Matthew 6:22-24

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. [1]

The Lord’s words in Matthew 6:19-21, which we looked at last week, give us a revealing mirror of God’s law reflecting our treasures and the condition of our souls. We heard Jesus tell us not to store up earthly treasures, which are temporary, but to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. He then gave us the principle, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

If we want to know where the center of our being is, all we have to do is take an honest look at what we truly treasure. Once we see what we treasure, then we will not be surprised at the fact that the church is riddled with materialism and narcissism because it is filled with people who struggle against their sin nature.

Rather than address our materialism and narcissism, the modern church encourages works with our hands rather than work upon our hearts. We want our nice upper middle-class members to feel good about themselves, so we encourage them to go out and do social justice (whatever that looks like to a particular church) because it is a more pleasant exercise than considering what the law says my heart of flesh truly looks like. We like keepable rules rather than the perfect standard of God’s law.

Worse still are the churches that outright appeal to our materialism and narcissism by preaching that God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy. They prey upon the materialism of the desperately poor by suggesting they can become comfortably rich and/or healthy if they will give what little they have so that the preacher can buy his or her new Gulfstream. God will have to pay them back in spades. The preacher needs his or her treasures on earth. And when it turns out that God hasn’t paid them back, the preachers blame their victims by claiming the victims simply didn’t have enough faith to make their dreams come true.

One Christian writer puts it this way:

The Lord is my banker, my credit is good…. He giveth me the key to his strong box. He restoreth my faith in riches. He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for his namesake.[2]

In the middle of this section warning against materialism, Jesus uses the metaphors of a human eye and of a slave master to expand upon his point. Verses 22 and 23 tell of two kinds of vision. One is clear and the other is dark. And verse 24 tells of the possibility of two masters, God, and mammon (currency). These three verses deal with the development and maintenance of spiritual vision that is unclouded by selfishness or covetousness.

THE MEANING (6:22-23)

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

The metaphor is simple but beautiful. The eye is pictured as the window through which light comes into the body. If the window is clean and the glass is clear, the light that comes in will properly light the room. If the window is dirty, or if the glass is flawed or tinted or discolored, the light will be hindered and the room will not receive the lights full benefit.

The amount and quality of light that comes into a room depends on the condition of the window through which it comes. So it is with the eye. The condition of the eye determines the quality of the light that enters the body. If you are color blind, all the reds and greens of Christmas are lost upon you. If you have cataracts, the light that comes in will be increasingly hazy and unfocused. If you are blind, then everything is darkness. There are no colors, no shapes, and no motions.

Jesus is giving a lesson on spiritual optics. The light that comes into a person’s soul depends on the spiritual condition of the eye through which it has to pass. The eye is the window of the body. That’s the basic meaning. But there is a deeper meaning in the word-play used. “The thought which connects them is of single-mindedness, which comes to the surface in the subtle word-play on haplous, ‘single, sound,’ in v. 22. Disciples, as subjects of God’s kingship, are totally committed to his service, and must allow no other concerns to distract them from this prior aim (see 6:33).”[3]

The metaphor of light is complicated by its linkage with the function of the eye as “lamp of the body,” and a further nuance is added by the adjectives which may be rendered “sound” (or, “clear”) and “bad”, which allow a play on the usage of the Greek words to introduce the further theme of generosity and meanness.[4] That “clear” here means “generous,” and “bad” means “ungenerous.” The Greek word translated “clear” was often used to mean generous in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Proverbs 11:25: “A generous man will prosper“). The word carries the same meaning in the New Testament. In James 1:5 God is described as one “who gives generously to all.” The same idea is seen in Romans 12:8, 2 Corinthians 8:2, 9:11, 13. Here in our text the specific meaning is “the generous eye.” [5]

The phrase “bad” eye, or “evil” eye, regularly refers to an ungenerous spirit. Rabbinical literature said that an evil eye indicated a grudging, cheap, ungenerous heart. Proverbs 28:22 says, “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth” (NASB). Proverbs 23:6 says, “Do not eat the food of a stingy man” (“a man who has an evil eye”). Also consider Deuteronomy 15:9: “Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin” (literal translation: “Beware that you do not harbor an unlawful thought in your heart. . . and your eye become evil [ungenerous] toward your brother who is in need.[6]

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are generous, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are ungenerous, your whole body will be full of darkness.

That translation fits perfectly with the context because this text is framed on both sides with warnings against selfish materialism. Remember, the previous words are, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” and the following words are, “No one can serve two masters. … You cannot serve both God and money.


In Luke 16: 19-31 Jesus tells a story about a wealthy man who refused to show mercy to a beggar at his gate. His evil eye never thought of aiding poor Lazarus, who longed to be fed crumbs from the man’s table. Death came to them both, and the wealthy man was plunged into the darkness that had long been in his soul. In torment, he begged for a messenger to go tell his living relatives about the truths he had failed to see. Materialism shuts out the light of Christ.

So it was with Esau, Solomon in his later life, and tragic Demas, who abandoned Paul “because he loved this world” (2 Timothy 4:10). It is the same for us as we struggle against “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16). The increasing materialism of the church is shutting out the light of Christ. Some big box evangelicals know all the passwords and carry well-worn bibles but are just as dark on the inside as the rich man in Jesus’ parable. The effects of an evil eye are far worse than any of us really know.

We crave material things because we love the appearance of being in control of our lives as if we were a sovereign god of our own little universe. We even do it with our spiritual lives, taking pride in what we believe we have accomplished and beating ourselves up over our perceived failures as if we could do the Holy Spirit’s job for him and that beating ourselves up over said failures is some kind of penance that impresses God. But the Apostle Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?[7]

Our evil eye of selfishness clouds the way we look at life. When the things of this world are our focus, we believe we cannot be happy without them. That is the unrelenting gospel of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the great majority of people trust into it. It is, for them, their only means of happiness and contentment and all the heaven they are likely to know. Materialism has clouded their eyes and distorted their life views.

The evil eye clouds our vision of success. A grasping spirit defines success in financial terms and condemns us to perpetual failure because we never quite reach our goal. Scripture says that behind the idols we worship lies the demonic realm. The enemy’s minions tenderly whisper in our ears that just this one more thing will truly make us happy. We willingly submit to our materialism. We fixate upon our idols like a dog fixates upon your snack, certain that just one more potato chip will make its life complete.

The evil eye clouds our vision of other people’s worth. If others do not join us in our quest for our idols, we call them gutless or lacking in ambition or worse. Christians can be quite heartless when it comes to missionaries who have chosen to serve Christ in a way that means a lower income. We are all too quick to judge those who have less than us because we are all too proud of what we believe we have accomplished for ourselves. But what do you have that you didn’t receive?

An evil eye and grasping heart keep us from having a healthy vision for our children’s lives. Their chosen profession must fit our economic and social criteria, we think. Never mind that Jesus was a day laborer. We tend to judge their potential spouses in the same way. Even they must move our children toward our criteria of success or feel our disapproval.

An evil eye distorts our vision of God’s will for our own lives. We self-centeredly assume God would never lead us onto a path that involves the diminishing of our status, position, or bank account. In John 12:24-25, Jesus expresses an entirely different take on how we should view our lives:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. [8]

Listening to what Jesus says points us to the most serious flaw of an evil eye. A selfish fixation on things clouds our ability to hear and trust the scriptures. You just heard Jesus tell you to die to yourself and your wants and your demands and your ideas of a successful life. But did you really hear him? And, be honest with yourself, did you really want to hear him? The Bible is minimized and ignored because we naturally prefer our idols to the one true God who cannot be manipulated.

Consequently, a grasping ungenerous spirit darkens our inner lives. Little spiritual light penetrates the eye of the materialist. Our vision is clouded and distorted. And it’s really tragic because such a life overflows with constant dissatisfaction. One potato chip is never enough. No idol delivers what it promises. It leaves behind a bitter aftertaste and a constant hunger for more.

The evil eye arises out of covetousness and envy. When envy comes to church and sits in the pew and evaluates everyone according to what they have or appear to have. It hangs price tags on suits and dresses. It paces through the parking lot scrutinizing chrome and paint. It scatters complaints about the way things ought to be. It values everyone around it as nothing more than an object to be captured and used. It demands that its preferences be met and that those who fall short be slashed open with a sharp tongue and sacrificed on its altar of self.

The evil eye brings compulsive ambition because those filled with dissatisfaction and covetousness are always trying to arrive professionally and socially. Those who project the most security and certainty are the least satisfied and soon find themselves treating others as commodities. Many of us have been treated as objects by those in the clutches of the evil eye, and it is neither pleasant nor right.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are generous, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.

Most of those who are in the darkness do not even know it. They are self-deceived. Many Christians are like this. They think they’re eye is good when it is bad. They like to think of their loyalty to Christ as deep and grounded when it is shallow and contrived. Many believers love to project an image of spiritual self-improvement and that clouds our eyes to the reality that we need to see our sin, repent of it and trust into Christ to perform upon us radical ophthalmic surgery.


Just as he did in our text last week, Jesus ends this topic with the principle, a reason for his rule: “24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” We need to remember that scripture teaches that money is non-moral. It has no inherent evil in it and no inherent good. It can be put to low uses or high uses. A low-wage day laborer can be miserly and covetous, while a wealthy investor may be generous.

Love and hate and common Semitic idioms. Jesus uses the term “love” and “hate” in Luke 14:26 concerning one’s family and Christ. Jesus is not speaking about romantic love or passion, he is talking about simple preference. In the case of the opposing masters of God and money (mammon), we will always prefer one over the other.

Both masters make demands upon us. Worldly things demand our attention and cry out for our devotion, but so does God. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” God wants us to strive after him with our whole being.

One commentator explains:

The traditional translation “No one can serve two masters” is patently untrue; we do it all the time, whether by combining part-time jobs or by “moon-lighting.” But a slave was not employed under contract, but was normally wholly owned by the person who had bought him or her (though see Acts 16:16 for the possibility of joint ownership). It is that total commitment which Jesus uses to illustrate the demands of God’s kingship and to show the impossibility of combining those demands with the pursuit of “mammon.”[9]

Of course, as long as we live in this world we fight against our own sinful flesh. So we are prone to compromise. We try and walk a tightrope between God and our love of self. We are naturally just like the Assyrians: “While these people were worshipping the Lord, they were serving their idols (2 Kings 17:41).

In discussing this verse in The Sermon on the Mount, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells the story of a farmer who one day reported to his wife with great joy that his best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. He said, “You know, I have been led of the Lord to dedicate one of the calves to him. We will raise them together. Then when the time comes to sell them, we will keep the proceeds that come from one calf and we will give the proceeds that come from the other to the Lord’s work.”

His wife asked which calf he was going to dedicate to the Lord, but he answered that there was no need to decide that then. “We will treat them both in the same way,” he said, “and when that time comes we will sell them as I have said.”

Several months later the man entered the kitchen looking very sad and miserable. When his wife asked what was troubling him he said, “I have bad news for you. The Lord’s calf is dead.” “But,” his wife [responded], “you had not yet decided which was to be the Lord’s calf.” “Oh, yes” he said. “I had always determined that it was to be the white one, and it is the white calf that has died.”[10]

That is the way of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is always the Lord’s calf that dies—unless we are absolutely clear about our service to him and about the true nature of our possessions. Who owns your possessions? The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that either God owns them, and you serve him, or else your possessions own you, and you serve them. In any case, no one ever really possesses them himself, although many persons think they do.

But you who trust into the perfectly lived life and sacrificial blood shedding death of the crucified, risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ, you are united with a perfect savior. He never once had an evil eye. What little he had to give, including his very life, he gave freely and willingly for you.

May God give us repentance, and may we ask Christ to live in us in such a way that our gifts, wealth, time, friends, ambitions, and talents are turned over to him and we use them in expectation of our indestructible riches in heaven.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 6:22–24.

[2] Hughes, quoting Oz Guiness.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 257.

[4] Id. at 260.

[5] Hughes, R. Kent. The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word). Crossway. Kindle Edition.


[6] Id.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 4:7.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 12:24–26.

[9] France, 262.

[10] Boice, 218.