(Mat 7) “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.
Why not judge? Because we’re sinners, too. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that the church, which honors the Sermon on the Mount, is known by the world as judgmental. We seem to struggle to honor this teaching.
Condescension and judgmental attitudes tear up a community and make that community extraordinarily unattractive. We never be evangelistically effective until we take this to heart.
(1 Cor 5:12-13) What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
Paul helps us see the point quite clearly. We have no business judging those outside the church. They are lost, so it hardly matters how sinful they are. Our calling is to introduce them to Jesus, and if they accept him, teach them how to live as Jesus wishes.
We “judge” those in the church, not to look down on those less holy than us, but to help those struggling with sin to return to the Lordship of Jesus. We hold each other accountable — because we love our brothers and don’t want to see them entangled in sin.
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.
While we aren’t allowed to judge those outside the church, neither should we be stupid. When they are coming at you with pitchforks and fire, run and go to the next city. Paul and Peter were often threatened with death and left when they had to. Sometimes we have to shake the dust off our feet and move on. If one city won’t accept Jesus, go to the next.
7 “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!
We have to understand that God wants to walk in the Garden with his children. He loves us. He’s not trying to trick or test us. He wants what’s best for us. Our task is to trust 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.
“Sums up” is “is” in the Greek. Jesus says the whole point of the Law of Moses and the Prophets — 1,500 years of God’s working with Israel — was simply to get his people to treat each other the way they’d like to be treated. God says, “GET ALONG!” Be courteous, thoughtful, kind, loving. It’s not complicated.
We try to center the scriptures on acts of worship and church organization. Jesus Christ says the center of God’s family is the Golden Rule. And if we can’t get this right, we’ll never sort out worship and elders and deacons. After all, what kind of church would it be if our elders and deacons didn’t honor the Golden Rule? What kind of worship would it be if we came to God while treating our brothers in ways we’d never accept if it were happening to us?
The rules — whatever they may be — aren’t on top of and in addition to the Golden Rule. Rather, this is the whole law.
(Rom 13:8-10) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
(Gal 5:6b) The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(Gal 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We can be incredibly dense at times. This should be plain enough.
Jesus and Paul aren’t saying that church isn’t important. Rather, he’s saying that what’s important about church is our love for each other.
(John 13:34-35) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(John 17:20-21) “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
The true mark of the church — the unmistakable sign that we are truly God’s community and family — is our love and the unity that love produces. If we aren’t united, then we don’t love as we should.
Just to take an example, 100 years ago, churches were torn up over instrumental music. If one faction in a church won the vote to bring in an instrument, what would Jesus have told the a cappella camp to do?
Wouldn’t he have said to turn the other cheek? To walk the second mile?
And if the a cappella group felt compelled to worship in a separate building, should they have sued for ownership of the building they helped pay for? Or was the right attitude to build up treasures in heaven, to love their enemies, and like God, do good for both friend and foe?
Had they taken this attitude, might unity have been preserved despite the disagreements? Might the instrumental churches have conducted a separate a cappella service so there’d be no need for a lawsuit?
I say none of this to defend the instrumentalists — just to note that the Sermon on the Mount applies in doctrinal disputes, too — more so, because those are fights among brothers who are supposed to love each other so much the world will want to become a part of our community.
13 “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.
The “narrow gate” isn’t the gate of doctrinal purity. In context, Jesus is saying the narrow gate is the gate of the Golden Rule — which is narrower. Anyone can fight over doctrine and stand for what they believe. It’s much, much harder to actually live the Golden Rule. And which interpretation fits the Story best?
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!’
What is the test of a true prophet? Clearly, it’s not the ability to do miracles. No, the test is “good fruit.”
Some wish to argue that this passage is all about those who teach the correct 5 acts of worship, but that’s clearly foreign to the context. Rather, the only previous use of “good” in the Sermon on the Mount is in 5:16, which refers to the “good works” that will bring glory to God. Elsewhere, the metaphor of good fruit is used in the prophets of social justice (Isa 5), of Christian virtues (Gal 5), fruit of repentance (Matt 3:8-9), good words (Matt 12:35-37), etc. Jesus spoke in a farming society. “Fruit” is what the farmer eats and enjoys from his harvest. It’s whatever God wants from his people.
In context, “fruit” is being salt and light, doing unto others, turning the other cheek, and obedience to all the other instructions Jesus has just given. “Fruit” is therefore primarily ethical — it’s how we treat our brothers and our neighbors. The true prophet brings God’s children into a loving, forgiving community, stronger marriages, and right relationship with God. A false prophet sows discord and division.
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.”
It should now be unmistakeable that Jesus was talking about putting his words into practice in verses 15-23, because now he says it plainly.
Jesus concludes by saying that those who live what he teaches will be able to withstand the storms and floods of life. Not only will God keep them safe, he’ll have built his life with materials that are stronger than the wind and the rain.
If we build our churches on the strongest and best doctrine but have no love, if our members don’t hold to the Golden Rule, if our members hold grudges, if we don’t actually live what Jesus taught, well, we’ll collapse when the storms come. So will our marriages. So will our lives and our relationship with God.
But build with the right materials, you build for the ages.