[April 29, 2012] Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by teaching about authenticity. When Jesus emerged from the wilderness He announced to Israel that the Kingdom of the Heavens had drawn near, and—as we would soon see—He meant it had drawn near in His own Person as the Son of God come as the Messiah. He immediately called certain people to unconditional allegiance to Himself and thus into this kind of personal connection to Himself as Lord. Thereby He brought them into His own “sphere,” the place of His own Person. In a series of messages He gave to them on a hilltop (for it literally says that He “used to” sit down there with His disciples to talk to them), He told them that in this “place” of discipleship, that is, in connection to Him, they were in the place where He stood before the Father—the place of blessedness (5:3-10), sharing the same relationship to the world (5:11-16), under the government of the Father with respect to their behavior towards others (5:17-48), living in the sight of the Father (6:1-18), and under the Father’s providence (6:19-34). Now He speaks to them about living this kind of life authentically and honestly with integrity towards Him, others and themselves.
This chapter falls naturally into two halves, 7:1-12 and 7:13-27. Verses 7:28—8:1 forms the closing bracket corresponding to 4:25—5:2 as the opening bracket.
Do Not Judge (Matthew 7:1-4)
“Do not judge, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you.” Do not judge, for in the way in which you judge others, the Father—under the government of the Kingdom of the Heavens—will judge you. We have already seen an example of this when Jesus said, “If you forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you also; but if you do not forgive men their offenses, neither will your Father forgive your offenses” (6:14-15, see 6:12). It is not a complete prohibition of judgment, but a warning: When you judge, you expose yourself to judgment—you yourself will be judged as a consequence. If you judge, you shall be judged yourself. So do not judge that you be not judged.
The phrase, “do not judge” carries the sense of, do not be a judge of others, do not pronounce judgment on them. To do so, puts us in a false position. We take the place of a master instead of a disciple. In the realm of the Kingdom of the Heavens, this is the place of the Father with respect to our siblings, or the role of God with respect to the world.
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, it means, do not use the ethical teachings of the Sermon to judge others. Do not use the standard of Jesus’ own Person, to which we have been given access, to now judge others. We tend to have the ridiculous notion that because we learn about and agree with an ethical standard that it means we now live up to that standard. Why else would we dare to judge others who do not live up to such a standard?
What actually motivates us to judge others at all? “Why do you look at the splinter which is in your sibling’s eye, but the beam in your eye you do not consider?” Unfortunately, what motivates me to judge my sibling is the fact that I possess the same fault and am in denial of it. This is almost always what drives me crazy about the faults of others—the fact that I have the same fault and cannot face it. What stirs me up emotionally about what others do is the same problem in myself. Only, as Jesus points out, the splinter that I see in the eye of another really is really a reflection of a beam in my own eye. The fault in myself is huge compared to the fault that bothers me so much in the other; and the more it bothers me in someone else, probably the more severe it is in me. Sometimes the fault in the other may not even be there. I may misunderstand them. In this case, I am projecting my own fault onto them.
So when I look at others and I see faults, what I am really looking at is a mirror of my own faults. When I am seeing other’s faults, I am not seeing them; they are serving me as a mirror. I can almost be certain that the more their fault bothers me, the more it indicates the enormity of my own problem. I should also realize that the reason it bothers me is because I am in denial of my own behavior. Interestingly, what I am in denial of, and therefore refuse to see—I am “blind” to it—others often can see perfectly well. I am just like the person I criticize, and in fact, I am often far more guilty of the fault that I see than is the one whom I condemn. This is all rather sad.
Jesus goes on: “Or how can you say to your sibling, ‘Let me remove the splinter from your eye, and behold, the beam is in your eye?’” At first we may just be the silent critic who knows what is wrong with our sibling; we have not yet expose ourselves as a judge. This changes when we speak: we offer to fix the other. Perhaps this is especially a warning to teachers: “Do not become many teachers, my siblings, knowing that we will receive greater judgment” (James 3:1). It applies just as well, however, to how one believer treats another. We offer advice. We see another believer sinning (or so we imagine) and need to “turn a sinner back from the error of his way” (James 5:20). We see splinters in them and suppose that they do not know about them and need us to point them out, or to encourage them to get rid of them. We may even offer to remove the splinters for them with our excellent advice.
Removing Our Own Beams (7:5-12)
“Hypocrite! First remove the beam from your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your sibling’s eye.” Jesus does not offer this as rhetorical advice. He means this. If you see splinters in the eyes of others, remove the beam from your own eye. Then you will see clearly enough to actually be able to help them.
Jesus applies the “Golden Rule” to this situation. On the one hand, if you do not like to be criticized by someone who has the fault that they think they see in you, do not criticize others—for when you do, you do the same thing. On the other hand, we do receive help from people who have been through what we are going through and have removed the beam from their own eye. These people, characterized by their perceptiveness and humility, really do help us, without any presumption of superiority and often when they do not even know that they are giving help. “All that you wish men would do to you, so also you do to them.” This principle is the Torah and the Prophets, and it has its application here.
Consider the ethical standard of the Sermon on the Mount. It is the standard of Jesus Himself by which we are judged when we are in His sphere as His adherents. “For in many things we all stumble” (James 3:2). I hope we understand by now that this judgment does not refer to our salvation. If Jesus has called us and we have given ourselves to Him by faith and fealty, then we are redeemed—past tense—and our future salvation is assured. We are born of God and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ or remove us from being the Father’s children. Nevertheless, as Christ’s believers, we are under the Father’s judgment and will meet His discipline; and sometimes it will be severe.
How can we help one another when we are all under such a severe judgment? We can—by removing the beam which is in our eye. No one is without such beams, our Savior excepted. Such beams are removed from our eyes by the Father’s disciplining of us and by the working of death in our souls. Indeed, we can do all kinds of mental disciplines and forms of meditation and it is likely that we will only strengthen our ego and its defenses, thus reinforcing our denials and delusions. What changes us is a more relaxed and humble attitude as we submit to the Father’s discipline and allow the cross to do its work in our souls in the midst of our relationships and lives. We are not instantly changed. There is often a gate that we must go through, but there is also a path we must tread. Sometimes the gate (the spiritual insight) is at the beginning and we must follow the path for a long time before we are changed, and sometimes we must follow the path for a long time before we pass through the gate.
Jesus, however, wants us to respond to the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount not by becoming moral watchdogs of others, or by applying a new rigorous standard to ourselves (as if by sheer willpower we can change ourselves) but by removing the gigantic beams from our own eyes. Only then will we see clearly and be able to help others.
But, “Do not give that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the hogs, lest they trample them with their feet, and turn and tear you.” Removing beams from our eyes is hard-won treasure, and that treasure is holy. If we imagine that we have removed our beams, let us not go spreading the word to everyone with the presumption that we can now fix them. Such costly treasures need to be guarded with humility. We will indeed help others, whether we are aware of our doing so or not. We will possess the medicine that they need, and the Holy Spirit stirring within them will have them find it in us. But if we presumptuously cast such holy things to the dogs, and cast our pearls before pigs, they will not be able to see such things for what they are; they will trample them and then seeing our strength for vulnerability they will attempt to hurt us. Such are people. Dogs are unclean animals inwardly and outwardly in that they neither have cloven hoofs nor chew the cud; pigs are unclean inwardly in that they do not chew the cud (Leviticus 11:27, 7). They represent the two categories of unbelievers—those who know they are, and those who are but think they are believers.
Jesus says, “First remove the beam from your eye.” What if we want to remove the beam from our eye? We will discover in short order that we cannot. First of all, we have been in denial that the beam is even there. Then, by the mercy of God we discover that the splinter we have been seeing in others is really just the huge beam in our own eye. But willpower alone cannot remove it, nor can all the self-help and auto-suggestion and meditation techniques that we apply. We should read verses 7-11 in this context.
“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” There is a progression here. We need to ask the Father. We need to realize the powerlessness of our own soul and recognize our dependence on the Father. The soul cannot save itself. All its frustrating efforts only reinforce the root of the problem. If we could only see this, half the battle would be won. For if we realize that the danger is coming from our own souls, we would become afraid of our souls and let go of our self-trust and reliance and place ourselves in the hands of God. This is what is implied by the simple command to “ask.” To seek is more specific and active. “Seeking” implies looking for and finally seeing what we are looking for. The word means to investigate and discover. While it is true that we cannot ask properly before we see, in response to our asking, the Father begins to open our eyes. As the light of Christ shines on us, we discover and learn about the beam in our own eye. We realize, as the light breaks around the edges, that the beam even blocks our vision of Christ. Then, as we continue our seeking—our dependence on the Father continuing to grow as our fear of ourselves also increases—we discover our life in Christ. The last stage is, “Knock, and the door shall be opened to you.” Life in Christ is not just a hope that we have in this life for the next. The Holy Spirit dwells within us now to make the life of Christ a reality. It is not something of which the soul can become so easily conscious of. Probably if the soul becomes conscious that we have become spiritual, it will create an image of itself as “spiritual” and identify with this image and the delusion will begin again. We may be spiritual, but it is better that we are not self-conscious of the fact. As we abide in Christ (objectively), we can leave it to the indwelling immanent Holy Spirit to live out Christ—the revelation of Christ in our spirit—through whatever transparency of soul we may have acquired.
Probably, to ask implies the Father as the One who hears; to seek implies the revelation of Jesus Christ as that which we seek; and to knock implies the Holy Spirit who works within us to effect the change we seek. There are really two changes that we seek: one negative and one positive. We seek the removal of the beam from our eye; this implies the crucifixion applied to our soul. We seek this for the sake of having the life of Christ—as delineated in the Sermon on the Mount—living out through us; this implies the resurrected Christ revealed in our spirit and permeating our soul.
The following words, verses 9-11, tell us that it is the Father’s own pleasure to give us that which we ask. For Christ to be living in us by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, for us to be thus bearing the fruit of the Spirit, is not something which the Father is trying to keep from us and for which we must beg and contrive as if He were in any way reluctant. The reluctance and negligence is on our part. We cannot blame the Father.
I would turn these words around and examine myself. If I am holding on to that which does not work, why am I? If I am afraid to let go of my soul and to receive the perfect freedom of life, what is the basis of my fear? We may find that what is holding us back is a lack of trust, and that this lack of trust goes back to a sense of guilt. We do not yet know ourselves as forgiven. We still feel condemned. Yet if we have committed ourselves to Christ, then our sins are forgiven—the awesome and terrible judgment of God that Christ bore on the cross for our sakes has completely satisfied the judgment of my sin in the sight of God, the divine reality in which we live—and the Father loves us completely as His own beloved children, loving us to the extent that He loves His own beloved Son.
We are used to seeing these verses in isolation from each other. I am grateful to have the opportunity to consider them together, in relation to each other and as looking back over chapters 5 and 6.
There Is Only One Way (7:13-27)
The question in the remaining verses is about entering “into life.” The alternative is destruction. This life refers to enjoying the reality of eternal life in the Kingdom of the Heavens now and in the manifestation of the Kingdom in the future, after the manifestation of Christ when He is openly revealed. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of enjoying life now and “inheriting” eternal life in the future (see 19:29; see Luke 18:30). The inheritance of eternal life refers not to its possession, for every child of God by virtue of the new birth has eternal life, but rather to the enjoyment of its blessèdness in the age to come (the age of the Kingdom, not the eternal age). In the present age we may experience a foretaste of the age to come. However, in the present age we stand outwardly under the judgment of God (in solidarity with Israel, which is still under the judgment of the exile), though inwardly we experience peace with God, even as bear the fruit of the spirit in the church and in our lives at the roots of our society.
Verses 13-14 speak of the narrowness of the “gate” and the “path,” both defined by Christ. The gate is the revelation of Himself. The way is the working out of that revelation by the Holy Spirit: both outwardly by means of our circumstances and inwardly by the real presence of the crucified and risen Christ in our spirit through the immanence of the Holy Spirit by the testimony of the Word. By distraction how easy it is for Christians to miss both the gate and the path, imagining that the Christian life is something else: for example, the morality of the right or the social justice of the left.
Verses 15-23 speak of the false prophets who would lead us astray. Verses 15-20 tell us to recognize them by their fruits, that is, their teachings and what they effect. Verses 21-23 speak of their self-delusion, and the self-delusion of those who miss the narrow “gate” and “path” of the Father’s will.
“On that day” in verse 22 refers to the judgment of believers at the bema of Christ when He comes in glory, not the throne of God at the end of the age of the Kingdom. The question is whether these believers who missed the point can enter the Kingdom of the Heavens, not whether they are redeemed and will eventually be saved. When Jesus says, “I never knew you,” He means, “I never acknowledged you,” that is, He did not acknowledge them (the word is used in this sense in Romans 7:15) or approve of them when they prophesied, cast out demons and did many works of power in His name. To “depart from Me” means that they cannot enjoy the Kingdom of the Heavens but must endure the outer darkness until the period of their discipline is completed.
Our “house” refers to the house of our inner being, the house of our life, and even the house of the local church. What are we building? This is one question. “Everyone who hears these words of mine …” The Gospel according to Matthew and the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in particular tell us what we ought to be building. The question Jesus raises here is whether we are building this house on rock or sand. The difference—and here we are again reminded of the epistle of James—is whether we do “these words of Mine” or do not do them. We can easily delude ourselves into thinking that education is the same as acquirement, since “words” are intangible. This is why we find it so easy to judge others. We “know” the words of Jesus and we approve of them; we may even “get it”; but this has nothing to do with whether we have really been transformed by and into what these words speak. It is not by strain and willpower and the practice of ascetics, nor even by the use of the means of grace (though this is advisable!), but by the work of the Holy Spirit upon us from within: operating on our souls without by the arrangement of our life circumstances, and upon our soul by the revelation in our spirit of the cross of Christ and of Christ in all His fullness.
Whether we are building on rock or on sand depends on whether our Christ is a construction of our soul or the revelation of the Holy Spirit within our spirit, and whether we are dying to our constructed self (the “soul”) by submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit who exposes and slays our (vaporous) substance in the light of the beautiful reality of Christ.
The Crowds (7:28—8:1)
The crowds overheard Jesus’ teaching to His disciples (see 5:1-2), for nothing that we do is hid in a corner. There is no hidden doctrine, though there are levels of understanding. The crowds are not disciples, yet they admire Jesus and come to Him. The difference is that the crowds have not yet given themselves to Him. They are still concerned with what He can do for them; how He can benefit them. The reader might beware of this. The crowd may want to know more about Jesus before they commit; in the meantime they accept His healings and deliverance. Unfortunately, no amount of evidence can really satisfy the skeptical heart. There is always room for doubt; there are always other options to consider. Nothing will change this.
They are impressed by Jesus, as practically all people are. “He taught them as One having authority and not like their scribes.” There is something about how He speaks that resonates on the deepest level. Authority. He is not a copy or imitation of someone else. They realize that He is amazing, even unique, but they may not be able to go further.
What makes a disciple is the personal call of Jesus. This is the call of grace. He calls us to Himself and we cannot but respond. I do not speak of coercion but of irresistibility. It is the attraction of love, a love that slays as it lifts up. It is the attraction of beauty and goodness that stops us dead in our tracts and calls us forward. It is His Person that calls us, and we respond by calling on His name. The moment our heart thus opens to His heart, we are enclosed within an embrace that is greater than ourselves and yet that feels more like home than anything we have ever known. Coming to Jesus is coming back home and seeing for the first time our original face in the mirror (see James 1:23). By His call we become His forever.