Generosity: Do You Have a Healthy Eye?

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Generosity: Do You Have a Healthy Eye?

Posted on 27 Jun 2024

By Dr. James Tan 

Dr. James Tan shared a message during The Navigators 2024 Director’s Circle Retreat. The content of the message has been edited to facilitate reading while preserving the author’s intent.

Dr. James Tan sharing at The Navigators 2024 Director’s Circle Retreat

I am sure you have read books and heard many sermons on money, giving, generosity… But have you heard of the saying that “Money is like manure”? 

When you spread it around, it causes things to grow; when you pile it up, it begins to stink!

Matthew 6:19-24

Our passage is taken from Matthew 6:19-24. This is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As you know, the Sermon on the Mount deals with what the kingdom of God is about, what true righteousness is, and how followers of Jesus should live their lives.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, 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. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

— Matthew 6:19-24

Like a hamburger, these 6 verses can be divided into 3 segments.
In these 3 segments, Jesus presents his listeners with a series of choices—between two treasures, two masters and two eyes.

Choosing Between Two Treasures (Matthew 6:19-21)

The first segment spans from verses 19 to 21:

The focus here is on choosing between two treasures—storing treasures on earth or treasures in heaven:

Treasures on earth are temporary and vulnerable to decay and theft. I have personally lost hard-earned money through bad investments. It is painful, and some of you may identify with that. Despite the temporal nature of our earthly treasures, countless people still place their security on the wealth they own. They pour their hearts into making more money and boast about their earnings. Sadly, their earthly treasures will never give them lasting joy, inner peace or permanent satisfaction.

These verses form the top layer of the bun in the hamburger.

Choosing Between Two Masters (Matthew 6:24)

The third segment is captured in verse 24: “No one can serve two masters.”

The focus is choosing between two masters—serving God or serving money. You cannot serve both God and money. It is impossible because each master demands total devotion.

However, this does not mean one cannot make money while serving God. There is a difference between pursuing money through work, investment, financial growth and being enslaved by money. We need to be careful.

When the pursuit of money takes precedence over your relationship with God, when you devote excessive time and energy to making money at the expense of your time with God, when you constantly worry about money, when you compromise your values and ethics just for financial gains and when you are reluctant to give and share generously, you may be at risk of making money your master.

This verse about choosing God over money as your master forms the bottom layer of the bread bun in the hamburger.

You will notice that the first and third segments—the choice between the two treasures and the two masters — deal with the issue of God versus money.

Store up treasures in Heaven. Do not store up treasures on earth.

Serve God. Do not serve money.

These form the top and bottom layers of the hamburger.
Choosing Between Two Eyes (Matthew 6:22-23)

Sandwiched in between, verses 22-23 form the meat patty: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
The focus here is choosing between two contrasting pairs of eyes: a pair of healthy or unhealthy eyes.

These two verses constitute an allegory—a passage with a deeper meaning.

Like the meat patty between the two pieces of bread, understanding the healthy and unhealthy eyes will help us to unlock this passage. Understanding this will help us appreciate what it means to store treasures in heaven, to serve God only and to exercise generosity.

The Human Eye: A Fascinating Organ

I am a urologist by training. At my work, I get to see patients with kidney stones, bladder infections and prostate cancer, additionally performing kidney transplants. But just for a short while here, allow me to act as an eye surgeon.

The eye is truly amazing. We can appreciate the beautiful sunset, the sandy beach and the fabulous seafood because of our eyes.

The eye is extremely intriguing. It is approximately 1 inch wide, 1 inch deep and 0.9 inches tall. The human eye has a 200-degree viewing angle and can see 10 million colours and shades.

(2024). Diagram of Human Eye - Structure and Function [Photograph]. GeekforGeeks.

Spiritual Insight: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Eyes

When light reflects off an object and enters the eye, it is focused onto the retina as an upside-down image. The light energy is transformed into electrical impulses before being sent via the optic nerve to the brain. The brain has to convert the image right side up for us to comprehend it. Interesting, isn’t it?

A healthy eye allows light to enter and a clear vision is captured. So we can see things around us. But if the eye is unhealthy, if you have a dense cataract that blocks light from entering, or if you have some form of blindness, your vision will be dimmed, distorted, unclear or even darkness.

Let’s return to verses 22-23. What does Jesus mean by them?

There is a deeper meaning that goes beyond the literal and physical.

The eye refers to our perspective in life, our viewpoint and the way we look at things. Light is a metaphor for truth and righteousness. It is a symbol of God and life. Darkness, on the other hand, signifies evil and sin, the ignorance of God and death.

When our eyes are healthy, that is, when we have the right perspective, our being is full of light. We will know God, understand the truth and live in righteousness. Our perspective will affect our inner spiritual state and in turn, affect the way we exercise generosity.

Conversely, when our eyes are unhealthy, when we have the wrong perspective, we will be filled with darkness. We become blind to God and his ways and will walk in sin.

So what makes a healthy eye?

The Healthy Eye: Singular Focus

The Greek word for “healthy” is “haplous”. Several meanings of “haplous” include single, fixed upon one object, one goal, and one Master.

I particularly like the King James Version (KJV)—

If your eye is single, your whole body shall be full of light.

Over here, the word “haplous” is translated as “single”.

In the NASB, the word haplous is translated as “clear” as in being spiritually perceptive, sharp and focused:

“If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.”

So a healthy eye is singular and sharp in its focus. It zooms in on God since He is the singular most important thing in life. The healthy eye will put aside all distractions to pursue God.

It is single-minded in devotion and allegiance to God.

We will see everything in God and we will see God in everything.

Our eyes will be open to the spiritual dimension beyond our physical and material world. God becomes the defining reality of our lives. We will live for a higher purpose. We chase after what is of lasting value and eternal significance. We will choose to store treasures in heaven rather than on earth. We will choose to serve God over money.

With a single vision, we will store a single treasure and serve a single master. I emphasise again—with a single vision, we will store a single treasure and serve a single master.

The Unhealthy Eye: Double-mindedness

What makes an unhealthy eye?

In contrast to the single eye, the unhealthy eye is double-minded, vacillating between God and money. God and money… It is in a state of compromise, torn in two directions between living for God and striving after money.

The unhealthy or “poneros” eye is also described in Matthew 20:1-15.

In this passage, Jesus explains the kingdom of God by telling the story of a landowner who went to hire workers for his vineyard early in the morning. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day’s work. Later at 9am, at noon, at 3pm, and 5pm, he hired more workers. At the end of the day, all of them were paid the same amount of one denarius regardless of how long they worked. Those who were hired first began to grumble against the landowner.

The landowner answered in verses 13-15:

But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?

The Dangers of Envy 

In Greek, the word for envious is “poneros”. It is the same word translated as “unhealthy” in Matthew 6:22.

The workers’ eyes are unhealthy because they are envious.

Their envy blinded them from seeing the goodness of their Master’s generosity. Instead, they were filled with discontentment and resentment over the workers' good fortune. 

Returning to Matthew 6, when our eyes are unhealthy and harbour envy, our view of God becomes distorted.

Envy diverts our focus inwardly to ourselves. We look at things in a very self-centred manner.
Envy makes our blessed life seem insufficient and second-class. Instead of thanksgiving and praise, we wallow in self-pity, discontentment, bitterness and resentment.

An envious eye sees God’s grace as unfairness and His generosity as injustice.
An envious eye distrusts God’s plans and choices.
An envious eye questions God’s goodness and love.

Envy is actually rebellion.

None of us can claim we have never been envious of others—their accomplishment and their success or maybe even their wealth.

It is an even greater sin to envy and yet try to hide it or deny it. Indeed, how great is the darkness in us!

The Call to Reflect

Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you have an envious eye?

Reflect on these questions:

  • Are you upset when God gives something to someone else but not to you?
  • Can you rejoice with another person…
    • When he outshines you in ability and success?
    • When he gets the promotion, the attention and the praises but you don’t.
    • When her prayers are answered but not yours

Let us be careful and take care to maintain a healthy eye.

An eye that sees God as the one Treasure above all else.

An eye that trusts in God and is content with what He has given.

An eye that marvels at the goodness, generosity and grace of God in the lives of His people.

The Magnitude of God's Generosity

And this is the magnitude of His generosity:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

— John 3:16

Romans 8:32 goes on to tell us:

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?

Brothers and sisters, if there’s one thing that God wants you to see and to know, it is how much He loves you.

How will he not clothe you, feed you, protect you and deliver you?

How will He withhold from you His blessings, both spiritual and temporal, which are good for you?

Comparing with Luke 11:34-35

Allow me to refer you to one more passage in Luke 11:34-35 where Jesus used the same allegory of the healthy and unhealthy eye:

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.

At first reading, the two passages seem almost identical, but the context in Luke is different from that in Matthew 6. In Matthew 6, it is part of the Sermon on the Mount.

In Luke, Jesus has just cast out a demon from a man and some people attribute His power to Satan. Others demand more miraculous signs from Jesus.

At this point, Jesus gives the allegory of the healthy and unhealthy eye.

So in the context of Luke, the healthy eye refers to the eye of faith. The eye that sees Jesus for who He is as the Son of God, is full of light.

On the other hand, the unhealthy eye refers to the eye of unbelief that results in spiritual blindness. The unhealthy eye does not see Jesus for who He is because it is full of darkness.

The crowd attributes Jesus’ power to Satan and they ignore the many miracles that Jesus has performed because they are spiritually blind.

Over in Matthew 6:23, Jesus also closes the allegory by saying, "… If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"

Jesus is telling us—if we know the word of God and have encountered Christ and yet suppress the truth, dull our consciences and go on living in our old ways, how severe is the hardening of our heart.

If we know the surpassing worth of Christ and the vanity of worldly wealth and yet still love money and persist in chasing after the temporal things of the world, how great is our spiritual blindness.

The Healthy vs. Unhealthy Eye in Practice

The healthy eye belongs to the person who has a single desire for God.

He marvels at the generosity, goodness and grace of God.

He has the faith to believe Jesus for who He is and what He teaches.

He forsakes earthly riches and lays up treasures in heaven for He knows that God is his true security and His Master.

On the other hand, the unhealthy eye belongs to the person who is double-minded. He knows God but does not follow after Him wholeheartedly.

His envy causes him to be discontented with his lot and unsatisfied with God.
He does not trust in Jesus nor live out His teachings.
He doesn’t want to let go of his earthly treasures and yet wants treasures in heaven also.

The Call to Spiritual Check-Up

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

May I urge you to have an eye check-up?

Are you struggling with a spiritual double vision, with your focus diverted from God?

Are you spiritually short-sighted, focusing only on the here and now, the physical, earthly and temporal?

Do you have spiritual cataract, caused by envy and unbelief, that clouds your vision of God’s worth?

What does your calendar, your bank account, your handphone usage reveal about what you see as your treasure?

I pray that the Lord will give to each of us a single eye, to see God as our one Treasure and serve Him as our one Master.

Practically, I would like to challenge you to give generously.

By giving generously, we align our hearts with heavenly values.
By giving generously, we demonstrate that our ultimate trust and treasure lies in God, not in material wealth.
By giving generously, we declare we serve God rather than money.
By giving generously, we declare we have healthy eyes.


Reflect and discuss these two questions:

  • In what ways has God been challenging you to be more generous in your life?
  • How can we model and teach the value of generosity to those we are discipling?

Dr James Tan is a committed believer of Christ and a member of the Director’s Circle in The Navigators, Singapore. He is a Consultant Urologist at Advanced Urology, Mt Elizabeth Medical Centre. He worships at New Life Baptist Church.