[June 29, 2008] Today we finish the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus describes the way of life for all whom He has called to be in His sphere, that is, the way of life for all who believe into Him. Everything Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7 looks back on chapters 5 and 6, and everything He says is addressed to believers. Just as in chapters 5 and 6, He speaks of the judgment of believers when Christ returns, a judgment that decides whether we qualify to enter the Kingdom (not the final judgment of those who reject Christ).
Jesus says, “Now that you have heard chapters 5-6, about how you are to be, about the standard for the believer—do not judge. Do not pass sentence on one another, do not set yourself up as a judge of others, do not criticize and nitpick or compare yourself to others, do not be jealous or unconsciously project your own faults onto others.” Do not use Jesus’ words as a weapon to beat or abuse each other, or as a platform from which to look down on others.
Some kinds of judging are legitimate. We should exercise discernment to know people. When we receive people into the fellowship of the church, we need to discern whether they are believers by hearing their profession of faith. Jesus knew all people. He knew Nicodemus: that he was genuine; and He also could see through the hypocrisy of others.
Sometimes discernment is diagnostic, as when Paul recognized that the Corinthians were fleshly (1 Corinthians 4:5). But we are not all-knowing and we cannot read people’s thoughts. When we think we know what other people are thinking, this is usually what psychologists call projection.
Sometimes we also need to protect others, as when Paul warned Timothy about Alexander, Demas, Phygelus and Hermogenes, so that he would guard himself from these men (2 Timothy 1:15; 4:10, 14).
We are not aware of our motives, so we must be very careful. For we will be judged by the standard we apply to others. This refers to the judgment-seat of Christ when Christ will examine His believers. We all sin often. If we forgive others, we will be forgiven. If we are merciful to others, we will receive mercy. We all sin often, so do not look down on another as if you are better.
Do not say, “So-an-so cannot change.” If you say that, you are confessing that you do not believe in the Holy Spirit. You are admitting that you do not believe in conversion, not even your own. If you are a believer, you yourself have changed in impossible ways. You did not change yourself. So look on others with the eye of faith. Everyone can and does change.
Do not look at other people’s failures and say so-and-so is not a Christian. We all sin often, we fail often and we fall away. Your temptations may be different than another’s. What you fear or deny or hide from may be different, and what you fantasize about may be different. We judge whether others are believers on the basis of their profession. Sometimes true believers are unfaithful. God does not take away their salvation. How dare we set ourselves up as judges to overrule God? Yet by our words we act like this.
In verses 3-5 Jesus suggests that probably the reason you see the splinter in the eye of your fellow Christian is because of the log or beam in your own eye. This is true. Other people act like a mirror to us. The faults we see in them are usually our own faults that we cannot bear to look at. This is especially true when we have a strong emotional reaction to the faults of others. If you examine this, you will find that it is true. If you can have a sense of humor about it, it is funny how often this happens.
Jesus is saying, “Having heard My teaching, do not judge others with it. Instead, judge yourself. Use the other person’s eye as a mirror to see the beam in your own eye. Work on removing that. Only when your beam is removed can you see clearly enough to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye.”
There is a painful part of your life, a place where you stumble often. It is an irritant that constantly rubs you and keeps you humble. God deals with you there, over and over. After many years that tender spot becomes covered over by grace until, instead of sin, instead of failure, there is a pearl. It is something holy. These pearls often grow where the beam in your own eye used to be. Young believers can anticipate this and work with God instead of against Him, but they do not yet have pearls. Pearls take years to grow.
But if you have pearls, do not throw them to the pigs or the dogs. Be careful not to put them on display, especially before unbelievers. Do not be too generous with your advice. People are out there who will hurt you. According to the Old Testament, dogs are ritually unclean both inwardly and outwardly while pigs are only unclean inwardly (Leviticus 11:27, 7). In the New Testament (2 Peter 2:12, 19-22, and Philippians 3:2), dogs and pigs refer to those who profess to be Christians but they are not what they appear to be.
If you are right inwardly and reprimand the right person, the reprimand will be precious and life-changing. If you reprimand someone else, they will only bite you and possibly injure you. They did so to Jesus, even though He did not give that which is holy to dogs or cast pearls before pigs.
Gossip hurts. It damages the body of Christ. If you have a criticism that is helpful, say it to the persons involved or who can help instead of to everyone else. Most of the time, however, do not criticize. Instead, when you have an urge to criticize, realize that you are looking at a mirror. What do you see?
Ask for What?
Jesus does not tell us the way to live so that we can judge others. Instead, we ought to judge ourselves. When Jesus speaks of prayer in verses 7 to 11, is He giving us license to indulge ourselves? What ought we to ask for and seek? We are to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (6:33), and pray for the hallowing of the Father’s name, the coming of His kingdom and the doing of His will (6:9-10). Then pray for other things (6:11-13) for the sake of these.
We sometimes think because we know something, that we possess the thing we know. We think that because we agree with something, we ourselves are changed. If we learn about the right way to live, and agree whole-heartedly with it, then we proceed to judge others for not living up to this standard. This is how we act but it is utterly ridiculous. Instead, the fact that we learn what Jesus says and know it and agree wholeheartedly with it only makes us more accountable on the Day of Judgment. We have not changed at all, except to boost our self-righteousness. If we know what is right, it does not make us right. Instead of judging others, we first must judge ourselves.
But we cannot change ourselves. When we believe, we are the same person we were before. We still carry the old man with us wherever we go. Outwardly the change may be dramatic. We may be overwhelmed with joy and enthusiasm, and rightfully so. This change is helpful, especially when it helps us make big changes in our circumstances and associations and ways of life. But the inward change for the most part is temporary. The real change takes place slowly.
When Christ calls us by His Word, we are the soil and He plants the seed of the Word deep inside of us. We cannot remove the seed. We have been captured by God’s choice of us and there is no release. Neither can we make this seed grow, say by pulling on the little shoot. Only God can make it grow.
What we can do is cultivate the soil with nutrients and water it and give the seedling sunlight. We do this by prayer and worship and contemplation, by fellowship and serving, and by “eating” the Word. If we take care of the soil by feeding it with what it needs, then the seed of the new creation, the new life, will grow by itself, whether we notice it growing or not.
Here Jesus tells us of the importance of prayer, seeking God, and knocking on the door of His Word. The Father alone is able to give you the kingdom, and He loves you and desires to give it to you, but you too must desire it. You must open your heart and your hands and turn your face to the Father. You must ask Him to give you all the things that Jesus taught in the Sermon. It is by asking that you receive.
[We need to ask for our beams to be removed so that we can have “that which is holy” and some real “pearls.” (—added in 2012)]
The Golden Rule
Jesus introduces the so-called “golden rule” with a “therefore.” Until now, Jesus has been talking about living secretly before the Father and depending on Him alone (7:1-11 is a negative continuation of chapter 6). Now He takes us back to chapter 5:21-48. The righteousness of the Kingdom—that for which we are to ask ( 7:7-11), and which fulfills the Torah and the Prophets (5:17-20)—is that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated.
In the context of chapter 7, this means that instead of using this righteousness as a way of justifying ourselves and judging others, we should take care of one another. Instead of judging, show mercy. Do not always be right. It is not important to be better than others. It is more important to love and build up each other.
[After we removed the beams from our own eyes—with much prayer—and have acquired that which is holy and even some pearls, then, instead of casting our treasures before dogs and pigs, we will have the humility and clarity to help remove splinters from the eyes of our siblings, by God’s grace. By not judging others but taking care of our own beams first, and then helping others with humility and insight, we are doing to others what we would have them do to us. (—added in 2012)]
The Narrow Gate and Way
A gate is something you enter through once (or again), but a way is something continuous and daily. The gate is a decision. The path is a process. The Sermon on the Mount is a narrow gate and a constricted way. A believer must choose to follow Jesus according to this way. Few believers even find this way. Because of their laziness and ignorance, they do not care or even know about it. Nor do we want to hear that Jesus demands everything, our very soul and life. He tells us that we need to die to the world just as He did, and choose only the Father’s will. We are called to live His own kind of life.
But false prophets are preachers and writers who tell us what we want to hear. They come in the name of Christ and wave the Bible and even quote it. They promise you prosperity or self-righteousness or whatever sells. But you can discern them by their fruit. A prophet’s fruit is his teaching.
A teacher may be very appealing. He may be entertaining. He may be a great speaker. He may move you to tears. He may perform miracles. But what is the fruit of his teaching? If you eat this fruit does it make you sick? Sometimes the results are not instantaneous. History tells us what the fruit of certain teachings are. When people ingest this fruit, in what does it result? False teaching has disastrous results both personally, for the church and the world.
Believers can be drawn away after false prophets. They—the prophets and their followers—may think of themselves as very spiritual. They say “Lord, Lord,” and sound very religious. They may have dramatic spiritual gifts and can prophesy, cast out demons, perform miracles, speak in tongues, heal people, you name it. Really. Yet on the Day of Judgment, when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, Christ will say, “I never knew you. Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.” This means that Jesus does not approve of them. He does not recognize any of their works. And therefore they cannot enter the Kingdom.
Never pretend to be what you are not. If you are a Christian, it is because God has called you and given you the gift of believing in Christ. Whether you are faithful or unfaithful, you belong to Him. But do not pretend to be a Christian. It may be tempting to act like a “Christian” on Sunday and like an unbeliever on weekdays, or dress up your language when other Christians are around, or heaven forbid, when the pastor is around. Do not do this. Act like yourself. Let God change you. Do not live your Christian life to impress others. The only one you need to impress is God. So do not pretend at all. It is manipulative. The standard for entering the Kingdom is whether you do the will of the Father, not whether you impress others or even yourself.
Finally, what is the foundation on which you are building your life? The house that Jesus speaks of is your life. You can build it on the rock of Jesus Himself, and His Word which correctly interprets the Scriptures, or you can build it on something else, anything else—which is sand. The house itself is secondary. The question is the foundation. What is your foundation? On what are you basing your life? Most people do not even ask this question, or it does not matter to them. Jesus, who sees with more clarity than we do, says it absolutely matters.
Jesus Himself is the place, the sphere, of the Kingdom of God. When we belong to Him we are in that place, that sphere. That means we are under God’s government and His judgment. We are there only by grace, it is by God’s election, His call, and by regeneration, and not by our own efforts and works. Jesus Himself is our life, a new life that we already possess, and the life into which we are growing. His words—carried and empowered by the Spirit of God—call and enable us into this life. This should be our foundation. Your life is your personal life, your family and home, your social life, your school life, your job, your plans, etc. Are you building on this foundation? This is the narrow gate and constricted way. The alternative is ruin. You yourself will be saved, but all your works, all your gains and earnings, will be lost on the day that you appear before Christ. You will have to make up for it during the Kingdom.