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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Golden Rule

Matthew 7

Lesson audio

It sometimes escapes our notice, but the passage now known as the “Golden Rule” is set in a particular context – being judgmental. It is instructive, therefore, to remember that thought as we examine the remaining portion of the Sermon on the Mount.

Judge Not

Mat 7:1-6 NIV

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (2) For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (3) "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? (4) 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? (5) 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. (6) "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 then turn and tear you to pieces.

Paradox: condemn sin or judge not?

It seems at first blush that Christ is telling us here that we are never to condemn sin, but always consider ourselves as much more guilty. In fact, however, there are two concepts we must keep in mind as being of use in dealing with another Christian’s sin:

·         The first is church discipline. This is commanded of us, and also done by example. But in our instructions for this, it is always to be done in love and care. We are specifically cautioned not to do this should we ourselves be weak in the sin concerned. In short, firm in purpose, gentle in love.

·         The second is judgment, which is forbidden here. But surely we can see just what is happening. Christ’s comparison of speck and plank tells us first that the judgment is being made on trivial things. (Holier than thou?) He also makes it clear that this is being done in pride, not in repentance of heart.

The yardstick principle

To see just how damaging this judgment is, Christ points out that He will use our own yardstick to measure us. Can we safely assume that you wish to be judged by trifling things? I think not; in my own case, I’m certain of it.

But I must admit the righteousness and fairness of the procedure. This is important, as it provides motivation to stop judging. It also provides a clear answer as to just what Christ will do with me and my judging.

However, it must be admitted: sometimes the judgment goes on without the slightest thought of problem. It seems very natural at the time.[1] But to do so without thinking is to do so in hypocrisy. That is a very deadly business.

Pearls before swine

There is another point to be considered. Sometimes we feel judgmental towards someone who is not really a Christian. The temptation to rise up and straighten out that individual (with a short list of Bible verses) is overwhelming. We soon learn that it doesn’t work. The carnal man cannot understand what the spiritual man is saying.[2] Whether just or not, judgment by another human being rarely impresses the non-believer. That is God’s work, through the Holy Spirit. We are taught to “shake dust”[3] in such circumstances.

Warning signs

How do we know when we’ve slipped into being judgmental? The first clue is that we do it from our own understanding, not asking God anything. It is natural, therefore, that our man-created words do not fulfill the purposes of God. In fact, they are usually offensive. If we persist, it will not be long until the word, “Hypocrite” is thrown about, and the charge be made against the church as well as its member.

So what should we do about this?

Ask, Seek, Knock

Mat 7:7-12 NIV "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (8) For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (9) "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? (10) Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? (11) If you, then, though you are evil, 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! (12) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The real shortfall in being judgmental is this: to do so, we rely on our own understanding of things. Once stated, it becomes obvious that we should be bringing these things to God. Why don’t we? Perhaps it is this:

  • The things we’re being judgmental on are in fact trivial, and we “don’t want to bother Him” about it, or
  • We’re afraid He will point out just how trivial they are, and just how much hypocrisy we are in.

This process will at least sort out the important stuff. If we will bring the matter to Him first, it saves much time and effort – and allows us to focus on what is important to God.

What does it mean

Nor are we to do this in a trivial way. Indeed, it is instructive to examine the original Greek words for this:

  • Ask – the word can also be translated as “desire” or even “crave.” We are not asking of idle curiosity but out of sincere love for our brothers.
  • Seek – the word is otherwise translated as “worship” – as in, “to seek God’s face.”
  • Knock – means knock.

So even in the way in which we are to seek God’s will, we are to be in earnest and completely committed.

“So, in everything,”

May I point it out? The Golden Rule is a conclusion of the chapter so far! Its first use is in dealing with the judgments of man. If you don’t like having others treat you judgmentally (and who does?) then be fair: don’t be judgmental towards them.

Rather, we should follow God’s example of forgiveness and generosity. He will equip us at all points required if we will simply rely on Him instead of our own understanding. Follow Him – and follow persistently.

The Narrow Gate

Mat 7:13-29 NIV "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. (14) But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

(15) "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (16) By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (17) Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (21) "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) 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 perform many miracles?' (23) Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

(24) "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. (25) 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. (26) 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. (27) The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (28) When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, (29) because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

The narrow way

It is an unfortunate characteristic of human beings: wishful thinking. How often have you heard someone say that God will let them into heaven because the good they have done, or because God isn’t judgmental, you know? Our society has succumbed to the idea that all religions are equally true (hence, of course, equally false), so it doesn’t matter what you believe (or even what you do), God will let you into heaven.

Christ here tells us that this idea is false. For though the way of life is open to all, it is a very strict one. The idea that Christ is “the way, the truth, the life” seems, somehow, unfair. But life is like that too; most things have only one road of truth. The path is easy to find – and easy to be distracted from.

False Prophets

We must, therefore, pay some attention to the distractions along the way. Keeping with the theme of being judgmental, Christ points out one group that can be very judgmental: the false prophet.

It’s a pretty clear point. The false prophet has to have somebody to be “against”. Otherwise, he’d be expected to preach the Gospel as found. It’s much easier to preach against. But this very attitude tells you who is the false prophet: the one whose words and actions strive against the harmony and love of the church. Their words sound pious, but they create strife everywhere they go. And that’s how we are to recognize (and avoid) them.

Confusion in this comes because we look at the entire effect of a given leader. He might not be eloquent as a pastor, but he works hard and brings people together, for example. We look at the false prophet with a tendency to excuse him because he is so good at:

  • “Lord, Lord.” He may be an eloquent man, and be fond of public prayer which seems to exalt the Lord.
  • Prophecy. He may pose as one to whom God has given some special revelation.
  • Demons and miracles. He may appear to perform miraculous healings, and drive out demons.

Surely, we might think, such a man must be sincere. Think again; do any of these things sound familiar?

Two ways

It comes to this. There are two ways before us. One is hard, narrow and long. It requires sacrifice, devotion and obedience. The other is wide open and easy to stay on. It’s just that it leads you to hell. The narrow way is not hard to find, and it is open to “whosoever will.” The problem is not with our road map; the problem is with our desire to choose the pleasant way over the right way.

 


[1] If you’ve ever had to deal with the “fashion police” types, you know this.

[2] 1st Corinthians 2:14

[3] Matthew 10:14

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