A Bible Lesson on Matthew 7

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Much of Mathew 7 concerns relationships between the true Christian disciple and other people, beginning with the disciple’s relationships with fellow believers.  Christianity is not just some private lifestyle or personal world-view, it is a community affair that is lived out with other people.  It involves relationships and Jesus addresses some of these, both inside the family of Christianity and outside.  Recall once more that Jesus is describing His kingdom and the life of a true disciple for the early crowd of potential recruits.  What He’s describing is a kingdom utterly unlike anything else secular or religious that the world has ever known.

Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

You and I both know how our secular society wants this to be heard in our day.  The marching word of our time is “tolerance” and we’re supposed to take this out of the Biblical context (even out of the context of this sermon) and hear Jesus saying “do not apply any discernment to anything … any and everything anyone else believes or does goes … it’s not your business.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A bit further on in this text, Jesus talks about not casting pearls before swine, and warns to be on the lookout for false prophets!  We can’t possibly follow those injunctions if we are, as Spurgeon would have called us, “simpletons.”  Jesus is not speaking 21st century post-modernist mush here.  This is clearly not some kind of denial of universal moral absolutes.

So what is He saying?  He’s outlawing or condemning a personal “censorious” or faultfinding spirit.  He’s saying “don’t be out to find reasons to condemn your brethren.  Don’t put the worst possible face on every set of circumstances involving another.  Don’t be hypercritical and delight in finding one more confirmation that your brother is not perfect, ready to toss him on the garbage pile and be done with him.”   Paul put it this way in 1 Cor 13:6-7 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Jesus is talking about a spirit that is just the opposite of what is described in 1 Cor 13.  Lloyd-Jones in his wonderful book of sermons on Matthew 5-7 properly points out that when you and I participate in this worldly way of thinking and doing, we tell ourselves that we are concerned about principle and truth, when what we are really concerned with is personality.  If we were genuinely concerned about the former, we’d attack our own sin with the same kind of zeal with which we attack others.  But we’re not really concerned about error wherever it might be, we’re concerned about some other person.  We’re really out to pass final judgment not on an act of another, but on the whole of that person.

2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Jesus gives us a warning that if we have any sense, if we’ve been paying any attention to the Beatitudes and the rest of the sermon and know how undone we are personally, we know  we’ve got no place to stand and do this kind of self-righteous impatient number on our brethren.  The truth is, if we can habitually and without repentance do this kind of thing, we aren’t Christian.  Our attitudes give us away and we still stand under the wrath of God.  It’s the matter of the parable of the ungrateful servant.  If God is patient with us, we’ve got no place to be impatient with our brethren.

3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Is there something in my brother’s eye?  Sure!  This is not fantasyland or heaven yet, and we are not fully sanctified.  You bet there is a speck in my brother’s eye.  And it’s not even the case that I am somehow supposed to ignore it or pretend that it isn’t there.  But my problem is firstly me, not him.  The picture is supposed to be ridiculous.  You’ve got a speck in your eye and I am far more concerned about that than I am about the fact that there is a rafter in mine!  That is the way our old natures are.  I’m blind to my own sin and weaknesses, but am ready to let you know about yours.

4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?

There is no humility in this kind of attitude.  And as a result, the one with the plank cannot possibly help the one with the speck.  If I am living in the Beatitudes and in 1 Cor 13, I deal first with myself.  My whole motivation for anything I would then say to you about your speck is different.  I know how painful/grievous it is to have wood in the eye and how delicate one has to be when removing it.  I’ll not operate on you with obscured vision.  If I do, then clearly my motivation is corrupt.

5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

You and I are not God.  We don’t know the whole of anyone else’s circumstances.  It’s not our place to pass final judgment on another and toss him or her on the garbage heap.  And if we’re truly going to help a fellow believer, it’s going to be only after we’ve recognized our own sin and failure.  It’s going to be done most gently and humbly.  The truth is, that’s the only approach that could possibly help anyway.  Anything else only incites the one with the speck to defend its presence.

6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Gospel truth is the most precious thing on earth.  It is the most wonderful of news.  It is not soap to be handled/sold like Amway.  One size does not fit all in the proclamation of the Gospel.  And with all due respect, communicating it does not reduce to writing out, memorizing and parroting back a stock testimony indiscriminately to whoever, wherever.  I’m not saying we are without obligation to provide a legitimate Gospel witness to all people.  But Jesus says plainly to use our heads.  We do people no favors by telling them things they don’t need to hear or even things they do need to hear in inappropriate ways or times.  The verse demands that we treat those outside the faith as individuals as we try to show them Jesus.  And there will be some hard cases where the only thing consistent with the wonderful precious nature of the message is to back off.

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?

10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Jesus gives more instructions on prayer.  These may initially seem like a movement in another direction, but the central gist is that God treats us as His children and answers our prayers with great generosity.  That’s absolutely consistent with what Jesus is teaching in this text.  He’s calling on us to treat people meekly, to walk in light of the fact that we are but children of our heavenly Father.  And the promise is that the Father is aware and concerned with the situation of His children.  And that makes everything genuinely OK.  That’s a central message of the whole Bible.  It was the faith of Abraham and is now the faith of all true Christian believers.  Many (including Lloyd-Jones) have quoted an anonymous English Puritan of some 300 years ago who wrote “Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went; but he did know with whom he went.”

And so we come to the apex of the sermon, the “golden rule.”  Before going further, we need to get clear in what sense this is a “rule.”  It is not a “rule” in the sense of some specific narrow injunction that can be focused on and kept/checked off and put into one’s “good/done column.”  It is, rather, a standard or measure.  James Boice called it a “straight-edge” or “ruler.”  It is a measure that covers all human interaction.

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Commentators always point out that only the negative version of this had ever been put forth before Jesus spoke.  “If you would consider something harmful to yourself, don’t do it to anyone else.”  But this is bigger, much bigger.  I can keep the negative version by staying home and doing nothing.  It’s entirely something else to consider all the good that I would like done for me and set about doing it for others.  It is truly a “golden rule.”  Ryle said, “It settles a hundred difficult points, which in a world like this are continually arising between man and man; it prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases; it sweeps the whole debatable ground with one mighty principle; it shows us a balance and measure, by which everyone may see at once what is his duty.”

Indeed, this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  We miss it if we think that “thou shalt not kill” or “if you see your neighbor’s animal loose, round it up for him” are only rules to be kept.  Standing behind them is a self-denying love for others.  If we lived always in a way consistent with the genuine well-being of others, we would keep the Law and Prophets.

Commentators say that with verse 12, Jesus’ description of the radically new kingdom is complete and the rest of the sermon amounts to a call to action, an application of what has gone before.  Jesus isn’t interested in His hearers simply agreeing that indeed He’s laid out a novel new approach to life, He’s interested in them choosing to follow Him in it.  So the sermon ends with a series of warnings that emphasize the seriousness of what has been taught.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

This is a contrast between two antithetical/mutually exclusive ways of life.  One is a narrow/restricted gate and path while the other is a broad/roomy gate and path.  One requires the death of the old nature and the other does not.  One is a hard road while one is easy.  One requires constant struggle while the other comes quite naturally.  Lloyd-Jones sees the narrow gate as being rather like a turnstile, allowing through only one person at a time with no baggage, while the going through the other is a whole crew of party-goers, having what they think is a rollicking good time hauling with them all manner of luggage.  To pass through narrow gate, it is necessary to drop the baggage of worldly selfishness, while you can drive a garbage truck through the other one.  The narrow path leads to life, and the travelers on the wide one are apparently oblivious to the fact that it leads to destruction.

It’s worth reflecting on both the honesty and real grandeur of this picture.  Want to join up?  What’s being offered here is the most wonderful of all possible gifts, but it’s not common or easy in this life.  Why should it be?  Nothing worth anything ever is.  In light of eternity, truly the difficulty of the narrow path is simply not a consideration.

Now comes a warning about being fooled along the way by charlatans.

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

What’s the connection to the previous verses?  Probably that what the false prophet offers is an easy way, a way that doesn’t require the kind of death to self that Jesus has been laying out in the Sermon on the Mount.  Lloyd-Jones sees these guys standing in front of the narrow gate doing their best to side-track those who would enter.  This is serious business.  This is heaven and hell.  And if there were no false prophets or the possibility of being deceived, Jesus wouldn’t have bothered with this warning.

These people look like sheep.  They seem harmless. They can be mistaken for sheep, but they are dangerous.  Jesus condemned personal fault-finding and a censorious spirit in the early part of the chapter, but now warns that being taken in is a matter of life and death.  Lloyd-Jones sees these folks as not spouting blatant heresies or committing obvious immoralities, but just not telling the whole story, not providing the radical view of the kingdom Jesus has laid out, and letting on that really, the road’s not so narrow or hard.  He sees them maintaining that it’s possible to get home via the wide road.

How do you tell one when you see him?  Well, because of appearances you might mistake a wolf in a costume for a sheep, but you don’ need to make a mistake about identifying a tree.  If there is any doubt about a tree, just wait to see what it produces.

16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.

18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

The fruit is both words and deeds.  Does one’s teaching square with the picture Jesus has given of His kingdom?  Does it provide the whole Gospel story?  Can the Beatitudes (poverty of spirit, mourning over sin, hunger and thirst for righteousness, meekness, mercy, purity/singleness of heart, peacemaking) and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) be seen in the person?  If not, you’ve got a wolf/bad tree, no matter how pleasant and attractive it seems.

In the 21st century, we’re unscripturally benevolent in this area, figuring that as long as someone claims to be a “Christian” minister, we’ll count them as one of the team unless their error is obvious.  Jesus isn’t so “benevolent.”

There is the possibility of being thrown off track by ill-intended others.  There is also the possibility of being self-deluded.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There is no suggestion here that the “Lord, Lord” is intentionally insincere.  These people really think that they should be OK.  They have done stuff.  They’ve done what seems to be powerful stuff.  They’ve done what seems to be “god” stuff.  In the right context what they have done has its place, but their work has not been the will of the Father.  They have never really known Jesus.  The absolutely disarming, penetrating, central, humble stuff of Matthew 5 is something that they know nothing about.  They want to be on Jesus’s team … but on terms other than those He’s laid down in this sermon.  Their righteousness is of their own making.  They are worldlings.  They don’t know Him and He doesn’t know them, and He sends them away. 

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.

27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

The Savior of the sermon, the One who spoke the words beginning with poverty of spirit and running right through the golden rule is the only Salvation and Hope for any human.  We either take Him at His word and love Him and His kingdom, or our entire existence is built on nothing.  It will not stand in the hard things that absolutely will come in life.  It will be utter disaster in eternity.

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,

29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Really.  Look back through the sermon.

Mat 5:11  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Mat 5:17  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Mat 5:22  But I say to you …

Mat 5:28  But I say to you…

Mat 5:32  But I say to you …

Mat 5:39  But I say to you …

Mat 5:44  But I say to you …

Mat 6:2  … Truly, I say to you …

Mat 6:5  … Truly, I say to you …

Mat 6:25  Therefore I tell you …

Mat 6:29  yet I tell you …

And look again at verses 7:21-24

This is the Son of God, not appealing to the opinion of some earlier Rabbi, but speaking as God Himself, assuming the role of Messiah and eternal Judge of the universe.  It only fails to take our breath away because it’s not the first time we’ve heard it. 

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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