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Holy Hyperbole!

"Hyperbole" is a common figure of speech. We use it all the time. Oops — I just used one! Hyperbole is exaggeration used on purpose for the sake of emphasizing a point. Here are some examples of hyperbole: * "If I've told you once, I've told you a million times." * "She is older than the hills." * "He's strong as an ox." * "She's quick as a cat." * "That suitcase weighs a ton," etc., etc. Hyperbole stresses a point by exaggerating. It is the verbal equivalent of a highlighted section of text in a bold and brilliant color.

Jesus used hyperbole in Matthew 5:27-30 to issue one of the most startling and challenging demands in all His teachings. In that passage He is illustrating that true conformity to God's law goes further than outward obedience to a list of "Thou shalt not's." The passage reads this way: You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." Do what, Jesus?! Those are graphic images — take a scalpel or a knife and remove an eye if that eye is influencing you to sin; or take a saw and amputate your hand if that's what it takes to keep from sinning. What goes here? Would Jesus have us be into self-mutilation of our physical bodies?

The answer is no, No, NO, NO, NO, NO! In no Bible passage does Christ call followers to physically maim their bodies. The passage is a powerful example of hyperbole. In this case, holy hyperbole, because what Jesus demands of His true disciples is to take temptation and sin seriously, especially the sexual kind. By means of holy hyperbole Jesus reminds us that adultery does not begin in a bed or the back seat of a car. It begins with a look that lingers. The look then turns to lust. The lust leads on to adultery with the one who is the object of our lust — if not in an actual motel room or physical hide-away, at least in the secret and unseen chambers of the heart and mind. Back to the passage quoted earlier, Christ warns that we should get serious about sexual sin. The greatest threat of adultery, actual or mental, is that those who practice it will ultimately be 'cast into hell." That's an outcome our sexually liberated, sex-saturated culture has all but completely air-brushed out of its sexual mentality. Be that as it may, Jesus demands His disciples to pluck some things out and cut some things off. A voluntary amputation, not of physical eyes and hands, but habits and behaviors and places and maybe even some people who pressure us to sin sexually, whether in our minds or with our bodies. Maybe cutting off some TV shows or internet sites or some magazines or music or movies. How serious are you about avoiding the sin of adultery, even in your heart? Christ warns us to avoid it at all costs — and He uses holy hyperbole to stress the point. Is there anything or anybody in your life you need to pluck out and cut off to avoid adultery? Think about it.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ