that light. If we take in Jesus’ light, we will be spiritually
healthy. We will be able to discern the choices of life with spiritual
perception. We will be able to give off light, reflecting God’s truth by the
way we live. But rejection of that light has a tragic ending: it produces
darkness and leads to certain destruction.
consecrated to the Lord
Here in Luke 11,
we also find that notion of singleness. If something is single, it implies
that it is whole. There is only one element, one piece, one unit. If your
eyes are one way here and one way there, they cannot be wholly looking at both
directions at the same time. Your vision is not in focus. But when it is
single, when it is whole, i.e., completely concentrated in one direction,
everything becomes clear. This word ‘whole’ appears twice in Luke 11:36.
Luke 11:36. If therefore your whole
body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it shall be wholly
illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.
word for ‘whole’ is sometimes translated by the word ‘complete.’ So the
person whose eye is single is also a person who is complete. His attention is
totally directed towards God. This is the vital principle of spiritual
vision. When your eye is wholly fixed upon God, no part of you is darkness.
The light of God’s truth will shine upon you with its rays and give you light.
Becoming a light to others
Jesus said to His disciples, ‘You are the light of
the world.’ How do we become light? We become light when we are filled with
light, when God’s light floods into our hearts because we are concentrated
upon Him. That is how we can function as light. That is how we can witness.
We witness to people about Jesus with our life, with our whole being filled
with God’s light. This is the kind of light we want to give.
What do we say to the non-Christians? We tell them
that the light is there. God is ready right now to let his light illuminate
the life of anyone who desires to respond to Him. However, even though there
is light, they are in darkness because they are spiritually blind. They can’t
see the things of God. Why? Because of sin. So long as sin has power over
your life, you can’t see the spiritual world. It is not because you lack
intelligence. It is because sin and selfishness prevent you from seeing the
glory of God.
If you come to
Jesus, He will open your eyes. He is the light to which man must open the
door of his dark heart. He is the light which man must take into his sinful
life. This is done as you kneel down before Him and say, ‘Lord, I am sorry. I
confess my sins to You. Open my eyes that I may see.’ God will touch your
heart and you will begin to understand spiritual things. You will be filled
with joy when you realize that you are beginning to understand the things you
could not understand before. You are no longer in darkness because you have
believed. The Lord Jesus declares in John 12:46, I have come as a light
into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. Spiritual
vision then comes when you turn your eyes away from the world, away from
self, away from materialism, and turn your eyes wholly upon God.
speak to each one of us and give us a clear perception of spiritual things.
We want our eye to be single. We want to come to Jesus, the light of the
world, with single-hearted devotion to Him.