In our study of Matthew chapter seven, we look at the methods that we use to recognize our fellow citizens of the kingdom of God. This is the final part of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. In the first part (chapter 5), we looked at what the kingdom will look like in terms of the way people will act. In the second part (chapter 6), we looked at things that will naturally be a part of the lives of those that belong to the kingdom. Now, we will look at how we can tell the difference between those that are citizens of the earth and those that are citizens of the kingdom.
'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.'
This verse has been one of the most misunderstood teachings of Jesus. These words have been used to say that we are not to say what is right or wrong and to justify about anything that people can dream of to do. As we shall see, Jesus tells us to evaluate the character of others but, here, He is telling us not to judge their hearts or their motives. We cannot see into the hearts of men and so we are not to condemn them and be harsh in dealing with them. We can point out where their actions do not agree with the Word of God but we cannot say why they did something.
'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? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.'
Jesus drives home the point with an example of eyesight. We have all had something get into our eye at some point and our natural reaction is for the eye to water and to close. This prevents us from seeing the entire picture clearly and that is what Jesus is talking about. The eye is a symbol of knowledge and He is telling us that, in order to know what is in the hearts of men, we must go to the one that can see into the heart which is God alone. This speaks of our need to pray concerning our dealings with others.
'Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.'
Dogs and pigs were considered to be unclean so we are not to give them what is sacred but what is that? The sacred is the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, what is Jesus talking about? He is telling us that we are to make judgments as to who we share the gospel with and who we try to teach the things of God. He speaks of the fact that, if we do not make this determination, there will be those that seem to accept the gospel but do not. They will not bring glory to God and in fact will turn on us and try to destroy the work that God is doing through us.
'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.'
This passage has been wrongly used to give people the impression that God is like some mythical Santa Claus. This is not talking about material things but is, in fact, talking about gaining wisdom and guidance. In the previous verse, Jesus told us that we need to judge who we are sharing the things of God with. As we know, God is the only one that can see into the hearts of men. Because of that fact, we must seek God through prayer in dealing with people that we come into contact with. It is only through Him that we can know who to share the things of God with and who to stay away from. Does this mean that the gospel of Jesus Christ does not apply to everyone? No, Jesus' blood paid for the sins of all men but not all men will accept the gift. As the Good Shepherd, He knows all of His sheep even before they enter his pen (kingdom). He knows the number of hairs on each head and more importantly He knows what is in their hearts. If we seek His counsel, he will lead us to effectively share the good news with those He has called to hear it.
'Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!'
Jesus uses the material things to describe how men take care of their children. He then goes on to explain that God is a better Father than any man and so we can reasonably expect better gifts from Him. This passage has been used by the "name it and claim it" crowd but what Jesus is talking about is wisdom. How do we know what is in the hearts of men? We know by praying and God granting us wisdom. When He shows us what we need to know, we will better be able to tell who the citizens of the kingdom are and who are the dogs or pigs. This is often referred to as spiritual discernment and it is a gift from God.
'So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.'
This verse is often called the "Golden Rule" and it speaks to the fact that we are to show love even to those that are not kingdom citizens. It is easy to get caught up in the "us versus them" mentality but Jesus willingly died for those that would reject Him. In the same manner, we are to demonstrate His love to those that are perishing.
'Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.'
This is something that the people would have seen regularly and so Jesus used it as a demonstration. The narrow door (in the center) is only big enough for one person to go through it at a time. It is the same way with our salvation. We can either go with the crowd (the world) or we can make an individual choice to accept Him. Jesus shared this at this point to remind us that showing love to those that are perishing does not mean that we compromise on the word of God.
'Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.'
What is a false prophet? They are people that say that they have been sent by God but, in fact, are not. Jesus warns us about them because they will appear to be friendly and obedient to God but are actually serving their own flesh. Once again, the heart is where the difference is located and only God really knows what is in a man's heart.
'By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.'
Jesus tells us how to recognize these false prophets by using the example of fruit trees. A fruit tree only produces the type of fruit that is keeping with its kind and the same principle applies to these false prophets. The fruit that Jesus was speaking about is what is commonly called "the fruit of the Spirit". Paul gave us a list of these (see Galatians 5) and went on to explain that these will demonstrate whether someone is living for the flesh or the things of God.
'Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.'
As we saw, this good fruit is only possible from a good tree and a good tree represents a Spirit filled follower of Jesus Christ. This is a reminder of the fact that the Holy Spirit is a deposit in us guaranteeing that we are children of God. If we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, then, these fruits will be evident in our lives. False prophets may try to imitate these qualities but will not be able to consistently demonstrate them in their daily lives. The final result for these pretenders is eternal judgment at the hand of a holy God. We notice that we are only to avoid them; it is God that will take care of them in the end.
'Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.'
There are many who call Jesus Lord but that is not what gets someone into heaven. As with the false prophets, the difference is in the heart. Just because someone uses the name does not mean that they have accepted the grace of God through Jesus Christ. What is the will of the Father? The will of the Father is for the people of the earth to recognize and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and the payment for the sins of all men.
'Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?"'
The phrase "on that day" refers to the final day of judgment where everyone will stand before Jesus. We see that there will be some that try to use their actions to justify their place in the kingdom. Doing good things does not make you a disciple but a disciple will do good things. That has been the stumbling block for all kinds of people throughout history and it is even more the case today. There are many people that are doing good things such as feeding the hungry and clothing the poor which are good things. They are even better if they are used as a tool to tell people about our Lord and Savior. Unfortunately, many of the people are doing these good things in hopes of gaining favor with God instead of trusting in Jesus Christ as the basis for any favor that God shows to us.
'Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"'
Once again, we are reminded that it is the heart that determines our home. On the day of judgment, Jesus' answer to those that did not trust in Him alone will be that they are not His. They will be cast away from Him and into hell.
'Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.'
The land of Israel is known for its seasons of torrential rains. A house had to be constructed with these rains in mind so that they could withstand the storms. The most important part of the construction is the foundation which supports everything else. Jesus compares the life of a disciple with the construction of a house. It is the storms of life that show who the true disciples are and who are the pretenders. The foundation that Jesus was referring to is the grace of God that would soon be demonstrated through His death for our sins. Grace is the foundation of salvation because understanding that you do not have to work for it and cannot earn it is necessary to get to the freedom that is in Christ Jesus.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the people could see a difference between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of men. The teachers of the day would quote each other and refer to the teachings of others but Jesus did not. For those who want to be an effective teacher, this is a reminder to stick to what is given directly by the Holy Spirit. If you do so, then, people will see that your teaching, like that of Jesus, is with the authority of God.