Guard The Gate
When I was young, I was really into sports. The walls in my bedroom were plastered with pennants from every NFL and MLB team. I never missed a Boston Red Sox game or a Dallas Cowboys game on TV and would literally cry whenever they lost. I had a monthly subscription to Sports Illustrated and would read every issue from cover to cover. I’ll never forget the day I came home from school and walked in the front door and saw the latest Sports Illustrated on the counter where my mom left all the mail. It was my first exposure to what has now become the world-renowned Swimsuit Edition and after taking one look at the cover I headed straight to my room with far more anticipation than usual to see what was in the magazine. As I began to thumb through the pages, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw; absolutely nothing! My wide-eyed excitement turned into disappointment when I discovered all the pictures of girls in swimsuits had been cut out and I immediately knew who was responsible. So I marched downstairs with my mutilated magazine and said to my mom, “What did you do to my Sports Illustrated?” My mom replied, “You know, when I picked that up from the post office today and left it on the counter for you I began to wonder what might be in it so I looked through it and was shocked by what I saw and decided you didn’t need to see any of those pictures of immodestly dressed women. So I took some scissors and cut them out and threw them in the trash!” In that moment, I wasn’t grateful for a wise, godly mom who wanted to guard her son’s eyes, but I am now.
When our kids were young, we were careful about the kinds of TV shows and movies they watched. If something inappropriate came on the screen unexpectedly we would quickly change the channel or tell them to cover their eyes. At one point, we even had a little sign on top of our TV with Psalm 101:3 on it which says, “I will set no unclean thing before my eyes.”When our kids starting using computers and the internet we subscribed to a filtering service called Covenant Eyes which our family still uses today. Services like that can be very helpful in our efforts to guard our eyes when surfing the internet. But all of us are regularly exposed to all sorts of indecent, uncensored content through social media, streaming services, television commercials, billboards, movie theaters, magazine racks in airports and the checkout lines at grocery stores, walking through the mall, working out at the gym, our workplaces, and our school campuses. Because we are being constantly bombarded by provocative images, it is vital that we learn how to guard our eyes because they are the gateway into our hearts.
Here’s the principle: What we feed our eyes fuels our hearts. Furthermore, what we feed our eyes not only fuels our hearts but it will eventually rule our hearts. But the question is what comes first, the heart or the eyes? What controls or influences what? Does the heart control the eyes or do the eyes control the heart? Do the eyes follow the heart or does the heart follow the eyes? Does what we look at influence our heart or does our heart influence what we look at? Obviously, our eyes will be drawn to what our hearts desire but our eyes also draw our hearts away from the Lord. When we let our eyes wander our heart is sure to follow. Wandering eyes lead to wandering hearts.
Let’s take a moment to develop a theology of the eyes, or what could be called optheology. Recently, my wife was dealing with some eye problems and after hitting a dead end with our optometrist, we decided to go see an ophthalmologist. Optometry and ophthalmology is the branch of medicine dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders. Optometrists examine the eyes and prescribe corrective lenses for the eyes. Ophthalmologists perform corrective surgery on the eyes. For the sake of our discussion, biblical optheology is based on all the verses in the Bible that mention the words “eyes,” “see,” and “look.” The first mention of eyes in the Bible is in Genesis 3:6 which says, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” When the angels rescued Lot and his family from God’s wrath that was about to be poured on Sodom and Gomorrah, he warned them, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away” (Gen. 19:17). Sadly, Lot’s wife failed to heed their warning and “looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26). God told Moses to have the people of Israel sew tassels on the ends of their garments to serve as visual reminders of His commandments. “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot” (Numbers 15:39). When Joshua confronted Achan for taking things God had placed under a ban during Israel’s conquest of Jericho, Achan confessed: “I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it” (Joshua 7:20-21). Samson’s legendary strength was used mightily by God to deliver the Israelites from Philistine oppression but his lustful eyes hindered and limited his usefulness and eventually led to his downfall. Judges 14:1-3 records that “Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, ‘I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.’ Then his father and his mother said to him, ‘Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she looks good to me.’” Later it says, “Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her” (Judges 16:1). How tragically ironic it was that when the Philistines finally captured Samson they gouged out his eyes (Judges 16:21). David’s failure to control his eyes resulted in him getting another man’s wife pregnant. “Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, ‘I am pregnant’” (2 Samuel 11:2-5). Job, on the other hand, made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman (Job 31:1). He went on to defend his integrity by saying, “If my step has turned from the way, or my heart followed my eyes, or if any spot has stuck to my hands, let me sow and another eat, and let my crops be uprooted. If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or I have lurked at my neighbor’s doorway, may my wife grind for another, and let others kneel down over her” (Job 31:7-11). In Proverbs 6:25, the father appeals to his son to avoid the adulterous woman by saying, “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, nor let her capture you with her eyelids.“ Old Testament wisdom literature clearly states that “the eyes of man are never satisfied” (cf. Proverbs 27:20; Ecclesiastes 1:8, 4:8). That’s why one more look is never enough.
In the New Testament, Jesus bluntly said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:27-29). He also said, “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34). The Apostle Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). Peter accused false teachers of having “eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14). After commanding his readers to not love the world, John said, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).
According to these biblical references, there is a clear connection between our eyes and our hearts. Puritan pastor, Thomas Manton said the following:
One great means of mortification is guarding the senses—eyes and ears, taste and touch—that they may not betray the heart into sin….There are no means to keep the heart—unless we keep the eye….If we let the senses wander, the heart will take fire. Above all senses, the eye must be guarded….The eye, as it is used, will either be a help or a snare: either it will let in the sparks of temptation—or enkindle the fire of true devotion. These are the windows which God has placed in the top of the building….The eyes have a great influence upon the heart either to good or evil—but chiefly to evil. In this corrupt state of man, by looking—we come to liking, and are brought inordinately to love what we behold.…These are the spies of the heart—agents to bring it and the temptation together; the eye sees, and then by gazing—the heart lusts, and the body acts the transgression (Mortified Eyes).
In his Works, Manton pleaded with his own eyes and pleaded with his congregation: “Eyes, be you faithful to my soul, that there be nothing that may stir up carnal and impure thoughts, that there be no unclean objects that may fire my heart….Therefore set a watch upon your eyes, that sin break not in upon your heart.”
Our eyes are the portal or entryway into our hearts. That’s why it is so important for us to not let any images pass through our eye-gate that will end up defiling and ultimately dominating our hearts. Looking with our eyes leads to lusting in our hearts which leads to living out what is in our hearts. In Mark 7:21-23 Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” The key to guarding our hearts is guarding our eyes (cf. Proverbs 4:24, 26). We protect our hearts by protecting our eyes. If we want to be holy as God is holy, we must be deliberate and intentional about guarding the gateway to our hearts. In a TableTalk article entitled “Guarding Our Eyes”, Albert Martin writes, “It soon becomes clear to every true child of God that if he is to be serious about personal holiness, sanctification, and growth in grace, he must become serious about guarding his eyes. As he becomes familiar with the contents of his Bible, he soon discovers the strategic place of the eye-gate in biblical revelation.”
With this in mind, let me suggest some practical ways we can guard our eyes? Generally, we should thank God for creating our eyes (Psalm 94:9; Proverbs 20:1) so we could see His glory in creation (Romans 1:20). We should also thank God for graciously opening our blind eyes to see the light of the gospel of Christ (Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Now that we have been delivered out of darkness into His marvelous light, we should feast your eyes on God’s Word which further enlightens our eyes (Psalm 19:8) and regularly pray with the psalmist “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law” (Psalm 119:18) and that God would “Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity” (Psalm 119:37). We need to be like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress when he was walking through Vanity Fair he put his fingers in his ears and turned his eyes upwards to show that his trade and traffic were in heaven while He exclaimed, “Turn my eyes away from beholding vanity!”
Now let me be more specific. Perhaps a simple acrostic—FOCUS—will serve as a helpful reminder in our effort to guard our eyes and subsequently our hearts.
1. FIX your eyes on Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews exhorted us to lay aside whatever encumbers and entangles us by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Staying fixated on Jesus and staying satisfied in Him will keep us from being fixated on and seeking satisfaction in other things besides Christ.
2. OFFER up your eyes for God’s holy purposes.
Paul told the believers in Rome, “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God….For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Romans 6:13, 19). Paul also told the Colossian Christians to “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). In other words, we must consecrate or dedicate our eyes to honoring and obeying and serving God rather than serving and satisfying ourselves.
3. CONTROL your eyes.
Proverbs 4:25 says, “Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.” Paul likened the Christian life to running a race or a boxing match and he said, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). We must learn to exercise self-control over our eyes. We must not let our eyes wander or linger. We must not take that second look. We must look away, and even close our eyes, if need be.
Matthew 18:9 says “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell” (cf. Mark 9:47). Some well-intended saints have misinterpreted and misapplied this verse and literally maimed themselves. But what Jesus was simply saying is that we must remove or cut ourselves off from anything that has the potential to cause us to sin. Our eyes are constantly looking for things to lust after that will gratify the sinful desires of our hearts. The Bible warns us to “make no provision for our flesh” (Romans 13:14). Specifically, we must not provide our eyes with any opportunities to feed our flesh. We need to be honest about those things we are tempted by and be willing to get radical in the way we escape temptation. What we view on our phones, tablets, computers, and televisions is often the main source of temptation in our media-driven culture. So we need to take whatever steps necessary to guard our eyes, even it means unsubscribing from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or uninstalling streaming services which cause us to stumble, or perhaps unplugging or disconnecting all together.
5. SET nothing impure before your eyes.
David said, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes” (Psalm 101:3). This might be a good verse to write down on a Post-It and put it wherever we are most often tempted. Like Job, we must make a covenant or commitment to guard our eyes from seeing wickedness of any kind. The prophet Habakkuk appealed to God’s holiness and righteousness by saying, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). We should plead with God to give us His eyes.
A biblical optheology would not be complete without considering the most important set of eyes; the eyes of the Lord. The Bible frequently refers to what our eyes should and shouldn’t do, but it also mentions what God’s eyes do. Psalm 34:15 says, "The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous.” Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” These verses remind me of the classic Sunday School song:
O be careful little eyes what you see
O be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
So, be careful little eyes what you see
But let us consider one more verse as we close. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” Our eyes are not supposed to roam or wander but God’s eyes do. He is not looking for anything to lust after but He is looking for anyone whose heart is fully dedicated to Him so He can help us be who He calls us to be. Guarding our eyes is impossible to do in our own strength. We need to rely on the strength and support that God provides us.