The third reason Jesus Christ warns His followers about an improper concern for possessions occurs in verses 22 and 23. It has to do with our spiritual vision. Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be healthy, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
The biblical commentator William Barclay writes of these versesThe idea behind this passage is one of childlike simplicity. The eye is regarded as the window by which the light gets into the whole body. The color and state of a window decide what light gets into a room. If the window is clear, clean, and undistorted, the light will come flooding into the room, and will illuminate every corner of it. If the glass of the window is colored or frosted, distorted, dirty, or obscure, the light will be hindered, and the room will not be lit up… So then, says Jesus, the light which gets into any man’s heart and soul and being depends on the spiritual state of the eye through which it has to pass, for the eye is the window of the whole body.1
Let me ask you a question. Do you see spiritual things clearly, or is your vision of God and His will for your life clouded by spiritual cataracts or nearsightedness brought on by an unhealthy preoccupation with things? I am convinced that this is true for many Christians, particularly those living in the midst of Western affluence. Now and then a person like this complains to me that they cannot understand the Bible, that God seems far away, that he is confused about the Christian life or about God’s will for him. Well, it is no surprise. What is more, it will always be this way for one who knows his way around a supermarket or a brokerage house more than he knows his way around the New Testament. Jesus warned of it. And while He did not direct us away from possessions themselves, He did warn against losing our spiritual vision because of them.
There is another thought in this section. It comes from the word that the King James translators rendered “single” and the translators of the Revised Standard Version, Phillips, and New English Bibles as “sound.” It is the word haplous, related to the noun haplotes. In places, the words mean “simple” or “simplicity.” But there are other texts in which the only possible translation is “generous” or “generosity.” The translators of the New Scofield Bible recognized this truth when they came to Romans 12:8. In that verse the word “simplicity” (which was used in the King James Version) is changed to “liberality” so that the text now reads, “He that giveth, let him do it with liberality.” It is the same meaning in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally.” And the word occurs in this sense at least three times in 2 Corinthians (8:2; 9:11, 13) and once in Colossians (3:22).
I believe that it is this sense of the word that is present here in Christ’s teaching. The “single eye” is the “generous eye.” If this is the case, then Jesus is promoting a generous spirit in regard to our money. How can you tell whether riches have clouded your spiritual vision? By the extent to which you are generous with the goods you have been given.
1William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1958), vol. 1, 245.