Posts Tagged 'sermon on the mount'

Living in the Kingdom: Balance (the art of being judgmental)


Mathew 7


Living in the Kingdom requires balance, something most of us have trouble with achieving.  But if we want to live the way Jesus wants us to, then balance is something we have to strive for.  Matthew 7 is all about balance.

Judge correctly, Matthew 7:1, 2

Censorious judgment was something the Pharisees engaged in all the time and it was something Jesus said His followers should avoid.  Almost everybody misunderstands what Jesus is really teaching in these verses, believing Christians should never judge anybody.  That is definitely not what Jesus is teaching here.  Jesus himself exercised judgment often, coming to conclusions about, for example, the scribes and Pharisees, and He was never afraid to share His conclusions with them!   Part of the  problem is the King James Version’s translation of the Greek krino.   Taylor’s paraphrase, The Living Bible, gives us a better sense of what Jesus was trying to teach:

Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized.  (Matthew 7:1  TLB)

Verse two was probably a common proverb of Jesus’ day.  It sounds a lot like “reaping what you sow.”

For others will treat you as you treat them.  (Matthew 7:2  TLB)

If you are hypercritical toward someone, you’ll be treated just like that some day.  The Lord is not condemning discernment or judging a brother in love for his benefit, but rather He is condemning judging harshly, coldly and without love, and in a spirit of self-righteousness. 

Board and speck, Matthew 7:3—5

Jesus carries on the idea of harsh judgment with these verses, in which we read a description of and a warning to judgmental critics. 

And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. (TLB)

It’s an absurd proposition.  A human being can’t walk around with a two-by-four sticking out of his eye!  But that’s Jesus’ point. It’s absurd for one believer to assume a superior position over another for the purpose passing judgment on another.  Human beings can’t see into another’s heart!  Therefore, how can we possibly make an accurate assessment?  For that matter, we all have something in our eyes that causes us to not see others in an accurate light.  When we deal with what ails our eyes, then we will be free to deal with someone else’s eye problems. 

What Jesus is attacking here are one’s motives.  If we attempt to judge someone else for the purpose of condemning them unjustly or to “put them in their place,” or to make ourselves either feel good or look good, we are not practicing Kingdom living.  The balance, though, is that we are to judge each other for the purpose of spurring each other on in the faith. 

Pearls and pigs, Matthew 7:6

Don’t give holy things to depraved men. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls and turn and attack you.  (TLB)

Here is some more balance.  The admonition not to judge others lest we be judged has its limits.  It does NOT apply to depraved men and pigs.  They must be judged and treated as such.   The “holy things” and “pearls” refer to the same thing:  the holy truth of the Gospel (Lenski).  Jesus is teaching  that we should be careful to whom we give the Word of God to.  “Depraved men” and “pigs” will only walk all over the precious doctrines of Scripture, and probably persecute you, too!

But these men mock and curse at anything they do not understand, and like animals, they do whatever they feel like, thereby ruining their souls.  (Jude, verse 10  TLB)

But when the Jewish leaders saw the crowds, they were jealous, and cursed and argued against whatever Paul said.  (Acts 13:45  TLB)

Balance:  there are certain places where it is a waste of time trying to share your faith.  There are certain times when it’s better to keep quiet.  Some people won’t receive the Word from you, so don’t waste your time.  This is a judgment you have to make!   This was something Jesus taught elsewhere:

When you ask permission to stay, be friendly, and if it turns out to be a godly home, give it your blessing; if not, keep the blessing.  Any city or home that doesn’t welcome you—shake off the dust of that place from your feet as you leave.   (Matthew 10:12—14  TLB)

Confident praying, Matthew 7:7—12

These verses dealing with confident prayer are actually linked to the preceding admonition against critical judging of others.  The best way to treat others is to treat them as God treats you, and the best way to discern others accurately is to see ourselves in the right light.  We are, by our nature, sinful people, and yet God our Heavenly Father has made us His children by grace and He is always ready to give us all that we need.

The balance between a generous Father and needy children is that the children need to learn how to trust their Father.  Trusting involves asking and believing that God will not only hear but respond.   There is a sense that while God knows what we need before we ask, we must still ask; that teaches us to depend on Him, to trust Him, and it also involves humility on our part.  Our prayers should be carefully structured, not just sentence fragments strung together.  Notice the three steps or components of proper prayer:

·         Ask.  In terms of intensity, this is the lowest level.  To “ask” for something implies a sense of need; a sense of inferiority; and an acknowledgment that the you believe the one you are asking has the power to provide what you are asking for.

·         Seek.  This is a little more intense than asking.  In fact, it is a combination:  asking + seeking. Or put another way, you ask, then you look for the answer.  For example, you may pray for a better understanding of the Bible, but you should at the same time study it.

·         Knock.  This is even more  intense; it involves asking, seeking or looking, and persisting or continuing.  This does not necessarily mean pestering God with the same need over and over.  Rather, it means always asking the Lord for whatever you need; turn to Him first, no  matter what the need may be. Don’t just pray when is ditching!  Pray all the time.

To reinforce this teaching on prayer, Jesus uses the familiar “lesser to greater” argument:

If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead?  If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not!  And if you hard-hearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?  (Matthew 7:9—11  TLB)

D.L. Moody once observed:

If you pray for bread and bring no basket to carry it, you prove the doubting spirit, which may be the only hindrance to the boon you ask.

Two ways, Matthew 7:13, 14

Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate! The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way.  But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.

Again we see where a believer is to exercise the proper kind of judgment.  Judge for yourself, Jesus says, which way is the right way.  The way to go is up to us; we are presented with two ways (a common theme in Jewish literature):  a narrow and a broad or wide way.  We as Christians are to discern or determine which is the “narrow” or the “right” way. 

Now, these two verses have a subtle message.  It’s easy to walk on the broad way because it’s, well, broad!  The wrong way is the easiest way because it’s the obvious way; it’s way that everybody can see, and therefore, almost everybody chooses that easy way.  It’s broad and easy; it requires no effort to find and no effort to walk in.

Not so the narrow way.  Notice that Jesus says this portal is “small” and it’s even hard to find!  In other words, you have to look for the right way—it requires effort to just find it, but then it requires effort to get into!  There is nothing easy about walking the narrow way.

Two trees, Matthew 7:15—20

Different kinds of fruit trees can quickly be identified by examining their fruit.  (Matthew 7:17  TLB)

From two ways—a right and a wrong way, or a true and false way—we transition to two kinds of teachers, false teachers and teachers who teach the truth.  How can a believer tell the difference?  You can recognize each teacher by the fruit they produce.  A false teacher cannot produce good fruit.   It may be difficult to spot a false teacher by simply listening to what they say; words can be easily manipulated.  That’s why Christians should exercise discernment; we should not only listen to the words but examine the life of a preacher or teacher.

Jesus makes it clear that it is impossible—IMPOSSIBLE—for a tree to bear fruit that is contrary to its nature.  Here, again, the believer is called to judge—to determine who is teaching the truth by looking at their fruit.  This requires a judgment.

Two claims, Matthew 7:21—23

Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven.  At the Judgment many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we told others about you and used your name to cast out demons and to do many other great miracles.’  But I will reply, ‘You have never been mine.  Go away, for your deeds are evil.’   (TLB)

The figures of trees and fruit are now explained in glorious detail.  All kinds of people claim to know the Lord; they claim to love Jesus; they say they serve Him, but do they really?  Jesus says what some people say isn’t necessarily so.  The fact is, and Jesus is teaching this, it takes no effort to proclaim your love and respect for Jesus, but the proof is in the doing, not the saying.  As the Living Bible says, “the decisive question is whether they obey [God].”  And, of course, the very first matter of faith has to do with repentance and faith. 

Two builders, Matthew 7:24—27

This is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.  It calls for the listener to make a judgment:  will he pay heed to what Jesus taught, thus building his life on the firm foundation of Christ’s teaching, or will he turn a deaf ear, resulting in a life with no foundation, for who can build a foundation on sand?

In the Kingdom, a life is built on Christ; on what He teaches; on His will alone.  While it is true that the Kingdom of God is not an actual reality yet, it is a spiritual reality.  If you are a Christian, you should be building your life TODAY as though you are already living in the Kingdom yet to come.  Why?  Because if you are a Christian, the rules of the Kingdom yet to come apply to you right now.  That’s why if a Christian tries to live his life according to worldly principles, he will fail.  He has to.  Here’s why:

…there are many who walk along the Christian road who are really enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their future is eternal loss, for their god is their appetite: they are proud of what they should be ashamed of; and all they think about is this life here on earth.  But our homeland is in heaven, where our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is; and we are looking forward to his return from there.  (Philippians 3:18b—20  TLB)


Jesus crowd

Luke 6:17-26

Most Bible scholars, if not Bible readers, are quick to point out this sermon in Luke (6:17-49) is essentially the same one given in Matthew, except there we call it the Sermon on the Mount. Though there are some differences, the similarities outweigh them. The most obvious difference is this one:

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon… (Luke 6:17)

Other differences include:

  • Matthew’s version is much longer than Luke’s;
  • In Matthew, Jesus preaches on a mountain, in Luke He is on a level place;
  • Luke includes some material not mentioned in Matthew;
  • Matthew has nine beatitudes but Luke has only four.

For the similarities, notice the following:

  • Both sermons begin with a series of beatitudes;
  • Both sermons include serious teaching on loving your enemies;
  • Both end with the same parable.

If we believe both Luke and Matthew have recorded the same event, why are there differences? Luke was writing to Theophilus, a Greek, who had little or no interest in anything having to do with Judaism. Luke’s Gospel, when taken as a whole, is very light in Jewish context. Matthew, on the other hand, is writing primarily for Jewish readers, so it is no wonder Luke excludes much of what Matthew had included for his audience.

1. The setting, verses 17-19

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Luke uses a curious phrase to describe who was listening to Jesus this day: “a large crowd of his disciples…and a great number of people” from various places. Luke always stressed Jesus’ popularity, especially during these early days of His earthly ministry. Many members of the audience are described by the historian as “his disciples.” There were “the learners,” the people who, though not apostles, were people traveling around with Jesus. Today, we might call them “fans.” In addition to these “fans,” where others. These were the “curiosity seekers,” the “rubber neckers,” who had heard about Jesus, this miracle working preacher, and they came to see what the hubbub about this man was all about. We have no reason to think there were trouble makers in the crowd.

In addition to this group of listeners, we find out that Jesus’ apostles were there, and it was to this group in particular that Jesus addressed the bulk of His sermon, although we can be sure everybody else heard His teachings.

2. Four blessings, verses 20-23

Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Jesus looked intently, meaningfully, at His disciples. Which ones? It may be that Jesus was addressing His comments to the many learners listening to His teaching, or specifically to His apostles. The phrase “you who are poor” seems to narrow it down. Was He addressing only poor disciples? Perhaps, but more likely Jesus is addressing those whom He had called earlier that day; those who had given up everything to follow Him. If that was the case, then Jesus was talking to The Twelve, with the others listening in.

Luke’s version of the blessings, or the Beatitudes, is much shorter than Matthew’s but no less powerful, especially when they are contrasted with the four woes which follow them. Each blessing finds its opposite in a corresponding woe. We’ll look at the woes in due course.

Blessed are you who are poor.

Jesus is NOT saying that all poor people are blessed nor does He mean that those who follow Him are blessed because they are poor. Physical poverty is not necessarily a blessing. No, what Jesus is getting at here is something much deeper than mere physical poverty. Jesus’ apostles were definitely impoverished, having given up their former lives as fishermen or tax collectors or whatever, to follow Him. But thanks to their material poverty, these men had been made aware of their spiritual poverty. Not only that, although they were spiritually poor, they were not bankrupt. For it is at the very depths of spiritual poverty that one finds the riches of God:

…for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now.

This is the hunger that no amount of food and drink can satisfy. Matthew adds “…for righteousness,” so we know that this hunger is something that relates to the kingdom of God. What is explicit in Matthew is implied in Luke. Jesus is referring to spiritual hunger. Those who hunger for the things of the Spirit, righteous things, will see their hunger satiated:

…you will be satisfied.

Jesus would later tell a parable, relayed to us only by Luke, of the Pharisee and the tax collector, that serves to illustrate this idea of spiritual hunger. Notice the punch line:

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)

Here was a man desperate for mercy and forgiveness, for a touch from God, and for the peace of mind and heart that comes from knowing one is in right standing with God. This is what spiritual hunger looks like. Whenever anybody is that desperate to experience God, he will not be disappointed.

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Blessed are you who weep now.

Luke’s third blessing finds its counterpart in Matthew’s second. Luke’s “weepers” are Matthew’s “mourners.” In Matthew, these people are promised “comfort,” and in Luke, we read this:

…you will laugh.

But what are these people crying over or mourning over? The obvious answer is the state of their own sinfulness. When we get close to God, the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts us of our sins. We certainly can’t be thrilled when we see ourselves the way God does! Indeed, it saddens us. But even more than our own personal sinfulness, when we are born again, His Spirit dwells within us, and His Spirit surely grieves at the state of mankind. When He grieves, we grieve.

So, Jesus is referring to “God-centered” weeping. Perhaps Psalm 119:136 illustrates this kind of weeping best:

Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

And in Daniel, we see the prophet in prayer, weeping over the sins of his people, culminating in 9:19–

Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

These weepers are also blessed. One day, their weeping will end and they will be able laugh.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5)

Blessed are you when you are hated, excluded, insulted, and rejected as evil.

The blessing associated with being hated, excluded, insulted, and taken for evil is not unlike being able to laugh:

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

All this negative treatment must be the result of being associated with Jesus Christ. If you are persecuted on account of your faith, “great is your reward in heaven.” Your reward is in direct proportion to your sacrifice, and yet, because it will be a heavenly reward, it will be much, much greater.

In a way, this particular blessing is prophetic in that it described precisely what happened when Jesus ascended to heaven.

3. Four woes, verses 24-26

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Now we come to the woes, which in both structure and content form an exact antithesis to the blessings. In each case, Luke quotes Jesus as blessing the very people we would normally call the unfortunate ones and pronouncing woes upon the kinds of people we generally consider fortunate. Once again, we see this major theme of Luke’s: the Kingdom of God is the exact opposite to man’s expectations. It has no parallel in this world. Jesus’ teachings turn everything upside down.

Woe the the rich

There is nothing wrong with wealth, but trusting in wealth is sinful. When acquiring earthly wealth of any kind is your sole ambition, this woe is for you. This woe is particularly dreadful. Those who have chosen to find satisfaction in the here and now over future blessings basically forfeit those future blessings. Quite literally, they:

…have already received their reward.

Never let it be said that God would force His blessings on anybody who doesn’t want them!

Woe to you who are well fed now.

One who is “well fed” is one who thinks they have no needs. Like those who have trusted in their wealth, those who have so much they think they need nothing else, will receive exactly that from God: nothing. The sad fact is, every man, even one who is stuffed with and choking on blessings, is a needy man. But God will do nothing for a needy man if that man manifests no desire.

In a weird twist, one who is full, will go hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing.

The same holds true for those who revel in gaiety and joviality while ignoring God. Imagine the tragic scene of sinners, blind to their own state, laughing and joking on their way to an eternity of misery, completely unaware of that future. Eventually, their smiles will fade and it will be time for them mourn and weep.

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.

What does Jesus mean? Is it bad when people compliment you? Obviously, Jesus is getting at something deeper. Hendriksen offers this insight:

What Jesus is saying amounts to this: “When everybody speaks well of you it must be that you are a deceitful, servile, flatterer.

Absalom,. King David’s son, is a good example of the kind of person Jesus had in mind (2 Samuel 15:2-6).

And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.” (2 Samuel 14:4)

Here was a man who did everything he could to ingratiate himself with just about everybody, yet he was a liar, he was insincere, and sought only to enrich himself. Absalom, and people like him, are like the ancient false prophets who preached only what people wanted to hear. This kind off preaching and flattery is vacuous. If everybody speaks well of you, there must be something wrong with you. If you are taking a stand for the truth, especially God’s truth, you will offend somebody.

Like the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants us to understand that following Him means radically changing the way we live, which begins with changing the way we think. Naturally, when we live and think differently than those around us, trouble may ensue. While looking for trouble is not something we should be doing, if it comes our way, it means we are doing something right.

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