“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” – Matthew 7:21-23
Are we getting a little uncomfortable yet? Don’t fight it. It’s good for us to undergo a healthy self-examination every now and then. Today’s devotion is a continuation of last Thursday and Friday’s sections of the Sermon on the Mount. There Jesus introduced the narrow, difficult way to life with God. He also said there are few who go that way.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10
Well, here we are at the last of the eight powerful sayings of Jesus that we know as the Beatitudes. Each of these sayings of Jesus run counter to the way of the world, and many religious people, and even many of those who call themselves Christians. We like standards of performance we can gauge. Especially when we can choose which ones we believe to be the right ones. It makes things much easier. Jesus calls us to a simple life of faith in His Sermon on the Mount, but not necessarily an easy life.
Of all the sayings of Jesus, this last one seems the most contrary to human thinking and experience. The world doesn’t associate happiness with humility, mourning over sin, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, or peacemaking. It associates happiness with persecution even less.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20
Counterfeit Christians. Like counterfeit bills, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the real from the fake. Jesus warns that not everyone who claims to belong to God and to speak for Him actually does so.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14
Life is full of choices. Some choices are simple and relatively inconsequential. What to eat. What to wear. What to buy. Other choices are essential and life-changing. Our life’s work. Career choices. Who we will marry. Will we have children or not. There are also decisions that will determine whether we live or die. Life…Death… Serious decisions.
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12
How then do we live? Jesus has spent much of His time during this teaching dealing with how notto live our lives. The rigid, tradition-steeped, external behavior-oriented system of the religious leaders of His day needed correcting. They were so stuck on and married to their traditions that they had lost sight of their original intent or purpose and were not willing to let go even when Jesus offered them a better way.
Jesus now offers the better way. For centuries, a variation of this principle was taught and is found in the literature of almost every major religion. But each time it was given, it was stated in the negative. For example, the Jewish rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to yourself do not to someone else.” The book of Tobit in the Apocrypha teaches, “What thou thyself hatest, to no man do.” Confucius taught, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” And the list goes on.
Those expressions go only as far as sinful man can go, and are essentially expressions not of love but of self-interest. The motivation is basically selfish—refraining from harming others in order that they will not harm us. Those negative forms of the rule are not golden, because they are primarily utilitarian and motivated by fear and self-preservation. As Scripture repeatedly tells us of fallen mankind, “There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:12; cf. Ps. 14:3); “each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6).
Jesus turns this conventional, self-serving wisdom on its head and makes it a proactive way of life for the follower of Jesus. It’s no longer what we shouldn’t do; now it becomes a way to showlove to others even though they did nothing to prompt the positive action directed toward them.
Back to our opening statement: “How then do we live?” The following is a quote from Charles Swindoll’s book, Simple Faith.
You want to impact your family…your church…your community…your place of employment? You want to make a difference in the life of your mate, a family member, a friend (Christian or not), some person in the workplace? Demonstrate the characteristics of Christ. No need to drop gospel tracts from a low-flying airplane or display a bright red twenty-foot-square “Jesus Saves” flag over your house. No need to stick a fish-shaped symbol on your car or quote a lot of verses every day to your neighbor or rant and rave against all the ills of society down at city hall. Just take the distilled essence of the Christian message as contained in the words of the Golden Rule and live it out. Morning to night. Day after day. Week after week. Month in, month out. Spring, summer, fall and winter. As the prophet Micah put it: Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. You will be astounded at the impact that kind of simple-faith lifestyle will make.
And when we live by the Golden Rule, it prevents the need for laying down an endless list of little rules and regulations to govern conduct. When we begin living that way we fulfill the essence of “the Law and the Prophets.”
Have a Great Day!
“Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” – Matthew 7:9-11
Do you worry? If you are like most people, you fall prey to that insidious “peace-killer” without thinking. If we are not careful, we may begin to doubt that God really wants what is best for us. Last week we heard Jesus telling us to ask, seek, and knock. And that those following these steps would receive, find, and have the door opened.
As we look into today’s verses we find a bit of playful humor from Jesus. Are you a parent? If so, then you have a bit of an inside track on understanding what Jesus is trying to say.
Children get hungry. Also, they don’t hesitate to ask you for something to eat. Let’s say your child is hungry and they ask you for a piece of bread, or maybe a grilled-cheese sandwich. Would you then go out to the driveway or look around the yard for a rock and say, “Here, kid, munch on this”? I don’t think so. We would never consider doing that to one of our children when they are hungry. Most parents would probably give them more than they need to be sure their hunger is satisfied.
Or to take it a step further, if your child really loves to fish and asked you to go fishing, where would you take them? Would you bring them to a mosquito infested swamp with no fish and say, “Have fun”? Of course not. You would do everything possible to provide a pleasant, unforgettable fishing trip. That’s just the way parents are.
And now it gets interesting. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Isn’t that awesome? Our perfect Father in heaven out gives all imperfect fathers on earth…over and over again.
So what does that tell you? Don’t worry. Trust God. He won’t short-change you. Keep on praying and trusting. Don’t be discouraged. He is faithful and good and generous and just.
Have a Great Day!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9
Peacemakers. We need more of them in the ranks of faith. Those who work for peace work hard to keep offenses from occurring. And if it has occurred, they strive for resolution. We have more than enough fighters in the kingdom. We need more of these great-hearted peacemakers.
Our God is a God of peace (Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9). He has emphasized the goal of making peace one of the prevailing ideas of His Word. The Bible contains four hundred direct references to peace, and many more indirect ones. The Bible opens with peace in the Garden of Eden and closes with peace in eternity. The spiritual history of mankind can be charted based on the theme of peace. Although the peace on earth in the garden was interrupted when man sinned, at the cross Jesus Christ made peace a reality again, and He becomes the peace of all who place their faith in Him. Peace can now reign in the hearts of those who are His. Someday He will come as Prince of Peace and establish a worldwide kingdom of peace, which will eventuate in ultimate peace, the eternal age of peace.
Peacemakers work for peace, but not at all costs. Make no mistake; peacemaker is not a synonym for appeaser. To be working for peace does not mean we manufacture peace at any price. There are limits. Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of “cheap grace,” we must be careful that we do not introduce “cheap peace.”
Cheap peace occurs when a brother or sister brings reproach to the name of Christ and chooses not to repent. For us to go on as if everything is fine and dandy cheapens peace and sends the wrong message. Luke 17:3 says, “If he [your brother] repents, forgive him.” To ignore the offense or treat it lightly if he doesn’t have a contrite heart of repentance provides an artificial peace based on a faulty foundation.
Also, we are told to dwell in unity, but not at the expense of sound doctrine. If a group is embracing heresy, you don’t enhance the gospel by smiling and agreeing, all in the name of peace. Smiling at wrongdoing or wrong doctrine doesn’t simplify life; it complicates it. To be peacemakers on God’s terms requires being peacemakers on the terms of truth and righteousness—to which many are in fierce opposition.
The peace of which God speaks is not simply the offer of a truce in order to stop conflict and strife, but rather works to foster righteousness. Only righteousness can produce the relationship that brings two parties together. We may be able stop people from fighting without righteousness, but it’s difficult to live peaceably without righteousness.
We must also remember that being a peacemaker does not necessarily mean working to keep the status quo. Our goal should always be endeavoring to be followers of Jesus in partnership to win the world for Christ. We should strive for what is right. God’s people are to contend without being contentious, to disagree without being disagreeable, and to confront without being abusive. The peacemakers are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Have a Great Day!
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8
The entire time Jesus teaches on that Galilean hillside He drills down to uncover the essence of how we should live. He snatches away the shiny wrapping of our lives to reveal the true package within. For many listening to Him that day, what was revealed was not pretty. But to those who desired to follow Jesus, His words came as a refreshing breeze offering the prospect of a simple faith. An uncomplicated relationship with the God of the universe.
This section of the Sermon on the Mount forms the positive side of Jesus’ summary of the principles that lead to right human relations. When we love others the way God wants we will not look upon them self-righteously or criticize them or their actions unmercifully. This attitude must be removed. But not being unjustly critical of others doesn’t mean we are showing love to them. Love is much more than that. The positive side of love is the active side. It is not seen in what we refrain from doing but in what we do.
In order to properly interpret today’s verses we must understand the context in which they were taught. Contrary to some popular interpretations, verses 7-8 are not a blank check for just anyone to present to God for any reason. For one thing, Jesus was teaching His followers. The scribes, Pharisees and insincere followers were always referred to in the third person as if they were not the direct targets of His words. He is teaching His disciples with the crowd listening in. These verses are also sandwiched in between the negative teaching about a critical spirit and the positive teaching of the golden rule (v. 12). If we are not to be judging others’ actions and motives while discerning falsehood and apostasy, our greatest need from God may be wisdom. And for this Jesus says, “Be persistent.”
Bill Hybels tells about an interesting experience after a baptism service in their church. He writes: “I bumped into a woman in the stairwell who was crying. I thought this was a little odd, since the service was so joyful. I asked her if she was all right. She said, ‘No, I’m struggling.’ She said, ‘My mom was baptized today. I prayed for her every day for almost 20 years. The reason I’m crying is because I came this close to giving up on her. At the 5-year mark I said, “Who needs this? God isn’t listening.” At the 10-year mark I said, “Why am I wasting my breath?” At the 15-year mark I said, “This is absurd.” At the 19-year mark I said, “I’m just a fool.” But I just kept trying, kept praying. Even with weak faith I kept praying. Then she gave here life to Christ, and she was baptized today. I will never doubt the power of prayer again.”
“Ask…seek…knock” are three powerful, single-syllable words. They are also commands urging us not to cave in with discouragement when facing the difficult or the unknown. They are all “present imperatives” in the language in which Matthew wrote them. Because of this we can translate them, “Keep on asking!” “Keep on seeking!” “Keep on knocking!” The implication is, “Whatever you do, don’t quit; keep it up!”
These three commands are also progressive in intensity. They move from a simple request to an active search to pounding away in order to be heard at the door. Don’t give up. Don’t stop until you get your answer.
Please don’t miss the threefold promise that accompanies the commands. What happens when we ask and seek and knock?
In light of this great promise we can feel free to fully love others and totally sacrifice for others, because our heavenly Father sets the example in His generosity to us and promises that we have access to His eternal and unlimited treasure to meet our own needs as well as theirs. We can do for others what we would want done for ourselves (see v. 12) without fear of depleting the divine resources and having nothing left.
Have a Great Day!
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” – Matthew 7:6
So, who are the dogs and who are the swine? And by the way, is it politically correct to refer to someone as a pig? I’m not sure, but I guess it’s alright since Jesus did it.
Isn’t it interesting that He says this right on the heels of a very clear and forceful prohibition of judging others? As we brought out yesterday, Jesus is not suggesting that we suspend all faculties of discernment. He wants us to become neither gullible fools nor self-righteous critics. Many foolishly believe that Jesus was simply a non-discerning mild and weak man with a spineless personality. To know the real Jesus we may want to read Matthew 23. In this scene He takes on the Pharisees in front of His disciples and many followers. Seven times He lobbed verbal grenades by repeating, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (vv. 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). He called them, “blind guides” (23:16), and even said they were “like whitewashed tombs” (23:27) and “serpents…brood of vipers” (23:33). Just think about it. What if Jesus called you a snake to your face? So much for a meek and mild spineless wimp.
These are very shocking words from the very one who is the embodiment of love. He intended them to shock and startle. And what do we make of the choice of animals He used to illustrate His point? During Jesus’ day dogs were seldom kept as pets as they are today. Except for the working dogs used for herding sheep, they were mostly half-wild mongrels roaming the outskirts of the city acting as scavengers. They were dirty, wild, greedy, snarling and often diseased. They were dangerous and despised pests.
As for throwing something holy to these despicable scourges, it was unthinkable. Part of the sacrifices offered on the altar was burned up, part of it eaten by the priests, and some of it was taken home and eaten by the family that had offered the sacrifice. That part of the sacrifice left on the altar was considered holy and was to be eaten by no one. If no person was to eat it, how much less would one consider desecrating it by throwing it to a pack of wild, filthy dogs?
And swine were considered by the Jews as the epitome of uncleanness. That is the reason Antiochus Epiphanes’ sacrifice of a pig on the Jewish altar and forcing the priests to eat it was such an absolute abomination—and touched off the Maccabean revolt against Greece in 168 B.C. And because the Jews would never have considered trying to domesticate pigs, they were much like the wild dogs, scrounging greedily around the dumps around the city. If you tried to get between them and food they would likely turn on you and tear you to pieces with their long tusks and sharp hooves.
Jesus’ point is that certain truths and blessings of our faith are not to be shared with people who are totally antagonistic to the things of God. Such people are spiritual dogs and swine, who have no appreciation for that which is holy and righteous. They will take that which is holy, the pearls (the rarest and most valuable of jewels; see Matt. 13:45-46) of God’s Word, as foolishness and as an insult.
We must face the fact that some individuals will never come around and appreciate the riches of God’s Word and the simple faith He offers them. They are so depraved, senseless, hateful, and closed that their obstinance and behavior is enough to signal it’s time to move on to someone else who may be ready to receive what Jesus offers. To quote the prophet, “Ephraim is joined to idols;/Let him alone” (Hos. 4:17). We are never to give up hope, but we are wise to move on to other soil while God continues to work on them in His way.
I know this is difficult for us to swallow. We have always been told, “Never give up. Keep plugging away. Keep planting the seed.” While it is true that no one is too far gone for God to reach, there may come a time when continuing to press the issue with them may result in them closing themselves off to ever hearing the gospel again. Jesus is teaching here that there will be occasions when perpetually closed minds need to be left on their own. It may be wiser to back away and let God take full charge. It may be best sometimes to “let stubborn dogs lie.”
So what do we do? Keep on praying. And that’s exactly what Jesus addresses next in His message. More on that tomorrow.
Have a Great Day!
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5
Many Christians like to play games. One of the games played most often is one that author and pastor, Chuck Swindoll calls, “Let’s Label.”
There are some ground rules for this game. First, you find someone who is different. It may be they look or sound different or think different. The game works really well if the person holds a different opinion or acts in a different way than the “acceptable manner,” which differs from your religious group.
So how do you play Let’s Label? Swindoll says it involves at least six steps.
Actually, there is another name for the game. It doesn’t sound nearly as nice or inviting, but it is the term Jesus used in His message on the hillside: judging.
What is so bad about judging? And why would Jesus have reserved some of the strongest words in His teaching for this? Possibly for these four reasons:
Jesus is so adamant about the ugliness of judging another person that He opens this section with a strong imperative. He is saying, “Stop this!” “Do not judge.” He leaves no wiggle room. He didn’t intend to.
Now that we know what Jesus said, it would help to know what He means as well as what He doesn’t mean by judging.
I think it should be obvious that Jesus is not telling His followers to stop being people of discernment. All during this teaching He is encouraging discernment as it relates to the scribes and Pharisees…later warning them to “beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing.” We are also told elsewhere in Scripture to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Some judging is not only acceptable, it is mandated. We must call sin exactly what it is, sin. But we must be careful that the action we are attempting to discern is actually sin and not just our judgment of what might be sin based on our particular camp’s biases.
So then, what does Jesus mean? He is saying, “Don’t be critical of others…don’t conduct your life with a judgmental or negative attitude.” I’ve heard some people justify their judgmental attitude by rationalizing, “I’m not judging, I’m just inspecting fruit,” which is no excuse. It’s the “inspecting” part that Jesus says is so wrong. More often than not, judging is an ego trip, prompted by pride. We like to point out what others are doing that we think is wrong because it tends to bolster our estimation of ourselves, all while being blinded to our own faults which may be potentially worse in the eyes of Jesus.
So how do we stop it? Here are four suggestions that may help you conquer this ugly game which can be so addictive.
First: Examine yourself before being tempted to inspect others.Focus on your own areas of weakness and error. You can look at your own impatience, laziness, pride, intolerance, greed, lust, ingratitude, anger, careless tongue, indifference, gluttony, pessimism, and worry, to name only a few. Self-examination does wonders when we are tempted to find fault.
Second: Confess your faults before confronting another.It’s amazing how this works, but there is something therapeutic about admitting one’s own weaknesses prior to facing someone you need to confront.
Third: Try to understand the other person’s struggle.It might help by starting with yourself. It can resolve the log-and-speck issue Jesus brings up.
Fourth: Remember, the goal is restoration, not probation.We are called to relieve others’ burdens, not add to them.
Lift someone up today.
Have a Great Day!