Judging Our Brother (Matthew 7:1-6)
In the first five verses of this section the Lord exposes that almost unconscious hypocrisy, so common to us all, which leads us to judge our fellows so severely, while overlooking or excusing our own sins as though they were of little moment.
“Judge not.” There are circumstances when the people of God are commanded to judge when dealing with offenders against the Christian standard of morals, even to excluding them from church fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:3-5, 12-13). But we are not to attempt to sit in judgment on the hidden motives. We are so easily prejudiced and our snap judgments are wrong so often. We cannot read the heart or discern the thoughts. This is God’s prerogative alone. If we disobey this command we need not be surprised if others pass judgment on us in a similar way.
“With what measure ye mete.” We will be measured ourselves by the same stringent rule that we apply to other men.
“The mote…the beam.” There is a fine irony here that is very striking. These two words stand out in vivid contrast. The word translated “mote” signified originally a bit of dry twig or straw, such as the wind often carries into the human eye, thus causing blurred vision and tears until it is ejected. The word translated “beam” really means a stick of timber, but was used colloquially in the Greek speech of our Lord’s days on earth as a synonym for a splinter, which, though small in itself, seems a veritable beam because of the pain it causes. In one of the papyrus notes found in Egypt some years back, a youth wrote to his mother telling of the suffering he had endured because a “beam” had been driven into his thumb underneath the nail. This makes clear our Lord’s meaning. No one is fit to rebuke another when there is something in his own life that is worse than that which he detects in the other.
“How wilt thou say to thy brother…” Even the world says, “Consistency, thou art a jewel.” One cannot expect to correct a fault in another if he has an even more glaring one in his own life.
“Thou hypocrite.” The original word translated hypocrite was used by the Greeks to designate an actor. It means literally “a second face,” as Greek actors wore masks to represent the characters portrayed. We speak of being “two-faced.” God demands reality. Our Lord insists on this. No shallow, empty religiousness will do for Him. We cannot know Him as our Father who loves to meet our needs in His grace and mercy, unless we are honest in seeking His face. To judge others superciliously, while living in sin ourselves, is abominable in His sight. If we are honestly seeking to know Him and ready to do His will, He will guide us into the narrow way of unselfish devotion to God and to the interests of those for whom Christ died. This is indeed the way to life.
“Neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” It is folly to endeavor to present the deeper and more precious things of the divine revelation to men who have no desire for holiness.
Praying Earnestly (Matthew 7:7-12)
“Ask… seek… knock.” In these words our Lord stresses the importance of prevailing prayer, which is not just a casual or thoughtless repeating of certain words. We are bidden to ask—that is, to make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6-7). If a prayer is not answered at once we are to seek further by endeavoring to learn more clearly the mind of God in the matter, that we may pray with enlightened intelligence (Isaiah 26:9). Then we are to knock with the importunity that implies sincerity and faith. Such importunity brings the answer (Luke 11:5-10). God does answer prayer. This is one evidence of the supernaturalism of what is commonly called “revealed religion,” as distinguished from mere human philosophy. The word religion, is too broad a term for Christianity itself, but is used here because it is a convenient expression to designate man’s relationship to God as revealed in both the Old and New Testaments. In all past dispensations, as well as in the present one, God has been revealed as the hearer and answerer of prayer (Psalm 65:2; Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13). He invites us to come to Him with our petitions, and promises to give according to our needs (Philippians 4:19).
“Every one that asketh receiveth.” When God’s conditions are complied with, the answer is sure—not for some, but for all who approach Him in prayer in accordance with His revealed will. It is not necessarily true that we always receive exactly what we ask. God reserves to Himself the right to answer as His wisdom dictates. But He never ignores the cries of His children.
“Will he give him a stone?” A stone might bear an outward resemblance to a loaf of bread, but it cannot be eaten. Earthly fathers are considerate of their children’s needs and do not ordinarily mock them by ignoring their requests for food, or by giving something they cannot use when they plead for sustenance.
“A fish… a serpent.” One is food to strengthen and build up; the other is poisonous, dealing death. No one with a real father’s heart gives that which is harmful to a child, but rather that which will be for good.
Human parenthood is only a feeble picture of the father-heart of God, who delights in giving to His children that which is for their good. In the family, the father should be an example of the love and forethought of the heavenly Father, who delights to bless His children by giving them what will be for their lasting profit. Prayer is the appointed means whereby these mercies are received.
“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” This is indeed the golden rule. It is linked with prayer, for no one can pray aright who is not characterized by active benevolence to his fellows (1 John 3:17-22). This is not the gospel; it is the fruit of the gospel. People often speak glibly of the golden rule, as though the keeping of it were a comparatively small matter, or as though it involved the whole of Christianity. How frequently we hear the assertion, “The golden rule is good enough for me. It is all the religion anyone needs.” But who, judged by this standard of unselfish living, would ever pass muster before God’s holy tribunal? It is but another way of insisting on the demand of the law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” No one save our blessed Lord has ever fully lived this out. Consequently, the golden rule but adds to our condemnation, and emphasizes the need of salvation by grace. Only as Christ is received and dwells in us by His Spirit can we come up to this high and holy standard.
It has been said frequently by those who would disparage the Lord Jesus and His teaching, that the golden rule was in no sense original with Him, but was simply an adaptation of what others had taught before Him. Confucius is said to have proclaimed this some hundreds of years before Christ. But there is a vast difference between the positive instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ, commanding His disciples to do to others as they would have others do to them, and the negative teaching of the Chinese sage, who said, “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” The one is the manifestation of divine love; the other is but ordinary human advice (see Luke 6:31).
Following the Narrow Way (Matthew 7:13-14)
The broad and narrow ways are placed in vivid contrast. The first is the road followed by all who ignore the grace of God revealed in Christ and its claims on mankind. The other is the path of devotion to Him who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Note that the narrow way leads to life, not merely to Heaven at the end of life.
“Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction.” This is the way of self-will, of disobedience to God’s Word. All are on the broad way who refuse to own their needy condition and who ignore the claims of Christ. It is entered by a wide gate, for all men naturally choose this road.
“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way… unto life.” There is no real life apart from the knowledge of Christ (1 John 5:12). It is as we yield our wills to Him that we enter the strait gate and pass into the narrow way. This way leads to life—life in its richest, fullest sense— to be embraced in measure here on earth, but enjoyed in all its fullness in a blest eternity.
Warning against False Prophets (Matthew 7:15-23)
“False prophets… in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly… ravening wolves.” The metaphor is a very striking one. It suggests a prowling wolf with the fleece of a sheep drawn over its body as it roams about the outskirts of the flock waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon an unsuspecting lamb or sheep. In like manner teachers of falsehood do not come out in their true colors at first, but seek to hide their actual identity and intentions in order that they may draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30). The only safe way is to test teachers by the Word itself, and particularly by the doctrine of Christ, as in John’s second Epistle.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” This is the test for any system of doctrine, and for those who propagate it. That which is of God will result in fruit for His glory.
“Every good tree… a corrupt tree.” The two are put in vivid contrast, picturing men and women who are born of God and those who are still unregenerated. This is a parable from nature, designed to impress on our minds that we, like trees, are either good or bad, and our behavior will betray or indicate our true character. Goodness and badness are used here, as throughout the book of Proverbs, in a relative sense (Proverbs 12:2; 13:22; 14:14). Actually there is none good until changed by regeneration (Romans 3:12). The testimony of the lips indicates the state of the heart.
“Evil fruit.. .good fruit.” A heart in rebellion against God cannot produce in the life that which brings honor to Him. Neither can one who is subject to God’s will go on in sin, bringing discredit on His holy name.
“Hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Though God has long patience, even with wicked men (James 5:7; 2 Peter 3:9), the day draws closer when judgment must fall on those who persist in their unrepentant course. This was what John the Baptist also proclaimed (Matthew 3:10).
“By their fruits ye shall know them.” Whatever the professions men may make, it is the life that tells (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:10). Good men delight in purity and righteousness. Evil men grovel in that which is sinful and corrupt. Where grace operates in the soul, the good fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) will be manifest in the life. That which is really of God will produce godliness on the part of its recipients.
“Not every one that saith… Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Mere lip profession is of no avail if the heart and life are not subject to the Word of God. We are not saved by our works, but good works are the test of reality. He who is born of God will delight in obedience to the Father’s will (Ephesians 2:8-10).
“In thy name done many wonderful works?” There may be much of outward show and apparently successful service coupled with a Christless profession. In the day of manifestation, nothing will avail but a personal faith in Christ whom we profess as our Lord.
To none will He say in that day, “I used to know you, but I know you no more.” His word to the lost will be, “I never knew you.” Of all His own He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them” (John 10:27).
Building Wisely (Matthew 7:24-27)
In bringing His great discourse to an end the Lord presented in a most graphic and solemn way the eternal results of our attitude toward His message. He who hears and heeds the words of Christ makes it evident that he is a genuine believer. He builds his house upon the rock that is Christ Himself. No storm of adverse circumstances, no assaults of the prince of the power of the air, can avail to destroy the house that is based upon the Rock of ages.
He who hears with the outward ear, but takes no heed to obey the truth, is as one building on sinking sand. When the testing time comes, the one who has built his hopes for eternity on anything short of Christ Himself will come to disaster. Because Jesus is Lord, He calls for unqualified obedience to His Word. He speaks as the King and sets forth with clearness and conciseness the principles upon which His kingdom is founded, so utterly opposed to the selfish policies of earthly rulers and nations. To own Him as Lord and obey His Word is to build a house that will stand in “the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.” To fail to heed His voice means both temporal and eternal loss.
Christ is presented in many Scriptures as the foundation on which the church is built. He is also the rock on which each individual believer is established. He who trusts in Him builds on a sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16; Romans 9:33) which will never fail. To build our hopes on any other person, system, or fancied meritorious behavior, is to erect our house on shifting sands. In the day of judgment, all who have relied on anything save Christ and His finished work will find themselves lost and hopeless for eternity.
Christ’s Authority As a Teacher (Matthew 7:28-29)
Although He had addressed Himself primarily to His immediate disciples, the throngs drew near to listen, and as the great discourse reached its dramatic conclusion they were amazed at the clarity and profundity of His teaching. Never had such words as these been heard in Israel. There was something so definitely authoritative about them that the hearers were deeply moved.
Ordinarily the scribes and other teachers in Israel based everything they taught on the authority of noted rabbis who had preceded them. But Jesus spoke directly as giving the last and final word on every subject He set forth. This was what astonished His hearers. This sermon was like a plumb line, testing all their pretention to righteousness. Did they face it honestly before God and recognize their sinfulness and need of a Savior? We are not told, but we may be sure that many went to their homes pondering the great truths that had been set before them.
Did Jesus set aside or belittle the moral law? He did not. He referred to what was said of old as that which was divine and authoritative. But He added to or explained it in its deepest spiritual meaning, so that men would understand its true application. Moral principles are unchanging. They are the same in every dispensation. But the child of God today is lifted above mere legal obedience through love for Christ and the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit.
Christ’s kingdom, as far as its outward aspect is concerned, is now in abeyance. He has gone “into a far country,” even Heaven itself, to receive a kingdom, and to return (Luke 19:12). At His second advent the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15). But while He is personally absent, though present by the Spirit, yet unseen to mortal eyes, all who are born again are in the kingdom of God. Though in the midst of a rebellious world, Christians are responsible to maintain allegiance to the One whom that world rejects. They must be loyal to the true King, even though a false usurper, Satan, is acknowledged by unsaved men as the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30). Loyalty to earth’s rightful King necessarily involves obedience to His words (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Through obedience Christ’s disciples know the reality of the kingdom, which is not meat and drink (temporal things), but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17).
It was concerning this aspect of the kingdom that our Lord instructed His disciples during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:2-3). This was the burden of the apostles’ message, as they called on men to acknowledge the lordship of Christ (Acts 2:36; 20:25). And this was the theme of Paul’s preaching to the very end (Acts 28:31). The risen Christ is Lord of all, and He gives remission of sins to all who believe on His name. Those thus brought into this new place before God, saved by pure grace, are now called upon to admit His lordship in all things. They are left in this world to witness for Him and to make known His grace to the lost. They are to seek the good of all men. In doing this, they will be misunderstood often, and will be subject to cruel persecutions and vindictive treatment. But they are not to retaliate in kind. By manifestation of the Spirit of Christ they are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), showing themselves to be law-abiding citizens, ever seeking the blessing of their fellowmen.
When our Lord returns and the kingdom of God is fully displayed on earth, the principles proclaimed in this sermon will prevail everywhere, for then righteousness and praise will be made to spring forth among all nations (Isaiah 61:11). That will be the time of earth’s regeneration (Matthew 19:28). When the individual is regenerated (Titus 3:5), even now he is given power to walk before God in holiness and righteousness (1 John 3:7-10).
The more we meditate upon Jesus’ sermon the more we will realize how far short we come of rising to the heights of unselfish devotion to Christ. As the Holy Spirit brings these instructions home in power to our hearts, we will find ourselves searched more and more deeply by His solemn utterances. He who desires truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6) was speaking through His Son in a manner calculated to lay bare all the hidden springs of character. He wants every honest soul to realize how much he needs to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, in order that he may represent Him aright in this world where He is still the rejected One.