Exposition of Matthew 6:22

Jesus said:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, 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!” Matthew 6:22-23

Let the following expositors of Scripture explain the text.
Adam Clark – Albert Barnes – Matthew Henry
A. T. Robinson – William Burkitt

Adam Clarke

Matthew 6:22 – If-thine eye be single] aplouv, simple, uncompounded; i.e. so perfect in its structure as to see objects distinctly and clearly, and not confusedly, or in different places to what they are, as is often the case in certain disorders of the eye; one object appearing two or more-or else in a different situation, and of a different colour to what it really is. This state of the eye is termed, Mt 6:23, ponhrov evil, i.e. diseased or defective. An evil eye was a phrase in use, among the ancient Jews, to denote an envious, covetous man or disposition; a man who repined at his neighbour’s prosperity, loved his own money, and would do nothing in the way of charity for God’s sake. Our blessed Lord, however, extends and sublimes this meaning, and uses the sound eye as a metaphor to point out that simplicity of intention, and purity of affection with which men should pursue the supreme good. We cannot draw more than one straight line between two indivisible points. We aim at happiness: it is found only in one thing, the indivisible and eternal GOD. If the line of simple intention be drawn straight to him, and the soul walk by it, with purity of affection, the whole man shall be light in the Lord; the rays of that excellent glory shall irradiate the mind, and through the whole spirit shall the Divine nature be transfused. But if a person who enjoyed this heavenly treasure permit his simplicity of intention to deviate from heavenly to earthly good; and his purity of affection to be contaminated by worldly ambition, secular profits, and animal gratifications; then, the light which was in him becomes darkness, i.e. his spiritual discernment departs, and his union with God is destroyed: all is only a palpable obscure; and, like a man who has totally lost his sight, he walks without direction, certainty, or comfort. This state is most forcibly intimated in our Lord’s exclamation, How great a darkness! Who can adequately describe the misery and wretchedness of that soul which has lost its union with the fountain of all good, and, in losing this, has lost the possibility of happiness till the simple eye be once more given, and the straight line once more drawn.

Albert Barnes

Matthew 6:22-23. The light of the body, etc. The sentiment stated in the preceding verses–the duty of fixing the affections on heavenly things–Jesus proceeds to illustrate by a reference to the eye. When the eye is directed singly and steadily towards an object, and is in health, or is single, everything is clear and plain. If it vibrates, flies to different objects, is fixed on no one singly, or is diseased, nothing is seen clearly. Everything is dim and confused. The man, therefore, is unsteady. The eye regulates the motion of the body. To have an object distinctly in view, is necessary to correct and regulate action, Rope-dancers, in order to steady themselves, fix the eye on some object on the wall, and look steadily at that. If they should look down on the rope or the people, they would become dizzy and fall. A man crossing a stream on a log, if he will look across at some object steadily, will be in little danger. If he looks down on the dashing and rolling waters, he will become dizzy, and fall. So Jesus says, in order that the conduct may be right, it is important to fix the affections on heaven. Having the affections there–having the eye of faith single, steady, unwavering–all the conduct will be correspondent.

Single. Steady, devoted to one object. Not confused, as persons’ eyes are when they see double.

Thy whole body shall be full of light. Your conduct will be regular and steady. All that is needful to direct the body is that the eye be fixed right. No other light is required. So all that is needful to direct the soul and the conduct is that the eye of faith be fixed on heaven, that the affections be there.

If therefore the light that is in thee, etc. The word light, here, signifies the mind, or principles of the soul. If this be dark, how great is that darkness! The meaning of this passage may be thus expressed: The light of the body, the guide and director, is the eye. All know how calamitous it is when that light is irregular or extinguished, as when the eye is diseased or lost. So the light that is in us is the soul. If that soul is debased by attending exclusively to earthly objects–if it is diseased, and not fixed on heaven–how much darker and more dreadful will it be than any darkness of the eye! Avarice darkens the mind, obscures the view, and brings in a dreadful and gloomy night over all the faculties.

Matthew Henry

We must take heed of hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness in choosing the end we look at. Our concern as to this is represented by two sorts of eyes which men have, a single eye and an evil eye, Mt 6:22,23. The expressions here are somewhat dark because concise; we shall therefore take them in some variety of interpretation. The light of the body is the eye, that is plain; the eye is discovering and directing; the light of the world would avail us little without this light of the body; it is the light of the eye that rejoiceth the heart (Pr 15:30), but what is that which is here compared to the eye in the body.

1. The eye, that is, the heart (so some) if that be single aplouv free and bountiful (so the word is frequently rendered, as Ro 12:8; 2Co 8:2,11,13; Jas 1:5, and we read of a bountiful eye, Pr 22:9). If the heart be liberally affected and stand inclined to goodness and charity, it will direct the man to Christian actions, the whole conversation will be full of light, full of evidences and instances of true Christianity, that pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father (Jas 1:27), full of light, of good works, which are our light shining before men; but if the heart be evil, covetous, and hard, and envious, griping and grudging (such a temper of mind is often expressed by an evil eye, Mt 20:15; Mr 7:22; Pr 23:6,7), the body will be full of darkness, the whole conversation will be heathenish and unchristian. The instruments of the churl are and always will be evil, but the liberal deviseth liberal things, Isa 32:5-8. If the light that is in us, those affections which should guide us to that which is good, be darkness, if these be corrupt and worldly, if there be not so much as good nature in a man, not so much as a kind disposition, how great is the corruption of a man, and the darkness in which he sits! This sense seems to agree with the context; we must lay up treasure in heaven by liberality in giving alms, and that not grudgingly but with cheerfulness, Lu 12:33; 2Co 9:7. But these words in the parallel place do not come in upon any such occasion, Lu 11:34, and therefore the coherence here does not determine that to be the sense of them.

2. The eye, that is, the understanding (so some); the practical judgment, the conscience, which is to the other faculties of the soul, as the eye is to the body, to guide and direct their motions; now if this eye be single, if it make a true and right judgment, and discern things that differ, especially in the great concern of laying up the treasure so as to choose aright in that, it will rightly guide the affections and actions, which will all be full of the light of grace and comfort; but if this be evil and corrupt, and instead of leading the inferior powers, is led, and bribed, and biassed by them, if this be erroneous and misinformed, the heart and life must needs be full of darkness, and the whole conversation corrupt. They that will not understand, are said to walk on in darkness, Ps 82:5. It is sad when the spirit of a man, that should be the candle of the Lord, is an ignis fatuus: when the leaders of the people, the leaders of the faculties, cause them to err, for then they that are led of them are destroyed, Isa 9:16. An error in the practical judgment is fatal, it is that which calls evil good and good evil (Isa 5:20); therefore it concerns us to understand things aright, to get our eyes anointed with eye-salve.

3. The eye, that is, the aims and intentions; by the eye we set our end before us, the mark we shoot at, the place we go to, we keep that in view, and direct our motion accordingly; in everything we do in religion, there is something or other that we have in our eye, now if our eye be single, if we aim honestly, fix right ends, and move rightly towards them, if we aim purely and only at the glory of God, seek his honour and favour, and direct all entirely to him, then the eye is single; Paul’s was so when he said, To me to live is Christ; and if we be right here, the whole body will be full of light, all the actions will be regular and gracious, pleasing to God and comfortable to ourselves; but if this eye be evil, if, instead of aiming only at the glory of God, and our acceptance with him, we look aside at the applause of men, and while we profess to honour God, contrive to honour ourselves, and seek our own things under colour of seeking the things of Christ, this spoils all, the whole conversation will be perverse and unsteady, and the foundations being thus out of course, there can be nothing but confusion and every evil work in the superstructure. Draw the lines from the circumference to any other point but the centre, and they will cross. If the light that is in thee be not only dim, but darkness itself, it is a fundamental error, and destructive to all that follows. The end specifies the action. It is of the last importance in religion, that we be right in our aims, and make eternal things, not temporal, our scope, 2Co 4:18. The hypocrite is like the waterman, that looks one way and rows another; the true Christian like the traveler, that has his journey’s end in his eye. The hypocrite soars like the kite, with his eye upon the prey below, which he is ready to come down to when he has a fair opportunity; the true Christian soars like the lark, higher and higher, forgetting the things that are beneath.

III. We must take heed of hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness in choosing the master we serve, Mt 6:24. No man can serve two masters. Serving two masters is contrary to the single eye; for the eye will be to the master’s hand, Ps 123:1,2. Our Lord Jesus here exposes the cheat which those put upon their own souls, who think to divide between God and the world, to have a treasure on earth, and a treasure in heaven too, to please God and please men too. Why not? says the hypocrite; it is good to have two strings to one’s bow. They hope to make their religion serve their secular interest, and so turn to account both ways. The pretending mother was for dividing the child; the Samaritans will compound between God and idols. No, says Christ, this will not do; it is but a supposition that gain is godliness, 1Ti 6:5. Here is,

1. A general maxim laid down; it is likely it was a proverb among the Jews, No man can serve two masters, much less two gods; for their commands will some time or other cross or contradict one another, and their occasions interfere. While two masters go together, a servant may follow them both; but when they part, you will see to which he belongs; he cannot love, and observe, and cleave to both as he should. If to the one, not to the other; either this or that must be comparatively hated and despised. This truth is plain enough in common cases.

2. The application of it to the business in hand. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. Mammon is a Syriac word, that signifies gain; so that whatever in this world is, or is accounted by us to be, gain (Php 3:7), is mammon. Whatever is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is mammon. To some their belly is their mammon, and they serve that (Php 3:19); to others their ease, their sleep, their sports and pastimes, are their mammon (Pr 6:9); to others worldly riches (Jas 4:13); to others honours and preferments; the praise and applause of men was the Pharisees’ mammon; in a word, self, the unity in which the world’s trinity centres, sensual, secular self, is the mammon which cannot be served in conjunction with God; for if it be served, it is in competition with him and in contradiction to him. He does not say, We must not or we should not, but we cannot serve God and Mammon; we cannot love both (1Jo 2:15; Jas 4:4); or hold to both, or hold by both in observance, obedience, attendance, trust, and dependence, for they are contrary the one to the other.
God says, “My son, give me thy heart.”

Mammon says, “No, give it me.”

God says, “Be content with such things as ye have.”

Mammon says, “Grasp at all that ever thou canst. Money, money; by fair means or by foul, money.”

God says, “Defraud not, never lie, be honest and just in all thy dealings.”

Mammon says, “Cheat thine own Father, if thou canst gain by it.”

God says, “Be charitable.”

Mammon says, “Hold thy own: this giving undoes us all.”

God says, “Be careful for nothing.”

Mammon says, “Be careful for everything.”

God says, “Keep holy thy Sabbath-day.”

Mammon says, “Make use of that day as well as any other for the world.”

Thus inconsistent are the commands of God and Mammon, so that we cannot serve both. Let us not then halt between God and Baal, but choose ye this day whom ye will serve, and abide by your choice.

A. T. Robinson

Matthew 6:22 Single (haplous). Used of a marriage contract when the husband is to repay the dowry “pure and simple” (tn phernn hapln), if she is set free; but in case he does not do so promptly, he is to add interest also (Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary, etc.). There are various other instances of such usage. Here and in Lu 11:34 the eye is called “single” in a moral sense. The word means “without folds” like a piece of cloth unfolded, simplex in Latin. Bruce considers this parable of the eye difficult. “The figure and the ethical meaning seem to be mixed up, moral attributes ascribed to the physical eye which with them still gives light to the body. This confusion may be due to the fact that the eye, besides being the organ of vision, is the seat of expression, revealing inward dispositions.” The “evil” eye (ponros) may be diseased and is used of stinginess in the LXX and so haplous may refer to liberality as Hatch argues (Essays in Biblical Greek, p. 80). The passage may be elliptical with something to be supplied. If our eyes are healthy we see clearly and with a single focus (without astigmatism). If the eyes are diseased (bad, evil), they may even be cross-eyed or cock-eyed. We see double and confuse our vision. We keep one eye on the hoarded treasures of earth and roll the other proudly up to heaven. Seeing double is double-mindedness as is shown in verse Mt 6:24.

William Burkitt

Matthew 6:22 In the foregoing verses, our Saviour acquainted us what in our affections and judgments we should esteem as our chief treasure: now this judgment concerning our chief treasure, is by our Saviour here compared to the eye; as the eye is the candle of the body, that enlightens and directs it, so our understanding and judgment of the excellency of heaven, and the things above, will draw our affections towards them, and quicken our endeavours after them.

Note thence, that such as our judgment is concerning happiness, such will our desires and endeavours be for the attainment of that happiness. Our affections are guided by our apprehensions; where the esteem is high, endeavours will be strong.

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