I’ve been arguing from James 4:1 that the reason I do the things I do is because of the passions and desires of my heart. Going one step further, I’ve been arguing that I desire the things that I desire because of the way I perceives those particular things. My heart will hunger for whatever I perceive as good and satisfying.
A “graphic” representation:
Perception → Desires → Behavior
(And just in case they don’t show up on your computer for some reason, those are right-pointing arrows between each word.)
So far, however, I haven’t laid a biblical foundation for my second premise as I did for the first. James 4:1 makes it clear that our actions are a result of our passions, but does the Bible say anything about the fact that our desires are stirred up primarily because of our perceptions of what is satisfying? I think it does. I think that’s exactly what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 6:19-23:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 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!”
Here Jesus commands a person’s behavior: “Do not lay up yourselves treasures on earth.” That’s an act we can obey or not at the level of behavior. However, Jesus doesn’t stop there. In verse 21 he says, “For [that is, the reason I’m telling you not to lay up your treasure on earth is that] where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus says to not focus your attention on getting treasures here on this earth because of this fact: What you view as valuable dictates the desires of your heart. Your heart follows what you perceive as valuable.
Test me here. Could Jesus’ words not be paraphrased this way: “Your desires are moved in the direction of what you perceive as your treasure. Therefore make sure you’re not accumulating your treasure here on earth”? Our desires are rooted in our perceptions of what will be satisfying to us (the causal side of our desires), and our desires will result in the behavior of either laying up for ourselves treasures on earth or treasures in heaven (the effect of our desires). I think this perfectly accords with my thesis that one’s perceptions result in his desires which result in his behavior.
Astoundingly, Jesus continues to shed more insight into the inner workings of the human soul in the next two verses:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 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!”
For a long time, these verses eluded me. However, in light of what Jesus just said about our behavior, our desires, and what we view as valuable, these verses do make sense and are very relevant to the preceding verses. Let’s take those phrases one at a time.
First, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” What does that mean? I believe Jesus is talking about the “eyes” of our hearts, not our physical eyes, and when he says “body,” he’s talking about our entire being—body, spirit, heart, mind, etc.—not just our physical bodies. To use my phraseology, he’s talking about the perceptions of our hearts (hearts here being a designation of our entire, composite being). Our perceptions are the gatekeepers to our whole being. Our perceptions will determine whether what fills us is light or darkness. “So, if your eye is healthy [that is, if your perceptions of what is valuable are in line with the reality of what’s actually valuable, then] your whole body will be full of light.” Another way to say it would be to say, “If your perception mechanism is working properly and you perceive what is actually valuable, then the light of God’s glory will fill you.” To push this to its logical conclusion, if you perceive correctly, you’re desires will move you toward the thing that you correctly perceive is satisfying and good. And as a result, you’ll act accordingly.
“But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” This is the negative way to say what Jesus just said positively. If your perception mechanism is broken and you incorrectly perceive certain things to be valuable that aren’t actually valuable, you’re lost in darkness. You’re desires will push you toward all sorts of behavior that will never ultimately satisfy you, like hording wealth on earth that will eventually rust, be eaten by moths, or stolen. That’s stupid. And Jesus doesn’t want you to be stupid. What you’ll need to change, however, is new eyes to see that what’s truly valuable is not found on this earth. It’s found in Jesus.
Just like last time, I feel like I have a lot more to say on this topic, but again, I’ll stop here. Stay tuned for more.
May God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shine in your hearts to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). May he give you new eyes to see that God alone is better than anything else this world has to offer, and may that new perception deeply change the focus of the desires of your heart. And as a result, may those newly focused desires radically alter the way you live your life.