Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 5

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BIBLICAL CONCEPTS PRESS

 

 

 

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 Chapter 5

The Last Word

Jesus limits judging others

Just after a national election, a defeated senator complained about the opposition of certain Christian groups to his candidacy. The senator accused those groups of violating Christ’s own command: “Do not judge” (Matt. 7:1).

I’m sure you’ve heard that argument before, and perhaps have used it yourself. Yet all of us make judgments about people in the common course of life. We do it almost unconsciously when we look for a “good” doctor or want a “dependable” babysitter.

In business, friendship, or marriage, people want someone they can trust; that means that some others cannot be trusted. And parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth.

In all of those experiences, judgments are made about other people. In fact, I am making a judgment about you by saying that you do those things, even though I don’t know you. I hope you won’t conclude that I’m unfair, because if you do you’ll be making a judgment about me!

How do these common events stack up against Christ’s command? The senator expressed the most popular caricature of what Jesus taught, but the senator was dead wrong. At least he pointed us in the right direction, because Jesus taught about this crucial subject in what we call his Sermon on the Mount.

The Right Way to Judge Others

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6:36)

It was no accident that Jesus made that statement right before he gave his famous command about not judging; Luke 6:37 parallels Matt. 7:1 (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged”). The statement made in Luke 6:36 shows that mercy is the backbone of all that Jesus said about judging.

To understand what it means to “be merciful,” consider the strongly related concept of compassion. Compassion involves being emotionally moved by another person’s distress so that you have a desire to help them.

Jesus was saying that, as we evaluate another person, we ought to do so in a spirit of concern for them. That means that we care about them. Jesus treated mercy as the leading idea and then dealt with judging others as a subordinate application of that theme!

Judging Mercifully

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
(Luke 6:37–38)

Here we run smack into the main problem: What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”? That question can be readily solved, if we assume that Jesus knew we would need further elaboration and that he gave it immediately.

In other words, when Jesus said, “Do not condemn,” he was explaining what he meant by saying, “Do not judge.” Believers are not to judge in the sense of condemning another person with harshness and finality.

I have two reasons for thinking that this is what Jesus meant. First of all, the cultural situation in which Jesus spoke supports this viewpoint. At that time, life in Israel was largely influenced by six thousand men known as Pharisees. They had influence far out of proportion to their small numbers. That’s why Jesus could refer to them and say that a little leaven could affect the whole lump of dough.

The Pharisees treated all others with extreme judgmentalism. They looked down on others with a scorn and contempt that would jolt us if we encountered it in our own culture. Their contemporaries considered them harsh, unfeeling, and severe in their criticism. People feared them, and not without reason!

To demonstrate the high and mighty approach taken by the Pharisees, I would like to recount a story out of rabbinic tradition. According to the story, on one occasion in heaven God was having a discussion with the heavenly council about some difficult question of ceremonial purity. After tossing the question around for a while, God and the heavenly council couldn’t resolve it!

So, God sent down to earth and brought up the leading Pharisaic rabbi to settle the question — as if the Pharisees could even teach God a few things! From that lofty vantage point, it isn’t hard to judge other people!

Jesus knew that his disciples had been strongly affected by the precepts of Pharisaism. By contrast, Jesus used the Pharisees and their approach as a case in point of what not to do.

Here’s the second reason for believing that Jesus meant “do not condemn” when he said “do not judge.” Matthew also records an occasion when Jesus was teaching his disciples about these principles. Right afterward he gave them a command that made it obvious that they would not always be able to avoid evaluating other people.

He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6, italics added). Jesus wasn’t talking about house pets and barnyard animals; he was describing certain kinds of people. To follow this command, his disciples would have to be discerning and make value judgments about people, distinguishing the “dogs” and “pigs” from more receptive people. By using those terms, Jesus was referring to people who treated the Word of God and the miracles of his Son with contempt.

So, Jesus was not saying that we can never evaluate other people or form opinions about them. He knew that his disciples would have to do that. That’s simply part of life. But the spirit in which it is done makes a great difference; compassion is required.

Jesus next switched attention from the negative to the positive. He instructed his disciples about how to make such evaluations properly. Consider the literary arrangement of the four commands in Luke 6:37–38. Jesus used an order that literary scholars would call chiastic, which means that the commands follow an “A-B-B-A” pattern that is common in the Bible:

A   “Do not judge” (Luke 6:37)

    B   “Do not condemn” (Luke 6:37)

    B   “Forgive” (Luke 6:37)

A   “Give” (Luke 6:38)

Each “B” command explains the nearest “A” command. And so in the case of the latter two commands, the thing that Jesus wants us to “give” is forgiveness. Here, too, the theme of mercy predominates.

The last part of verse 38 pictures the way in which God has generously given mercy and forgiveness to us. The picture comes from an ancient grain market. Suppose for a moment that you were going to such a market to buy wheat. After striking a bargain with you, the merchant would use his scoop to measure the quantity that you had agreed upon.

If you happened to be dealing with a particularly generous merchant, he would measure the grain and then pack it down with his hand so as to make room for more. Next he would shake the container so that the particles would pack together more tightly. As a final step of generosity, he would allow the grain to literally run over the top of the scoop as he poured it into your outstretched cloak.

That’s the way that God measures out his mercy and forgiveness for each of us! He doesn’t miss a single opportunity to give us as much as possible.

Bad Models Yield Bad Copies

39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
(Luke 6:39–40)

This brief paragraph must be understood by using both culture and context. Jesus was warning his disciples about the deep danger of following the example of the Pharisees. He did so with a brief parable that not only asks questions, but also implies the answers — a useful feature of Greek grammar.

The first question anticipates the answer no: a blind man cannot lead a blind man. The second question expects the answer yes: if a blind man leads a blind man, then they will probably both fall into a pit. Jesus seemed to be asking questions, but actually he was making statements. His audience knew that.

This parable reminds me of an embarrassing incident. The offices for our church staff were to be painted, and one staff member kindly volunteered to get paint samples so that we could pick the color we wanted.

Buried with work, I simply told him to pick a color that he liked and use that for my office too. Several days later, the painters arrived, and his office began to get its treatment. The moment I saw the half-finished office, it set my teeth on edge!

My friend had picked a bright, bright yellow that reminded me of suddenly biting into a lemon. Then I found out that the man I had sent to pick out paint for our offices was color blind! I had sent a blind man to do my seeing for me.

But Jesus was speaking of spiritual blindness and specifically that of the Pharisees. He called them blind guides on numerous occasions. In effect, Jesus was telling his disciples that if they followed the harsh judgmentalism of the Pharisees, then they were no better than blind men following blind guides. They would soon meet disaster along that course.

Jesus challenged his disciples to consider carefully the person they were going to pick as their model in this whole matter of judging others. If they were the disciples of the Pharisees, then they would become more and more harsh and condemning. However, if they considered themselves his disciples, then they must follow his lead in showing mercy. Over time Jesus’ disciples could expect to become more merciful.

Learning to See

41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
(Luke 6:41–42)

I wish we all could have been with Jesus to see the gleam in his eye when he used humor. These verses should at least hint to us that taking everything super-seriously is not a requirement for spirituality. Jesus pictured a ridiculous, exaggerated situation to drive his point home.

Imagine a man whose eyesight was so keen that he could pick out a small speck of sawdust in another person’s eye, without even realizing that he had a telephone pole in his own eye. The word used for “plank” in verse 41 commonly referred to one of the structural beams that would hold up a building.

The Pharisees could spot in others the tiniest infraction of rabbinic rules, while they utterly failed to realize how repugnant their own judgmentalism was to God himself.

The key principle that Jesus expressed in these two verses is that whenever we evaluate others, we should always do it with one eye on ourselves. If we tend to see all of our problems as originating “out there” in the hearts of others, then we are basically looking at people the way the Pharisees did.

Only by realizing that we have problems within ourselves can we temper our evaluation with a measure of mercy. Other people may differ from us in degree but not in kind. Every one of us has personal flaws and could stand some improvement. By dealing with our own motives and behavior, we can become better able to evaluate others with righteousness and truth tempered by mercy.

Jesus is absolutely not suggesting that we must be perfect before we can ever get to the point of judging others. That meaning would produce contradiction not only with our Lord’s own teaching, but also with other portions of the New Testament that instruct us about cases in which we must make evaluations and judgments about others.

I think we could summarize the whole passage with three principles.

  • First, mercy must dominate any evaluation of other people.
  • Second, it pleases God when we model our lives after people who evaluate others with mercy and forgiveness.
  • Third, any evaluation we make of others should take into account our own share of the problem and our own flaws.

Learning to See More Clearly

Use the following concepts to help you in judging others as Christ commands.

Examining Ourselves

Certain things in our own hearts can take us over that fine line into condemning others. Circle the items below that you think may lead you towards judgmentalism:

1. Anger towards someone

2. Personal weaknesses:

(a) Lack of love and compassion

(b) An inflated or sagging self-esteem

(c) A tendency toward perfectionism, dogmatism, and rigidity

3. Learned responses to certain kinds of people and situations

I become more judgmental when I’m angry. If a husband and wife are mad at each other, they really know how to give it to each other with both barrels.

We know intuitively that some people find it difficult to express love or compassion toward others. Such people often find it impossible to love themselves; they become their own worst critics.

Regrettably, some groups of Christians simply exude judgmentalism. A person within such a group will quickly realize that they must either toe the line or suffer the consequences.

Examining Others

Use the following ideas to help you evaluate others more accurately. Consider your own motives and purposes in evaluating others; if you don’t really need to, then don’t! Consider your own life; do you have credibility as an evaluator of the other person? Do you know them well and have their interests at heart? If you passed the motive and credibility tests, then use the following ideas to guide your evaluation.

Evaluate others from alongside, not from above.

Give others time to change and room to grow.

Be willing to revise your evaluations of others. Use other people’s perspectives to refine your own.

Remember how it feels to be on the receiving end of judgment.

So that you don’t misunderstand me, there are some real “jerks” in this world. I’m not saying that they aren’t jerks or that your opinion of them ought to be different. (Remember what Jesus said about “dogs” and “pigs.”) However, we must not reach such a strong evaluation lightly. I think we should also be quick to extend mercy if such a person shows signs of changing.

It may help to visualize two cliffs that you don’t want to fall off of. One cliff consists of thinking that the problem always lies “out there” within other people, rather than “in here” within you. That view of life simply paints others as too evil and you as too good.

But the other cliff can do you an equal amount of harm. It consists of an inability to show mercy to yourself. My early struggle with perfectionism has taught me a lot about how intolerant I can be toward my mistakes. I act more like a Pharisee toward myself than I ever do toward others.

Have you fallen off one of those two cliffs?

Are you willing to try to change that area of your life with Christ’s help? Jesus warned that we must consider carefully who our models are in judging others.

I used to eat lunch weekly with a friend who spent most of our time together running down other people. It was a constant slide down into the same pit. I had my own struggle in that area and didn’t need his help! Perhaps you should consider your own circle of social relationships, and also your church environment.

Are those people helping you to learn more about showing mercy, or are they simply blind guides leading you toward the nearest hole?

A Final Word

When I graduated from seminary knowing the technical matters of theology, I had a lot to learn about interpersonal relationships. That personal deficiency eventually led to some painful criticism from others. With a moment’s thought, I’m sure you can recall similar experiences in your own life.

You and I are going to be evaluated by others for the rest of our lives. There’s no avoiding it. The other side is that we ourselves will evaluate other people. Christ calls on us to use mercy in reaching such evaluations.

We may speak the latest word about someone else, but Christ will speak the last word about them and about us!

 Coming next . . .

In Chapter 6, near the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, he began to teach in parables. Resistance to Jesus’ ministry was rising as he taught the disciples how to analyze the heart.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:28–29

Matthew 7:28–29
When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Anyone can talk!

I was standing in the nuclear reactor control compartment of a nuclear submarine hundreds of feet below the surface when the Admiral stepped through the door. He pointed at the reactor operator and said, “You’re dead. Get out of here!” When the deputy operator took over, the Admiral tersely ordered, “Shut it down!” The operator hit the button that quickly brought the nuclear power plant to zero power. We then began to sink!

Next the Admiral told the deputy operator, “Bring the plant back up.” If he couldn’t, we were about to have a true emergency. But the voice of authority had spoken! You know when you hear it!

When Jesus finished speaking, the reaction was universal: everyone was overwhelmed (7:28). Never had they heard anything like that!

The verb (Greek ekpl?ss?) that expresses the people’s reaction is also used in Matthew 13:54, when the people in Nazareth “were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and miraculous powers?’” Jesus blew his disciples away in a similar manner when he told them, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). Astonished, the disciples took that to mean that no one could be saved!

Even during his last free moments in Jerusalem, Jesus was still stunning audiences. The Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, were debating the issue with Jesus. So completely did Jesus demolish their position that “when the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching” (Matt. 22:33).

Matthew 7:29 contains the first mention of authority in the book. By tracing the underlying Greek noun (exousia) throughout Matthew’s Gospel, an interesting development may be seen. Here the disciples and the crowd recognize Jesus’ authority to speak for God. After Jesus comes down the mountain, he heals a leper (8:3) and then enters the seaside town of Capernaum — his adopted home — where a Roman centurion comes seeking healing for his servant. Jesus offers to come with him, but the centurion humbly says that Jesus has the authority to simply speak the word and heal the servant (8:9)! Matthew is showing that even a Gentile was convinced Jesus had authority to heal.

In 9:6, Jesus asserts the authority to forgive sins and proves it by healing a paralytic in the presence of the scribes. The crowds marveled at the fact that such authority had been given for healing (9:8). Not long after this time, Jesus sent his twelve disciples out with authority to heal and cast out unclean spirits (10:1).

When Jesus reached Jerusalem, the Jewish religious leaders challenged his authority (21:23–27), but he cleverly caused them to withdraw their challenge. They retreated only to plot more attacks as well as Jesus’ death on a Roman cross.

After Jesus was crucified, he rose from the dead on the third day (28:1–10). Afterward, Jesus met his disciples again on a mountainside in Galilee. There he told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18). Using that authority, Jesus sent them out to make disciples in all the world.

Jesus spoke with authority and provided grace

Jesus has given us some stunning statements in the Sermon on the Mount. And he has the authority to command us to live for him in a world that is desperately lost. If we had to do it on our own, we would certainly fail! But Jesus said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20).

The key to following Jesus is to use the many kinds of grace he has given to you:

  • The Holy Spirit indwells us to provide a constant infusion of insight, power and protection. See John 14:26; 2 Cor. 3:17–18; Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:16.
  • The Word of God lights our path. See 1 Pet. 1:23–25; Col. 1:9–10, 3:10; 2 Tim. 3:14–16; Heb. 4:12; Matt. 7:24. Remember that Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
  • By Christ’s powerful sacrifice to win us access to God, we may approach God with our prayers at any time. See Heb. 4:16; Col. 4:2; Phil 4:6.
  • We also enjoy the company of the people of God as our companions on the journey. See Eph. 4:1–13 and the numerous “one another” commands.

Jesus has provided everything we need to travel the narrow road that leads to life!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:24–27

Matthew 7:24–27
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

To do or not to do; that is the question

The movie series Star Wars tells the story of an epic battle between good and evil set in a galaxy far, far away. The young hero, Luke Skywalker, gets instruction in the Force from the wise old Jedi Master named Yoda.

Yoda proposes a difficult training exercise using the Force, which Luke says he will try. To this Yoda sharply replies, “Try? No! Do or do not; there is no try!”

Those who hear Jesus’ words have the same choice. Do or do not; which will it be?

We already know that Jesus is talking to the disciples, and a crowd of listeners has also gathered to hear him (7:28). When verse 24 starts off with the word “everyone,” it sounds as if Jesus is speaking to the whole group, but in fact the grammar of the verse makes it clear that he is speaking to each person as an individual. So, the parable Jesus tells will draw a line between those who respond and those who do not. And that line will also divide some insiders from other insiders!

It would be better to translate the opening phrase as, “Each one of you who hears these words of mine . . . .” (my translation of 7:24a). Jesus is presenting a choice to each individual who hears him, and no one else can make it for you! Further, Jesus is not directing attention to the words of the Law but to his own words as the authoritative interpretation of the Law.

Matthew 7:24 is a simple sentence with verbs that are in the present tense. The present tenses are used here “to make a statement of a general, timeless fact.”[1] The one who “hears these words of mine and does them” is the one who is figuratively “like a wise man who built his house on a rock” (7:24).

Of course, on a sunny, pleasant day it does not matter where you built your house. But Jesus says a storm came and pounded the house with rain, swollen rivers and strong winds (7:25). The rock foundation prevented disaster for the house and its sheltered builder.

In speaking of that all-critical foundation, Jesus uses a verbal form that is rare enough to require a deliberate decision on the part of the speaker. Concerning the house, Jesus says, “it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock” (7:25b). The words in italics reflect the choice Jesus made to show that the survival of the house depended upon action completed in the past before the storm arose. What action is meant? Jesus refers to the doing of his words after first hearing them!

Unfortunately for the foolish man, the storm will also strike the house built on sand. The NET Bible aptly catches the catastrophic nature of that moment by saying it was utterly destroyed (7:27).

Craig Blomberg resolves the meaning of the storm when he says, “So too Judgment Day will come like a flood to disclose which spiritual structures will endure.”[2] But the issue has already been decided by action or the lack of it long before that stormy day comes.

Faith only begins with knowledge!

The faithful actions of a disciple begin with knowing Jesus’ words, but they end only when those words are put into action. Those who meditate on his words are not the ones Jesus honors; thoughtful doers of his words are the ones who will prosper in the storms of God’s judgment. In just moments after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will start walking. Who is going with him?

In this active life of doing what Jesus has said, take heart in these words: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” (2 Pet. 1:3, NLT).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 523.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 134.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:21–23

Matthew 7:21–23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Last-minute protests

One of the biggest problems that employers face at this time is résumé inflation. Take George O’Leary for example. He was hired to be Notre Dame’s football coach, but he was dismissed twelve days later when officials discovered his résumé contained false claims about a certain college degree and about having played college football.

Nobody will enter the kingdom of heaven with an inflated résumé. But many will try.

As we begin this section, keep in mind R.T. France’s idea that the people Jesus describes here are people who consider themselves insiders (true disciples) but who are not. This is a troubling category for some Christians to think about, so we will dive right in.

The phrase “on that day” (7:22) places this outcry “’Lord, Lord’” (7:21) on the day of judgment, which is part of the longer period known as the Day of the Lord (see Joel 1:15; Isa. 10:20; Zech. 12–14).

R.T. France explains that Jesus “now presents himself as the one who decides who does and does not enter the kingdom of heaven, and even more remarkably the basis for that entry is people’s relationship with him, whether or not he ‘knew them.’”[1] This is a powerful affirmation of the idea that Christianity is about a personal relationship to Jesus rather than belonging to a church or even having been baptized.

As Christians we are accustomed to think of Jesus as Lord. But in the ears of those who first heard Jesus say these words, learning that on the day of judgment many would “say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’” (7:22) would have been a shocking claim of authority and power. Jesus asserts that he not only has the authority to admit people into the kingdom of heaven, but also the authority to send others “away from me” (7:23). Life in the kingdom will be life with Jesus; those excluded from him from that assembly of lawbreakers we call hell.

Jesus is not saying that there is anything wrong with prophesying, casting out evil spirits, or performing miracles in his name (7:22). He is saying that none of those activities can replace knowing him and being known by him.

It is important to make a stronger connection between having a relationship to Jesus and doing “the will of my Father in heaven” (7:21). In the Gospel of John, Jesus said: “The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21).

Perhaps it is helpful to say that having a relationship with Jesus does not mean it is an equal relationship. The fact that he is both Lord and God to us means that he has legitimate expectations of us that do not conflict with the fact that he loves us. His love for us is not based on our works, but our love for him is expressed, in part, by our works.

Those who have put their faith in Jesus can rest confidently in his words: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).

Safety for those who know Jesus

Jesus’ words were not designed to dishearten those who love him. They were meant as a warning to the sort of fast-talking con artists who make their way through life manipulating others. That will not work when Jesus judges all people.

To his own, Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.” (John 10:27–28).

Jesus gave his life to make a way to include you in the kingdom, not exclude you. Put your faith in him and rest in his hand.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 294.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:15–20

Matthew 7:15–20
“Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Trusted liars

Many members of the Palm Beach Country Club had to lobby to get Bernard Madoff to take their money for investment. His marketing strategy was to play hard to get. That worked really well along with the bogus profit statements received by those members he had already taken as clients.

Unfortunately, the only information the clients saw was paper reports from Madoff. They never tried to inspect their own stock certificates or visit the accounting office. Since there were no real stock purchases, there were no stock certificates and no need for an accounting office!

A man selling false profits is one thing, but false claims about knowing God are even worse.

As we begin this section, keep in mind R.T. France’s insight that these false prophets (7:15) are outsiders (i.e. unbelievers) pretending to be insiders. Once again, Jesus gives just one command — watch out for false prophets (7:15a) — followed by an explanation (7:15b–20).

Since prophets are not part of our landscape, the idea of false prophets is a bit elusive. In Matthew’s Gospel (24:11 and 24:24), false prophets mislead or deceive even true disciples. Luke 6:26 tells us that false prophets are likely to be widely praised. Peter said the false prophets would introduce “destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1).

From these references, it seems reasonable to assume that false prophets taught misleading theology, heresies, and even denied important things about Jesus. John heard Jesus’ words, and he warned us to test for false prophets by careful examination (1 John 4:1).

Using metaphorical language, Jesus warns that the false prophets are actually predators (voracious wolves, 7:15) disguised as prey (sheep). Then he offers a way to detect these pretenders. In doing so, Jesus switches metaphors to that of fruit-bearing plants and their fruit.

R.T. France tells us that the basic principle of the fruits-test is that “trees produce only the kind of fruit which reflects their basic character, good or bad”[1] (7:17–18). R.T. France[2] adds that the fruit Jesus wants is the life and loyalty that God expects of his people; this is the righteousness Jesus has been describing, even though the word is not used.

Evaluating fruitfulness requires the restrained but necessary judgment that Jesus described in 7:1–6. Jesus used this standard of fruitfulness when he condemned the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1–36. There Jesus exhorts the people to obey what the Pharisees and scribes taught from Moses —meaning the Law — but not to imitate them because they did not practice what they taught (23:3)!

What happens to the trees that do not produce good fruit? Jesus says they are thrown into the fire (7:19). That is the ultimate fate of outsiders pretending to be insiders.

Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ will not fail the test of fruitfulness. After explaining how God saved us by “his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7), Paul explains that we have “been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand that we may do them” (Eph. 2:10). The Holy Spirit enables us to do all that God wants.

The real thing

The truth is that over a period of time it is not that difficult to see the Holy Spirit at work in someone’s life. You will see or learn about acts of kindness, sacrificial service, and devotion to building up the church. Words are harder to weigh than deeds, but we always have the Bible to provide the truth against which teaching can be tested.

Remember Jesus’ warning! Not all allegedly-Christian teaching is true to God’s Word, even when you see it on the Internet, hear it on the radio or read it in a book. To evaluate a prophet, you need to see their life.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 290.

[2] France, Matthew, 291.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:13–14

Matthew 7:13–14
“Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The lure of the easy life

When I was in school, some people liked the easy way, so they cheated. Can you guess how much they learned? Jesus offers to all a choice of the easy way or the hard. What will each of us choose, and why?

Jesus concluded his description of kingdom-discipleship with the Golden Rule (7:12). What follows, starting in Matt. 7:13–14, is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. The ending falls into four sections skillfully described by R.T. France, who uses the idea that insiders are believers and outsiders are not:

The resultant four sections therefore press increasingly closer to home: the first is a simple contrast between saved and lost [7:13–14], the second concerns outsiders who merely pretend to be insiders [7:15–20], the third looks at those who think they are insiders but are not [7:21–23], and the fourth draws a line within the group of insiders (who hear Jesus’ words) between those who respond and those who do not [7:24–27].[1]

According to this analysis, today’s passage is the first scene and presents a simple contrast between the saved and the lost. Sadly, Jesus says the saved are few and the lost are many. On the basis of such verses, some interpreters teach that only a few members of humanity throughout the ages will end up in heaven. That assumption may be true, or it may not be. In my opinion, Jesus was speaking of his own time about the Jewish nation.

Craig Keener[2] points out that most first-century Jews thought they were saved by the simple fact that they descended from Abraham, but Jesus was letting them know that their assumption was flatly wrong! Those who actually listened to Jesus’ words would have assumed that the few (7:14) and the many (7:13) were references to the Jewish people of that time. Jesus gave them no reason to think otherwise.

Simple observation will show you that Jesus gives only one command in these verses: “Enter through the narrow gate” (7:13a). All the rest of the material (7:13b–14) explains why. When you think about it, you will realize that Jesus is speaking to people who have each trekked to the countryside of Galilee to find him. They have already taken trouble to hear him, and now he challenges them to prepare for even more. Will they take the narrow gate and the difficult road with Jesus, or will they return to the easier path, the unrestricted gate used by the many?

Presumably, those taking the wide, easy road do not know where it leads. Jesus clearly states that it leads to destruction (7:13). That is a metaphorical description of God’s eternal condemnation. On the other hand, the narrow gate leads to a narrow, constricted road (7:14), making it less popular and certainly filled with danger. But the few who find the narrow road are rewarded by arriving at life (7:14).

Jesus understands the struggles faced by the faithful, and he does not leave them to face danger alone. That God approves of the faithful few is plain, because they are rewarded with eternal life!

Never forget that Jesus understands the hardship of the difficult road. The author of Hebrews tells us this about Jesus: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Jesus is our gracious and tested high priest. “For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.” (Heb. 4:15–16).

The harder life

Certainly it is easy to think that our contemporary society satisfies the same description Jesus gave to the first-century Jews; many are rejecting the narrow road, if they even think about it at all.

Yet Tim Keller, a well-known thinker and pastor, has established a huge evangelical church in Manhattan. People are still seeking Jesus! Keller says: “We have neither the Western Christendom of the past nor the secular, religionless society that was predicted for the future.”[3]

The narrow gate still stands, and the difficult road remains open for those following Jesus. The reward of living with God is worth the struggle.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 286-287.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 250.

[3] Tim Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) xv.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:12

Matthew 7:12
“In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Summarizing the Law

The sign on the auto dealer’s wall said, “We operate this business according to the Golden Rule.” I recall thinking skeptically, “I wonder if that rule reads ‘The one who has the gold makes the rules.’”

Which of these two golden rules is the one you honor? Which one did Jesus teach?

We have reached a watershed point in the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s verse summarizes “the ethics of discipleship”[1] that Jesus has presented up to this point. Jesus has described the righteousness that exceeds that taught by the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), and now he sums it up by this variant of the law of love for your neighbor.

Before discussing the details of the verse, I will compare two translations of it.

(NET) “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” [italics added] NIV 2011 is similar to NET Bible.

(HCSB) “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them– this is the Law and the Prophets.” [italics added]

Of the two translations, HCSB is closer to the Greek text of Matthew 7:12. Note carefully that HCSB begins with a disciple thinking about how they wish to be treated by others. In other words, the disciple first imagines a scenario about how they would prefer to be treated in the future. Only then does the focus turn to using that analysis to determine how to treat others. I want to be shown love, and so I show love to others.

We all know by experience that our showing love in human relationships does not always result in getting love in return. In spite of that fact, Jesus places his disciples under obligation to lead off with love. There is no bail-out point at which we get to switch tactics and start hating the other person. Recall that we have already been commanded to love our enemies (5:44).

According to R.T. France, “The common description of this saying as the ‘Golden Rule’ is traditionally traced to the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (A.D. 222–35), who, though not a Christian, was reputedly so impressed by the comprehensiveness of this maxim of Jesus as a guide to good living that he had it inscribed in gold on the wall of his chamber.”[2]

HCSB is again more literal at the end of the verse by saying “this is the Law and the Prophets,” while NET leans a bit farther out to say “this fulfills the law and the prophets.”

The point is, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, obeying this command is the place to start.

Seeking the minimum

Of course, the problem is that some Christians want to see the Golden Rule as the end of what Jesus requires of them. If you ask such a person if they are a Christian, they may say, “I try to live by the Golden Rule.” That probably means they also attend church on Easter but not otherwise!

The world has tried to distort the teaching of Jesus by replacing it with a cleverly-worded alternative: Do unto others before they do unto you! To the contrary, Jesus wants us to be loving and merciful, but we know that he did it for us first!

“But ‘when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior.’” (Tit. 3:4–6)

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 282.

[2] France, Matthew, 284.