Do not Judge | Matthew 7:1-6
It is ironic that no command has become a greater focal point of division than Jesus’ command to end it. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is one of Jesus’ most famous sayings largely because his critics have tried to use it as a shield to ward off the Gospel when it talks about their sins and the sins of others. But the phrase, “Stop judging me!” can be just as judgmental and evil as an unqualified: “You’re hopeless and damned to hell you wicked sinner!” And whether such cries are couched in false humility feigning victimization, or launched from an angry browed legalist with an outstretched finger, both are sinful and outside of faith.
Like of all of Jesus’ sayings, it is of eternal importance that we get his words right. In this case, we have a classic example of where a right or wrong understanding of the Lord’s teaching determines how well our spiritual eyes have been trained to see.
So what exactly is Jesus saying in this passage?
When Jesus says, “Do not judge…” he is not saying “Do not compare truths and make distinctions” he is saying “Do not condemn other people because that is not your place and when you rebuke be sure that your own conscience is clear.” This is a key distinction for us because as humans we sin constantly and make judgments about things every day. If we are not permitted to compare and contrast truth claims then we are all sinfully judgmental and hopelessly lost. But if we condemn others for the sins we commit we doubly sin. So Jesus is saying that we should never presume that we can preside over a person’s ultimate spiritual destiny, and he is also saying that we should never rebuke people for the same sins we commit.
After all, who are we to presume that God’s kindness will not lead the hypocrite, the homosexual, the false prophet, the glutton, the gossip or the atheist to repentance? Who are we to act as if we control the grace of God? These realities don’t mean we shouldn’t warn unbelievers about the consequences of sin, but it does mean that there is a great difference in saying: “The Gospel says that if you die in your sins without Jesus you will go to hell” and saying “Go to hell! There is no hope for you. You’re already hopelessly lost.
The Apostle Paul’s former life gives us a great deal of hope. His life before Christ shows us that a better end may await even the hardest sinners we know. This is why we should love unbelievers, preach Jesus to them and never give up. We also need to ask God for his kindness in our hearts in order to believe that he can heal anyone he wishes and to give us the boldness to gently correct the sin of other people.
But when we condemn other people, we condemn ourselves. When we force-fit others into our stereotypes to justify our stinginess, apathy and anger, we condemn ourselves by the same measure we are using to condemn others. Every soul that is under the Law of God will perish by that Law. When we condemn by the Law, we do not live by faith in Jesus but by our works, which can never be sufficient and never offer us hope or eternal life. Those who live under the Law are spiritually dead and will be judged according to its perfect demands; and the Judge who judges by his perfect laws will not spare us if we presume to hold the power and wisdom that he alone possesses.
Do Unto Others | Matthew 7:7-12
Every command, every rule, and every law is summed up in one: Love your neighbor as yourself. What about the commands to love God? Love your neighbor. What about the commands to live a holy life? Love your neighbor. What about Jesus’ commands right here in the text to seek, ask and knock? Love your neighbor. What about right doctrine? Prove it out: Love your neighbor. What about faith in Christ alone? Love your neighbor.
Do you see the connection here between the Word, faith and love? Do you see what the Lord is asking of us through our faith and our dependence on him? Christ doesn’t want to make rule keepers out of us. He doesn’t want moralists lecturing on the social and economic ills of society while we live hypocritical lives. He wants us to love each other as he has loved us. Why? Because love is who he is (1 John 4:8,16) and he wants us to be like him.
Jesus has led us to this crescendo in his famous sermon to drive home a simple, profound point. Seeking, asking and knocking are revealed by loving your neighbor. The perfect Law that he has shown us, that is too high to keep in our own strength, is wrapped up in our love for our neighbor. The holy life that God requires, that is too high for our sinful hearts to soar up to grasp, are all summed up in one simple command: love your neighbor. And by faith, God’s children find their fulfillment when the God of Heaven resides in their hearts. Through faith he gives them the energy and the strength to believe in his name and to love his ways. And the greatest of all his ways is love, that is best expressed when we love our neighbor.
So if you’re looking for a great sign of salvation, here it is. Here is the true test to know that God has circumcised your heart by faith: that you express your gratitude for what he has done for you by doing to others what you would have them do to you.
How can this be? Well, we must consider the text. First, we have Jesus instructing us to seek, knock and ask the Father for good things. Then we are told that our gracious God, who has allowed every rebellious, ungrateful sinner on earth draw breath, eat his food and find little joys through the trivialities of life that all point to him, that he will not mock our pleas if we ask him to help us.
But then Jesus injects that one little word that changes everything. With one little word he turns his whole sermon on its head. Everything is turned upside down with the simple word: so.
Jesus tells us that if we seek we will find, and if we ask we will receive, and if we knock the door will be opened for us. The promise is true and sure for those who trust in him. But before you ask how we rightly seek, ask and knock of God, consider this little word so. For it tells us that the seeking, asking and knocking happens when we love our neighbor as ourselves. It tells us that true seeking happens when we do to others as we would have them do to us.
The love of Christ is shown within us and true faith is expressed authentically from our hearts when we love other people as we love ourselves. We will never perfectly love other people, and we will fail many times in many ways as we try. But seeking, knocking and asking (the heart of faith itself) are tied to showing our love for others just as Christ has shown his love for us.
The Kingdom of the Upside Down | Matthew 7:13-14
Jesus’ Kingdom is a Kingdom of the Upside Down. In his Kingdom, you must rest in order to work, and if you work first to find it, you will never find its true rest. In Jesus’ Kingdom, you must love the King in order to keep his rules because “keeping the rules” will never earn you the love of the King. And in Jesus’ kingdom the greatest of his subjects are those that care the least about their greatness because they have learned that true greatness comes when they make the needs of others more important than themselves.
Jesus’ upside down kingdom is a hidden kingdom. He tells us that the path that leads to it is narrow as is the gate that one enters through to get inside. He tells us that it is a kingdom hidden in plain sight, a kingdom we don’t see because it goes against every instinct of our soul.
At first glance, Jesus’ kingdom seems silly. Just believe in the King and you can enter. Just depend on the King with your whole being and he’ll show you the pathway to eternal life. But entering the kingdom is hard because belief is hard. Faith isn’t easy for our souls. We demand payment for the work we perform, and we demand to pay our own way for everything. We can’t except the fact that the greatest, most expensive gift that God could give us is absolutely free.
Living the Gospel is a rare and precious thing. But our bodies, our temperaments and our minds are frail and fragile and resistant to faith. We are not wired to be contrarians. We are by nature so resistant to surrendering ourselves to God that we’d rather tirelessly work than rest. This is why the narrow gate is narrow and hard to enter. The way through is not hard to enter because it is mechanically hard to walk a path and enter through a gate. It’s not hard because Christ resists us from coming to him for help. It’s hard because we resist him. We resist his grace by trying to do things in our way, by trying to save ourselves in our own strength and according to our own expectations.
By Their Fruits | Matthew 7:15-23
The Gospel was always meant to be viral. Since its explosion at Pentecost, the Gospel has spread and has infected God’s people with grace and mercy and love. And God’s most attractive lure has always been his people living a Christ-centered life. He shows through his amazing grace that even the vilest person can be sobered with his meekness and turned to his unfailing love.
Speaking with Nicodemus away from the public spotlight, Jesus once said a very profound thing. It is a thing that should both terrify us and fill us with joy. He said that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). What he meant by this was the Spirit of God goes where he wants and changes whoever he wills. But the method God uses to move hearts is through his people speaking his Word. The joy of God and the power of God is carried and disseminated by his people.
The Gospel is not an idea that exists in a vacuum. The Gospel is an organic, often fast-growing virus that spreads best when its people cannot contain their joy in Jesus.
If you melt away all the gleaming smiles and impeccable looks in the world, what are you really left with? Take away the multimillion dollar complex, the state-of-the-art stage, the perfectly timed lighting, the towering digital projector screen, and what are you truly left with? Is true humility and the love of Christ dependent on bright lights and an impressive stage?
In the end, Jesus says it’s what’s inside that truly matters. It’s how you live, how you speak and how you treat other people that determines the genuineness of your faith. When it comes to teachers of the Word there is an even higher standard.
Gospel people produce gospel people. Every good tree bears good fruit. Every bad tree bears bad fruit. It is the fruit, the spiritual produce that is coming out of a heart that we are to evaluate to determine whether a teacher is good or bad.
But given our proclivities to judge the outside of a person (to be enamored with their looks, their speech or their gifts) we have to know what the Gospel says in order to know what Gospel people look like. If we don’t know the Gospel, we will deceive ourselves and be deceived by inward wolves who will lead us from Jesus. And if we wind up following the advice of those wolves, we will hear those terrible words at the end of time saying: “’I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Build on the Rock | Matthew 7:24-29
A truth that is heard and not put into practice is a greater tragedy than if it was never heard at all. At least in ignorance there is some excuse, but with neglect or stubbornness comes a double dose of misery.
When Jesus talks about building houses in this parable, he’s talking about what we take refuge in when the storms of life strike. For unbelievers, the cares and worries of life are the materials they use to build their houses and they build them on the lie that true happiness can be found in a dying world. These people hide behind their wealth and friendships and Jesus likens them to home builders who ignore the basics of home building. They invite disaster upon themselves when they refuse to follow the simplest step to building their house.
When the storms of life come, the soundness of a house will be tested. If the house is built on unstable ground, the heavy walls and looming trusses of the world’s cares will suddenly cave in on its occupants and destroy everyone inside. Cases like these are a double disaster. The storm will have its way and the flood waters will rise, but the faithless are first crushed under the heavy load of their lusts and sins. The years of unbelief that led them to build what they thought was a strong and sturdy houses, suddenly falls and compounds their misery. This is why you can build the most sturdy house out of good works and sound reasoning and still have it come crashing down around you, because any house that is built on unstable ground is useless.
Jesus urges us to build our house on his truth, and to put to put his truth into practice. There we can build our shelters to protect us from life’s storms. Even though we might be lousy builders they will hold when the storms of life come because they were built on the Rock. And those that build on the Rock will find true and lasting treasure, and will find peace when the storms of life find us.